Some people find large busy cities like New York the loneliest places on Earth. Other people thrive in this type of environment – being a small fish in a big pond. I find myself in the latter category. Choosing to be an artist can be quite a solitary career choice and managing this environment through cultivating your network, being located in a studio that works for you and creating positive working habits can be the difference between thriving and suffering in silence. I am fascinated by art that creates human connections but that also explores the perceived distances between people.
I observe people every day in the city and create narratives in my mind which often feeds the inspiration in my work. My painting, A Room with No View explores the complexity of human relationships and the contradictions that can create disconnections between people, even when they are physically close. In this painting I placed a male and a female sitting back-to-back within a familiar setting of a cafe. They are physically only inches from each other but separated by a partition as they sit facing in opposite directions. A scene all too familiar, especially in a city like New York.
Whether our differences are cultural, socio-economical or geographical, art has the power to create a bridge and a connection that is capable of breaking down these barriers.
Art Creates Portals Between Different Cultures
People queued up on both sides eager to share signs and visually communicate. It is amazing that even with the ability to do video conferencing through a mobile app or on a laptop, people in public are still enchanted and mesmerised by this type of interaction. It stops people in their tracks and creates a curiosity and euphoria within the gazing crowd.
This type of project fascinates me on a personal level as it makes me think about my Russian heritage whilst living in the USA. Many people live with this type of collision of two worlds, two cultures that make up their identity with the similarities and differences constantly merging and clashing in equal measure. This installation presented the bizarre juxtaposition that I seem to carry around in my mind and brought to life a fascinating display of humankind in an experience that felt similar to that of observing animals in the zoo – you can look but you can’t touch.
The Power of Working in a Series
Working in a series, as I did with my body of paintings titled Female Faces, can be an interesting way to study patterns of human behaviour and emphasise a notion of togetherness, oneness and equally, as well as express emotional distance and highlight solitary existence.
The work Event Horizon by Antony Gormley is very emotive for me. In 2007, 31 solitary life-size male statues were placed around the Southbank in London high upon tall buildings and at ground level. The figures gazed off into the distance, evoking strange emotional states in both commuters and tourists.
The figures were later placed in the cities of Hong Kong, New York, downtown São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The idea of Event Horizon was to recognize when humans are immersed in a high-density environment people lose the connection to the horizon which can only be found upon inaccessible areas of the city such as upon a high-rise. People observing the work described it evoking many different emotions: a sense of suffocation, loneliness, loss of direction, confusion but also a disruption to the flow of normal everyday environment.
For me the work represented a metaphor for urban life along with the associations of alienation and anonymity. The installed figures were part of the city for the duration of their ‘lifetime’, as the people and crowds are. This is what makes a city as much as the buildings and infrastructure and solid, semi-permanent structures. Artwork like this gives the crowds a moment to pause and reflect on their position within their living environment and the daily hustle and bustle.