We live in a world where rushing from A to B is the new reality. But how are traditional lifestyles seeping into the contemporary and what can we learn from them? In our new weekly interview series, Ksenia Kazintseva, a fine artist and educator interested in collective memory and craft as part of the modern lifestyle, will explore this from the perspective of the artist. Is cultural heritage an underlying essential or a remnant of the past? Are creators drawing on memory or rejecting it to make something new? For this new series, Ksenia selected both emerging and established artists who focus on nostalgia to ask them not only about their practice and life in quarantine, but also the significance of cultural education within the arts. She explores how the artists redefine tradition to fit into modern context and what they recommend for upcoming creatives.
Houses on chicken legs and doctors – what’s the connection? Find out in Ksenia’s first interview with Boris Kazakov, an illustrator animator, whose Instagram is both humorous and thought provoking. Born in Leningrad in 1964, he is an artist who became a film maker. During his fine art career, he exhibited with “Old City” collective in the late 90s followed by work with “Art Engineers” School. He soon came across parallel film, an apolitical independent production movement in the Soviet Union, and began scratching on tapes. His first film “Hatchlings of the Sea” was part of Stuttgart festival and was recognised in Oberhausen. The second one named “Poles” was screened at the Berlin festival as well as those in Leipzig and Jerusalem, receiving the grand prix at “Kinoshock” festival. Both were shown in Rotterdam and subsequently purchased by the Museum of Cinema in Amsterdam. Many more of his films are available online and will be distributed through his upcoming YouTube channel. Despite Kazakov’s acclaim in the film industry, he considers himself an artist, sketching characters daily in a little notebook.
Read the full interview below or watch the video on our YouTube channel.
Ksenia Kazintseva: How did you get into film?
Boris Kazakov: I don’t consider myself to be a film maker, and I have more friends who are artists rather than film makers. It’s not that I wanted to become an artist, I lived like all boys at the time. After school, you either go to the army or university. I got into university because my dad said that the army isn’t worth it, and I didn’t really want to go myself. I graduated from a technical university of turbine construction in St Petersburg in 1989. Following graduation I just started making art because my network of friends had similar interests. And back then I ended up in Kaliayeva with squatting art group N-CH/V-CH, with new artists, and integrated into that world. And with time, in 1990, I joined the School of Art Engineers. Among its students were Inal Savchenkov, Oleg Kotelnikov, Timur Novikov, Oleg Maslov, Vadim Ovchinnikov, Boris Koshelokhov. And with them I started squatting in different places and in 1991-1992 Inal got a visit from Kurekhin.
The group had an exciting film made already. Kurekhin had seen it, and suggested they make a serious project in Lenfilm, a cartoon with his music in a similar style. Nobody really invited me there, but nonetheless, I came, joined in the process and absolutely loved it. Kurekhin’s film ended up being unsuccessful. The group split up and made another film, which ended up at the Berlinale, it was called “Motherland Welcoming Back Heroes”. That was my first collaborative work. Sadly, after this project our team fell apart and everyone went different places in 1993-1994.
I had a 35mm projector at home and different tapes in black and white. I started drawing over tapes in ink. I started playing with these tapes, putting them in the projector and watching. Soon I realised that something was working out, my friends liked my work too. And so, my film “Hatchlings of the Sea” came to life. Later it ended up at a festival in Spartak cinema as well as other places. After that I was offered to screen it at Oberhausen film festival.
Following that I started working on my next film. There’s a director, who has passed, unfortunately, Yevgeniy Yufit. We knew each other well and valued each other as professionals. Yevgenjy was making a film called “Silver Heads” when I came to his studio at Len-doc-film. It was a serious black and white film, which they were making with Vladimir Maslov. And I took what remains of a film -outtakes and so forth. I loaded the back of my car with all that – jars of tapes, brought that home and started painting on the tapes, but more intentionally this time, and made a short version of the film which I called “Sharp Poles.” It’s a film about deriving a hybrid of a human and a tree, kind of micro realism which worked really well. This film was selected for the Berlin film festival. I went to the festival too, and saw how the film was received, which made me even more confident as an artist.
Later I started filming with different cameras for photo and video. The tradition of parallel cinema (an apolitical experimental creative movement in the USSR) was started by Yevgeniy Kondrat’yev, Kotelnikov, Inal Savchenkov, Ivetta Pomerantseva. These are people who filmed on 16mm and scratched the film. Now tapes are a rare medium, while everyone is using digital. I think these 100 years in which people were using tape, will be ripe for learning. If all this now (coronavirus) doesn’t end us, it will be a really well studied matter. So that’s how I came into film. But really I think I’m a visual artist.
Ksenia Kazintseva: And where do we see @izbavrach come in?
Boris Kazakov: Well, the houses on chicken legs and doctors are characters which came to me. Vadim Ovchinnikov has a chicken-legged house that appears as a visitor from the future. Generally, it’s a form that is a paradox. You have a home but it can run around. It’s not really a house, it’s more of a genus, like a succession. It’s you, what’s before you and what’s after.
And then there are doctors. If you start animating police officers or priests, you can have a problem pretty fast. Doctors are also a government structure, but are easy to animate. For example, a centipede is difficult in animation and takes ages, while the figure of a doctor is quite simple, cover the mouth, draw the eyes and that’s it.
@izbavrach is one of the projects I am working on right now, there are a few different ones. My other project is the reason I joined Instagram. I made films/cartoons on small pieces of paper and wrote different notes on these papers. With time I had too many and did not want to throw those away, so I took a paper notebook and started gluing them in, like you would in a planner or sketchbook, to remember the visuals. I ended up collecting the first, second, third notebook. Two have already found new owners, and another two are filled and photographed. So I thought the images should go somewhere, and decided to put them up on Instagram. I’m also going to start a Youtube channel to put up the films in high resolution since I have a bunch.
Ksenia Kazintseva: I really think that @izbavrach, at least for me, is a great representation of tradition in contemporary context. This mythology we grew up on is so relevant, and you embed it into isolation and other modern contexts – it works really well, and I think it has massive potential.
Boris Kazakov: For sure, and especially as it happened with this coronavirus, I didn’t even expect it really, but my friend wrote to say “how did you guess?” since I just started my Instagram account in mid-December. I think it’s worth becoming familiar with the internet. When I joined the artist group back in the day I just watched and tried not to ask questions, until some things became clear. I didn’t force myself in there and I’m not planning to do that in the case with Internet either.
My older friend Lev Naumovich Smorgon who is a sculptor and someone whose toys we had in kindergarten, said that if after fifty, an artist is doing something of his own and not purely commissions, then it’s good. I think I really fit that criteria and I mostly make things that are my own. So I’m not planning to stop, I see potential in developing not only this project, but documentary projects and other artistic projects as well. I definitely have things to do.
Ksenia Kazintseva: What would you say to emerging illustrators or creative people in general?
Boris Kazakov: I had a situation with my parents, they came from their own villages to St Petersburg. My dad after the army, and my mom was working at a fabric factory where they met. They were quite far from the arts and with views that were rather simple and they couldn’t imagine that an artist was a real career. So I wasn’t really understood at home even though I painted and did other things. Nonetheless, when I graduated, I had to decide what to do in life. I was painting and drawing and hanging out with artists, always thinking what to do next. I was contemplating going back to the turbine engine factory, even though it was already on the verge of breakdown. I thought that I should return to this kind of work, or at least start doing something that pays. But at one point, I just stopped caring about what other people would say, you know? And that was the moment of truth! So can I give a piece of advice? Listen to yourself.
Ksenia Kazintseva: I guess, commitment to what you do is important. On a different note, I read that some of your films were inspired by music, is that true?
Boris Kazakov: Not really. When you use tape film, there’s no sound to begin with, the machine just clicks and that’s all. At least that’s how I made my first few independent films – you sit at home, draw on the tape, and then put it in the projector to see what you’ve made. But I had many friends who made music, and they suggested adding the sound. Georgiy Baranov with Vadik Ovchinnikov created music for my first film at the studio and did everything. Georgiy continued to work on music with me, new composers joined too, we never had a problem.
Ksenia Kazintseva: Are you making use of our cultural heritage within your artworks? How do ideas come to you? In @izbavrach it’s our mythology and nostalgia in a way. Whereas in contemporary context those things are in the background.
Boris Kazakov: Well, if we look at tradition – I have always been making use of the rich Russian culture and parallel cinema, works of St Petersburg artists – we can mark that as a basis. And with doctors – I was scared of them my whole life. I remember running away from kindergarten when I realised we were going to get jabs. I was really scared of syringes and needles. And in terms of heritage, which heritage? My own? Whatever I left to inherit is the heritage (laughs).