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Artem Filatov

artist and curator

On the impersonal territory of art, the immortality of the artist, and the Namegarden project

One phrase that sums him up
If I was asked to describe myself, I would say the phrase “non serviam” sums me up. It means “I won’t obey.” According to legend, that’s what the fallen angel Satanael said when he was cast out of Heaven. As he fell, he cried, “non serviam!”

The reason that I won’t obey is not that I don’t like something, that I’m defending something or that I have a certain political or religious view. “I won’t obey” is a very human desire — to be an individual. In literature the figure of the fallen angel is often described as one of the gains of an individual. During the Enlightenment people studied and romanticized the figure of this Antichrist, trying to find the territory of revolution and liberation in it, and “I won’t obey” is a phrase that sets free the most important human desire — to be independent and not subordinate to what is sent from above. This story is more about people than about resistance.
About wanting to cry
I’ll always let myself shed a few tears, whatever the situation. It could be a film that’s important to me or a piece of music, or it could be when I introduce people to my projects; they’ll say something and it’ll make me want to weep a little. But the worst feeling happens when you’re on your own at home, feeling sad, or when you come up against difficulties and then cut yourself a bit of slack.
How he became an artist
Francis Picabia had the wonderful concept of instantaneism. This is when rather than people choosing the object that interests them, the object chooses them; I could have been a musician or a film-maker but for some reason I became an artist.

It’s very important that art isn’t an end in itself. If I realize at a particular point that the art I’m working on has run its course, I’m very happy to change direction.
Art as a transmitter of change
Art is in an incredible position: on the one hand it wants to change the world, which is the arrogant mission artists always flatter themselves with, and on the other, it’s a rather useless superstructure, which can’t feed the poor, house the homeless or supply clean water to a village. But this “uselessness” is exactly what allows art to be something different every time.

We probably value contemporary art precisely because it echoes the classical position — art is what is not art: artists constantly try to break its confines and somehow change its direction, its aesthetic paradigms, the model for perceiving reality, and human behaviour. In this, art has possibility, but it doesn’t change the world — it’s a transmitter of change.
Art is in an incredible position: on the one hand it wants to change the world, which is the arrogant mission artists always flatter themselves with, and on the other, it’s a rather useless superstructure
The immortality of the artist
It’s tempting for artists to think that art will make them immortal. This is especially true of artists today, who see this belief as self-evident because of the internet, where virtually any record seems permanent. Thanks to the territory it inhabits, art sometimes preserves its independence and a certain lack of susceptibility to time, but any crisis can destroy our knowledge of art as well as other things. So, for example, there are many of Dutch artists from the peak of Dutch painting who we don’t even know about.
On interspecies relations
Today there’s a ubiquitous anthropocentric picture in which the human race is considered the main criterion in science and art. Both scientists and artists are trying to chip away at this picture by constructing interspecies relations in which we study nature, for example, or other parts of our life, based on their own perspectives and type of perception. We try to speak in the insects’ language and to understand animals through what an animal is and not through what a human being is.
On his mission
I see the mission of my art as creating a neutral, drab and impersonal territory, where members of marginalized communities, adolescents, older people, businessmen, civil servants, art dealers, ordinary people, workers, and migrants or ex-pats from elsewhere can all meet. They can build another kind of communication here without mutual misconceptions and stereotypes about one another. It seems to me that in art, which is often free from the narrow confines of politics and religion, there’s an opportunity to reconcile different parties and to suggest that there are different ways of existing and thinking. In this way, we develop within ourselves not so much tolerance as an understanding that the world is not as simple as we might think at first glance.
“Inject disillusionment into the world”
I can’t say that I bring people together. I like the idea that artists disappear into their works, and are camouflaged beneath the titles. An artist can be a talking head, or a pageboy who helps people pass through specific points but I find it nicer to think that that’s a part of collective consciousness or an impersonal design template.

The artist’s task is to inject disillusionment into the world. People do things, and especially art, purely because there is something they don’t agree with or something that worries them. If everything was perfect, people wouldn’t build houses or improve them; they wouldn’t make sure there was hot water or that their children grew up in better conditions than they did themselves. It’s exactly the same with art: if there’s nothing for you to change, why would you create the likeness of the thing you love? What’s more, pleasure can’t be endless and it brings sadness. Imagine if a pleasure appeared that would last forever. It would be like an emotional shock that you would want to escape as soon as you could. We very much love a lot of things that give us pleasure and happiness because they are finite and transient; we have them at a certain point and then they end. Essentially, everything that we consider living, we consider living because it can die.
On the Namegarden project
I could talk about this for ages. The thing is, when we opened the Namegarden project in a private crematorium in Nizhny Novgorod we made two whole one-and-a-half hour lectures to describe why the project was done as it was, how it worked and what happened before the project, how it was created and what would happen next.

My dream would be for this project to find me when I’m old and that when I’m dying, I would know that the project still existed and was still developing. It’s my answer to the question of the circumstances in which art is useful; it’s when artists establish themselves in an area and begin to work with it, changing it a fair bit.

It’s a story of alternatives and the chance to use memorial services in a different way or to avoid them; to preserve and honour memory and deal with grief either through inventing new rituals or by making use of existing ones. It’s a place that creates a new way of talking about death and relating to it.

So here, in the inner courtyard of the crematorium there’s a botanical garden where there are 180 species of plants growing that are typical of central Russia. Anyone can dedicate a plant to a loved one, relative or friend who has died. The dedication takes place on the website and you receive an electronic certificate to confirm it. In this way it’s a module of symbolic respect for their memory, a digital memory in which we’re drawing on, for example, Buddhist natural burials or the method for converting the human body into compost that they’re trying in Washington state in the present day.

As well as that, the garden is not just an architectural and botanical space: there’s a sound installation in it which was created jointly with the artist Alexey Korsi. It’s a loudspeaker tower, the dominant architectural feature of our garden, and six times a day you will hear the voice of the opera singer Zoya Petrova singing the names of the internal organs of the human body in Latin.
What an artist needs
We don’t expect art to be prophecy in its own land. A good designer item can be art. A lot of people may disagree with me, but all the same, by giving artists the chance to be mental and spiritual we’re actually giving freedom for art to be different.

Contemporary artists in Russia today need a widely developed professional infrastructure with access to international practice. They also need institutions to respect the creators of works as principal within art. This relationship exists, but it needs to be developed and mutual obligations need to be maintained: we’re seeing a discussion going on about new ethics and mutual relationships between institutions and artists.

It doesn’t have to be a case of some imaginary oligarch called Mr M simply throwing money at artists and them swimming in it. That doesn’t make any sense. There are institutions, grants, and art fairs that try to act as a system of legitimization. Otherwise, it would look pretty much as though a mad lord was supporting mad artists.

Artists also need to understand what they’re giving away and who the beneficiaries of their art are. If they work for high society, fair enough, that’s their territory. If they want to sell their works to collectors and museums on the one hand and work with migrants on the other, that’s also their right.
It’s tempting for artists to think that art will make them immortal. This is especially true of artists today, who see this belief as self-evident because of the internet, where virtually any record seems permanent
About Nizhny
As an artist, it strikes me that prizes such as the Kandinsky Prize could be relocated to Nizhny Novgorod. When I meet new people, whoever they are — whether it’s a collector, a taxi driver or simply someone who’s contacted me on Instagram — I always invite them to Nizhny and show them round the town if I have time.

I wouldn’t want to push contemporary art in Nizhny too hard: it would be nice to keep the existing organic, natural way that artists, galleries and so on find each other. But all the same, there’s definitely room for growth in Nizhny Novgorod and we need to see more of it in the future.
Loving your town
Loving your town means giving back what it’s given you. If its architecture is important to you, you give something back to its architecture; if its people are important, you give the people opportunities; if art’s important, you give something to art. It’s like the law of thermodynamics.
Producer:  Marina Vasiltsova
Editors:  Anton Manyashin, Ivan Nikolaev
English style editor and translator:  Elizabeth Guyatt
Interviewers:  Anton Zhelnov, Tatiana Arno
Photographer:  Vladimir Vasilchikov
Stylist:  Karolina Traktina
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