An Interview with Katerina Belkina on ARTGUIDEEAST

type: Online
date of publication: May 10th, 2016
language: English
Author: Tina Kaplár


The currently Berlin based Katerina Belkina grew up in Russia and was educated as a painter and later continued her education in photography at the same art academy in her hometown, Samara. Her eerie portraits were exhibited all over the world and won several prizes. Most recently, she has won the Hasselblad Master Prize 2016 in Art category and we talked on this occasion.

Tina Kaplár: Congratulations on winning Hasselblad Master Prize in the art category, which is one of the most prominent photo awards though you do not consider yourself a photographer more like a hybrid between a painter and a photographer. What are the stages through which your very distinctive style has developed?

Katerina Belkina: Thank you very much! I do not consider myself a hybrid if we interpret it as a product of an artificial process. I am a totally natural and wild offspring, I’d say. All my conscious life I’ve considered and positioned myself as an artist; it doesn't matter at all what medium I use to make a statement. Excuse me for such an example, it is not for any comparison of course, but we do not call Michelangelo a sculptor or a painter. The term “artist” embraces all this practices.

As for my education, to be more precise everything what I know and still keep on learning I owe to my basis – to my family and to my curiosity, which drives me deeper and further on. Professionalism comes from intelligence, practice and consistent actions, I believe. Education in the restricted sense is a formality to me. I never liked the educational process in its present state and especially – in the state it was when and where I was studying. I studied painting and drawing in one place and photography in another. I have fond recollections of this photography-studying period, because it gave me some sort of impetus and set my path. I love photography. It is a part of my personality and my work. The main stages through which my style has developed I’d like to correlate with place and time. Context dictates our style of life, work, thinking and finally the way of presentation, if we speak about creative process. Therefore, the associative sequence is the following: Samara, Moscow, Russia, an artist as a separated insignificant particle, poor facilities, desperate desire to work in spite of everything and the inner world in contrast to the external. My style is a result of all of this.

TK: As we now know you were educated as a painter and later you continued on the same academy in the photography department. It is often said that when looking at your works it is fairly challenging to determine whether they are paintings or photographs, what are the advantages of photographs over paintings?

KB: Mixed media – to be more precise. Each medium has its advantages, I think. From photography I take the reality and the magic of an accidental frozen moment – those things which cannot be invented. From painting – the possibility to create your own atmosphere, working freely with shape and color, and its tradition. Besides, there is a computer with its always new, always upcoming technologies and analytical work, when I do not have to deal with emotions as in painting, when I always can rethink and remake.

TK: The prize winning series Revival is of reconstructed images from the renaissance era as you said in an interview “ if Renaissance is an escape from the influence of the Church to the exploration of identity and the living material world, «Revival» is an escape from consumerism and materialism, imposed by the society, to the exploration of oneself and personal spiritual growth. Neorenaissance in everyday life.” How did you chose the images to reinterpret?

KB: I did not undertake the task of reinterpreting. Renaissance is my source of inspiration. Only one work from the whole series has a prototype – The Sinner. Everything in this series started from this work. But it is rather a dialog between the past and the present than reinterpretation.

TK: It is also important to highlight that you use yourself as the model of almost all the images you make, so it would be tempting to name them self-portraits but in this way you rather isolate the creative process and depersonalize yourself thus creating the air of solitude and emptiness hung up in the time-space matrix. How did you develop this working routine?

KB: Thank you for such a clear definition and understanding of a cause and effect! I’d like to call the process of working with myself self-modelling rather than self-portraying. At the very beginning, such theatre of my own inspired me greatly. It was a challenge – how can I transform and play. Now being simultaneously on both sides of the lens is getting more and more difficult. My demands are getting higher. Assistants facilitate some technical problems, but even then, the result becomes less and less satisfactory for me. This blind work, though there is certain magic and chance, does not come easy. I want to be in full control of the process, but it is impossible.

TK: Apart from the great works from art history what books, movies or other works of art do you draw ideas or inspiration from? Who are the photographers whose works you follow?

KB: Of course, I’m inspired by the cinema, music, literature and photography. Nevertheless, I can’t name certain persons, because it would be wrong. As a rule, there is a kaleidoscope of images, associations and small scattered details in the artist’s mind. All this elements, located in one’s subconsciousness, assemble somehow in the light of our own experience and feelings. Some works can captivate me, stay in my memory and settle on a shelf inside, waiting for their turn. Later, it is hard to find the source of this or that detail, coloring and form.

TK: Loneliness and the void with a certain timelessness attached to your images created by the suppression of the visual distractions create a very distinctive visual language with a clear focus on you topics...are we all that alone?  

KB: In fact, that’s what’s going on.

TK: As your images are mostly of portraits and most of the models is yourself your works are packed with gender issues. In an interview you detested being apostrophied either a feminine or a feminist artist and as you claimed you are just a storyteller who happens to be female and art history has always been full of feminine portraits and stories. In your series Light and Heavy fragile women dominate the empty city landscape, unarmed with their underwear remaining their last protection. The images were made in your hometown, Samara which you describe as an absolutely average Russian city with all the typical eastern approaches towards female roles. As you moved to Berlin 4 years ago you now have  a first hand experience how the western part of the world sees women.. what is your experience so far?

KB: I have been living in Berlin for two years and a half. I’m still in doubt. There are some new for me and at the same time stereotypical moments in the European model, but in whole the situation seems to me quite natural and logical. Women and the rest of the world are advancing towards the balance. It is still a predominantly man’s world, but here women have hopes of some equity. In prospect.

TK: Since you have won the Hasselblad Masters award you gave countless interviews and speeches but apart form these honoring requests the prize brought a new project for you. What to know about it in advance?

KB: I’m working all-out on it. I’m trying to kill ten birds with one stone, doing many things for the first time. I’d like to go back to childhood (in the sense of erasing borders between fantasy and reality) and to immerse the viewer into the ancient profound wisdom. If things work out that way, of course. It concerns the fairy tales. Here I’d like to quote Carl Gustav Jung: “Everything to come was already in images: to find their soul the ancients went into the desert. This is an image. The ancients lived their symbols, since the world had not yet become real for them. Think diligently about the images that the ancients have left behind. They show the way of what is to come”.

TK: You have a very busy calendar. Art fairs, solo and group shows follow each other;  within the  that can be interested and reachable for the AGE readers?

KB: For the AGE readers I think interstingly for sure will be my solo exhibition in Hungary in the Faur Zsófi Gallery in May. This is my first exhibition in Budapest and I look forward to how the audience will going to appreciate my works.