Dmitry Kawarga does not like to comment his art, convinced that it should speak for itself. We had the exclusive opportunity to have a discussion with him, delving into philosophical diatribes on biomorphic art, in which the mimetic element is often reduced to a minimum – concentrating directly on matters of shape and concept creation.
You began your career as a painter. What brought you into sculpture? Painting confined me to the dimensions of the canvas. The surface is sufficient to contain the world in its every aspect, of course, but in the end it is nothing more but canvas in a frame. When I stand in front of a canvas, I activate a certain imaginary device, expanding existing reality. It might be compared to putting on a pair of virtual reality glasses. Sculpture appeals to me as a medium because sculptures intrude into our material world. They are like live beings that become part of our reality and modify the environment around them.
When did you start to differentiate between painting and sculpture? I have always felt the difference as an artist, and I have always wanted to fill this “real world” of ours with spatial images. I can still rely on painting and the canvas plane to take a notional journey into other realities.
You seldom speak about yourself. In one interview, you referred to yourself as a “biomorphic radical”. Could you expand on this notion? “Biomorphic radical” is an invented term with which I describe my artistic process. I intentionally try to dissolve my social component. My ego increasingly melds with my works, transforming into a biological instrument; consciousness resides in a biological shell; and observing the transformation of this external shell could be called the meaning of not just my creativity but that of life as such.
We know you study biology, physics, space and technologies. What are your sources of inspiration? I don’t know if it could be called research, more like incidental, superficial dabbling. My thinking is not structured, yet things that are concerned with technology, math and science do pique my imagination. Premonitions of the unknown cause internal tremors, a sense of something new – the ideal state to start creating.
Many of your works were produced in cooperation with scientists, software programmers and engineers. Is it easy to collaborate with people in these fields? To be honest, working with other people does not come easy to me, it is especially difficult to find a common language with those in technological professions. An artist has no scientific degrees, just a sense that everything in life is transient, a peculiar sense of insecurity… I have been acquainted with a robotics engineer for a decade now – and it took three years for him to finally start treating me seriously. After multiple conversations about contemporary art over a glass of wine, the ice between us finally melted and his sarcastic smirks faded away.
An analysis of your works reveals an unmistakable interest in form. Are matters of form essential to you, or is the idea, the message of a piece more important? Everything we are able to perceive and think about is, more or less, derived from two elements – a certain abstract chaotic essence we perceive intuitively, and rational structure that clarifies and transforms this essence into something clear and intelligible. By ridding ourselves of one component, we will no longer be people in the usual sense of the word. Art works in the same way – the ideas it contains are intertwined with their “plastic” embodiments. By creating their works, an artist can experiment with the ratios of these components, but isolating themselves within one and closing the door to the other one is just impossible. The most interesting things tend to happen somewhere in the grey area. Abstract forms often transform into entirely specific ideas that can be described with words. Likewise, a piece of philosophical writing can be transformed into a moving, anthropomorphic sculpture. It is important to direct our creative attention towards these transformations, gradually arriving at discoveries that are quite mind-blowing…
In the past few years, you have produced a lot of large-format pieces. What made you move towards larger sculptures? As a youth, I formulated my dream – to go into painting and never return… That was a metaphor which today seems fairly possible to me. At times when my body spends months working inside a large shape, or darting between a variety of gigantic polymer sculptures, I no longer know who I am… The ego disappears somewhere inside the work of art.
How do large-format works come about? Do you start with sketches and later implement the ideas using specific models? Large works usually require sketches in order to discuss the idea with the notional “customer”. It doesn’t matter if I am making a project for a gallery or producing something for a public environment. Occasionally, I will make mock-ups as well. It simplifies the process and reduces the risk of failure, but it does bring in a certain element of routine, since many things are already “solved” and only awaiting implementation. I prefer working without a sketch, so that every decision made during the process is enormously important and the result cannot be foreseen. I built my own home without blueprints as a matter of principle. It is a gigantic piece of sculpted matter expanding on its own. It is alive, and I am able to change direction at any time, meld with the process, and let the sculpture affect the decisions that I make.
You ordinarily produce monochromatic pieces, but with more and more bright neon hues appearing in the past few years. Is there a reason behind the change in tonality? Colour represents a psychological space, pure visual energy. The juxtaposition of various colours makes them “clash” with one another, a curious “chemical” reaction starts to occur, which is often toxic and destructive. Only lately, after years of producing art, I have felt courageous enough to embark upon these risky experiments with colour…
Is working with polymers difficult? How would you describe them? There is an unimaginable number and variety of polymers out there. Just five to seven kinds of them might be combined in a given piece. Working with each requires skills with specific equipment. This includes different kinds of 3D printers (of which I have three at the moment), a high-pressure device for spraying hot-cure polyurethane that took me many months to figure out, all sorts of burners and gas mixtures for plastics, equipment for gums and composites. It is hard to even list all of it.
The Signet Bank Art Collection features your work from the Biostructures series. How was the series conceived, and how many works did it include? The whole series began with a large relief piece (300х600 cm) I worked on way back in 2005. My first sculptures emerged and “alit” from this relief, to be found eventually in the wide world of art exhibitions. There were many of them, from large to miniscule, all somehow connected to that original relief. The series later freed itself from the relief that gave rise to it, becoming standalone sculpture objects. The sculptures were hung using steel hooks attached to ceilings using chains like curious biological artefacts “excavated” from the depths of the human subconscious. Some of them were later crushed and remade into new objects. One of them, after a series of incarnations, now graces the Signet Bank Art Collection.
What are the projects you plan to implement in the nearest future? If I talk about them now, it will mean the projects are fixed in words. For them to continue to “ripen”, I would prefer to leave them be.
Dmitry Kawarga works using a unique technology that embodies his uniquely harmonious yet abstract sense of form. Kawarga is renowned both in Russia and in international art circles as one of the most popular authors of “science art”. In the past seven years, his creations have been exhibited throughout Russia and in London, Paris, New York, Vienna, Basel and Zurich. Kawarga refers to himself as a “biomorphic radical”, a fitting description for the range of his creative pursuits. “I like to think of myself as a biological instrument of art, capable of materialising invisible psychophysiological processes, extruding them into reality as volumetric projections,” the artist explains.
The sculpture we hold in the Signet Bank Art Collection has been exhibited in Basel, Zurich and London. It is part of Dmitry Kawarga’s Biostructures project and combines polymerised organic and inorganic entities that imitate natural forms – each developing in its singular direction yet unbelievably plastic and harmonious when viewed together.