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How to instil a timeless dimension, intrinsic to art, into one’s own work, and question at the same time scientific advances of one’s era? How to seduce conquistador-collectors in the North Pole, investors in China or Europe, with a critical eye on the alienation of our ways of life tied to the development of new technologies? How to teach the art and science correlation at the Sorbonne and prepare an exhibition at the far ends of Ural and Siberia?
Olga Kisseleva’s artworks, political and/or intimate, occasionally so unusual they can become absurd, take the form of photographic vanitas in Rennes, simulate a slowed down time in an Ekaterinburg factory or materialise as an antiviral performance in Madrid. They usually result from personal experiences and form a permanent questioning on the state of the world. They emanate from a definite multimedia and conceptual artist, with a keen interest in her contemporaries. Divers faits: daily foods Settled in Paris, since the beginning of the 1990s, Olga Kisseleva (mother of two) has been able to find her own
path and does not regret her life as an artist. Her keenness to change the world, which, according to her, would probably have weighted heavier as the head of the International Monetary Fund, is intact. Her sense of humour - a survival technique for those who grew up in the USSR - and her quiet disposition despite an extremely busy timetable, are embodied in a radiant blond head, nourished by literature, formatted by mathematics and the contradictions of a revolutionary dictatorship.
Olga Kisseleva is an adventurer. The key episodes of her artistic development have been recorded in a book of photographs, Divers faits (pun on “miscellaneous facts” and “news in brief”), combining philosophical reflections and gastronomic vanitas into self-fictions. As a child, I heard adults practice the language of Aesop, named in reference to the ancient Greek slave, using a double meaning vocabulary to criticize society. When I found these 17th century Dutch paintings, at the Hermitage Museum, that depict a daily reality using symbolic objects, I started dreaming about implementing such a project.
The language of art
The very curator of this museum, her thesis supervisor, later sent her, as a student, to go around the world before returning to her country for completing a PhD. Born into a family of physicists (her mother was an electromagnetic waves expert and her father Head of the University), from a young age, Olga Kisseleva was therefore destined to follow a distinguished scientific career.
However, against all odds, after a competitive examination, she joined the very coveted Saint Petersburg School of Fine Arts, in the textile design section, spared, she said, by the Soviet ideology. Unfortunately, education appeared to have been reduced to purely formal aesthetic and technical issues. With a scholarship for her thesis, she decided to hitch hike to France from the Berlin railway station. A chance encounter meant she ended up at the CICV, Montbéliard’s international centre of video creation led by Pierre Bongiovani, who informed her about the academic curriculum and teachers likely to guide her aesthetic research in France. There, Olga Kisseleva discovered multimedia and, how new languages [can] be created with tapestry.
The topic of her thesis became: what are the new languages of art?, a
question the artist never seems to have ceased asking.
One of her recent works, designed in a residence at La Pommerie, encodes in a tapestry made in the tradition of the Aubusson-Felletin workshops a message that the viewer can only discover using his mobile phone. A way to bring face to face William Gibson’s cyberpunk universe and the rural areas of the Plateau de Millevaches, where the work was designed, knowing that the term “vache” does not refer to any cattle but, in old French, to the local underground natural springs. The decoded message, as you may understand, is none other than the spring revealing the title of the piece. With her Cross Worlds (on the front cover) series, presented at the 2008 Berlin Transmediale, the artist plays on contradictory symbols by integrating into the QR (Quick Response) code, emblematic objects of a society under technological monitoring and images of demonstrators wearing shirts gathered to defend their rights. In other 2D visuals revealed by a mobile phone scan, she entangles elements of American and Soviet propaganda revealing, not without irony, their semantic proximity.
This way to link, within her work, tradition and the ultra-modernity of the world around us, or even the repetitive banality of our daily actions, is not new in her practice. Her videos are often presented as diptychs, such as Double vie (double life) that highlights the schizophrenia of a society where passion is lived aside when necessity forces us to "choose" a bread winning job. This does not mean the artist apprehends the world in a binary or dichotomous way: Border no border (2005) opposing the images of Western businessmen stuck at the customs check point to those of a female Indian dancer wearing shorts, running free in a public space, tackles several themes; including discourse and film language.
The artist, who, following the steps of Beuys might be perceived here as a 'social sculptor' recognizes too often in the approach of her contemporaries a systematic critique of society, a trait she regards as a little easy.
She wishes to propose alternatives.
With How are you? (1998), a website which brought her international recognition, she inquired all over the world on the real degree of wellbeing of her contemporaries. Proceeding though investigation, her approach is similar to that of a researcher: what interests me is the genesis of a work, the creative process. When starting a project I do not draw, I think through photography, or video, then it can take different shapes.
One of her latest installations, called "sur mesure" (custom made) uses nanotechnology to explore the limits stretched by man in his quest for comfort. In a dark room, a device makes it possible to record the colour of the iris of each visitor and convert it into light, illuminating the exhibition room with the colour of his eyes. Could this be the angelic vision of a customised world for a public or collective space, where an individual is alone, surveying the perception of the previous visitor?
It is a fact, the human being devotes more effort to improve his comfort than to defend his freedom. Is this the subliminal message of the artist whose works are sometimes stretched between social proximity and prospective high-tech? "The impact of technology and science are at the core of my concerns, I am working on the changes occurring in the world following the technological developments that affect our ways of living and thinking”, reaffirms the artist who now heads a research program at the Sorbonne and is a visiting professor at the University of Ekaterinburg, in Russia, where she has been asked to connect artists with scientific laboratories.
In this industrial city, five hours away from Moscow by plane, with a seven time zones difference from Europe, devoid of any museum or cultural space, a contemporary art biennial has been set up. Olga Kisseleva was invited there, together with fellow artists, to produce an original piece. Each artist was given an industrial plant as an exhibition and resource space. It's time (2010) was designed in this context. It is a quantum clock made in collaboration with Sylvain Reynal, researcher at CNRS, with the participation of a cardiologist for the analysis of data: the interpretation of a body signal a
little more complex than the mere recording of a pulse to assess your emotional state in relation to the perception of time, according to which a pendulum speeds up or slows down. The clock additionally gives you an oracle, programmed from familiar expressions such as "have a rest", "totally speed", or "take your time"!
Power Struggle and political strategies
Firmly rooted in this art and science connection, the artist does not hesitate to work as part of a team or to involve specialists; scientists, sociologists or linguists in the development of her projects. In November 2011, she was invited with two compatriots to present a performance as part of an exhibition on the history of Russian Art, La cavalerie rouge at the Casa Encendida, in Madrid. There, the curatorial focused was on Soviet artistic currents and the artists’ relation to power in the 1920s to 1960.
Olga Kisseleva proposed, a live battle between four anti-viruses commented by an actor using the tone of a live football game report, a family altercation or a political confrontation. Each one tries to destroy the other three, eradicating everything in the computer until there is only one left. A beautiful metaphor for the struggle for power currently taking place between politicians, as unproductive is it is dangerous, she said. The fight becomes visible to the spectators thanks to lines of code racing on the screen. In order to enable them to monitor the progress of the fight and visualize the strategies of the protagonists, she has had a specific program developed that assigns a colour to each anti-virus, red, green, blue and yellow, in reference to the Malevich painting. Four colours representing political parties, but also symbolic of dogmatic texts!
Not being sure if she will be able to improve the world, the artist highlights with humour and mockery its paradoxical twists, thus attempting to raise our level of consciousness.
 Divers Faits, la symbolique de la nourriture et des objets du quotidien en 49 histoires et 49 natures mortes (symbolism of food and everyday objects in 49 stories and 49 still lives) by Olga Kisseleva published by editions Jannink, Paris, 2010. The texts were written by Hélèna Villovitch from interviews with the artist. This book follows an original exhibition of 50 photos, 5 videos and a performance at La criée, in Rennes, in 2010 (Commissioner Larys Frogié).
 Olga Kisseleva is heading the art-science courses in the Art de l'image & vivant and Espaces, lieux, expositions, réseaux Masters, where she is supervising PhD students. She is also a "PhD Examinator" at Goldsmiths University in London and contributes to Plastik Art & Science, the University Journal.
 Her title refers to the painting by Malevich and short stories by Isaak Babel. The exhibition pays a tribute to Russian painters from the 1920’s to 1960’s.
 Red for the revolutionaries and Karl Marx’s Capital, green for the green activists and the Koran, orange for the centrists, saffron yellow for the Torah, blue for the liberals and the Bible.
Published in the Digitalarti Mag #8.
Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.
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