To reflect on the alternative origins of a human
Soothing music reminiscent of church music is playing in one of the brightly lit halls. In the
center, there is a large white shell, containing a blue liquid hanging on strings. This is one of
the most physiological installations related to the theme of immortality, called "Exo-ark." Ilya
Fedotov-Fedorov reflects on what a shell would look like if people were born as flowers or as
caterpillars. The work is of human size, but according to the curator's assurance, Ilya did not
try to wrap it around himself. Opposite the "Exo-ark," there is a screening of various living
creatures, depicting nature's return to its origins.
Talk - 2017
Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov: "Nature is a universal language for communication”
He studied bioengineering for several years, planned to transfer to a medical faculty, worked
as a journalist, but in the end, he became an artist. The artistic journey of Ilya
Fedotov-Fedorov was long and not quite conventional. Now, what is important is not the
journey, but about where it led Ilya—to the 7th Moscow Contemporary Art Biennale. Here,
the artist’s "natural" artworks are presented from 6 different series.
Maria Khvalibova: Why are you interested in the main project theme “Clouds⇄Forest”
? I am aware that you have been excited about the concept—that even while staying in
the Amazon jungle, where there is almost no connection with civilization, you managed
to find Internet access and apply before the deadline.
Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov: Yes, although I found out about the Biennale when I was still in
Moscow, I applied while staying in Brazil right before the deadline. I was pondering over the
theme for a long time, and during my trip, my thoughts finally formed. Actually, I did not
send the ready artworks, but sketches to the Biennale. I had no particular ideas about the
Clouds⇄Forest, but it appeared that my thoughts resonated with the Biennale theme.
In the Amazon forests, I had an acute feeling of how vulnerable nature is. Literally, every
inch of the land is covered with something alive there. More than 5.5 million animal species,
out of 10 million existing on the planet, inhabit this area. On the way back, when we were
getting out of the jungle thickets, gradually approaching civilization, a catastrophic difference
between the living world and the almost dead one became evident: fields, pastures, villages,
deforested areas. After the trip, I started creating new artworks, and showed them as part of a
new series during my meeting with a curator over summer.
M.K.: In your opinion, what attracted Yuko Hasegawa to your artworks?
I.F-F.: You are walking around the forest in search of a particular plant, a red fern, for
example. You are walking for a long time, a very long time, but there is no red fern, and then
finally you find something resembling the fern, but it has become so dark by that time that it
is impossible to examine the plant carefully. Perhaps, it is not a red fern, but a common fern.
After that, you are walking back out of the thickets following the light. This is how I would
describe communicating with any person. I do not know what exactly attracted her, perhaps,
it was the red fern.
M.K.: You are concerned about the relationship between humans and nature, and this
issue is reflected in the series of works prepared for the Biennale. Tell us a little about
I.F-F.: There are more than 20 artworks from 6 different series in the exhibition. They are
presented at two places. At the entrance, there is the Field Test Methods series of works. The
other 5 series are placed in a separate room, which is a single space where a dialogue between
nature and ideas about nature takes place. In general, I use scientific ideas about nature, the
form which we are used to seeing in biology textbooks. At the same time, I combine them
with real stones, grains, and ants. One of the most important projects is the 533 Sisters
artworks. The series appeared when I decided to move my pet ants from one formicarium
(aquarium for ants) to a bigger one. I decided that I had to count them when relocating. There
were 533 ants and 1 queen. Interestingly, all ants in the anthill are females. They are sisters to
each other, and they are ruled by the queen, who is a mother to them. A male appears for only
14 days, fertilizes the female, and dies after that. That is how I came up with 533 Sisters.
Hence, the name of the series appeared, which refers to a famous play Three Sisters by Anton
The artwork consists of ants, which are placed in a form of the text by Chekhov where each
ant has a female name. The ant becomes a construction material, a word, a symbol, an
instrument for production of information, and the information itself. The series includes texts,
in which ants' names are converted into the binary code. Gradually, the text is changing,
turning into an abstraction, and the outlines of ants are transforming into language units
carrying specific semantic meanings. On the one hand, it resembles a special language, and
on the other hand, it looks like a biological classifier, in which ants are separated by species,
structure, and so on.
M.K.: For the first time, you created a large-format work for the Biennale. Was it
difficult to work with the new format?
I.F-F.: Yes, it was my first experience, and it was rather hard. I had to finish the work on the
installation day right at the venue because it could only be completed after being stretched
and fixed. It was physically impossible to finish the work earlier because I could neither
unfold such a huge canvas, 3 by 5 meters, nor bring it into my apartment. In total, it took me
almost four and a half months to create the artwork at an accelerated pace.
M.K.: Bio-art is what you call the field you are working in. Is it one of the science art
I.F-F.: I indeed used the term bio-art for my works in the beginning. It was at the start, and I
actually thought that the term was suitable. Now, I have realized that it is not quite an
accurate concept as it is directly connected to science art. I gradually moved away from this
field, but I did not find any other concept. Certainly, I am still working with the theme of
nature, but it is rather the perspective of a researcher, a person who is interested in nature and
is observing it, rather than an approach of a serious scientist. Someone has recently named
this group of artists with the term “naturalists.” Perhaps this is not quite a precise definition,
but there are no alternatives for now. Maybe, a word ending with “ism” will appear
someday—like biologism, for example. Foreign artists called me an “antist,” combining an
“ant” and an “artist,” at the Biennale.
M.K.: I would say that your field can also be called dangerous art because you work
with snakes, turtles, various insects—and with poisonous creatures in general. Have
accidents happened to you personally while creating art?
I.F-F.: Accidents happen, but the most dangerous creatures are humans, as the most risky
situations are associated with them. Regarding insects and ants living in my house, they often
run away from their formicarium. However, it is not dangerous, and I believe they are just
walking around. Sometimes, they bite my legs, but it causes me little pain. One time, a reaper
ant bit the area under my fingernail while I was sleeping. It was quite unpleasant. Another
time, I remember searching for the queen of the weaver ant in the mangrove forest. I took a
thin knife with me to quickly cut their nests that are made from leaves. These ants use acid as
a defense mechanism, thus, my hands were covered in acid and a great number of ants. At the
end, at the 5th or 6th nest, I made a rapid movement haphazardly and cut my palm along its
entire length. Acid began to corrode the wound, it was quite painful, and it would not stop
bleeding. I had to get some water to wash the wound. I did not manage to find the quee. Well,
apart from that, I use glass in my work, therefore, glas pieces get stuck in my feet often, but I
am used to it.
M.K.: It does not seem to be something that one can easily get used to. Is it true that you
find both inspiration and materials for work in nature?
I.F-F.: I think that nature is a universal language for communication since on every continent
and in every culture, a person can understand what a stone is, and what a tree leaf is. In
almost all of my works, there is a physical presence of nature. That is why I am trying to
gather materials for work wherever I am. In winter, it can be difficult to find the necessary
biological items sometimes. The processes of search, collecting, and research are truly
interesting, and all of them are reflected in my new solo exhibition “Preservation Instinct” at
Fragment Gallery. It is a parallel program of the 7th Moscow Biennale, and it is certainly
connected with my work presented in the main project. We may see a figure of a researcher
who found himself on the Earth "after humans.” He is trying to figure out what happened to
our civilization, studying the flora and fauna of the planet which starts its life again after a