Veniamin Kazachenko: "I often dream about black things"
Saturday October 30th 2010
In his drawing and paintings, Veniamin Kazachenko (1982) incorporates images from the world religions, mass media and the visual arts. But at first glance, they appear to show very little.
The human figures and forms have 'silted up'; everything is hidden behind an expanse of black paint. Philosophers and scientists like Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Albert Einstein hide behind large black sunglasses - more often, all that remains is a black field. Veniamin Kazachenko seems to wipe away history by painting layer upon layer; stacking image upon image. Until all that is left is a black haze.

"I often dream about black things. About black people, for instance - initially, they appear to represent evil, but in the end, they never turn out to be evil. And lately, I've been dreaming about a big black rooster. He also appears to be evil, but in fact, he is good."

How large is this rooster?
"He's larger than I am."

Where does this dream come from?
"I think that this dream comes from when I was young. My mother, little brother [visual artist Lev Kazachenko, GW] and I came to the Netherlands from Russia as refugees. We ended up in Scheveningen. I was a victim of adolescent racist violence. In my dream, the black rooster attacks these boys and helps me, even though I find him scary to start with."

Have you ever painted that rooster?
"No, actually, I haven't..."

What do you show in your work?
"My role as an artist is to abstract reality. I lend character to the things I see."

That sounds a bit vague.
"An artist doesn't have to sit behind the computer to work - pissing away his life eight hours per day. As I said: I'm a kind of filter. I filter the images I see around me while I'm painting them. At the same time, I believe that if everyone saw himself as an artist, no one would be bothered by fear, repression, and outside pressure anymore."

In previous conversations, we often broached on heavy subjects (9/11, poverty, environmental pollution). One might say that your world view is far from sunny.
"That's up to others to say."

You're not a big optimist; you have quite a grim take on the world.
"Well, I actually think that things are all quite grim and that they are only getting grimmer. But maybe it shouldn't be my concern. My work often focuses on what's found behind the subject at hand. I once made a painting that was based on a photo of a G8 summit.* Behind those smiling faces, you'll find a lot of struggle and power politics.
"Sometimes I'm afraid that everything we do in this world is pointless. That life will simply end and turn out not to have had any point whatsoever. If everything is pointless, why were we forced to live with a consciousness; with a sense of right and wrong?
"I mean: isn't it weird that as human beings, we can think about ourselves and about the ways of the world? I don't know how a dog approaches these matters, but I doubt whether a dog lies in his basket philosophising all day. A dog walks around and eats. But human beings don't, human beings can go without food and lock themselves up and do nothing but think. Human beings can drive themselves nuts with their consciousness."

In your work, do you want to show the evil that underlies things?
"I can't make any definite statements about evil. I can't say what the essence is of the evil that makes the world go round. I can only think about it. I believe that the story of Medusa symbolises the evil in the world."**

Is your work a reflection of Medusa or are we looking at her directly?
"The work is Medusa's reflection in Perseus' shield. And in that sense, we are once again looking at Medusa."

In your work, are we staring Medusa - and consequently the evil in the world - in the face indirectly?

I believe that we are getting to the bottom of your work. While you paint out the subjects, at the same time your drawings and paintings become a reflection of the things beyond your work - of what is happening in the world. When you look at your work, you stare the world in the face. But paradoxically, in your drawings and paintings, you leave things out, and you paint image upon image until all that remains is a black haze.
"Maybe what I'm showing is the moment things turn to stone. Maybe my work is a petrified object that once contained life. My work has turned to stone because it has looked Medusa straight in the face."

Have you actually ever read the story of Medusa?
"No, I never read it. Hahaha. But I do know it from my childhood. I saw it on TV. At the time, you had a children's series about Greek and Roman mythology."

Nevertheless, it seems to me to be the core of your work.
Let's say that it is a nice - a fine poetic interpretation of my work, with echoes of the mythological."

* The Group of Eight or G8 is an annual forum in which eight leading industrial nations come together to discuss economic and political issues.

** Medusa is a figure from Greek mythology. Medusa was once exceptionally beautiful but, to her sorrow, lived in a country where the sun never shone. Medusa begged Athena to allow her to live in a sunnier clime. Athena denied her this favour, after which Medusa embarrassed Athena by exclaiming that Athena would not let her go because in that case, people would only pay attention to Medusa's beauty.
Athena took her revenge on Medusa by changing her hair into a nest of writhing serpents. Anyone who looked Medusa in the face immediately turned to stone. She was eventually murdered by the Greek hero Perseus. Perseus looked at Medusa via her reflection in his shield, which allowed him to behead her. Perseus gave Medusa's head to Athena, who attached it to her shield so that she could turn her enemies to stone.

By: Gerben Willers