We caught Stanislava Pinchuk AKA Miso when she was in Melbourne recently, and popped over to her studio in Carlton to chat about life as an artist, being at home in her body and a desire for alternate economies. As an extraordinarily talented artist and philosophical mind, Stanislava shares an insight into her intensely creative world, with humility and intelligence well beyond her years.
How did you get started in your art practice?
I guess everyone says the same thing, they were an insular kid who drew and had a private world then ended up coming outside of themselves, right?
I think other people called me an artist first, well before I did. I grew up in the Ukraine, and being at artist is not really a job there and while my parents were both teachers and incredibly creative people who love art, cinema and music, I still feel like I never connected those things to doing them now or the things that I saw in the museums like old paintings, to what I’m doing now. So I guess I would make things, do small shows and make zines and then other people started calling me an artist. I always thought I’d have to be creative in a commercial dimension like a fashion designer, pattern maker or graphic artist, with something that had an application to it.
Your art practice has evolved, can you tell us about how it started, and how you got to where you are now?
I just made a lot of shit. laughs. Even though it has changed a lot, things are still very much the same. I’m a desk-based studio artist, who still makes zines, I test out new mediums and do small-scale projects but now I get to do it for museums and clients. Though that’s the case, I feel like the core of it has stayed the same.
How would you describe that core?
Everything aside, at the core, it’s about the drawing practice. The works on the paper are the one really core part of me that’s non-negotiable, if that makes sense. I’m data mapping and increasingly so, war zones, conflict zones, nuclear zones to capture the topography on site. I’m very interested in how conflict changes the landscape and the ground that we stand on because I think we tend to see it as quite neutral. So that’s really the centre of things for me.
I’m not using the visual language we’d normally use to interpret these conflicts, like photojournalism. I’m very much about the question, what can an artist communicate in difficult spaces that a photojournalist, activist or an academic can’t.
Can you talk about your creative process?
For my topographical data mapping work, all the drawings begin on site. I will make data maps of the ground, and how the ground changes, photographing and documenting, I’ll make my plot points and then basically every show that I’ve done has been really, really overwhelming so a big part of the process is coming back and having a fried brain, so I almost try to get out of my own head for a while and pretend that it didn’t happen. I might leave it for a few months, and while it’ll still be in my dreams every night and I’m thinking about it in the back of my mind, that space and time is a really important part of the process for me. It’s very rare that I’d come back and make something immediately and that’s the difference between me and a photojournalist. The photojournalist needs a picture of the thing that happened, the suicide bomb or the missile and that’s the function of the news. Whereas I have the luxury of time that no one else in that zone has, so it’s important that I give myself a lot of thinking and breathing room and time to research again. I have a very big policy in the process — eyes open, mouth shut. You never know what you’re going to be moved by, so it’s integral to take in as much as possible, and process it after. I tack a bunch of stuff onto my wall, draw and redraw, leave it and come back to it and basically hermit myself in the studio and hammer it out. Once the blueprints are done, then it’s just about the physical process where then I’ll start listening to new material and thinking about my new project, while I’m making the current piece. My processes are quite time consuming and do overlap, which is pretty special. I really love that tension between the beauty and pain – the time invested in it, so for me I love this process.
I love artworks where you can feel that the artist has lived with it, and sat with it. Like Guernica, you can feel this residue of someone that really lived with the work day in and day out. It carries this consideration, and I really love that.
How do you feel people respond to your art?
It’s kind of a one-way street sometimes. You forget that people are going to respond to it, it’s so private in the studio and in the process, I don’t really show anyone. Even I don’t see my own show until it’s in the space. I have this 10 minutes when it’s all there and I have to reconcile my work and figure out what the fuck I’ve done. All my galleries know that though, but I need those 10 minutes to process everything before the install teams come and I have to be authoritative and sure of what needs to happen next. In really interesting ways, I tread a line between industries, and so I get varied feedback — some people from the art world, other people that work in conflict zones, really young people, collectors, people in fashion. I feel lucky to be able to cobble all these perspectives together and in the best possible way make really diverse groups of people understand the works, not just speak to a very niche audience with niche symbols or visual language.
Where do you go for inspiration?
It comes from so many different things. When I’m finishing one body of work I’m already thinking about the next. And the long, isolated studio hours are the perfect time to start doing things like university lectures online or listening to podcasts, or recordings of talks. I can test out different ideas and directions, because the work after a certain point is just the physical execution. But then other times inspiration comes from just being on the ground, researching, re-researching, chasing up things I mightn’t have thought of before. It’s a gradual process, so I feel really lucky to have that.
Your recent TED Talk was about creating alternative currencies; can you tell us a bit about that?
I’ve been tattooing for about seven years now, and it never felt right to put a financial amount on home jobs, particularly something that’s so personal and intimate to do. I just started trading for whatever someone thought it was worth, and found it so rewarding and exciting.
My best friend taught me to tattoo, he’s a shop tattooist. Being around that I see a lot of people getting what they want even though it might not be the best fit or the best scale because they’re paying for it. I didn’t want that. I wanted to make sure the result was met halfway between the artist and the person getting the tattoo, and taking away the money meant it wasn’t a service provided, it was a collaboration. I found that the trading economy was a really special thing in building a community and when you take money of the equation, there are so many amazing things you can do.
How do you approach tattooing someone, is it different every time?
It’s very much dependent on the person getting it done. I’d never tattoo the same thing twice and that’s really important, each friend must have something really special. That’s the nice thing about tattooing your friend, you might know the vague reason they’re interested in getting a tattoo, or their aesthetic and how they move their body, how they’ll carry it so you can collaborate. I really love that open, creative challenge, which is such a contrast to my work, which is made very much on my own terms.
Born in the Ukraine, growing up in Melbourne and travelling often a lot, where feels like home for you?
Home is my body.
It’s all I’ve got. I’m not a very domestic person. It’s really rare not to have a flight for two weeks for me. Being on the road, or on a long haul flight and in transit, or arriving at a new city by myself is really my happy place. I feel at home everywhere, I’ve always been someone between cultures and languages, so it’s really nice to go to a different place where you can be a totally different part of yourself that may have forgotten.
How do you manage working and living in the same space?
I really like it. I don’t really do much living at home. In my last place I was out the door at 8am, and home at midnight. My life is pretty intense, so I don’t think I really have a ‘home life’ it’s more of a studio with a bed in it, but that suits me well.
Name three things you can’t live without.
I think I can kind of live without anything…
But if I really had to, it’s probably a phone and laptop, as sad as that is. Does a yoga practice count? Actually maybe a sketchbook.
What else have you got coming up?
I’m about to launch a book about my recent Fukushima exhibition and I have a new body of work to exhibit at China Heights Gallery in Sydney, in April. After that I’m off to the highlands in Scotland to start my next project.