Samizdat with Tatiana Fiodorova

As you can remember from our first episode, we defined the meaning of the term Samizdat, and it would be a pity not to have as a guest somebody who really publishes in this form. That’s when we decided to invite Tatiana Fiodorova — a contemporary artist, book artist and arts teacher. She brought a big part of her books with her and let’s discover together the stories behind them.

Anna Vasina in discussion with Tatiana Fiodorova:

Tatiana, tell us a bit about your profession.
I worked as a drawing teacher at the Sciusev Art School for over 10 years. I have to admit that I got there by accident, but now, I believe that was karma. It was during the times when I just finished my academic studies and had a baby, so I was in need of a job to survive, but not full-time. I also did some contemporary art practice at that time, but after the birth of my baby, I realised that I need a part-time job, to have an income and time for the family, so teaching seemed to be a good option.
Now I can say that I really love this profession, it’s totally mine. However, at that time, I was imagining myself in a totally different direction, in the role of a contemporary artist or a curator.

We know you as a contemporary and performance artist, but there is also the book art direction, do you think that it is somehow invisible to the public?
I think it’s just an appearance, because many people know me primarily as a book artist, especially abroad. In Timișoara, for instance, I’ve participated only in book exhibitions so far, and at the last Biennale they put me on the list with the small publishers.

We don’t have a local institution that teaches students how to do proper Artist Book Design, therefore a question appears: where did you learn to do it?
Here, at the University, I was taught to craft books as a simple designer. At Simion Zamșa’s course we learnt the basic concepts about the book itself, its layout, the use of grids, the golden ratio, the distribution of text versus images, and other things. In my books I feel that I’m continuing this tradition that I absorbed during my university studies. This knowledge helps me remember not to load the white space with lots of design, helps me understand the interaction of text with the image, and all these details come from those days of studies, however the conceptual skill came to me a bit later. It comes by trial and error only and a big role in this development had Ksa:k, with whom I collaborated and got to know the contemporary scene better, which was not directly related to book art, but more by it’s critical approach to art. I worked for Ksa:k and I did interviews on contemporary art, and had the occasion to travel to Moscow to the Biennale of Contemporary Art, and to Bucharest, when MNAC was inaugurated.

This allowed me to absorb different environments and to better understand how to work in them, because when you graduate “Ion Creangă” University, you only have the craft to your hands, and it’s absolutely necessary to rethink the given knowledge.

Bessarabia and its inhabitants book spread

I’ve been an artist for around 15 years, and I didn’t start my artistic path with book art. It was a “closed” topic for me, even though I studied at the “Ion Creangă” University, in the graphic department at Simion Zamșa’s class. When I graduated, I worked as a graphic designer for one year, but I soon switched to contemporary art and did not practice design for quite some time. I took a different direction and decided to focus on diverse artistic media like performance, photography and video art, but suddenly, I discovered for myself a new format of work — the artist book.

It is important to note that after the master’s degree, Tatiana attended the Moldovan Academy of Sciences and studied there for two years. Initially, she wanted to explore local photography, but she was assigned to the topic of book art. That’s when she began to collect material on book illustration and the book art, discovered Ilie Bogdesco, and his books opened to her in a quite new way. Subsequently, when she began to design books herself, this experience helped her a lot with the artistic work.

Tatiana also had an interesting experience before entering the institute. She completed a one-year training course for admission to higher education art institutions at the Polytechnical University of Moldova. There, Grigorii Bosenko gave a masterclass in graphic design and she met him for the first time. After that meeting, it was clear to her what she would do in the future once she started her studies.

Bessarabia and its inhabitants book spread

It seems like the biggest inspiration in your art comes from your parents. How did it start?
In the beginning it was not about them. When I started my contemporary art practice my dad had already passed away, so he didn’t even manage to transfer me his art legacy, because I was only 6 when he tragically died in a car accident. This artistic essence didn’t show up until a certain point when it developed by itself in my adulthood. When I became a contemporary artist, my dad’s art didn’t really touch me that much from the start, but after a while I understood that I have to look at my roots. So I became interested in the soviet past, since I was born then and I was a soviet kid, and when I graduated I stepped into a totally different world.
I was interested in looking back into my childhood and rethinking it, but what’s the shortest way to do it? Who was by your side all your life?! Your parents, of course. In a curious way, it occurred to me that my parents could embody ample and big themes, and they were not simply mom & dad. It was more about some global subjects like — who or what is “the soviet artist”? And me, as an artist, why did I end up this way, and why did my dad end up the other way? Why are we different and how did each of us find themselves in these different times? I was interested in researching that epoch, and why my dad lived his life the way he did. Later, I started to analyse my mother’s life, why did she live her life that way? And that’s something really interesting to me.

From here we started the journey through Tatiana’s books dedicated to parents and other curious publications that are available only in one or two copies, so we were lucky to go through them.

В поисках социального тела советского художника (In search of the social body of Soviet Artist) book

В поисках социального тела советского художника (In search of the social body of Soviet Artist) — is a book inspired from Tatiana’s father archive of paintings, graphics and photography, collected in a soviet type folder. Composed from a book, some painting reproductions and a set of photo postcards, all of these attributes aim to define the conflict between the soviet artist and the state propaganda of the soviet times.

Стяуа Рошие (The Red Star) book

Стяуа Рошие (The Red Star) — a book dedicated to Tatiana’s mother and her 25 years work experience at a fabric factory called Стяуа Рошие. The project started from a photo series of dresses exposed in abandoned places. Afterwards it was assembled into a book that mixed photos, interviews with her mother and research on work safety in that factory.

Только я знаю как мы выжили (Only I know how we survived) book

Только я знаю как мы выжили (Only I know how we survived) — also a book somehow dedicated to her mother, but with a clearer post-soviet taste. It illustrates the decadent atmosphere of the 90s. There are drawings on the toilet paper of the disadvantaged women who were forced to somehow ensure their existence by illegally selling stuff on the streets of Chișinău. These drawings are accompanied with non-censored interviews from those women.

3 albums from Wien, Prague and Bucharest with toilet paper are part of an art-residency project called Something about Toilet Paper, where the artist (Tatiana) reflects on the attitude of the institutions towards their visitors/artists through their choice of toilet paper in the public WCs. In the end it happened to be a nice research with entry prices of the art institutions and diverse pieces of paper with different textures and brands that shaped this ironical subject.

Tatiana, what about your essay Who Is The New Woman?
It was the extent of an exhibition in Denmark and Norway. In Norway I was asked to write an essay in addition to the exhibition about the toilet paper project. I decided to theorise all the material that I gathered about women lately, to combine the Стяуа Рошие, Только я знаю как мы выжили books with my performances when I was trying to define my identity as a soviet woman that got transformed into something else. That turned into a floating identity, because I do not consider myself a soviet woman but I also cannot classify myself as a contemporary one. This specific break, and where I find myself within, was a very interesting topic to me.

In this essay I explore the women’s emancipation during soviet and post-soviet times through my artistic research. I’m rethinking how women were emancipated during the industrialisation period.

I see that it was not a woman’s personal choice to work in factories, she was forced by the patriarchal society (in the face of the soviet state) to go out to work, because there was a lack of workforce after the war, and she was delegated this important role in forming the soviet society. And it turned out to be a pretty difficult imposed role of mother and worker at the same time.

The title of The New Woman comes from the soviet industrialisation period with the term of The New Men — The New Woman, who meet new requirements of the time.

Considering all this, where’s the right woman’s place?
Wherever she wants it to be. It is the privilege of our time to decide where our place is, compared to our mothers who didn’t have that choice.

Tatiana also reflected a bit on her hometown, Chișinău — a series of photographs showing withered body parts, like baldness or ageing, called Когда город становится телом (When a city becomes a body), which she sticked to crumbling buildings.

There is this beautiful book called Монумент Голубь мира (“Peace Pigeon” Monument) that is researching the value of architectural-monumental dovecote structures in the post-soviet space, the manufactured and autonomous character of these objects that may claim, as artist would argue, the title of modernist soviet popular structures of the 20th century.

Tatiana’s pandemic sketches

We also had a small talk about the artist in the context of pandemics. Tatiana told us that she felt like a cosmonaut the whole lockdown period, all this story ended up with the cosmonaut’s release into the blossoming nature, when the first lockdown ended.

Tatiana advised us to get deeper in the History of Arts and the avant-garde for a better understanding of contemporary book art, so we will continue to learn, and hope for new exciting artist books conceptualised by her. Cheers!

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