Interview: New Artist in Residence Tatiana Istomina

Tatiana Istomina, our new Artist in Residence sits down to discuss her inspiration and aspirations as an artist.

Quick Background on Tatiana:

Tatiana Istomina is a Russian-born US artist working with painting, drawing and video. She holds a PhD in geophysics from Yale University (2010) and MFA from Parsons New School (2011). Her works have been included in group exhibitions at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum (San Antonio), The Drawing Center (New York) and Gaîté Lyrique, (Paris) among others. Istomina had solo shows in New York (2010) and Houston (2013). She has completed several artist residencies, including the ACA residency, Salzburg Summer Art School, the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the AIM program at the Bronx museum of art. She is currently a participant of the Open Sessions program at The Drawing center. Istomina was nominated for Dedlaus foundation fellowship (2010) and Kandinsky prize (2012) and received awards such as the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award (2011), the American Austrian Foundation Prize for Fine Arts (2011) and Eliza prize (2013).

Q: What are you most excited about as SOHO20’s new residency artist?

I am excited to work in an artist-run gallery that has a long history of promoting women artists. My current project explores the history of Modernist abstraction in America from the point of view of an underappreciated female immigrant painter who worked in New York between the 1930s and 1980s. At that time there were very few venues that showed women artists and I like to think that Soho20 was one of the few galleries in New York where my character might have exhibited her work.

Q: How has your background in geophysics led you to art? In what way does it show evidence of influence in your art?

I worked as a scientist for almost ten years. After graduating from Moscow State University with diploma in geophysics, I worked for three years as a researcher at Moscow Institute Oceanology before moving to the US to start a PhD program at Yale University. In my first semester as a grad student I enrolled in the Beginning Drawing class at Yale art school. It was an exciting experience and I continued taking different art classes during my entire time at Yale. After receiving my degree in science, I enrolled in an MFA program at Parsons. Although I don’t work as a scientist anymore, my background strongly influences my art practice. My research involved collecting data about chemical and physical properties of rocks, analyzing the data in search of patterns and relationships, and building mathematical models describing how the rocks were formed and how their properties will evolve. Today I use the same set of skills to create my art projects: I collect texts, images and video footage, establish their actual or possible relationships, and combine them with my own texts, objects and images to construct believable counterfactual narratives.

This approach to art making forces me to constantly cross the boundaries between different artistic mediums: depending on the materials I work with, my projects take the form of painting installations, series of drawings or video pieces. Although different in form, these projects have a common theme: the role of historical circumstances, ideologies and cultural stereotypes in the creation of our personal and collective identities. My interest in this theme probably comes from my own experience of living in different countries and cultures – first in the Soviet Union, then post-Soviet Russia and the US, and being a part of different professional communities of science and art world.

Q: How do you see your art developing in the future?

It’s really hard for me to predict how my practice will evolve in time. I hope I will continue to work with painting and video – both mediums are equally important to me. There is a narrative component in most of my projects and it’s possible that I’ll stress it even more in my future work. Narratives are extremely important for us as human beings – we use them to make sense of our lives, relationships and the world we live in. Right now I am thinking about a project that will explore the basic principles of narrative construction by using an algorithmic structure and random imagery.

More from the Artist:
“Before becoming an artist, I worked as a scientist specializing in data analysis. My research involved collecting data about chemical and physical properties of rocks, analyzing the data in search of patterns and relationships, and building mathematical models describing how the rocks were formed and how their properties will evolve. Today I use the same set of skills to create my art projects: I collect texts, images and video footage, establish their actual or possible relationships, and combine them with my own texts, objects and images to construct believable counterfactual narratives. Depending on the materials I am working with, my projects take the form of documentary films, series of drawings or painting installations. Although different in form and ostensible subject matter, my works address the same overarching theme: they explore the role of historical circumstances, ideologies and cultural stereotypes in creation of personal and collective identities.

My ongoing painting project explores the global narrative of Modernism through the singular story of the life and work of a fictional Russian-American artist, Alissa Blumenthal. The project consists of abstract paintings and drawings attributed to Blumenthal, and the narrative of her artistic career. As a female immigrant painter, Blumenthal never attracted much critical or public attention: despite brief periods of relative success in the 1940s and the 1970s, she died in obscurity. Her works, while reflecting the artist’s preoccupation with the concepts of time and temporality, echo the changes in the visual language of the 20th-century abstraction. By negotiating between the formal problems of abstract painting and the art historical narrative, the project highlights the tensions between the perceived authenticity of abstraction and the viewers’ awareness of its authorship and background, both real and imaginary.”

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