The artist Xenia Kudrina:
"To Discover Your True Self"

Moving upstream takes one to the head of every river. And not only a river. If one was to go against the flow of their life, back to their roots, one would unexpectedly discover their real self. Xenia Kudrina has done just that: she had her first solo exhibitions while still a child, went on to study at the Academy of Fine Arts, then worked as a creative director of a toy factory, before finally returning to art. In 2016, she became the star of the Moscow International Biennale for Young Art. Her art incorporates the Yakut totem "serge" poles with the magic of glass and shamanic symbolism.
"I am a kind of an ethno-transformer. I get inspiration from my Yakut roots, but my paintings and sculptures are not traditional ones. They are a product of transformation in a person born in Yakutia but living in a global world. I know and remember the culture of my ancestors, but I do not use its solidified cast, it is living and undergoing changes together with me. In fact, everything, that becomes irrelevant, dies out. The only way to remember your roots is seeing traditional images through the prism of today's world".


Xenia has been named a "discovery" of the Russian art scene not just for the sake of using a buzzword. Until recently the 34-year-old artist was unknown. Coming from a family of well-known Yakut artists, she graduated from The Saint Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design and for many years was trying to get away from her destined vocation. But her ideas for projects were being born, they matured, turned into sketches and have been neatly filed in folders, until finally Xenia dared to admit to herself that she was meant to be an artist ever since childhood. Neither a successful corporate career, nor a family, or any other activity could replace creative self-expression.
Xenia Kudrina
"At the moment I feel as though I'm standing on a mountain. I have been climbing it for a long time and I know that the road can be simple and enjoyable or sometimes it can be so steep going upwards that I get short of breath with my heart pounding in my chest. But alas – I got here. And now I need a lot of courage to believe in myself and to jump from the top. Forward. Into my future."
Xenia Kudrina
"At the moment I feel as though I'm standing on a mountain. I have been climbing it for a long time and I know that the road can be simple and enjoyable or sometimes it can be so steep going upwards that I get short of breath with my heart pounding in my chest. But alas – I got here. And now I need a lot of courage to believe in myself and to jump from the top. Forward. Into my future."
These words were spoken at the beginning of 2016. A year later it's evident that the "jump into the future" has happened. One after the other, Xenia's projects became well-known: "Black Ice", "Adults", "Your Future – My Past", exhibitions at the Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art, ZART Gallery, Gridchinhall and at the Trekhgornaya Factory.

In her projects, Xenia explores how contemporary man is changing with the times. After all, we live in megacities, where people can disappear without a trace. Or do they really disappear? How is a new human born into this world and who is he now? The artist is fascinated by the duality of a modern man, who is torn between his roots and a cosmopolitan world, but this dilemma is presented in a simple and comprehensive way. Xenia's ability to clearly perceive and to deeply analyse what she has seen touches the viewer profoundly, creating a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions.
"Xenia's work causes palpitations. It reduces you to trembling... to tears. This is the kind of experience I want from art."
"Black Ice" exhibition visitor's comment
Time is one of the central themes in the artist's work. Shall we take a walk on the timeline with her?

The Past
Once a 10-year-old Xenia, together with her parents, famous Yakut artists, visited Suzdal, where she became completely mesmerized by the glassmakers. One of them asked, "Who do you want to be when you grow up? An artist, perhaps?". To which Xenia replied without hesitation, "I am already an artist."

Glass has later returned to Xenia's creative life and settled there for good. But first, there was painting. She painted throughout her childhood. Every year she had two solo exhibitions in Lensk, Yakutsk, Vladivostok and Irkutsk. The director of "Yakutia Days in Paris" saw one of these shows and decided to use Xenia's drawings for the design of the exhibition, including graphic identity, invitations and costumes. The traditional Yakut motifs and forms were interpreted in a completely unique and interesting way by a very young artist.

The second major project for the artist was working with the director Yuriy Filonov, who staged a children's play using her drawings. Xenia had to complete over 30 drawings a day, creating sketches for all the characters, reflecting their individual traits as well as their relationships with each other in her designs. The play "Magic Pencil" has been showing at the Yakut Drama Theatre for several seasons.

During her course at the Academy of Fine Arts Xenia came in contact with glass again. She ended up studying within the "Ceramics and Glass" department almost by accident, but she has fallen in love with the medium. "It has a certain magic. You draw a sketch of one thing, but the glass has its own view on the subject. It always turns out a little different than the original idea, and it is fascinating to see that. It's like painting: you have an idea, but you don't know how it would translate until the work is finished."

Work with the glass

How a picture is born

The Present
Xenia continues to work with glass, studying the infinite array of possibilities it provides. One of her next projects is a six-months art residency in Belgium, where her task will be to create a new sculpture project "Resources" based on making totem "serge" poles from glass, metal and wood.

The evolution of natural resources is another area of the artist's research. "In Lensk we had a relic pine forest nearby, – says Xenia. – I went there with my father, and he told me how long a cedar has to grow before it bears fruit. I was in awe of these majestic trees. However, the values have changed and oil became more important. A kilometre-long ditch for laying pipes has since appeared in our cedar forest." To show this changing image of the world Xenia will have the broadest palette of coloured glass (alike to using oil paints) at her disposal in Belgium. This presents an opportunity to implement complex technical solutions that have been previously unavailable in her workshop in Russia.
Modern materials also represent a certain transformation: from ordinary glass, clay and marble to polymer and composite materials. Using innovative materials and mixtures to create traditional images and meanings is also an important aspect of creativity.
Totem Charms
'Serge' is a special symbol for Yakutia.
If the land has a totem pole on it, it means that the land has an owner. Even during Soviet times the installation of totem poles was not persecuted. Of course, 'serge' was decorated with a traditional star or a portrait of the Secretary of State, but the sacrificial kumis was still poured around it and heroes of the past were praised.
'Serge', a symbol of prosperity and fertility, is a protective totem for the home and the land. In just half a century the Yakuts have gone from shamanism to plasma screens in their homes, but their peace continues to be preserved by 'serges', albeit new ones – like those shown by Xenia Kudrina.
"Moving against the flow"
In this project Xenia Kudrina examines who she was, who she has become and how she ended up where she is.
"This kind movement leads to the source. After graduating from college and devoting some time to creativity, I started running in the opposite direction. Having dedicated myself to my career, I became creative director of a toy factory and I've even started an MBA course... But my path still brought me back – to myself. I do not regret anything. Working for a large company has taught me a lot: working in a team, respecting deadlines and delegating rather than doing everything myself. Overall, for me it was like moving against the current, against myself. And I am glad that I came back to my path and became more confident."
This exhibition brings together Xenia's works from different years that trace the story of her growing up, her search for balance between integration into the global world and following the ancestral traditions, her interpretation of reality through the traditional Yakut symbols and contemporary idols.
For the viewer
Three-dimensional figures made of coloured glass, whose black metal verticals proudly strive upwards, are strong and vulnerable, impenetrable and transparent. Totem 'serge' poles – a volumetric image of tradition – are positioned at the front with contemporary idols in the background. They are depicted in the surrounding paintings, making us think about the interaction of these two worlds.
The other room is akin to a children's world with their own idols – multi-dimensional figures of cartoon characters, which are seeking to capture the space as if in 3-D, bursting in through flat screens TVs.
What makes us adults? At what point does the amount of accumulated knowledge and experience separate myself as a child from myself as an adult?
"Every person is a pattern. I can see how my patterns and my vibrations have changed after moving from Lensk to Moscow. They change depending on the context and the location. And I see the same transformation in others. In this project I made totems of people. Each element of the totem signifies an event or an activity in your life, it is an echo of your ancestors' beliefs that you have processed differently – this is what has changed you and what has become part of you. As a result of these daily interventions, an adult image is formed – one that you've created yourself."
Growing up is a continuous process, when a person overcomes certain barriers and obstacles. These "overcomings" form a certain boundary between stages in the development of a personality, when by doing the impossible in relation to oneself, one grows to a new level.

Just as the totem signs consist of a set of symbols, each in a certain way contributing to the meaning of a sacred image, so do people consist of actions, experiences, memories and statements that influence their personality structure.
For the viewer
At first glance the verticals of 'serge' poles, located in close proximity to each other, are not directly connected with each other. Just like people in a megacity, they are withdrawn and alienated. But observing how the sculptures function within the space, we suddenly see them interacting.

We can see one object through another; the light coming through one surface falls on another, gracing the sculpture with a completely new quality. Within the space organized by the artist, the 'Serge' poles are like people in society who are unconsciously influencing each other, changing and transforming themselves and their surroundings.
JULY 2016
"Black ice"
A dialogue between spatial objects and two-dimensional works, between the contemporary world and a civilization that is more than a thousand years old.
"We've have made such a huge leap in our development, that it seems we haven't yet had time to digest it. My great-grandmother used to stretch a gallbladder over a windowpane, my grandmother was living with shamanism, and I am doing a project with mobile gadgets. We don't have time to notice that a transformation has taken place. We are accused of breaking away from our roots, but memory is not merely frozen tradition. If we want to preserve memories, we need to transform the traditional."
Values are changing over time. A totem is needed to protect them. However, following these changes should the modern totem change as well?

In Yakut mythology totems symbolize trees: the tree of life, a pole of nature, a pillar of the world – they connect the upper, middle and lower worlds. But what are the black vertical lines of the 'serge' in this project? In the past, wood, water and land were considered to be the main natural resources, and now they've changed to oil and gas. The values are changing, and the structure of totems is changing too. Xenia is talking about acceptance of the current situation and about its transformation into something beautiful. We are watching from one angle and we see a metal pipe, we are looking from another – and all totems merge into one, their branches joined into a mighty tree – the totem of nature that unites us.
For the viewer
The architecture of the project is such that on the one hand, the artist is absolutely open to the viewer, letting him into her world and allowing him to get lost among the transformed totems; and on the other – creating distance, leaving him at a level of perception that he allows himself to reach. Within the exhibition the 'serge' poles are displayed with a backdrop of painterly works, allowing the viewer to observe the spatial relationship of the forms created in glass and painted by the author.

"Black Ice" can either remain a beautiful decorative object, or engross you into an in-depth dialogue with a thousand-years-old civilization – the degree of immersion is chosen by the viewer.
September 2016
"Your future – my past"
Evolution of the game as a cast of our lives
"During my childhood in Yakutia we had bones that we painted and played with, entertaining ourselves for hours. My kids play with Lego and strange 'Monster High' dolls, watching Disney cartoons. But the tablet has conquered all. Bones, dolls, building blocks – all of our children's toys are outside of tangible reality, behind the glass."
For several years Xenia has been working as an art director of a company that produces children's toys, and this project constitutes her observations on evolution of play. The boundary between the real and the virtual is rapidly eroding. The children's room of the future can be imagined without any toys at all: a table and a gadget with the kids' favourite characters may be enough. Children are now more likely to fall asleep with an iPad rather than with a scruffy teddy bear.

Whether it's for better or for worse – time will tell, but for now we are looking at children's toys of today as artefacts of the XXI century, which the next generation will look at when studying our times.

For the viewer

Reminiscent of rare artefacts from archaeological excavations exhibited on velvet, the glass tablets with popular cartoon characters and games, created in the technique of glass bending, are shown here: Lalaloopsy, My Little Pony, Minions, Angry Birds, Peppa the Pig, Lightning McQueen, Monster High and others. Animated style-guides made of felt and acrylic are showcased on the walls: they remind us of the colourful and magical world of childhood, fragmented into pixels made of plush.
Such total virtualization is scary, but its impact is more complex than merely positive or negative. Xenia Kudrina offers us to glimpse at the reality that is being created now and to find our own answers.
Such total virtualization is scary, but its impact is more complex than merely positive or negative. Xenia Kudrina offers us to glimpse at the reality that is being created now and to find our own answers.

The Future
Each new project by Xenia contains sacred symbols and charts their transformation into something modern.
2017 год
2017 год
"Female totems"
Like all ancient people, the Yakuts use many symbols. For instance, when a woman dresses for a national holiday Ysyakh, she wears clothing that is richly decorated with beads and special silver jewellery: Ilene-calin, kebiher, bastynga. This is her identification that everything can be read from: how old she is, what is her status, which community she belongs to. Living in Yakutia and wearing traditional outfits during holidays, Xenia did not reflect on how profound the sacred meaning of these adorning symbols was, until she started researching the subject. The new project is called "Female totems".

Small, "table-based" female totems are the totem charms. They are designed to protect and to take care of your home. This is not only the subject of femininity but also of motherhood. When a child is born, a mother begins to knit, embroider, and weave – so as to protect a baby from danger.
2017 год
2017 год
The project is about the link between generations. Bells have always been the embodiment of purity and intuition, because if you hear a bell ring, it means you are doing something right. The purer and more honest you are with yourself, the better you will be able to hear them. The bells' rings make it clear that you are going in the right direction.

There have been many rituals with bells in Yakutia: they were used in marriage ceremonies, casting out of evil spirits, as well as decorating horses. Our relationship with the ancestors is also established via a bell.

Xenia envisages that the exhibition space will accommodate huge suspended structures forming several large totems decorated with hundreds of glass bells.
When you read a story of someone's successful start, you know that it says a lot, but it also leaves a lot out. So here are some questions about things that remained behind the scenes.

Xenia, artists rarely venture out into business territory. How did you do it and what has the experience given you?
From my experience working in a company, I have learned some of the most important lessons: how to work in a team and to respect deadlines, how to plan my own projects and bring them to the finish line, which was quite unusual for me before. Prior to my experience in business, I was a completely different person. I was unable to communicate, I existed out of time and space. I did not understand whether I could work at all and in what position.

Why does an artist need a career?
I often come across an opinion that a career can only hinder an artist, distracting him from his work and turning art into commerce. I don't agree. How can it interfere? With or without a career, you are the same person at heart and you would not be able to make any other paintings or any other artwork. However, a career gives you that positive impact and feedback that are very important.

Is that why you need to have a team?
Yes, the right team can strengthen you. I work as a creative director of the factory, but I'm still not a manager, my task is to come up with creative concepts. Therefore, in my own work I also have a manager – my sister Nadejda. She takes on the organizational and commercial tasks, plans the promotional strategy, and my task is to concentrate on my art. We are different and we do different things, but when we combine the efforts of different team specialists – the results are excellent.

And what is your team's ambitious dream? Or your personal dream?
I would really like to have huge furnaces for glass blowing – the complete production line. I want to create my own brand and to make glass sculptures based on my sketches. I have developed a range of large and small totems, which can become a talisman for someone's home. In addition, I want to create large park sculptures out of concrete and special glass. This material will withstand all kinds of weather as well as wear from nature and people. For example, I'd like to make a monumental totem of the Earth so that mankind will always remember that the purpose of our lives is not only to consume, but also to be grateful.
Would you like to continue the dialogue?