Street artist Jerzy Konopye: “Targets” on Maidan were meant to be provocative
By Illya Strongoskyi
February 6, 2014 Ukrayinska Pravda
Translated by Olia Knight and Edited by Isis Wisdom, Voices of Ukraine
All photos courtesy of Jerzy Konopye: jerzykonopie.livejournal.com
Naturally, Maidan forces people to think and act in radical ways. When people come out on the streets because they have had enough, then being radical is the only approach. In fact, just going out on the street is in itself a radical step.
Jerzy [Ezhy] and I became friends after his first resonating project – a groundbreaking, radically new way to display Ivan Franko’s poems as announcements on the notice board.
Nobody has done anything similar yet and the fact that he grounded his work both in Ukrainian culture and everyday life make his project impossible to recreate, and therefore unique.
From my first conversation with the author it became obvious that his success is not a one-time thing.
Although Jerzy is not a novice in graphic design, he has been working on rethinking city space for almost a year. It is quite a definition for street art, and only Jerzy’s natural modesty and his emphasis on Ukrainian projects keep him back from becoming a world star.
– You experienced a first explosion of attention last year, after “Why do you keep coming to me in my dreams?” Why haven’t you turned this work into a series of works? It’s your recipe, we have plenty of cult poems, and you could have made enough for an exhibit.
– I did not want to make a series of works for many reasons. Primarily because I had (and have) many other interesting ideas. I thought that devoting much time to one project, one art form was wrong.
Although I am thinking about doing a series for Taras Hryhorovych’s [Shevchenko – a Ukrainian poet, writer and political figure] birthday. I cannot miss out on this opportunity as an artist and as a Ukrainian. Besides, when I have an opportunity to use this particular art form some other time, maybe at a certain time, for different reason or in a different city – I would love to use this opportunity.
However, I will not overly concentrate on just one art form, this is not my style.
– I am of the opinion that if you hit a rock in one spot, you choose it and hit it, then you will have an effect.
– The question is what goals would you set, what effect do you expect from it. As a street artist, I am more interested in realizing different interesting ideas.
Of course, artists have a certain style that develops with time. However, I do not want to become an artist of one project.
Besides, there is a danger that all will know Franko [Ukrainian poet], and all other announcements will start “oh, so it is like why do you keep coming to me…”[“… in my dreams”, Franko’s poem]. Therefore, I have an opportunity to experiment on a single project in the near future.
– Do you manage to realize all your ideas?
– In truth, most of my projects are not done on time. For many reasons. The readiness of a project, inspiration, weather, political situation, and such. However, the same reasons can influence the spontaneity of a project creation.
I thought about rockets a long time ago, but I drew them without any special preparation. One late evening I remembered them and then (at the time I was drawing) this would be just the right time. I made a stencil, I had the paints, I got into the car and I go! Therefore, I have a couple of projects that are almost ready, but it is not the right time for them yet. You know, this is a creative process that is impossible to predict.
I had to urgently make the “Christ” all the evening because I realized late that his “holiday” with 1025 was happening the next day. Although I had the creative idea about a month or two before it was realized.
– What does your creative project look like?
– Generally, at first I have an idea, then I look for the ideal equipment, instruments, place, and time. But sometimes it happens that a particular location gives me an interesting idea, and then I just start adjusting the project to this location. For example, this happened with “Crucifixion” and “Rockets.” But most of the time the idea comes first, and everything else follows from it.
– Earlier, I thought about making a lot of my art using stencils, but for some reason it did not always look interesting. It is more exciting to do something “living” and voluminous. It is even better when a person is able to touch the artwork, as well as be touched by its interactivity.
“Kissing Place” is an example of such an artwork. I suggested to spectators to participate in an activity, a ritual by my installation. And, you know, it worked: people stepped on the “footsteps” and kissed. It is so romantic…
– Can you tell me about your logo? Why a sign, and not a signature?
– The main form is a letter “E,” because of “Ezhy.” This is the 8th letter of the alphabet, and the number “8” is very meaningful, for example, the infinity sign, etc.
Wrench is a counterform. It is like a symbol of ingenuity. In fact, I do not publish and publicize all the projects, and there are certain things I imagine. Just technical things. I will probably make some photo or video tutorials about these devices or artistic life hacks later.
I am not an artist in the classic meaning of the word: I am more a person who changes space. Therefore the wrench, in my opinion, is absolutely appropriate here. Last year, I made an installation for the Trypilske kolo festival [eco-cultural festival].
In fact, I did use some of my artistic hacks for that project. Besides, I am always inspired combining various technical things with art.
– What is your attitude towards earning money by making art? Which of your ideas requires the most financing?
– I think it’s great when an artist can make something wonderful, and people can get a piece of that happiness with a small reward for the author. The author benefits from all of this in the form of inspiration and household peace.
In other words, I would like to receive certain dividends from my artwork or activity around my art, but I have not figured out how yet. Maybe in time my artwork will turn into something that would meet my expectations.
At least I believe in this, since that is how it usually happens: you want something real and it comes in time. Not that it comes by itself. You must work, do something towards it, and then it turns out how you need it. As you said, hit and hit it in one spot.
Periodically I have more commercial ideas than street-art. However, the time for those ideas has not yet arrived. Even though I already do work on some of them, when one of my ideas is successful, then the “process will take off,” and maybe then it will become easier and more understandable how to do all of this.
I plan to finance my artistic ideas myself. I have this inner need not to depend on anyone. My art brings so much more satisfaction this way.
And besides, street-art must be free and costless. It must be noted that I do distinguish between the sales of work, that is, creating works for sale and gratitude for such works.
However, I am more interested in other types of work. First, this is the design itself, namely the graphic design I have worked in for over ten years. I am a little bored with it right now, and I am searching for inspiration elsewhere.
– And why did you get bored? Are you tired?
– Yes, due to exhaustion to some degree. Taking into account that I spend the majority of my free time on creative art, graphic design has been put, if not on the second, then on the third set of priorities.
However, I treat it as a positive step – now I have the open avenues for the creation of something new, different and interesting.
– What do you like the least about your creative process?
– I dislike the distractions from my work the least. Work, everyday life, and family issues. Of course we need all of this, but sometimes I feel like diving into my art and living in it. I think you understand me, being a creative person yourself.
– So you are a workaholic? If not for these limitations, you would be creative non-stop?
– I would not call myself a workaholic, but if I am occupied by a project, I sleep very little and forget to eat. But when the project is realized, I let my brain rest a day or two and start thinking about a new project.
– As a creative person, what music do you listen to? What do you watch?
– I really enjoy electronic music: techno, house, jungle. I love hip-hop and reggae – for their wave-like rhythms. Sometimes minimal-techno or ambient music help me relax or concentrate on work, get into a trance. I often turn on punk rock when I am in a rush to get somewhere – the car truly starts going faster. Thus, every mood has its own melody.
I grew up under the music of Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, and I often turn on their music to re-energize and improve my mood.
For audio-visual the first band that comes to mind is Animusic.
In reality, there are a number of works that are done in the same careful fashion, but this one is the golden standard. I must also admit that the combination of interesting visuals with no less interesting music results in a very harmonious form. You want to enjoy these works, look at them over and over again, and get inspired by them.
I am not ready to distinguish between a certain visual art form. Of course I am more interested in some categories of visual arts than other forms: street-art, “participatory urban replanning” [partizaning], other urban art forms, modern art visual events, but I do not want to limit myself.
Recently, when I started working on the streets, I began to discover many interesting things about this type of art. Because of my poor memory for names, I would probably not be quite as objective in naming the people whose works I like. I would like to note that any creative change of environment is great. Even if nine out of ten people do not like that.
Those who do not like the change always have the right and opportunity to alter the environment to their liking. Even a person who does art for the sake of art, creating something from the heart – in my opinion, this person deserves to be noticed. A city could die without such people, and become a gray concrete cemetery.
Also, I am a passionate supporter of concepts both in art and in life. I love when one and the same object or event has additional hidden meanings along with their obvious purpose. I mean the very controlled processes when the creator of an object or an event (this could be not just an artist, but also an ordinary person) clearly realizes that all additional contexts and interpretations only serve to benefit the fundamental meaning of the work, and add to its principal message.
– Do you read books?
– Unfortunately I do not read as many books as I would like. I have been listening to books rather than reading lately. Mostly Ukrainian classics. However, I love science fiction. Books, movies. You know, a good book is like a hallucinogenic drug to me – I do not want to get addicted to it, therefore I take it seldom.
– Have you ever thought about artistic cooperation with someone? Or do you do all your work alone?
– It would be interesting to work with somebody. Of course, there are projects I would always create alone, but there are enough ideas for projects where other extraordinary people could be invited to participate.
In fact, communication with creative and forward-thinking people often can inspire new and interesting art. Not necessarily street-art, but any type of art.
I am not currently looking for meeting or cooperating with other artists: it will come with time. What matters is that I am ready for such cooperation.
– In your “Targets” work on Maidan’s barricades, the press, the medics, and people carrying Ukrainian symbols are portrayed as targets – and compared to your previous works are not as positive and smart but rather an alarm. Does Maidan incite radicalization? Has your vision of the events of the past two months evolved somehow?
– “Targets” is a type of provocative work. I do not shun making artwork that can be destroyed within an hour or a day. That is exactly what happened to “Targets,” they did not survive through the night. Not everybody got my idea, although 90% of the people interpreted it correctly. I learned from this experience and redid the installation within a week on a smaller scale, and put it in a different spot, placing the accompanying text nearby.
Of course Maidan forces people to think and act in a radical way. When people go out in the streets because they have had enough, being radical is the only way. Going out in the streets is in itself quite a radical step.
Different people have different levels of radicalism: some consider bringing a big poster to Maidan as a big step, and some consider a violent standoff with Berkut police not enough.
Artists, in my mind, must channel their radicalism into their creative works. Warriors fight, and artists create.
At the beginning, of course, everything was too ideal: peaceful protest, explosion of design and artistic creativity, etc.
Even regular people exploded with creative ideas – they drew posters, created numerous befitting jokes. This societal elevation inspired all of us. However, then what happened later, happened. People started to realize that the government brought them lower and lower on their knees. As a result, the mass creativity started exhibiting anger and radicalism more frequently.
You know, it would be really interesting to gather all these motivators-demotivators, memes, photoshops, poems with anecdotes, as well as drawings, and then sort them by date. I think we would be able to track the events without checking news on the media. Since history is usually etched in art and people’s creative endeavors.
– At last, the final question – if a person decided to start “partizaning,” where should this person start?
– It is simple: just start from an idea. Then, you must ask yourself three questions: do you really want to do this, how can I do this, and is it worth doing this? If you have three “yes-es,” then you can start the prep and/or fulfillment of your ideas.
There might be more questions in each particular case. For example, I am against damaging architecture (especially old architecture) or other elements to improve the city, which is why I try to be prepared when I search for a location for my project.
Or take the trash, for example: I prefer to leave the spot where my art is located clean, out of principle. Sometimes it happens that I need to clean up the spot even before I start my project.
In short, nothing is that easy but nothing is that complicated as well. You must have inspiration first and foremost.