We wanted to follow up with some of our grant winners in a series of interviews. Olga Sidilkovskaya is a photographer with thoughts on mirrors, misconceptions and finding control in art-making.
What do you feel you are trying to communicate with your work? Although I have lived here, in the States, for quite some time, I still often feel detached from my environment. Having moved here from Russia when I was thirteen years old, I am still processing and analyzing life as an alien today. That feeling bothered me for a long time, but I have grown to see it as an advantage, and as an outlet for my work. There is an old trick I learned in my drawing classes in art school that helps view your work objectively without spending much time away from it – you hold it up in front of the mirror. Then, you see it for what it really is and know what you need to do to improve it. If only that worked with people! I use my field camera to capture that objectivity in landscapes. The process is important, as it flips and inverts the landscape on the ground glass, and the paper negative, and the scanner, further deconstructing it before creating a vaguely different interpretation. Perhaps, I would like my work to inspire the viewers to consider how familiar they are with their own environment, and notice it more on their daily commutes.
What do you like most about the art that you make? Some of my landscapes feel sanitized and typological, while others are otherworldly and romanticized. All of them have a calm contemplative quality, which is sometimes difficult to seek out in the age of screens and social media.
What is your motivating factor in creating artistic work? Making photographs is therapeutic for me. There are thoughts and concepts that I cannot quite put into words, and I find that my art is an extension of what it is I am trying to communicate. I feel like the best version of myself when I am working [on art], and when I am not, I feel down. So, I guess you can say that it makes me whole. Perhaps, that is when I feel like I am most in control.
What are you favorite materials to work with? Growing up I loved digging through my family’s “old stuff” cabinet. Among WWII medals, binoculars, old letters, and other miscellanea, there were photo albums filled with homemade silver gelatin prints of my grandparents and parents’ lives. Even though my mother hated my inability to fit everything back in the cabinet, those prints made by hand in old Stalinist apartment’s bathrooms, from the film loaded into developing tanks under heavy wool coats, left quite an impact, even though I did not realize it at the time. I have since been enamored with analogue, darkroom, and chemistry that goes into creating photographs. My weapon of choice at the moment is a Zone VI walnut 4x5 camera named Bernard, and silver gelatin paper negatives.
Who are your influences? I love typological work because it shows parallels and interconnectedness of everything in the world. It is a simple concept, but there is no limit to its depth. Although my work is not typology in the strictest sense of the word, the approach informs my work. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s dedication and deadpan technique were influences quite early on. They isolated structures from their context and presented them as abstract, peculiar objects. Thomas Struth’s Nature and Politics series is mind blowing in its size and gravity. Similar to the Bechers’, his approach is architectural, but also anthropological. His photographs are a testament to civilization and its effect on the world. Not too long ago I rediscovered Josef Koudelka’s landscapes, in particular, a selection of his landscape panoramas by PACE McGill Gallery, titled Twelve Panoramas. They are beautiful technically, grandiose aesthetically, and grave conceptually. His landscapes are out of this world, estranged and unbelievable. There are many more influences of all kinds, but these are just some of my visual heroes.
What is the connection between protest and art-making? I think that any kind of creation is a kind of protest, a protest against nothingness and death. Artists die, and their work keeps on living, carrying the weight of their name through centuries. Some people do not like or understand art, but the beauty of it, is that if those people took a moment to learn about it and get to know it, they will most likely feel like they can relate to it. Just like with people of different backgrounds, sitting down and having a dialogue opens a pathway to understanding. That is the protest of art, against ignorance, misconceptions and judgments.
What are you working on currently? Currently, I am photographing Atlanta Watershed landscapes and architecture. I am intrigued by the function of the Watershed’s manufactured landscape and how it fits into Atlanta’s urban environment. There are some great geological aspects that are totally bizarre out of the context of their function.