Yulia Batyrova: "Ability to collect an object from a thousand elementary parts fascinates me"

November 2nd, 2020

Yulia Batyrova, ceramist artist from Moscow and nominee competition, spoke about the process of creating sculptures and finding her place on the map of contemporary Russian art

Q. Has your experience as a professional in graphic design and a design set of mind influenced your work with ceramic?

А. Yes, definitely. If this experience helped me at first, it played a cruel joke on me at a later stage.

The qualities that were very useful for a designer and that I have nurtured in myself for years, such as logic, empathy, the ability to subordinate and work in the interests of a client, have long constrained me as an artist. And even my view on a good taste, a sense of proportion, color and composition still prevents me from trying to go beyond my own limitations sometimes. For example, I cannot create something brutal, rough or uncomfortable, and I suffer a lot from this. I am grateful for the designer’s experience, but I am glad that this page has been turned and I can no longer think about the interests of others, but endulge my selfishness and engage into creation as a personal experience.

Q. Your artworks take attention and perseverance — is this a certain way of meditation? What attracts you more: the process of creating objects or the result? How did you come to combine thin and delicate porcelain with chamotte and stone mass?

A. It is a sort of meditation or compulsion. I am a worrier, and this painstaking creation of an object from many components calms my mind and orders thoughts. And, of course, most of all I am attracted to the process of making, there is a lot of mental work in the beginning: looking for the shape of the future object, almost losing sleep and making sketches on everything that comes to hand, and then after all the efforts assembling it from small parts. This switch in my creation process suits me very well, it allows me not to burn out. Usually, I lose all interest once the piece is finished.

When I first tried working with porcelain, I was fascinated by its color, silk texture and translucency. I wanted to reveal and highlight these amasing properties. Reflecting on this, I came to the conclusion that this could be done in contrast, by putting together two seemingly inappropriate materials and merging them into one form. Looking into the future, I would like to combine porcelain with concrete, metal or plastic in order to challenge the physical and cultural attributes of the materials.

Q. Recently, your work has been developing in the direction of sculpture, what prompted you to make this choice? Where do you find your inspiration? Your objects breathe nature, but as far as we understand, do they also have a psychological context?

A. I was engaged in a routine and service type of work for quite a long time. When I came to ceramics, I also began to make utilitarian objects, but quickly I realised that I wanted them to be just beautiful without aiming at solving needs, but rather demonstrating unreasonable liberty. Since I have always been interested in three-dimensional images and forms, as well as the variety of such expressions, my appeal to sculpture turned out to be very native to me.

As for inspiration, I have no specific and permanent sources. I could turn even to politics or nature. Butterflies are the subject of my latest interest, I can look at them for hours. When I immerse myself into the process of making, I have no interest in the outside world, focusing solely on the form, my own methods and ideas.

Any creativity is a deeply personal experience. The internal work is always reflected in my pieces and, of course, has a psychological context.

Q. The last sculpture “Breathe In / Breathe Out” reminded us of the artwork by Rowan Mersh, which he presented at the Nomad art fair several years ago. Do you think artists have a collective unconscious?

A. Perhaps it is so that the voice of an artist speaks the "collective unconscious" of the human race, much wiser and more powerful than the personal «I am» of the author. I definitely will not dare to call myself one of the megaphones of such "collective unconscious":) The ability to collect an object from a thousand elementary particles and observe them as if through a microscope fascinates and inspires me. Many artists work in this direction: Rowan Mersh constructs his objects from shells, Junko Mori from metal, Sere Garcia from fabric, Korean artist Kwang Yong Chan from pieces of silk paper, and Kate McGwire makes objects and installations from feathers. 

Q. Do you have favorite artists? What is more important for you to belong to a certain school or to be an independent artist?

A. I definitely would not deliberately join any associations or schools, but if my work is given a strict definition and attributed to a certain style, I will not oppose to it)

When I first started out with ceramics, I followed many potters to learn about their techniques, so I collected endless boards on pinterest. These are a few authors who impressed me (in fact, there are many more): Stine Jespersen, Yo Akiyama, Tom Bartel, Yukiya Izumita, Tomomi Tanaka, Phillip Eglin, Petra Wolf, Mary Bowron, Gordon Baldwin and others.

Today I try to keep it fresh and stay away from seeking inspiration from other ceramists and generally minimize the viewing of artworks (with the exception of exhibitions), because getting rid of other people's ideas that grow into the most secluded corners of our minds is much more difficult than finding the new ones.

Q. The sculpture "И" was shortlisted for the Second Russian Competition-Biennale of Object Design «Invented and Made in Russia» organised by The All-Russian Decorative Art Museum. A special category that did not exist before the announcement of the contest was created for you and a few other artists - Fine Craft. How significant is it for you to be shortlisted from more than 2000 applicants, and what does this nomination mean for you?

A. This came as a complete surprise to me and therefore a great joy. Probably, this helped me in a sense to come out from my own workshop, to look at my work from the outside and connect my actions with works of other artists, as well as to see my place on the map of the modern Russian fine craft today. 

Q. What difficulties do you go through as an artist daily and what kind of support would you like to receive?

A. Frankly speaking, I usually have difficulties only with myself, and as for support, it is still completely unclear to me how a Russian artist can be integrated into the international context. Art education in Russia is a rather vaguely organised system, and the art market is even less defined. There is a feeling of being in a vacuum and it is not always obvious who and why (besides myself) needs my art.

I would like to explore other materials: polymers, epoxy, fiberglass, composite, glass, etc., but I have a very little idea how to work with them. I know that in Europe there is a network of workshops —if you enter the Fine Arts department in an art school, you would be able to try different mediums, look for new means of expression and generally feel free to explore. It seems to me that there is still no such opportunity to learn about yourself and your capabilities in Russia.