Andrey Bartenev is a unique gemstone on the world’s scene of performance art. Andrey was one of the pioneer artists in Post Soviet Russia and he quickly expanded to Western world, performing in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, Austria, France, and USA. His ideas, looks, and performances are always provocative and mind-blowing. He is also one of the best-spoken people in the arena of art, who constantly invents new words and verbal constructions.
In spite of his celebrity status and huge success, Andrey spent over an hour of his time answering my questions via Skype. I discussed with Andrey his early career and evolution of his work. Andrey also gave me some advice on how to succeed in the art world. It was a pleasure to get to know Andrey Bartenev and business partner Alexander Khromov.
Andrey was born in Norilsk, an industrial city in north Russia. The city is covered with snow for about 250–270 days a year with temperature dropping occasionally to −72 °F. Andrey said he “lived in a contrast between black sky and white snow; everything seemed exaggerated: black polar night and blazing stars; the snow hills looked like sand dunes.” These natural phenomena influenced his psychology and perception of the world. Andrey developed “sensitivity under the radar of the forces of nature” as he felt how paltry a man could be before the severity of nature.
At age fifteen, his family moved to Krasnodar (the south of Russia). Everything seemed to be so petty, and Andrey missed the majestic vastness of Norilsk. He also had another unpleasant revelation: ethnic enmity. Thus, in spite of extreme cold in Norilsk, social climate was warm and amicable. In contrast, Krasnodar was very hostile. Andrey said, “I was very naïve, and Krasnodar was my contrast shower. I experienced nationalism for the first time when I discovered that people can beat each other’s faces only because they come from different ethnic backgrounds.” Andrey also noticed that people in Krasnodar were obsessed with the material side of life, and they were fixated on a subject of money. Sure enough, as a native citizen of Krasnodar, I asked Andrey lots of questions about financing his projects and self-promotion… :)
In Soviet Russia, all college graduates were assigned to a job according to their major for a few years. It may sound like a blessing unless you are sent somewhere in Siberia working in a mining camp. Luckily for Andrey, his job was in Sochi, a nice sea resort town near Krasnodar. Andrey enjoyed the view of the Black Sea and fresh fruits while he worked there as a theater director. Yet, Andrey didn’t stay in Sochi for a long time, and six months later he moved to Moscow.
Andrey became famous for many things, but most of all for his outrageous outfits. In the best traditions of Leigh Bowery, Andrey could wrap himself in a flamboyant fabric from eyes to toes and show up like this at a serious analytical TV program. I asked Andrey when his provocative style was born. He told me that even in Soviet Russia he wore bright green mohair pants with a label “Chicago,” a dark blue woolen coat, green socks, and a pink tie. All this beauty was adorned with Andrey’s ginger bob hairstyle. Even now it sounds a little bit radical; in Soviet time you could be arrested by the police if you wear such outfits outside circus.
Andrey’s art evolved over the years. From performance art and papier-mâché moving sculptures in 1990s he transitioned into 3D sculptures and teaching at the institutions in Western Europe and USA. Andrey commented on this transition as “My inner inquisitiveness and curiosity no longer wanted papier-mâché, my soul was tired, and in 2000 I began to experiment with sound, light and sculptures.”
I asked Andrey how he was able to finance his projects. Thus, in the early 90s Andrey was selling his graphic works and invested the money in making props for his early performances. Many of his friends and relatives helped him as volunteers. Then, in 1993 through 1996 Andrey and the work group Bartenev Art Productions including Natasha Sharumova, Igor Rudnik and Alexander Khromov brought his performances to the night clubs. Night clubs was a new phenomenon for post-Soviet Russia, and Andrey’s psychedelic performances fit well with house music and rave culture. In mid 1990-s, it was a great way to keep performance production going. Andrey and his team no longer perform at night clubs. He now accepts commissions from established art institutions, participates in art shows and biennales, partners with show business stars, works with movie directors, and creates performances for Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center in NYC among others.
Andrey gave me a few tips how to succeed as an artist:
● You should always develop your talent, constantly innovate and reinvent your style
● It is very important to be in a creative atmosphere; surround yourself with like-minded people
● Find your audience. If you feel that your art does not attract enough attention, find that verge where your work meets the right audience.
● Do not averse to volunteer opportunities. Thus, “if your fellow artists ask you to help them twist the ropes, agree to twist their ropes.” You will energize each other and give a birth to new creative ideas and inspiration.
● Attend all kinds of seminars and workshops. “When you are immersed in a context of new programming, your mind might recognize completely unexpected things”
● Finally, and most importantly, “you have to be incredibly smiling and remarkably genial person. Also, be literate, read a lot of poetry and invent new words and theories because the new era of artist-poets is approaching.”