Studio Tour #009 Viktor Timofeev
Studio Tour #009 Viktor Timofeev
Viktor Timofeev is from Riga, Latvia. He studied in New York. Now he lives and works in Berlin Neukölln.
I met him in his apartment/ work space to talk about where he really comes from and where he is going. Viktor Timofeev is a painter. His work is filled with amazing details from everyday life surrounded by architectural shapes, patterns and perspectives packed in great three-dimensionality. As he says: "It explores ideas of progress, futurism confronted with the banality of the everyday". I love it and it was awesome to meet the person behind that craziness.
Ina Weise: Viktor, when did you move to Berlin?
Viktor TImofeev: In October 2008. I finished school at Hunter in New York. I applied in London at the Royal Collage of Art for my masters and then I moved there for school; they told me that I owe them more money than initially was discussed. I didn't have the money, or enough time to come up with it.. so I left the program, left the city and came to Berlin. Friends, professors, writers were talking about Berlin and how it is cool and calm and there's a lot of art-crowd out there and it's cheap. As I had nothing holding me down in New York, no debts, no relationship, I realized it was a unique time, maybe a time that would never occur again. It was really hard at first and depressing - I arrived at the beginning of the winter. I forgot how intense eastern winters can be. Not that I didn't enjoy it, but it was stressful. If you don't have a job, you don't know what the hell you're doing with your life. You know you're in a totally different place. Also I have never studied German language in school, I studied Italian. But everything is much better now and more settled. You just have to wait and work it out.
IW: Are you planning on being in Berlin for a while?
VT: Yeah I'd like to.
IW: Not back to New York?
VT: I don't really want to go back to New York. I don't want to go back anywhere. I want to go back to Riga for a while at some point. But there's nothing in New York that's interesting to me right now. It is also a completely pragmatic decision to stay here... I simply can't afford anything else. Creates also a buffer zone with my family. While I do miss them, separation is key.
IW: What are they doing?
VT: They are living normally, I guess.
IW: How did they come to New York?
VT: We all came together in 1997. We immigrated. My dad came first. There were some problems in Riga - well, Riga is full of problems. There were political problems. Actually coming to Berlin really emphasized it - maybe it was because I had nothing better to do - but it was about an identity crisis. I'm from Riga and I spend more than 10 years in New York. Part of me is from there and part of me is not from there. The part that is not from there, is from Riga and that is divided, too. There are Latvians and ex-soviet leftovers. I have both sides. I grew up speaking Russian and Latvian. It's a weird crisis but it's typical for post-Soviet countries. I guess its the typical Post-Colonial crisis. In Berlin I have Latvian friends, they know I have a Russian last name so I'm not really Latvian to them. They don't know that I'm actually very Latvian. And if I meet Russians I can't get along with them 100% sometimes because I'm not really Russian. The same thing: when I meet Americans, I get along with them but also there are times when I just can't get along with them because there are some things that I really hate about this community. There are so many bubble communities in Berlin.
I don't know, I feel like none of these things would be happening if I was in New York because you don't have time to even consider any of this stuff. In New York you are just too busy with your daily schedule. Instead of thinking 'Who am I?' you just think: 'I have to get to work!.'
IW: What was your job in New York?
VT: I worked at the university doing computer stuff and I worked at a framing place, I was cutting glass and making frames for clients including Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, Louise Lawler, and smaller things. It was really cool because I like Roy Lichtenstein. Who doesn't?! I got to see his work a lot. And then I started to work for an artist who became my mentor in a way, perhaps he actually doesn't realize that. He is young and from Slovenia but based in Boston now. I'm still working for him. It helps me out here in Berlin as it gives me another income that is independent of geographic location. Most people that come here have a hard time finding work... if they don't speak german they automatically can't be waiters, or bartenders or whatever...or actually you can get by with some words. Anyway, I'm lucky to have this.
IW: It must be cool to know english and russian.
VT: No one wants to speak Russian. Latvians don't want to speak Russian, Lithuanians don't want to speak Russian, Estonians don't wanna speak Russian even though they can. It's typical, it's a condition of a country that is trying to get away from their oppressed history and to reinvent themselves as a country. I think it's totally stupid but it could be because I have the benefit of having left. Now it is interesting to me. I'm rereading all the fairy tales, I'm interested in hanging out with Latvians. I'm into the heritage, the music, the language. I feel lucky for that. People say Berlin is where east meets west. I think this is all west pretty much, there's no east anymore in Berlin. Riga is where east meets west.
IW: You have two galleries that represent you?
VT: Yes. They are quite young and doing really well. I met them as soon as I came here. I was put into a group show called Optimism at Hannah Barry Gallery in London. That's the thing about being in Berlin. I can move around Europe pretty easily and cheaply.At the opening, I met Daniel Schmidt, who was opening a gallery in Cologne. So I have these two galleries representing my work.
IW: What about Berlin?
VT: In Berlin it seems there are absolutely no collectors. Berlin is the poorest city in Germany. Galleries here usually bring in collectors from Belgium or Cologne and Dusseldorf. Cologne is coming back!
IW: What about overseas? Nothing makes you wanna go back to New York?
VT: Berlin is much cooler and it's much more open to young people. My friends are complaining that it is really hard to break in to any normal setting in New York. In London I've had so much more ease being taking seriously and being put in with really good people and collectors and curators. I'm a young artist, I just need time and space to do something. I know many people who are working full time 9 to 5 and then they are going to their studio 6 to 11 - that fucking sucks! You sacrifice so much just to have this time. I go to New York twice a year for a couple weeks to see my family and friends and to see what's up and - I've been playing music - so I play some stuff and skate around with friends. Maybe in the future once I can afford to live the same way that I live here there, maybe I'll go back. And If I can afford to fly around but that can take a long time!!
IW: Do you travel a lot in Europe?
VT: Yeah for fun, but not much. I realized I have to feel settled to do work. All summer I've been in Berlin. I'm going to London in September and I'll visit family in France for two days. It's more travel for business. I was in a group show here, two of my friends curated it... 'You Are Free' at Tape Modern. It included some very interesting Berlin artists; it was only a two day show but so much time and money was spent on it. So the curators pitched it to the Kunsthalle Vienna and it got slated for October 2011. It will be a slice of hip Berlin in Vienna. I'll travel there of course.
IW: Is that where you are having a performance?
VT: No, that's next month here in Berlin. I'm gonna have some drawings in a show and my friend ask me to play some music. I've only played by myself a few times. This will be my third time. My friend, who has a band from New York was in Berlin last month and we played some music in Serbia at Exit Fest and some shows around Berlin. It was all music that we wrote two weeks prior. It's experimental noise based but really good. My friend's not here so I have to figure out what I'm gonna do. But actually yeah I will also play some music at the Vienna Kunsthalle as well, as that was part of the first show as well.
IW: What's the name of your band project with your friend from New York? How do you call yourself when making music?
VT: After a long time considering it, we have decided to not name it anything that different, thus acknowledging his band and my work simultaneously, Nihiti & Viktor Timofeev, and Behavior & Viktor Timofeev, or Bryce Hackford & Viktor Timofeev. Bryce is a very close of mine and we have been making music together for many years now. His band Behavior are playing around NY quite often.
IW: What kind of music do you like?
VT: A lot of things, from drone to sci-fi thrash. The Twin Peaks Soundtrack, Cocteau Twins, Wolf Eyes, New Order. Lately have been listening to Wavves, Sunn O))), NON, Vektor.
IW: Who do you think are the hip Berlin artists we should know?
VT: Delia Gonzales, Henning Strassburger, Nicolas Dussolier, Awst & Walther, Alex Schweder, Daniel Kingery.
IW: Let's talk about your art, Can you describe your work in three sentences?
VT: Situations that tickle your imagination while making you laugh and think simultaneously. It explores ideas of progress, futurism confronted with the banality of the everyday. Nerdiness to the max.
IW: What about the type in your drawings?
VT: The type gave me a way of including something that's irrational. The problem is for example K is such a cool one because you have two diagonal right away but you can't get away from it being a K no matter what. The good thing is two Ks make a russian Ж. Flying Ms look kind of like the wings of a bird. I extended the Ws. Ws and Ns can go together. Ys because of their triangle can function as a hexagonal skin. I worked out all these patterns, semi-complicated tessellations,that have a narrative in itself. I use repetition, looks like data. Sometimes it looks random but I actually repeated one thing three times. So basically it's noise and irregularity but when I repeat it it becomes regular. I treat the type as a kind of skin which becomes a construction.
IW: There's a lot of stuff going on in your drawings. What is that?
VT: I want to make stuff that has much more of a narrative, so it's not like something happened but something is happening and you can read it in many ways. Not just like lines or whatever. It's fucking weirdness. Here's a weird wall made out of these blocks with a weird perspective and this kind of almost fence that is a little bit alive, it has these flying parts and one of them has crashed into the fence. These crystalline rocks are taking over the dumpster and they are eating the shipping container. But it leaves room because we don't know what was there first. Was it a ruin or is it a building that's being destroyed?
At this point I started inventing my own plants too. I wanted them to be super weird, too. I made them out of hexagonal module. It has this weird designee quality. Every life form is pre designed. It's as if you are remaking nature based on your memories of it. It's also reduction of nature to a certain set of mathematical algorithms.
This drawing has a lot of empty space and blankness, it might be balanced but it's just static. It has to get crazier and if you're gonna go in that direction, you have to go all the way. I develop a logic from drawing to drawing and I want to push that further and see where it goes before reworking some of these ideas in painting.
IW: How do you start your painting, when are you done?
VT: I haven't made any paintings since I moved here. I'm getting a bigger studio in october.
But I do a lot of drawing and I use tracing paper to make more and more layers and then I start working on canvas. I try not to spend more than a week on a painting.
If I get stuck I try to make some music or I have to leave. I used to go skating every day for an hour at the skatepark. Unfortunately four weeks ago I had a really bad ankle sprain.
Actually the whole reason why I started drawing is because I was studying computer science in New York and I went skating all the time. My life was skateboarding. I had a really bad injury that took me off for two years and I didn't know if I was gonna ever skate again. I got depressed. I lost that part of my life but I started making art instead. In Berlin I started to get into the skateboard community a little bit again.
IW: I love that shelve with all your models.
VT: I don't know what I'm gonna do with these yet. I guess it's the most important thing. I do stuff and I don't know how it's gonna be useful yet.
IW: They explain a lot to me. I only saw your art online before and I thought he must be crazy if all that stuff is on his mind. It's good to know that you use these models to draw from them.
VT: The more you work with models you can either get totally dependent on it or you become more independent and you just know how things work. It's the difference between looking at something and really studying something.
You know that project on my site? It's a year long project of drawing buildings. That's how I learned to look at something, to observe it and to figure out how perspective works, how space works and how to transform it on to flat paper. I'm still figuring it out but I'm getting more comfortable with it.
IW: Can we take a look at these booklets?
VT: This is my library of source material. I print and cut stuff out and put together these books of inspiration. I lost my computer and all the data on it so I'm glad I started this. Also I don't like to look at pictures on the computer.
One of them is called 'architecture history phase II'. Phase II means larger size. It's all renderings, photos from blogs and magazines - shanghai world expo, an oil rig. This one is 'art history phase III' - a lot of Hockney and cartoony stuff that I've been more and more into, like Peter Saul, Philip Guston. And here we have 'found street objects phase II' - that's me going around Berlin taking pictures of interesting, disturbing things - an upside-down Port-a-Potty, dumpsters with snow. All my paintings include forms from these booklets. There's one about design and also I've been re-exploring all the computer games that I grew up on. I printed out some screen shots. It's primitive virtual space.
IW: Just a few more quick questions: Collaborations?
VT: Dying to collaborate with Larry Lek from London, maybe also some skate projects with Sam Griffin, London. The future will tell. Musically keep working with Bryce Hackford and Dragan Otasevic from Nihiti.
IW: Paintbrush or pen?
VT: Pen…no, paintbrush.
IW: Kebab or Burger?
VT: Burger Burger Burger
IW: Color or black and white?
VT: Primary Colors
IW: Square or triangle?
VT: Equilateral Triangle
IW: A good book!
VT: Concrete Island, JG Ballard
IW: What makes you laugh?
VT: Simpsons Season 4, Mr Plow Episode.
IW: Is that an Ikea catalog?
VT: yeah, I like the drawings.
IW: What are you doing the rest of your day?
VT: I'm gonna try to go outside to push around my board. Take a picture of me with my skateboard on my bike, that's how I commute usually. I'm going to Berlin Hasenheide.