INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDRA DVORNIKOVA
An artist from St. Petersburg, Alexandra Dvornikova, gave an interview to our journal in which she talks about her work and its connection with nature, about the artist's role in promoting environmental values and ecological culture, developing environmental awareness, and about communicating with the natural world as a source of inspiration, beauty and healing.
Keywords: art, beauty, forest, nature, creativity
Brief information about the artist
Alexandra Dvornikova is an independent artist and art therapist based in St. Petersburg. She graduated from the St. Petersburg Art and Industry Academy named after A.L. Stieglitz (2008-2015), department of easel and book graphics with a specialization in analog printing and linocut. She then studied art therapy at the St. Petersburg Academy of Postgraduate Pedagogical Education for two years. She is Art Director of the "Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice" web-based journal and co-founder of the linocut art studio. As an artist, she explores the relationship between human beings and nature. Her sphere of interests includes archetypal psychology, ecopsychology, ecological and evolutionary aesthetics, deep ecology, mythology, folklore studies, the possibilities of interdisciplinary interaction between art and science, and the role of interspecies communication in the development of the ecosystem and psyche.
Alexander Kopytin: Nature is central to your work. You seem to create a special world in which nature and humans form a unity, live in a magical, fantastical reality. Sometimes it seems to me that your art materializes the dream of an ideal world in which humans and the natural world can be friends with each other, understand each other and be co-creators. Do you believe that this is the case, or that this is possible given the current growing environmental and humanities crisis?
Alexandra Dvornikova: In my art, I want to capture a certain dreamlike world of harmonious relationships between humans and nature. I want to convey my animistic perception of reality, show the moment of an elusive miracle and share this with other people. I am fascinated by the atmosphere of mystery, the state of mystical revelation and the vague sensations of long-forgotten memories concerning our human relationship with the natural world. I am interested in the experience of archaic living in contact with the more-than-human world. I believe that, in a sense, we must “enchant” the world anew in order to realize it as a whole and experience its incomprehensible splendor again. The modern pragmatic view of nature excludes the possibility of a meaningful, loving and respectful relationship with the natural world. The language of images allows us to touch upon aspects of beauty as a kind of cosmic order and feel the unity of all living things. Art creates new frames for the perception of reality.
I am interested in the topic of communication in the ecosystem. I believe that everything is connected, and the key to this is the exchange of information. A work of art is akin to a living being or an ecosystem, and it is also included in this super-complex and multi-level semiotic system. In a broad sense, creativity is the basis of adaptation to the environment, the ability to see potential and opportunities in it. It may be naive, but I believe that through love and beauty we will be able to return to our lost harmony with the world of nature. In this sense, I probably tend to refer to the Inner Child in the viewer, who deep down believes in miracles and harmony. I didn’t consciously choose this approach, but, most likely, this is the reason for a certain “fabulousness” or naivety of the images. I believe that each of us has a love for nature, and what is happening is a systemic problem. The children within us are still rebels, not broken by the system.
Figure 1 "Crane dance" | 25x30cm | mixed media, digital media
Figure 2 Untitled (Stars) | 22x29 cm | mixed media, digital media, stop motion animation
Figure 3 "Deer (Meeting)" | 22x29 cm | mixed media, digital media, stop motion animation
A.K.: How did you begin your career as an artist, what are the main stages associated with your study of the relationship between humans and the natural world by means of art?
A.D.: I started drawing at about the same time as when I started to speak. For me, these have always been equivalent systems of cognition of the surrounding world and expression of my reactions and impressions. My path was relatively linear. When I was two years old, I drew a forest, mushrooms, animals and people who happily live side by side. I was in a kind of lost paradise. Sometimes I feel like Edward Hicks in my persistent desire to reproduce this impossible world again and again in the style of the prophecy from the book of Isaiah (11: 6):
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
I think the most important thing for me was to preserve this childhood belief in a harmonious world: “And the wild wolf will embrace me and the brown bear will share my tea and they will give me shelter in the depths of the forest”. Although the adult part of me understands that it is not worth feeding the wolf with cookies. Nevertheless, there is no violence, but there is balance and interconnection in nature.
A.K.: Can you tell us a little about your childhood and, especially, about the formation of your attitude to nature when you were a child and adolescent? What role did your communication with the natural world play in your life even at that time?
A.D.: Since childhood, the forest seemed to me a kind of mystical and liminal space, where myths and fairy tales come to life. I think that art and fairy tales played a big role in my perception of the forest. I literally recognized the “fairytale space” from books and felt a thrill to be in contact with it.
This is a special world, untamed, living according to its own secret laws, a zone of freedom, heightened sensitivity and vitality. If you look closely at the objects of wildlife, you can unravel some of their secrets. Ernest Haeckel learned the secrets of the universe, contemplating the essence or aidos, which takes on a unique form in the external world ... The artist always looks at the border between the internal and the external.
When I was little, my mother and I often went to pick herbs or mushrooms in the forest. Everything was hung with bunches of herbs, branches, "mushroom" beads, like in a witch's house. I slept on a fragrant hay mattress. My mom told me that the flowers are alive, and that you shouldn't collect everything from the clearing because you have to preserve its appearance. Once again, I was afraid to pick flowers, because my mother called it murder. Everything had to be thanked.
Nature has always given me consolation and acceptance, the absence of evaluations, norms and boundaries, the opportunity to feel that I am outside of roles and in some kind of unity with everything.
A.K.: What role do you think art plays in shaping the relationship between humankind and nature?
A.D.: It seems to me that the word "relationship" is very important here. Human relationships are either filled with love and therefore constructive, or are inclined towards exploitation and violence. Art, as a rule, stands on the side of Love and believes in it to the last, opposing itself to pragmatism, consumerism, functionalism, desubjectification. It is a bulwark of humanity, opening hearts and eyes to hope for a better world.
I am alarmed by the inflating feelings of guilt and fear that sound in public space in the context of the environmental crisis. A relationship with a lover or even just a partner based on the experience of guilt and obligation will be painful and traumatic, as well as based on exploitation. With this perception of the situation, the Earth is still “the enemy” or at least an external agent. With this perception we are still trying to attain power and control over nature, we are focusing on what must be overcome. No matter how trite, it seems to me that only sincere love, tenderness, and the ability to see and appreciate beauty can heal our relationship with nature. This attitude towards nature is characteristic of art, which means it creates a counterforce to the human exploitative attitude towards nature.
In general, art accumulates social energy, forms the image of the world and the spirit of the time with its values, searches and themes. It actualizes certain collective archetypes that create a vector for the historical process. Therefore, an appeal to the theme of nature through the prism of a loving gaze enters into art as a collective container...
In any case, all I can do is convey my love for the world in images and know that they are touching someone. Without some supporting symbolic framework, images of reality slip past our consciousness, without entering into a relationship with our inner world. The wind is invisible until we encounter it, an idea will not take over consciousness until it is formulated. Let this be an escapist "fairy tale" about a world where everyone loves each other and finds salvation, but maybe it will gain power of influence.
A.K.: How important is it for you to spend time in the bosom of nature, for example, in the forest? What is especially interesting and important for you?
A.D.: Actually, it's critically important. I am a part of nature, I really communicate with the forest. In my work, it is the nature itself that draws through me. I am just her voice and hands, her eyes; I am one form of her consciousness, a kind of conductor. Sometimes it's interesting to see what she draws through me. Our bond is strong, although sometimes broken. But I always listen carefully to what nature wants to show me, and what she wants to tell through me. There is no border here, we are one. The forest gives something to me, reveals some secrets, and I try to put all my strength and faith into passing on this gift and sharing it with others, preserving this miraculous feeling and mystical revelation of frozen moments, where visionary insight and anima mundi - the soul of the world - break through the routineness of usual life.
Figure 4 "Glowing tree" | 21x26 cm | mixed media, digital media, stop motion animation
Figure 5 "Squaring the circle" | 21x22 cm | mixed media, digital media, stop motion animation
Communication with nature is both interesting and important for me. It is a real dialogue. It is possible.
A.K.: The special role of the forest in your life is revealed in your book, “Lost Forest”. How autobiographical is this book, and what place does the imaginary reality of the ideal relationship between humans and nature occupy in it? Why is the book called “The Lost Forest”? Does this title mean that it is impossible to bring back the relationship between humans and the forest (a metaphor for all of nature) as shown in the book? What do the illustrations in this book mean for you?
Figure 6 "Lost Forest" book
A.D.: It’s hard for me to answer. Probably everything in your question relates to the book somehow. But I created it unconsciously, I allowed something to manifest itself in a flash in my mind and find a certain form. It's like growing something from a seed or giving birth to a child. Instead of trying to cram everything into an illusory framework, I wanted to find out how it will grow. If we talk about what I, as a person, wanted, then it was to trust the process and my strange associations and images, feeling that there is some kind of unity in them. I wanted to see how all this would turn out, and where the images would lead. So far, I don't know if it was a good experiment or not.
The story in the book is deliberately not told. It is a very simple and mostly visual story about the mystical relationship between humans and nature, exploring the boundary between dreams and reality. It tries to recreate the feeling of vague, long-forgotten memories. My goal was to make a book that will leave readers with the aftertaste of waking up from an unusual dream: something happened there, but what exactly is not quite clear. What really happened? Who are they all, the inhabitants of this forest world? I like the feeling of the unknown and incomprehensible, a kind of mystery. All readers have their own unique story, because there are long stories hidden behind each picture, but they are not told. For me, as an author, it was more important to leave space for co-creation than to tell something of my own. So, let everyone who reads it write their own book and their own story filled with personal meanings and associations.
Of course, this work is as autobiographical as is possible. In principle, everything described there is real, except that the time is confused and the inner world is mixed with the outer.
A.K.: What place does the “dark”, “shadow” side of the natural world occupy in your work? I often see archaic images of Baba Yaga and Leshy in your art. It often features elements that remind us of death, and death’s influence on the life of humans and nature.
A.D.: I have experienced, more than once, a near-death experience, and it seems to have a positive effect on me. Death is a natural part of life, it is something that gives meaning to everything and promotes movement forward. By displacing it from culture and consciousness, we impoverish ourselves and do not really live, avoiding the existential burden.
In addition, having gone through a near-death experience, I know how great a taboo around this topic is. I really love the idea of memento mori, which is an artistic, symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death. This concept dates back to the philosophers of classical antiquity and appeared in the funerary art and architecture of the Middle Ages. I am interested in the Death-positive movement and The Order of the Good Death. These are socio-philosophical movements that encourage people to speak openly about death, dying, in particular, to fight for natural burial and take human mortality into account. I deliberately do not address this topic, but it itself appears quite often as a reflection of my natural interest and fascination with the secrets of life and death.
Figure 7 "Vasilisa and Koschey" ("I need a shelter, I need a friend") | 24x33 | illustration, mixed media
A.K.: As far as I know, you have been working on the creation of a deck of cards for over a year, the working title of which is "Green Tarot". What is the main idea behind this deck and how can it play a role in promoting environmental culture?
A.D.: This deck of cards is based on the use of archetypal images and plots. It echoes the I-Ching (the “Book of Changes”) and other universal symbolic systems that describe the life cycle of human beings in their connection with the world around them. The main task associated with the creation of the "Green Tarot" is to assert the natural essence of humans, the common foundation of the human being, nature and the universe. Working on the Green Tarot, I proceed from a single ontological perspective of considering Nature and the human being, according to which humans and Nature exist and develop according to the same laws. As day follows night, events in a person's life follow certain natural rhythms and always have mythological prototypes.
The human life cycle shows similarities to the behaviour of different living organisms, ecosystems and the cosmos. Each card in the deck has a name that denotes a certain archetypal manifestation in a person and the living environment, acting as a generative, synergistic mechanism that participates in the relationship of a person with the living environment, and that exists both in the mental and physical world, among living organisms, and in the ecosphere.
Each archetypal situation, represented by an illustration, reveals a specific quality. For example, “Death” refers us to completion and rebirth, “Magician” is associated with transformation, healing and service, and all situations as a whole are formed in a certain sequence, more precisely, a rhizome (according to the philosophy of poststructuralism by J. Deleuze and F. Guattari), a life-giving universal matrix.
Figure 8 Cards from the "Green Tarot" deck
A.K.: Nowadays you are not only an artist, but also an art therapist practicing ecological art therapy. How does interaction with the natural world fit into your work as an art therapist? What specific tasks does ecological art therapy solve in order to relieve people of psychological distress and contribute to their health and well-being?
A.D.: In short, all my work is part of a very holistic life path, based on personal experience and a particular orientation of my entire way of life. It is something like a part of my purpose, the continuation of everything that is important and valuable to me.
My views at the moment are as follows. In my understanding, the psyche was formed for thousands of years to be a mirror of the environment. It was formed not in a vacuum, but in an inextricable connection with the natural environment. Therefore, it is inappropriate to work with the psyche in isolation from this context. We can establish contact with the environment through creativity. Long before the invention of all kinds of psychotherapy for the regulation of mental life, people turned to creativity and nature. Therefore, these are natural factors that contribute to the harmonization and ordering of the mental state, containing significant potential for self-knowledge and self-regulation. Working in ecological therapy draws attention to a certain global “cosmic” context in the individual's life, and this is also a valuable semantic resource. In addition, ecological therapy is a holistic model, where there is a place for the body, the environment, emotions, and thoughts, which corresponds to the spirit of the times.
A.K.: What value do you give as an artist and art therapist to the current cultural context and the peculiarities of the mentality of modern people? To what extent do ecological art and ecological art therapy respond to this context, people's requests, their desire to return to authenticity, naturalness, sincerity, to revive in themselves the ability to feel the world as a whole one, in which humans and the cultural realm can harmoniously coexist and cooperate with nature?
A.D.: I believe we are living in an era of metamodernism (although this is more a matter of faith and “stake”). New romanticism, new sincerity, holism, creative intentions, naivety, pacifism, inclusiveness, interest in archaism, fairy tales and myths, “enchanting” the world, ecologization, search for depth, focus on feelings and authenticity, aestheticization of the environment and nature in a world located on the brink of disaster may sound like escapism and daydreaming. Nevertheless, metamodern art is trying to find how to live happily again, create, be a part of the community of people and nature, the web of life. Thus, metamodern art affirms our desire for the reconstruction of the ideal, the world and ourselves, no matter how problematic they may be.
Ecologization, romanticization and personification of nature represent a kind of return to the theme of animism, mythology, development of authenticity, archetypal origin, as well as a deep ideological optimism and the search for reducing the distance between polarized opposites (nature-culture, nature-humans, emotions-mind, body-psyche / soul, external-internal, and so on). Psychotherapy responds to all these socio-cultural tendencies, generating new directions or rethinking and developing existing ones. Ecological art therapy, being an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of art, psychology and ecology, goes beyond the usual framework of the tasks of traditional psychotherapy, expanding the limits of its influence in order to improve and harmonize human life in its connectedness to the more-than-human world, and to promote environmental protection, thereby realizing wide reconstructive potential and showing a high interest in the well-being of the more-than-human world.
Ecological art therapy is conceptually consistent with Gernot Boehme’s philosophy and, in its body-oriented aspect, it focuses on the sensation of being here-and-now in the environment. It examines the relationship between external conditions and the states of our body. There are also notable parallels with Timothy Morton's dark ecology, bringing back to the world its poetic, irrational, numinous and sometimes frightening qualities.
In ecological art therapy (and this is also typical for art therapy in general), interpretation, analysis, verbal reflection, is superimposed with an indivisible experience of living the world on the bodily, emotional and spiritual level, staying in metaxis. As Susan Sontag wrote in her essay “Against Interpretation”: "Instead of hermeneutics, we need the eroticism of art."
Note: Alexandra's work can be seen on her website https://allyouneediswall.tumblr.com/ and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/allyouneediswall/
Interviewed by: Kopytin, Alexander
Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor, Department of Psychology, St. Petersburg Academy of Postgraduate Pedagogical Education (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Reference for citations
Kopytin, A. (2021). Interview with Alexandra Dvornikova. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, Vol.2(2). - URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru