Veronika Georgieva and Stephen J Shanabrook join us in our new series ‘Five Questions With…’, a short-form dialogue created to spark curiosity and connection in bite-size form.
From colorful childhood memories of the former Soviet Union, to the new concept of “useful usefulness,” Veronika and Stephen—collaborators and partners in practice—tell us about their backgrounds and inspiration around their work...
VERONIKA GEORGIEVA & STEPHEN J SHANABROOK
Tell us a little bit about your background(s) and where you grew up?
VG: I was born in and grew up in Moscow, Russia. I had a wonderful “pioneer” childhood, known all-too-well to the children of the former Soviet Union. I sharpened my skills dismantling Kalashnikov weapons in 30 seconds in school and during my later years, graduated from Moscow Architectural University—one of the most liberal colleges in the country.
Meanwhile, Stephen, the son of an obstetrician and the town coroner, spent his childhood working at a chocolate factory and building robots in the basement of his house in rural Ohio. He received a BFA from Syracuse University and studied in Florence, Italy. He has participated in residencies at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and De Atelier in The Netherlands.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually, and/or emotionally?
SJS: I walk. I like to walk a lot, and from moving and seeing, I get inspired.
VG: I love the sea and forest and hiking, but it never inspires me. My mind is fully at rest when I’m in nature. However, what does inspire me, is any form of communication / connection with people, personally or through their art: books, sculptures, paintings, movies.
What was the impetus for you to start your artistic practice and how did you decide to do it together?
SJS: I wanted to contribute and communicate, but in a way that was “useless”—a sort of useful uselessness. I don’t try to make sense of what I do, organize it, or give meaning to it. It’s like my diary, but in a sculptural way. I call it “emotional conceptualism.” And with Veronika, as life partners, over time, it became apparent that our mutual attraction to the combination of destruction and beauty was something we share on many levels.
Who are you most inspired by (together and individually)?
SJS: The Arte Povera artists’ methods and process in how an endless amount of material can be adapted into an artwork, had a big influence on me.
VG: I am inspired by people who have a strong sense of “being alive.” Those who constantly work on “being alive” like Henry Miller, Bukowski, Tolstoy, Brodsky, and Anna Akhmatova. Not necessarily optimistically alive, but who are sincerely trying to get to the core of themselves, to the core of who they and we are—turning the sufferings into the tool for search. Rilke, Rothko, Proust…
I refuse to be part of modern day’s strong competition in search of success, where artists are demanding to be understood and are willing to kill you with their bigger-than-life description of concepts and explanations. The more it’s unclear to you, the more you are trying to explain your ideas to others. The truth is simple, that’s maybe why we call it artWORK—one’s artwork either works or it doesn’t. By itself. Without you. Get to the core of yourself, work on yourself. The others will follow. Or not. Why does it matter so much anyway?
How would you want to be remembered?
SJS: As I am.
VG: As a piece of cake. A Russian one, not the horrible American sponge one.