Plague and Locusts 2020: Natalia Jezova

What could be more enchanting than a mystery? I suppose, only the love for the mystery and the quest which one embarks on in trying to solve it.
I am a Russian-born artist who lives in London.
I communicate through a wide variety of media, including photography, film and installation. My art, which has been exhibited internationally, addresses cultural memory, identity and gender issues.
I was born in the Soviet Union; my family roots are a mixture of Russian, Ukrainian, Jewish and Georgian. My early years coincided with the time in which two interconnected but different subcultures, jokingly referred to as the ‘physicists’ (those engaged in technical sciences) and the ‘lyricists’ (writers, philosophers, artists, theatre and film professionals). Whilst the latter argued that society would be “empty” without culture, the ‘physicists’ claimed that scientific knowledge must take priority. My mother was a Doctor of Philosophy, whilst my father was involved in Technical Sciences so they were representatives of both. I remember that time when our house and dacha (especially during weekends) was full of fantastic people – academics, scientists, writers, artists and film directors. My older brother and I always looked forward to these parties and listened breathlessly to verses by contemporary poets like Sergei Yesenin, Marina Tsvetaeva, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Iosif Brodsky and Robert Rozhdestvensky. There were often improvised performances, in which we (children) also took part.
For ten years I attended music and an art school. My favourite lessons at music school were composition and improvisation. We created musical images and composed music for different characters. This helped me later in working with sound in my own films.
In art school the curriculum was focused on classical methods of training: sculpture, painting, drawing, composition and art history. Every weekend we attended museums and art galleries, and one of the strongest impressions I had was when we went to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow (which had hosted the Mona Lisa for two months).
Outside the Museum we lined up in a queue many kilometers long just to catch a glimpse of the famous painting. We waited in the queue all night and the next day we finally got into the Museum to see da Vinci’s masterpiece for just 15 seconds (the time allowed for each viewer). It is hard to say what amazed me more – the painting itself or the desire of millions of people to see it. For the next few months we would discuss the unique eyes and smile of Mona Lisa. It was a starting point when I “fell in love” with masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci and other masters of Renaissance.
My professional career as an artist has started around twenty years ago, when I have clearly decided that this is a direction, which I personally want to take. My desire to understand and contextualise my practice further, through combined research and studio practice, led me to undertake the Professional Doctorate in Fine Art. Over the last six years I have concentrated on my Prof Doc studies: writing the thesis, making films and photographic projects. The Doctorate program has supported my creative evolution from a painter to a photographer and filmmaker.
The main theme explored in my work is the ephemeral nature of things and how the mediation of various objects may carry and evoke different meanings, testimonies and memories for the spectator. My natural curiosity, interest and knowledge of art history, coupled with the use of certain objects from my private collection of vintage costumes, accessories and armour, have served as an inspiration in the development of my ideas.
During my studies in the East London University I had been for a long time under supervision of avant-garde filmmaker Professor John Smith. He encouraged me to work with a 16mm camera, to experiment with actuality and abstraction. He had a big influence on my formation as a filmmaker. In June 2020 I should have had my Professional Doctorate’ degree show. However, due to COVID-19 all plans changed and our show was postponed until June 2021.
Lockdown experience
I have a constant feeling of a cognitive dissonance from the start of Covid era.
At the beginning we heard a brave speeches. Our Prime Minister said, that Britain extremely well prepared for coronavirus – we already have a fantastic NHS, fabulous testing systems and the best surveillance of the spread of disease. All airports and train stations in UK were working as normal – thousands of travellers from around the world (including “red zones” countries) were arriving every day. From another side, his words had a sharp contrast with the growing unease of many of the government’s scientific advisers behind the scenes. They were already convinced that Britain was on the brink of a disastrous outbreak. (Grey, MacAskill, 7th of April 2020, Reuter/Special report). In two-month time after an optimistic prognosis, our Prime Minister announced: “More families, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time…” (Grey, MacAskill, 7th of April 2020, Reuter/Special report).
It was only one solution – to prepare to die, as all our fantastic testing and health system disappeared somewhere. When the first lockdown in London was announced, I received a letter with strict instructions from the Government saying that because of my health condition I need to stay at home on my own for the next four months. I love being alone; I’ve never understood how you can be afraid of being alone. After all, this is the time when you stay with yourself. The most important thing is to be in harmony with yourself – when your inner world does not contradict your outer one. However, after couple of weeks staying on my own, I understood how difficult not seeing my daughter, family and friends. It didn’t a matter that I have been in harmony with myself… After several days of confusion and sadness, I realised that I need to “switch on” an exacting discipline program, where every hour should be scheduled; otherwise the situation will go worse and worse. I started spent most of a day on research, writing and working on projects.
For the Prof Doc exhibition I was planning to show an installation H-Hour, for it I prepared a big collection of vintage gas mask from different countries. During last few years for my stage photography I was working with model Olga Bluma. However, during the Lockdown it was only one model around – myself. One day I decided to do a revision on my collection. As a result I took a lot of self – portraits in different gas masks and accessories. After couple of weeks I had a series of self-portraits Masquerade Spring/Summer 2020.
­­­­­Self-portrait during the COVID-19 Lockdown, Natalia Jezova, 2020, photograph
At the end of the first lockdown I had a Self Portrait during the COVID-19 series and started Secrets Breed Secrets project. For me the process of creation – does not a matter is it a painting, filmmaking or writing, has a therapeutic influence. Especially, during hard times of my life – it’s a best way to heal. I remember a period of time when I was listening music and painting twenty hours a day. I cannot imagine my life without art and music. It seems to me that I heard music from the moment of my occurrence in the universe.
I think artists are more resilient in difficult times. We see situations from a creative point of view. Most of artists have an unusual gift of foresight. They create artworks dealing with tragedy in a transformative way; try to inform the world of our experience during disaster.
However the situation for artists and galleries during the Covid time is nearly catastrophic. It is very difficult not to have real exhibitions. Ok, we are taking part in online exhibitions. But it nothing similar to the real ones – without viewers and their response it’s “empty”. And, due to the huge cuts in funding for the arts a lot of artists are in a very difficult financial situation.
My latest short film Or Not To Be…? (3min, colour, sound) was created during the second lockdown in London. In the film – some my thoughts, reflections and new art works which were made during the Covid era, when I was trying to concentrate on new projects, not leave any time for sadness. In a dramatically changing world there are still some constants, which accompany and help us survive in difficult times – love, art, beauty and sense of humor.
“To be or not to be, that is the question” is the part of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in the William Shakespeare play Hamlet. Dilemma between life and death… The title of my film – Or Not to Be…? After our Prime Minister’s famous speech – that, we need to be prepare to lose our loved ones before the time, we had only one direction – to an “undiscovered country”, from which “no traveller returns.”
The film starts with footage from a platform in a small town where my train stopped just for a one minute. I saw the couple on a platform – the scene was so strong and sincere. You never can get this kind of feelings when you are filming professional actors. I wanted to take their contacts, but our train started moving…
Or Not to Be…?, Natalia Jezova, 2020, still from the film
After my trip I felt very unwell – had a high fever, could not breath properly. Few days in a hospital were very critical (you can see in the film a short fragment from the hospital – I was really “between sky and earth”, however, I am an artist and if there are a chance, I am filming unusual conditions. When I started feeling better, first what I wanted – to see the video with the couple; did I manage to record it? I was “returning” to them, thinking and hoping that they are alive and together.
In my films I usually apply chroma-keying visual effects. This technique is based on using colour hues to composite two or more pieces of video footage together. It is a multiple exposure in which two or more videos are simultaneously visible over each other. This technique is similar to the superimposition technique that I had been using for many years in photography.
May You Live In interesting Times Series, Lady with an Ermine on Andy Warhol, Natalia Jezova, 2019, photo collage
The “journey” is an appropriate metaphor to use in relation to superimposition as we move in time from one place to another, and, in the middle of the journey, we have a third frame and a new thread of the narrative. The layering of images on top of one another creates a new meaning and makes an impression on an almost subliminal level.
Or Not to Be…? Natalia Jezova, 2020, still from the film
When a superimposition is particularly meaningful it can deepen the metaphors and themes of the story, giving the viewer information and details that add a new dimension and a new reading to the overall photograph or film. This technique gave me an opportunity to communicate the multiple messages that I aimed to embed in my works.
In the film you can see my new works from the Secrets Breed Secrets series on Renaissance Masters. I started this series during the first lockdown and continue to create new works for it using self-portraits in gas masks. Metamorphosis during the Lockdown on Raphael was awarded International Raffaello & Canova Prize.
Secrets Breed Secrets Series, Metamorphosis during the Lockdown on Raphael, Natalia Jezova, 2020, photo collage
Metamorphosis during the Lockdown on Michelangelo was awarded International Prize David Michelangelo.
Secrets Breed Secrets Series, Metamorphosis during the Lockdown on Michelangelo, Natalia Jezova, 2021, photo collage
Throughout my life, Old Masters paintings came to have a big influence on me and I developed contextual ideas in my stage photographic series by encoding the images with symbolic meanings through the use of objects and colours. A symbol is a form in the philosophical sense. “The unique nature of a symbol is that it gives access to deeper layers of reality which are otherwise inaccessible” (Tillich, 1964, p.54).
I create portraits and still lifes that evoke Renaissance painting. I mixe classical and modern aspects, both in costumes and atmosphere, and my artworks are multi-layered, containing their own little secrets that viewers are invited to discover.
I particularly admire Old Master paintings. I am fascinated by their unsurpassed technical qualities, their mysterious representation of dramatic light and their masterful use of composition. However, I appreciate not only their technical skill but also their incredible ability to convey to a viewer the subtext of the picture hidden behind the symbolic meanings of colours and details – how the artists employed a complex visual system to assign a symbolic value to everyday objects, in a sort of visual shorthand for lengthier moral concepts and narratives. After all, many Renaissance masterpieces, with their unique placement of objects and use of distinctive colour palettes, are coded ‘books’ filled with secrets and hints. You just need to know the ciphers for these codes to understand what their author wanted to convey. What could be more enchanting than a mystery? I suppose, only the love for the mystery and the quest which one embarks on in trying to solve it.
Vita Brévis, Ars Lónga – Life is Short, Art is Long
Art does not satisfy hunger or keep you warm in the cold. It acts on a subconscious level.
For me, art was, is and will be a magical gateway to the mysteries of the universe.
According to Aristotle, art is able to create a thing from non-existence into being. It does not represent life, but generates it. At first, it appeared as a reflection of the phenomenon in an art, and then it can be recognised in life. For example, only after William Shakespeare described all the charm, torment and tragedy of a two young hearts – Romeo and Juliet, people started believe in this very love. Or, no one noticed the fog in Britain until Oscar Wilde presented it. From that time, all descriptions of Britain, shrouded in fog.
I can spend hours in a gallery near a masterpiece. Unfortunately, I have a vision problem and I cannot see it properly but I can “feel” it. The charge of energy from such contemplation is enough for a long time. But, I don’t feel anything from an image of the same picture on a t-shirt or towel.
I am sure that the opportunity to see the Mona Lisa and other masterpieces not on underwear, handbags and slippers, but to “get in touch” with the mystery and magic of an art treasures themselves in museums and galleries (they should be free for everyone), gives a completely different chance to “see”, understand and believe in life and its unlimited possibilities.
I am convinced that listening to music in concert halls and conservatories provides an opportunity for personal development and encourages people to strive for the best and beautiful. And nothing like this can be expected from listening to the same piece of music while you are on the line with a bank or any other organization… The aura is gone… It seems that the music is the same, but the unique feeling of the magic of the melody has disappeared forever.
In my opinion, art should have definitely a constructive (I mean positive and creative) nature. At least in an art a contemporary should see a glimmer of hope for the future. I categorically do not accept the point of view about the “death of art” and its destructiveness. This is my own opinion – the older and more experienced I become, the more time that I spent on the research of an art history and philosophy, the more I am convinced of the correctness of my point of view on this issue.
Jean Baudrillard and his cutting-edge philosophy and cultural theories associated with postmodernism and specifically post-structuralism. In his books Fatal Strategies (1983) or The Conspiracy of Art (2005) you can find answers to all questions regarding the recent situation in whole world and world of art.
Around thirty years ago art began to be used as a tool of the financial markets. Masters of the “financial bubbles” decided that they know what art is for. They “rolled up their sleeves” and started mass speculation and fraud.
The ephemeral substance called an art, which has the power to “transport” you to other dimensions, inspire and make you contemplate, just disappeared. It flew away… It might have curtsied, but the Moneybags of the Art Market haven’t notice, because they were too busy with another, more important task – calculating the profit of the sales of what just had flown away…
When the tender and vulnerable soul of art is touched by the sticky and dirty hands of usury, the result is always the same, … that is, deplorable. The energy of the most subtle spiritual settings began to crumble and luck turned away from the World.
According to Fyodor Dostoevsky, art is necessary for humankind like an air. While it is there, we take it for granted, but once it disappears, we will suffocate…
I consider myself as very lucky person because I have close people who understand and love me without trying to change me. Through my life I met many talented and remarkable people. A few years ago, during the art residency PASSAGGIATINA, I met a group of amazing artists and musicians from around the world. With the main core of the group we are in constant contact, organising different art events, trying to support each other. Probably it was a “right time and a right place” where we met. It is a beautiful medieval town of Atina, located in Italian mountains, between Rome and Naples. We are all completely different – in age, views, tastes and preferences. But, the thing is, that no one is trying to change anyone. Sometimes we have very “hot” discussions, however, we respect each other opinion and all our energy and emotions express in our ideas and projects. I hope that this summer we will be able to meet each other in Atina again.
Finally, I still believe in unique power of love and fairy tales. Throughout my life, I often find answers to any questions in them. Here and now, only one phrase comes to mind (from the fairy tale “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen:) “The world is beautiful! Be optimistic! Fight for the man whose heart is covered with ice!”

Ephepereye was born in 2017. Ephemereye [ephemerˈaɪ] is a constantly updating video art gallery where artists can showcase their work in the natural frame of computer screen, and connect with others via Ephemereye Social. Where professional and aspiring, critics, venues, and collectors alike can engage in the contemporary discourse, and enjoy video-art-related news from around the globe. 

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