Experience

Yuri Kosin: “A Beautiful Picture Is Not Art”

Yuri Kosin on the similarities between contemporary art and the community party, why schools shouldn’t teach understanding and the difference between traditional and living culture.

Yuri Kosin, age 65

Ukrainian photographer, artist, lecturer, curator and traveller. Jury member of international competitions and biennales. Born in the village of Kompaniivka, Kirovohrad Oblast, lives in Irpin (Kyiv Oblast). Author of more than 40 projects and performances. In the 1980s, developed his own method and style called “transgression.” Kosin’s photos have been exhibited in New York, Washington, Boston, London, Moscow, Kyiv, Brussels, Barcelona, Jerusalem, Frankfurt, Riga, Vilnius, Krakow.

I grew up in an ordinary village. At ten years old, I got my first camera. Of course, I didn’t have any photography teachers. I remember how, two times a week, when they showed “Movies for Adults,” I would secretly make my way into the film hall and find myself in a perfectly different world. I would ask myself a question: “Why are the children in movies so smart, and I am so stupid?” It tormented me for a long time, and I clearly remember the answer I found: because the script is written by adults and the children in movies live by what’s written.


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In my first 30 years, I didn’t print photos and didn’t prove myself as a photographer, but I regularly made contact sheets and always tried to learn. By age 40, I, as it were, “wandered into the strange” — worked at the Institute of Cybernetics, then in Chernobyl — developed a system of forecasting and radiation monitoring. Finally convinced that it is impossible to organize a mess, I decided to go it alone and, instead of working in a team, started, so to speak, to work on my own soul.


On Contemporary Art

Questions that may have a definitive answer are the work of science. Questions that have no single correct answer are the work of art. The artist spends a lifetime answering the question, “What is art?”

Relatively speaking, all culture can be divided into two parts: traditional — in which trails are blazed, and living — which requires reflection. In a traditional museum, everything is already selected, everything is brilliant. And contemporary art is more democratic because it’s happening now; there is no temporal distance.


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A beautiful picture that you can put on a wall is wonderful, but that’s not art. A photograph, in general, isn’t art. Even contemporary art isn’t art. Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset said, “Leonardo di Vinci isn’t art, it was art. And modern art also isn’t art, but it can be.” And I feel comfortable in this contradictory world.


On Beauty

I love photography and the people who do it. In general, a photographer is a person who shoots what the camera’s program cannot. The camera is stronger than us. And then the philosophy of photography arrives at the conflict between man and machine: who belongs to whom? Either we belong to the camera, or it belongs us. In the end, it’s perfectly unimportant which is the tool, if it becomes an instrument of thought.

For me, the best relaxation and, by the way, the best medicine for a hangover is still a shoot. Fifteen minutes and I’m perfectly fine.

I know for certain that I love direct photography (Editor’s Note — minimally distorting reality): deep, interesting and well done. If we see the beauty of the pictures only in its aesthetics, then it is false. Aesthetics and beauty are like fur: there is a flatness, you unfold it and there is depth. And a photograph should have this quality.


On Projects

I have always been interested in photographs that are open to interpretation. The “Illusions” series is connected with my early works, which served as an illustration of the laws of visual perception. In illusions, aside from the photographic reality, an image seemingly appears. I call it “the reality of phenomena.”

The “Metanoia” series is what I saw on Maidan. People literally changed “here and now.” I was interested in what events preceded this change of mind in Ukraine. The steps were Chernobyl, the “Orange Revolution” and now the revolution of dignity, “Euromaidan.”


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{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_19.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Illusions”, “text”: “From the series Illusions” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_20.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_21.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_22.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_26.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_27.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_28.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_29.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_30.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_31.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_32.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_33.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Metanoia”, “text”: “From the series Metanoia” }


On the System

In the 1970s, I came across two volumes of memoirs of Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam. I read them in a night, come to work in the morning at the Institute of Cybernetics, and am sent immediately to Political Information, where I never go. But I decided to go, for the sleep at least. And I am listening to all this and think, “Either I’m an idiot, or Nadezhda Yakovlevna is an idiot, or all of you are idiots!” I needed to answer that difficult question by myself in that moment. Then I’m walking down the hall and a Komsomol activist runs into me. He lashes out at me, shouting, “You have to go to Political Information! Who do you think you are!” I’m already thinking about socking him in the face (I’ve got such a feature), and suddenly I have a question: “Why is he pushing me?! I feel stronger and smarter than him, I’m a successful worker, I have a great relationship with my colleagues… Where did he get such courage?” Then I realise that he isn’t attacking me on his own behalf, but on behalf of the Communist Party, on behalf of the System. A person integrated into the system is sure he is right. He does not even need to think, there is no such necessity. But outside of that system, it’s as if there’s no person. This is contemporary art — the same System. But, thinking about it, I remember the words of Dante: “Faced with that truth which seems a lie, a man should always close his lips as long as he can — to tell it shames him, even though he’s blameless.”


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{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_37.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Transgression”, “text”: “From the series Transgression” },
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{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_39.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Transgression”, “text”: “From the series Transgression” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_40.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Transgression”, “text”: “From the series Transgression” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_41.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Transgression”, “text”: “From the series Transgression” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_42.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Transgression”, “text”: “From the series Transgression” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_43.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Transgression”, “text”: “From the series Transgression” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_44.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Transgression”, “text”: “From the series Transgression” },
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{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_49.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Transgression”, “text”: “From the series Transgression” }


On School

I understand the goal of school as the creation of an environment in which students are ready to carry out an experiment on his own consciousness. It is necessary to develop methods and to try to build education not on understanding, but on the ability to perceive and being impressed upon. Human life is mostly based on surprise, this is our internal mechanism. And once we have been impressed, it is important immediately to think, to shoot. Impression disrupts everyday life, and then there is something perfectly new.


On Principles

One of my grandmothers once said, “Yura, first do, and then see what people say.” The other grandmother used to say: “Before you do, think about what people will say.” Since then I have used both pieces of advice with clear conscience. Of course, you have to go our own way. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll come to the same conclusions, but in twenty years.


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{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/kosin_53.jpg”, “alt”: “From the series Pisanitsa”, “text”: “From the series Pisanitsa” }


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