Sasha Svirsky’s films combine 90s computer aesthetics with drawing, electronic music with speech, and critique with imagination. The digital-analogue, surrealist videos are a visual and audio experimentation as well as a technical one. As much as a visual challenge, the films are an exercise in ‚thinking different‘: How do we see and interpret the world around us; what other approaches to life are possible; and eventually, how do we want to live? The implied critique is subtle and comes without a claim. Instead, the films are a compelling exemplification of the potential of the free float of imagination. Deep thoughts meet dreaming, dry humor meets pure fun: Stroboscope colour explosions in black and white.
Christina-Marie: Your film 9 ways to draw a Person is a true collage-film: drawing, found footage, and computer graphics are combined with snippets of paper and visual patterns – can you comment on your technique and the video’s different layers?
Sasha Svirsky: I never use storyboards and scripts, don’t want to plan my work. I prefer to define in advance as little as possible, unwilling to know what the final result is going to be. I decided to use voice over for this film and it allowed me to immerse in imagery without thinking about narration. Almost everything, I could put my hands on, became a part of the film. I even made a handmade book with the same title in parallel with the film.
The film includes references to early computer graphics and 90s electronic music: which would you describe as main inspirations?
One of my principles is to give freedom to the composer who makes music for a film. Usually, I send a film once it has been done to a composer and it is totally up to him what kind of music he wants to make. So in my films, a composer is always a coauthor in a way. The music for this film was made by Alexey Prosvirnin. I didn’t tell him what to do and these are his inspirations.
Watching your films, I observed various recurring features. Could you comment on …
Distortion is to smash familiar shapes and forms that are not to be taken for granted.
The juxtaposition of man and animal certainly is a way of categorization, and whether man considers being an animal or not doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It is like a deep shelf, where all sorts of different things are piled together. And when in the same pile there are snails, ants, people, jellyfishes, and chimpanzees, it is no reason to talk about animality as a separate thing
Cutting everything into pieces and putting it into boxes is probably helpful when one needs to store all sorts of items and not get lost. But being taken too seriously, categorization solidifies and makes immovable everything it can reach. Trees, snails, nails, potatoes, people, and balloons are separate subjects from different shelves, but I like to blur the borders between them and make them free of their constraints. Animation is a perfect way to do that. To construct a fluid, flexible universe, which can be constantly reshaped and rearranged. It would so differ from the well-established and categorized reality we have been taught to live in and have stuck.
Visual overload is probably necessary for the same sake of messing and mixing everything up, creating a flickering stream out of all sorts of images. I use the Stroboscope technique for the same purposes.
Classical anatomy: I studied in art college. I graduated as a painter and it was a very old-fashioned art education inherited from the Soviet system.
Trance is an interesting feature or concept. In my opinion though, it should be addressed by the composer, who in the case of my work is mostly Alexey Prosvirnin.
Watching 9 Ways to draw a Person, I found references to Matisse, Picasso, and Heartfield. Which role do past artists play in your work?
These are three great names, but there are many others, for example Paul Klee. I never cite them deliberately though, to me it is more like all sorts of imagery in a melting pot. To me, it is even hard to say who is showing up and where.
Do you see yourself as a Surrealist?
Do you see yourself in any other Modern(ist) tradition?
I don’t know. It is a bit complicated.
Looking at Art History – would you say you are stealing, borrowing, appropriating images?
I would call it digestion. For me, it is the most precise way to describe my way to borrow images which is never direct.
Are all your videos digital animations or do physical drawings, water colours, or physical collages of the frames exist?
I mainly make digital frame by frame animation but I love to use physical drawings as well. A computer for me is a way to avoid routine work, scanning or taking photos of thousands (maybe millions) drawings I would need to make if I did hand drawn frame by frame animation.
Do you deliberately experiment with certain colour schemes?
In the case of About a Woman Who Wanted to Fly Away it was a deliberate choice. I wanted to try different colour concepts, but I was not really satisfied with it. So, I decided not to use it again. I prefer to use colors in a more chaotic way.
Between 2018 and 2020, you created a series of short movies titled PUWU 1 – 6. What does PUWU stand for?
It stands for not taking seriously what you are doing and making fun of it.
Generally, which importance do letters and words have in your movies?
Before I started making animation I had drawn handmade books. The habit to include text (letters, words) in composition moved in my animation from there. I like to use text without any meaning attached to it. Just as a decorative element. Though now it is not as important in my films as it used to be.
Looking at the videos: Do you see a relation between drawing and dance?
I always love to draw and love to dance sometimes.
To me, the films are generally positive. Do you see yourself as a positive person?
Often, before falling into a specific, mostly melancholic mood when watching your films, the music and visuals are interrupted or drastically altered. Do you feel an importance of break, i.e. of not letting a certain – cliché – mood arise?
Yes. It is a way not to lead anybody anywhere and not to fall into emotional consistency but breaking narration into pieces to give a chance for everyone to get out of here for themselves.
Which for you is the best environment to watch your movies?
I prefer something accidental. Somewhere one does not expect to watch something like this.
How would you describe the relation between man and machine?
On the one hand, these relations widen our possibilities allowing us to do what we could not do otherwise, extending our hands, legs, and eyes. On the other hand, we are becoming more and more dependent on them. So, there are some contradictions.
Though somewhat pathetic: Which is humanity’s current greatest threat/enemy?
There are some threats for sure, but I wouldn’t choose the greatest of them. Regarding enemies, it is something fictional, I don’t believe in them. They are here to guard the borders of our identities, dividing us into groups and showing us what we are not. At least, being from Russia, I am used to seeing them this way. I don’t like borders; this is why I so much dislike this concept as a tool for building them.
Sasha Svirsky‘s films have been featured in international (short) film festivals and have been awarded numerous prizes. The artist is currently based in Berlin, Germany. Visit the Sasha Svirsky’s website, Instagram-account @sasha_svirsky or Vimeo-page to find out more about the his work and watch the videos!