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Sculptor Alexander Milov: Did no one have their legs torn off? Then no one in the USA will be interested

For the first time in 30 years, a Ukrainian artist has received a grant from the Burning Man festival

Burning Man is an annual art event that takes place over eight days in the USA, in the Black Rock desert (Nevada), and since 1986 it has gathered tens of thousands of artists and fans of contemporary art from all over the world. In 2014, almost 67,000 people took part in the festival. The festival starts on the last Monday of August, at one minute past midnight. The last day of the festival is on Labor Day, which is celebrated in the USA on the first Monday in September. The culmination takes place on Saturday after sunset, when an enormous wooden statue of a man is set on fire.

What else can an Odessan do if he didn’t manage to buy a ticket to the festival of his dreams? That’s right, he can take part in it. Ever since 1999, the artist and sculptor, blacksmith and designer Alexander Milov had dreamed of travelling to the Nevada desert to attend the famous Burning Man art festival. And although the festival is a non-commercial, and even anti-commercial event, a feast of the spirit of freedom and imagination, entrance is strictly by ticket only, which cost from $400 to $1000. You can buy tickets online, but Milov didn’t manage to do so. But he did submit an application to take part in the festival, drawing a sketch of a sculpture, and for the first time in 30 years Ukraine received a Burning Man grant. “Love” consists of two enormous figures of a man and woman, made of metal rectangles. They sit back to back. The woman is hunched over in pain in the pose of an embryo, and the man is tormented by thoughts. But inside the giants are two small children, a boy and girl. They stretch out their hands to each other. The entire structure is 18 meters long, 5.5 meters wide and 7.5 meters high. And it’s already on its way to the desert.

This JewishNews.com.ua journalist talked to Alexander in Odessa.

Alexander, is the project completely your idea?

It’s mine, and there’s probably something from God as well. Around eight years ago the Japanese-Ukrainian festival JPEG was held, when the idea for this work arose, with a conflict and with the children inside. But there were not cells, the style was somewhat different. We tried it out. The composition is held in storage at the Kiev Museum of Modern Art. And I continued to keep this idea in my head, and think about a different form. Then my friends and I didn’t manage to buy tickets to Burning Man, and a major structure was required for this festival. And ours was quite topical, I thought.

Love is an eternal theme, of course. But why do you think that it is topical now?

Now is a time of conflict not just for the country, but for the world. Everyone is arguing. What are these arguments about? The old loans of trust, which people gave to each other and were not justified. Everyone is now trying to get everything back, and come into conflict. And the figures – the male and female elements – are great symbols. Although this is also a direct interpretation of the state of affairs in my family, for example.

How did work on the sculpture begin?

First the figures of the children reaching out to each other were made. But we wanted to make a structure which could be dismantled and assembled quickly. It was designed with segments which were put into boxes. Only when I realized that this was technically feasible, I said: “Yes, we’re going to do it.” Otherwise it would have all been pointless, we wouldn’t have been able to transport and assemble the sculpture properly. Or else it would have cost a huge amount of money. The project wasn’t exactly cheap, and it still isn’t finished. But the sum of the grant that we received should cover the cost of production. Not all the funds for the project come out of my pocket, more of it is covered by investments.

What’s the budget of the project?

The project costs the same as an apartment in Odessa, around $65,000.

You previously tried to raise funds with crowdsourcing.

We launched our advertising project on the basis of the website burningman.org.ua, then we had some problems. The festival organizers asked us to remove the advertising campaign, as they had authorial rights to the website burningman.org in the USA. They don’t suspect the existence of the domain name ua. Our advertising campaign was supposed to start a month ago using the old name. So it had to be postponed. I think that the new advertising campaign will start in a few days. Although I don’t expect much from it. But because of this situation, along with the burningman.org.ua site, we have another site, Ukrainianlove.net.

Installing the sculpture “Love” at the Burning Man festival not only requires creative and engineering skill, but business acumen too. How do you combine these things?

It’s probably in my nature. We live in Odessa, and I think everyone here has some business acumen, and perhaps there is also the Jewish influence. I recently investigated my family tree and found that my grandmother on my father’s side was Jewish.

Perhaps there are some philanthropists who help you?

No, there aren’t. I invest the money that we gathered to buy an apartment.

How did your wife react to this?

How did my wife react? How would you react if I took everything out of the house that wasn’t nailed down? That’s how she reacted, more or less.

Is there a big group from Odessa going to the States?

12 people. I don’t know how it will end. Not everyone has got a visa yet. We asked everyone from our city who could help out to write a request to the American embassy. We went to Saakashvili and asked him for assistance in getting American visas. Now we’re waiting.

Alexander, what makes the figures light up at night?

There are light-emitting diode tubes inside. They’re ordinary light bulbs, but they use gas. Lots of these light bulbs are connected in a relay, powered by a generator, and the system will react to the change of day and night. But there’s a problem. In the USA the electricity is 110 Volts, and here it’s 120. We have a generator that uses one kind of gasoline, they have another one, and the electrical sockets are different… We’ve stocked up on everything we could, but it’s hard to know what state it will arrive in, and whether it will be intact. Plus the sand in the desert, which may also affect the system…

But the boy stood for a few days on the Odessa beach of Otrada. Did it pass the test?
Here it did, we put it there to see how the electricity works. I have the idea that after the monumental installation the system could work on a solar battery. Then no expenses to maintain it will be required.

Do you know where “Love” will go after the festival?

There aren’t any specific plans. There’s an idea to put the sculpture in an Odessa park. We’ll have to cover it with zinc and paint it, to protect it from corrosion. But for a while, the composition, like the Jewish people, will be without a home. If we are able to promote it after the festival, then perhaps it will be displayed in American cities. I have friends who are working on promoting the project, but there aren’t many results so far. There’s little interest in the project in the USA. Did no one have their legs torn off? It’s not the conflict in Eat Ukraine, it’s not interesting. Although I thought that this sculptural project could be much more interesting than all of these discussions about the war.

Wars. Politics, advertising. How do you see the role of sculpture in today’s mad world?

Sculpture forms a person’s thought process and self-identification. I think that the Motherland monument in Kiev, for everyone who grew up in the city, has become an integral symbol of self-identification. Like the Eiffel tower for Parisians. They say: “Don’t build idols”. If you don’t look it things from the religious point of view, we all need symbols, which tie us to a certain period, and give geographical or historical guidelines. You understand that you can come back and say: “We’ll meet by the tower or by the clock”. That’s a fundamentally important thing. There is something you can be guided by – in space, in time, and from the viewpoint of self-identification, which is important.

What makes people want to build enormous sculptures?

I think that people are not capable of understanding things that don’t interest them directly. They only react to what can be measured in meters, kilometers or kilograms. This actual idea was valuable in the sketch and on paper, but I fear that the masses would not have noticed it.

People are so caught up in themselves that it takes them a great deal of effort just to stop moving. And then to try to grasp something, and to carry out some inner associative work, in order to come to some understanding. And the most basic and simple method is to make a large-scale project. And what makes the festival itself interesting? There’s enormous field, with an enormous sculpture – people involuntarily feel the desire to think, to stop and understand the nature of the structure. Also, it works in time. It’s important that at night the cells seems to disappear and only the children remain, who are lit up. So it works constantly, regardless of the change in the time of day. I thought that this would be the simplest method – to make it large, to make it weigh four tons. Everyone would say: “Oh, four tons”, or “Oh, 18 meters, what a lot of work!” To start with it was just on paper, in pencil, and no particular effort had been put into it. But when 20 people slave away with turbines, when they sweat for three months, and some even break their fingers, this immediately draws respect. When I realized this, I simply decided to use this method – to increase the scale of the project. It’s a classic method, it was just asking to be done.

Thank you for the interview. We’ll keep track of the adventures of Odessans in the desert on the project portals: burningman.org.ua, Ukrainianlove.net, facebook.com/burningmanukraine.

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