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Interview

Andrii Dostliev: I’m looking for inspiration in browsing through archives and in stories people tell me

text:
Futures Photography
Date:
February 1, 2021
“I’m looking for inspiration in browsing through archives and in stories people tell me.” In this interview, meet Andrii Dostliev, nominated for Futures by The Calvert Journal in 2020.

Andrii is an artist, curator, and photography researcher from Ukraine, currently based in Poland. His primary areas of interest are memory, trauma, identity — both personal and collective, and limits of photography as a medium. His art practice works across photography, video, drawing, performance, and installation.

Below, he talks about his inspirations and ongoing projects:

Image from the project 'Fairy Castles of Donetsk', in collaboration with Lia Dostlieva
The documentary photographer Adam Broomberg mentored five Futures Talents over the three months running up to Unseen Amsterdam 2019
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Can you tell us a little bit about your inspirations? Which themes do you often work with?

I’m looking for inspiration in browsing through archives and in stories people tell me. I’m a poor talker but a good listener so people usually tell me stuff and some minor detail can trigger an avalanche of moderately wild ideas about how I could tell this story. And just as well I love going through archival materials — or assembling such archives myself, seeking out some peculiar patterns that are hiding in there. Generally, I often end up working with some issues related to historical traumas seen from the personal perspective, or ways in which personal and collective memory works, uncovering lost or hidden stories and images.

How do you see your relationship with the medium? How do you use photography to express your art?

I see myself primarily as a photography researcher rather than a photographer. I’m more interested in how people take photos and how these photographs later function than in producing images myself — and my projects are usually built upon those habits and patterns. They often involve the need to photograph somebody else’s photos that I had reconstructed in some way but still, it’s gone quite far from traditional lens-based practice.

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Do you have any ongoing (or more recent) project that you would like to share with us?

The archive-based work that I was working on this year draws on archival case files of people who lived in the 1930s, during the most severe regime repressions, in the Soviet part of Ukraine. I’ve been meticulously going through these cases collecting textual mentions of family and amateur photographs (as well as occasional original images attached to the cases) that were taken from their owners and used to accuse them of being in opposition to the Soviet regime. Later, I used these descriptions and pictures and my Polaroid camera to make a photographic installation that continues to grow as I continue working on this project.

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Last year was challenging in many different ways. How do you see this moment for your career? What has changed in your practice?

It was a difficult year in many ways, of course, but precisely because of the various new limitations it presented, it was a very fruitful time for my photographic research. It was immensely interesting to watch photographers exploring ways of both doing and presenting photography online, even to participate in some of these experiments, and of course to do some writing on these new practices. And as for my artistic practice, this year was mostly a setback, with exhibitions cancelled, postponed, or opened without visitors. But on the other hand, the amount of free time that came as a side effect of all the cancellations gave me an opportunity to concentrate on my work with archival materials which would have taken me much longer under other circumstances.

Can you share with us some of your plans for the future? Do you have any new project in mind?

It usually takes me a lot of time to go through all the materials for a project, so I always end up working on several ongoing projects at the same time. I will definitely continue my work with the archives of Soviet repressive institutions focusing my efforts on restoring the destroyed photographic history of Ukraine (as well as other former Soviet-occupied territories) and on decolonizing it from the Russian imperial imprint legacy. And staying in a more or less the same archival area, I’m also working to recover and bring to light lost gay histories of the Soviet times from under the proverbial carpet — and also from under very literal archival dust.

Another large project I’m working on is based on the photographic heritage of forced workers from Eastern Europe in Nazi Germany (the Ostarbeiter) and on how they were using photography as a means of supporting each other. Also, I am involved in several exhibition and book publishing projects, so I guess I have already enough work to take me through any new lockdowns.

Images from the ongoing project 'Soviet Ukrainian photography of the 1930s'
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