Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I was born in the Soviet Union a secret nuclear settlement built to support a first nuclear facility. The town was hidden deep in Ural woodlands surrounded by lakes. My cousins were from a larger industrial town, they were interested in orientiering and geology. We spent every summer holidays in my grandmother’s remote village by the river: fishing, foraging in the woods, roaming the vegetable garden, barn and fields, soaking up the indigenous way of life our grandmother lived. I feel I had all the privileges of a soviet child: free school, free healthcare, after school art club, music school, sports facilities, free university with an accommodation and stipend. My childhood bloomed in an ideal socialist utopia, then the Soviet Union collapsed. I moved to Moscow to study, and in 2003 I’ve moved to the UK.
What does a day in your studio look like?
I arrive after the school drop off and make a coffee. My studio day is unstructured and freeflow. I switch between drawing designs on the computer, writing proposas, googling stuff, answering emails, to making paintings, processing pigments, dreaming up ideas and playing with found objects or textiles, while listening to BBC4 or audio books. I leave at 3pm, but often I do an extra 2-3 hours on the computer after 8PM.
Ripple Marked Radiance, 2019
140 x 190 cm
Cosmologists to H-bomb 2019
195 x 140 cm
edition of 2 + AP
Central to your work is the motif of nuclear energy, its sites of manufacturing, and its short and long term effects on the environment. Can you elaborate on how this topic became so focal to your work? How do you approach the subject?
The interest started during my MA at RCA (2009-11) while I was serching for a subject for my dissertation, a subject which could hold my attention for a long time, challenege me intellectually and emotionally. Researching the history of my home town, the development of the nuclear industry and the Cold War was my attempt to understand my own identity. To answer the question ‘where I am from’. But also my dissertation outlined the official ‘place making’: how the story of the nuclear facility is presented in my town through the public art. Nuclear development historiaclly has a vail of secrecy over it, so that makes it even more fascinating how it’s story is ‘untold’. Later I’ve visited nuclear sites in the UK and especially nuclear reactors of the first generation – the Cold War veterans.
Made Ground, 2022. Installation view, Cample Line
Further expanding on the visual language of your tapestries and paintings, your installations also explore questions of space and composition. Your works installed, including wall based works, balancing on each other, connected through branches and strips, or sometimes arranged on the floor like they’ve just collapsed on themselves. How do you understand your works in space?
I percieve my paintings as many things, but images. They are - documentations, meditations, games of balance, compositional quests, studio rituals, statements, objects to install, but they are hardly ever about making of an image. When I bring paintings to a gallery space I see everything: floors, light switches, shadows, corners, rhyming dimentions, blind spots. I try to fit paintings in so they connect with everything which is already there. Sometimes I have to throw few other props to hold the space together. However, with my tapestries I focus only on an image. I spend many hours on my laptop making sure each line has a right pace and a meaning, so the image sings and draws audience’s attention in.
Yelena Popova, 2016. Installation view, Nottingham Contemporary
Photo Andy Keate
All of the tapestries I’ve designed up to date touch the subject of energy production: spiritual, nuclear (fission and fusion), electricity, water. They reference a language of scientific diagrams and patterns. Both of my parents celebrate an Energy Industry worker day in Russia, I don’t know if there is an equivalent in the UK. My father worked at our local university teaching electric engineers for nuclear facilities. He got involved with my designs on EuroFusion project: emailed me useful links, explained things and draw diagrams. My mother worked in an architecture office planning electrics for new developments. One of my earliest memories of her work is a pile of tracing paper with architectural plans and drawings, lovely pencils and drafting tools she had, also seeing buildings drawn as a network of electric lines and switches, numbers and diagrams.
Townlets, Installation View, 2018, The Art House, Wakefield
What’s next in the pipeline?
I am very excited for my tapestries finally have an ‘outing’ in London, come and visit them at Lisson at the ‘Matter as Actor’ group show. The soil paintings taking part in a couple of group shows in artist led spaces this summer. The new limited edition throw should be coming out soon, let me know if you are interested and check the shop link in bio. I’ve been working on a few proposals for a large public art works developing my idea of an ‘evolving pattern’: repetition, amplification, fusion, rhythm - almost like a piece of music. I am keeping my fingers crossed to be selected. Also I’d like to learn few skills: stained glass and mosaic, or may be just to find right people to work with in the future - give me a shout if you are that person and based in or near Nottingham.
The Scholar Stones, installation view, 2020. Holden Gallery, Manchester. Photo: courtesy the artist