SV: What kind of art were you exposed to growing up? Do you think the visual culture in Russia at that time has influenced you?
Similarly, you came of age at the end of the Soviet Union. What was the art scene like in St. Petersburg then?
MNP: We come from a creative family; both our parents were involved with the arts (theater and film). Our uncle William Brui is an abstract painter, who’s been living in France since the early 70s. We drew a lot and our parents brought us to the children’s art school of the Hermitage Museum, when we were five. We loved looking at Rembrandt, and the ancient Greeks, were fascinated with the museum atmosphere (still are).
We were too young to be involved with an art scene in Leningrad of the late 80s. We learned about Puschkinskaya, Timur Novikov and his New Academy later, when we were already studying in the US. It seemed to be quite a colorful scene, with distinct “characters”. Looking back at it, from our today’s perspective, we are more interested in it as a political and social, rather then an art phenomenon.
As teenagers we knew for sure, that art taught in academic context, was not interesting to us. We loved literature and theater and couldn’t come to terms with the fact, that the only valued criteria in academic art, - was technique. First official exhibitions of Filonov, Malevich, Kandinsky were shown in the Russian museum at the time and have left a great impression on us. We started to be interested in abstraction. Russian theater design of the early 20th century was another inspiration at the time. If not for a scholarship to study art in the US, we would’ve considered studying theater design in Russia.
SV: You've lived in artists' residences all over Europe, studied in the US and Paris and been living in Germany for ten years. At the same time, a lot of your work comments on how important place is for constructing identity. Do you still consider yourselves Russian artists? Or perhaps European artists, or expatriate artists?
MNP: It’s a difficult question to answer… We consider ourselves to be Russian people, but not necessarily Russian Artists. Our work has been mostly influenced by western art. Till recently, we were not in touch with contemporary art scene in Russia and have just had our first exhibition in Moscow. We prefer not to be labeled as “Russian Artists”, since any kind of labeling brings a whole set of preconceived notions. We feel, that we are a bit of “outsiders”, in a sense, that we see processes, which are taking place in a society, from a certain distance. Maybe, we are “travelers”, who sometimes notice things, no longer visible to the “locals”…
SV: Do you think the question of nationality is becoming less important for artists? Is this an aspect of globalization?
MNP: We feel, that the question of nationality is still important. Many artists deal with this issue in their work (especially if they come from non-western countries). We don’t like it, when nationality is used as the only “key” in explaining artist’s work. On the other hand, cultural roots of the place where you grew up certainly leave an impression on you as a person and as an artist.
Our work has to do with personal experiences and observations and we would like it to be seen as such.
SV: If so, do you feel that that's had an effect on the Russian art scene? Is there a lot of pressure to move to the West in order to be successful?
MNP: We don’t know if young Russian artists today feel the pressure to move to the West to be successful. Western art scene is certainly bigger and more established, than the Russian one, but there is definitely a great interest in the West to what is happening in Russia.
We personally were very impressed by new developments in the gallery scene in Moscow. We hope that it grows, learning from the experience of the western art establishments and yet remaining original.
SV: You often work with materials that are not traditionally considered artistic--plastic bags, road-side litter, paper found in the street. What appeals to you about these materials?
MNP: We communicate with the viewer through specific choices we make. Materials, technique, size, position of objects in a space, are all means of bringing our idea across. Each project calls for its own material, just as different situations call for different reactions. Both “art” and “non-art” materials are charged with information, and we build on layers of meaning they carry.