Childhood. Far East
My parents met at St. Petersburg State University when they were young engineer-students. My father, Vladimir Bokovnia, comes from an Ukrainian-Jewish family, exiled to the Far East a couple of generations before him. The family of my mother, Elena Karnaukhova, who was of Russian-Tatar origin, came from St. Petersburg and the Crimea, but also exiled for political reasons around the same time to Chita, a small city in Siberia near Lake Baikal. The history of my family was full of contradictions, political and international, and I like to make a joke that this is probably why I have such “restless” blood, like we say in Russia.
I was born in St. Petersburg on December 25, 1991, and this day, by a strange coincidence, was marked by the collapse of the USSR and the beginning of the notorious 90s, another difficult time for Russia. When the country laid in “economic ruins”, and capitals of the post-soviet nations, thanks to the participation of well-known figures, flowed to the West, when ordinary people had to exchange essentials for coupons, and received salaries in expired canned food or in form of a washing machine from the factory where they work, for two PhD students with a small baby in their arms and a second, my younger brother Sergei, on the way, the future was not seen in the most rosy colors. With the support of my father's family, my parents decided to move to Blagoveshchensk, where I grew up.
A relatively small city at the confluence of two rivers, the Amur and the Zeya, on the one side is surrounded by vast Siberian forests, on the other side, on the opposite bank of the Amur, at a distance of 750 meters, there is the Chinese town of Heihe. Remembering how my brother and I played every day in the Friendship Park built by the Chinese government for Russians, how every year our family went to the Sea of Japan or to China, and the very experience of growing up in East Asia in general, I rejoice at the thought that fate has forever connected my heart with the East.
I was a rather the shy child, but from my early age I was eager for education and creativity. Through an endless love for literature, I created a strong connection with art since the early years, which gradually grew into self-expression in painting and other art forms. My achievements in this area were recognized more than once in both local and national competitions, and over time I decided to devote my life to art. After four years of children's art school, which I graduated with honors, at the age of 16 I entered the studio of the Far Eastern artist Vladimir Serebryakov, where I continued to study the basics of realistic painting and drawing.
After graduating from gymnasium in Blagoveshchensk, in 2010 I returned to my beloved hometown of St. Petersburg, where I entered the N. Roerich’s Art School at the Faculty of Painting and Art Education. This institution was distinguished by its strict adherence to Soviet traditions in the visual arts, which undoubtedly gave me a strong base in this direction, but required further development. In 2013, I entered the State St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and Design named after I. Stieglitz (not to be confused with Stierlitz, especially in the light of my future fate) to the department of Book Art and Printmaking. Here the focus was also directed to more traditional techniques, and along with realistic painting and drawing, studying at the Academy made it possible to deepen skills in composition, illustration, traditional printing techniques (etching, lithography, linocut), graphic design. At the same time, I did not stop my passion for photography, both digital and analog, which began even before moving to St. Petersburg. This was also reflected in my later art over time.
When I think about the Russian period of my education, I can't help but note how much it influenced my vision of art and formation of my values in general. I hear a lot of skepticism about Russian art education, but this is often a very one-sided assessment. Indeed, in the traditional school there is not much freedom for experiment. There is a lack of a more open and bold dialogue. At the same time, the Eastern school does give that sacred understanding of art, which brings up not only respect for the legacy of past eras, but also a realization of one's role as an artist in this overall picture. Through respect for culture, one begins to understand the creative process as a service to something greater, in a sense, this can be compared with a service in religion or ideology. In Western education, I realized this already in my later education, art (as well as views in general) is more individualistic, which, of course, has its positive aspects, but surrenders in sacredness. No more endless hours of drawing and painting, anatomy and composition rules, and art history since ancient times. You can hardly explain to an adherent of “progressive views” why all this is necessary if you make installations and your painting is rather abstract. That you draw thousands of sketches, hundreds of productions not in order to be able to realistically repeat nature, that you copy Rembrandt’s etchings and Deyneka’s drawings not in an effort to master their techniques, but in order to understand things that you cannot get by contemplaiting and talking. Discipline, honing skills - some will see this as a wasting of time. But how are you going to write a book without reading a single good one? And after reading at least a hundred, still not everyone can write well. “You have to spoil a lot of paper,” my Russian teachers used to say (and they probably still do).
By the middle of my studies at the Academy, “experimental” problems began. Apparently, due to the fact that even before the Academy I was involved in the traditional learning process for many years and I wanted “something new”, or maybe because of my passion for lectures on contemporary art, my work that did not fit into the program began to cause more and more misunderstanding among the older professors. In order to relieve tension, it was decided (however, it was my initiative, which caused a stormy protest of all the same professors) to go for an exchange semester to one of the partner universities in Europe. There were very few partners though, but all three applications that I sent were accepted. As a result, from Wroclaw, Lapland and Halle, I chose Germany.
At that time I didn’t speak German yet, the very decision to go to Germany was rather spontaneous, so at first it was difficult for me to find myself in a foreign culture. As I already said, the approach to education in the West was completely different from the Russian one, and what I’ve seen at the university, taken out of context due to translation difficulties, was rather bewildering. But my intellectual curiosity didn’t allow to give up so easily, and together with German grammar, attempts to comprehend the mysterious German art began. Its external dryness turned out to be minimalism, the unnecessary complexity of concepts eventually transformed into analytical approach to thinking, and the apparent carelessness and clumsiness was the result of playfulness and even poetry.
Although I didn’t intend to become an indispensable supporter of all Western trends in art, the number of expressive techniques and philosophical approaches that should be learned could hardly be overestimated. Basically, I was attracted by complete freedom of action (within Western values, of course). But since I never considered myself a “political artist” (or propagandist, let’s call a spade a spade), and examples of modern Western art often pleased the eyes and challenged the mind, it was decided to stay and finish my studies in Germany. Which I successfully did, finally leaving the university gates in 2020 into the world locked down for quarantine.
After that I moved to Berlin though, where I opened my new studio.