We had the good fortune of connecting with Natasha Rudenko and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Natasha, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
Know your heart. If deep down you know that’s not your real dream anymore – give up, if it is though – keep going. Back in Russia we used to jokingly say if you can’t run towards your dream – walk towards it, if you can’t walk – crawl, if can’t crawl – lay down in the direction of your dream. Jokes aside, when I feel down and stuck I imagine myself in a desert laying down on my stomach looking at the distant foggy mountains glowing in the setting red-orange sun in front of me and I think to myself: I’m just tired, I still head in the right direction, I see the light, I’ll continue in the morning – and it helps.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a visual artist and an educator. As an artist I always tap into my personal experiences and try to interpret them through various visual media, I can say for me it is a way of self-reflection. I investigate personhood and identity constructs through photographic self-portraiture and performance, I work with both digital and analogue photography, but recently I’ve started experimenting with collages, installations and video. Photography for me has such a unique language that is able to blend the real and the artifice, and blur the line between the past and the present, but I’m constantly curious about the other visual languages and means of communication that other media can bring. As an educator I’m always excited about doing research and finding new ideas and new reflections on what photography is and what it means to be making art in our society today. Being an educator brings an incredibly inspiring exchange of ideas and human experiences that both inform and are informed by my art practice. I think my proudest moments are the “Aha!” moments my students experience, their growth and creative evolution.
I think the biggest challenges for artists today are not only the difficulty navigating the art world and the struggles of getting their foot in the door so to speak but more importantly the need for hyper awareness of the constantly growing complexity of the world around us. The world that doesn’t have straightforward solutions for problems that are intricately intertwined and interdependent requires art that understands and highlights those interconnections.
In my recent series Be/longing I’m exploring the experience of longing and its meaning. Defined as a “yearning desire” it leaves out both the nature of the object of that desire and the reasons behind it. The object of longing seems irrelevant and the yearning – directionless. We say: longing for home, for love, for acceptance, for recognition, for friendship. The concepts that through their platitude deceive you into familiarity but that in fact persist in their ambiguity.
For an immigrant, and I, myself, am one, defining home becomes a task of a lifetime. But for me, the longing for home started long before I left what now official documents call a “country of origin”. My being originated there, but what does it really mean? What non-severable ties did that event create in the process? Has it so happened that I am destined to long for home or rather for that sense of belonging with the unquenchable thirst of a traveler stranded on a raft in the middle of the shoreless ocean? How is the relationship with a place created to form a bond that would make one say “I belong here”?”
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I think first I’d take them to the ocean on a walk or a bike ride along the beach starting with delicious crepes in my favorite tiny spot in Marina Del Rey’s Fisherman’s village and continuing south. I’d also definitely take them on my favorite hikes in Malibu Canyon and Will Roger’s State park, or maybe even Griffith Park on a weekday to avoid the bigger crowds and enjoy the view of the city. I will definitely take them to the Getty Center and also to smaller galleries in Bergamot Station and Culver Arts district. The walk in DTLA with a concert in Walt Disney Concert Hall and a visit to the Broad followed by the best buko pie in Grand Central Market would also be on a post-pandemic itinerary. Honestly, at this point the places would not matter as much as the people I would love to experience them with as both the pandemic and the political tensions make visa applications and therefore visits practically impossible in near future for my family and friends back at home. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am infinitely grateful to my partner, Sergey Rudenko, who fully supported me in the transition from business world to art world and continues to support me every step of the way, my friends who believe in me when I have doubts and my teachers and now colleagues in New York Film Academy, especially Kean O’Brien, an amazing artist, community organizer and educator, Naomi White another wonderful artist and educator. I also would like to give a shoutout to Kristine Schomaker, an artist, curator, art manager and creator of art support organizations like Shoebox PR and Shoebox Projects, for all the community support she created for artists during the pandemic and her project Call and Response that helped so many artists, me included, to stay creative and to stay connected during these uncertain and isolating times. I am also grateful to my talented student Joseph Moreno who created an opportunity for me to do this interview.