Russian renaissance woman Anastasia Pilepchuk creates work across a variety of mediums, from her part in DJ duo Maiden Obey to her role as co-founder of Areola Magazine and the Areola Models agency. Besides her multiple multidisciplinary outings, she is also a prolific maker of masks.
It’s perhaps these masks that have gained Pilepchuk the greatest global recognition. Her Instagram is like a psychoanalyst's notebook, with each mask manifesting various thoughts, feelings and experiences. In ancient mythology, from Japan to Africa, masks had a paradoxical relationship with their wearer.
On the one hand, a mask empowered its wearer to embody the mood that it depicted. Masks allow people to become somebody else, somebody that could immerse themselves in being somebody else. However, the flip side is that a mask also conceals the identity of the wearer, obscuring who they really are.
That’s the philosophical question that masks pose - are you exposing yourself more truly and honestly when obscured or are you hiding who you truly are? Pilepchuk’s creative life has exposed her to many cultures. Not limited to nations, but the patchworks that constitutes electronic music culture, magazine content creation and design, modelling, photography and, of course, art.
In this multiplicity of worlds, the Russian endows her masks with a sense of surreal worldliness, of visages ranging from high-fashion haute couture to completely surreal accoutrements. As important as the art is how it is created. Pilepchuk describes her process as something primal, spiritual, like a transcendent flow-state where she develops these odd forms and figures in a trancelike state:
In my work I am interested in the notions of sublime and elusion, entering into a meditative process akin to a dream-like state. The real and the fantasy weave together, hiding behind the masks, threads and layers. Expression is channelled through those shapes, finding its intention and force both in the normality and in the surreal.
The method I use in my work is based on constructing an image or an object starting from the small building blocks, which, when gradually put together, let the pattern of the whole emerge. I like to reconsider materials and shapes, finding new ways to inscribe them into the real through the imagination and moments of improvisation that occur in repetitive work.
What comes across from her words and her masks is a sense of intimacy with the object. They’re personal and descriptive signifiers of various intangible phenomena. Working in Moscow, an emergent hub of Eastern creativity, she is one part of a large wave of disruptive creative voices, from fashion’s Gosha Rubchinskiy to rap’s Oxxxymiron. These figures have a different sensibility to European culture. Whilst there’s the inescapable crossover that comes from the internet age, there’s also a whole lot of culture from within Russia to be communicated.
For those on the outside, Russia holds a mythical appeal that many places have now lost. Pilepchuk’s masks, whilst borrowing from many artists and cultures, seem perfectly at home there. We recognise them, but only vaguely so. They show us something about Russia, but still keep some of it hidden.
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