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Artist of The Week: Apollinaria Broche

Twenty-three-year-old Apollinaria Broche is a French and Russian installation artist who grew up in Moscow. Working with metal, wood, clay, Broche creates handmade objects to blur the lines between reality and imagination. Through her work, she attempts to craft different universes and shed light on her audience’s “escape places”. At the tail end of her studies in Los Angeles, Milk caught up Broche before her latest group show (which will be staged at the Harvard House Motel on July 12 with Morgan Elder and Charlie Kelman), and before she heads back to Paris to finish her masters at Beaux-Arts. Read on below to find out what she loves about California, how Russian fairytales influence her work, and where you might be able to see some of her pieces for yourself.

You’re currently studying?

I have only one year, and I’m done with my masters in Fine Art. Beaux-Arts is a huge fine art university; it’s like the oldest school in France, so a lot of the French artists went there because I think they opened it in the 17th century.

And then did you speak French before you went to Paris?

My dad is French, and my mom is Russian. I grew up in Moscow. We were always talking lots of languages, and I’d always go to France to see my family. We’ve been traveling all my childhood. When I was a kid, we were living everywhere because at some point my parents decided to do guidebooks just for us to travel. My dad had a publishing house in Moscow.

Did you know you’d go back to Paris to study? 

No, not really. I didn’t really like Paris. I don’t know, at some point, I went to university in Moscow, but I hated it because it was like being in the Soviet Union. I was like, “Nah, I need to go away.”  I just came back home and I was like, “Guys, sorry I’m leaving. I’m gonna try to go to this school in Paris.”

How do you think growing up in Russia it affected your art? 

It definitely did. I think it’s because Russian culture is really based on literature and fairy tales. You’re really living, all the time, in this kind of imaginary world. And my family, they’re like this old-fashioned Russian family; so it’s really like going back, thinking about history and things like this. It’s funny because Russia is super surreal. The US is usually like, “What the fuck?”

I feel like people in America only see a certain side of Russia. Now we have The World Cup, but then otherwise I feel like people don’t know that much. Our overall knowledge tends to be very driven by the news.

I think it’s the same thing with Russia and the US; it’s always been like a big kind of political fight going on and then this news thing that just goes on top of what’s actually going on. Yeah, it’s the same in Russia. I mean it’s still more a dream for everybody to leave to the US, but if you check the news, you’re just scared, you know? You’re like, “Oh my god, Trump”, or “The Americans all want to destroy us all the time.” But I was always kind of far from this part because my parents; my mom, she’s an artist and my dad, he’s a collector and producer. So it was always like crazy art people around me.

Your mother is a painter, but what artistic practices do you specialize in?

So I was doing photography at the beginning. That’s how I got my first few shows, but then when I moved to Paris I switched, I started making sculptures more and more. I switched to installation because I had a base of theatre set design in Moscow. I wanted to recreate those universes. You know when you just want to escape from the problems of everyday life? I really wanted to do something like that. I concentrated mostly on ceramic in the end; it’s a funny way of expressing yourself because if you have an idea you can kind of manage to do anything. Right now, I’m doing ceramic and wood carving, stone and marble carving. I started doing metal here, which I love.

What tools do you predominately use? Is it mostly based in your hands?

So it’s always hand tools, in the end. I’m pretty bad with the computer part. For example, 3D modeling, I’m such a disaster. I really like the old-fashioned tools. Prehistorical, man!

If you are creating one of your ceramics, what is the process like start to finish? Does it start with sketching? An idea? 

Oh yeah, it totally comes with the idea, because I think I’m always getting obsessed. I’m kind of recreating one specific story. I think studying in France, you’re thinking a lot about how your work is connected to philosophy, so you’re always trying to find a connection. I was always like, “Oh my God, everybody is so damn conceptual,” in France. It’s extreme. It’s like really the extreme conceptualism, and I didn’t feel like that. But then I found, you should read it, by the way, it’s called “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” by Michel Foucault. It’s about those spaces which are for kids. It’s really broad. That’s why he hated it, because he is really structural, but everybody fell in love with this term. It’s about those kind of first spaces. It’s existing space, and it could be like, for example, a wooden house in a tree, so it exists on the geographical map. But for one person it’s just a few pieces of wood in the tree, and for another person, it’s a castle with dragons around. And it’s the same, for example, when you become an adult: like cinema, theaters, cemeteries, brothels; like all those types of places where you go and you kind of lose connection with your real life. It’s the energies. It’s abandoned places, you know? Your imagination starts working a lot.

Even playgrounds. It’s like a specific place where you go like, you know? I was really concentrated on playgrounds in LA. I mean when we were kids, we had more fucked up playgrounds, but it was really like a survival game, you know? It’s where you’d get in connection with society or be a complete loner. I’m making a project around it, and I’m collecting friends stories and then creating the structure of a small slide, but the slide itself is a piece of fabric with photos and stories.

It’s really the specific place where you go because you don’t want to be home, you don’t want to be at school, you wanted to escape, kind of. I really love finding the escape places and from there starting to make sort of fake anthropological research and interviewing people. With playgrounds, it’s straight connected to architecture. So you’re doing research in architecture or landscape design. I like going deeper into the weirdo stories that we all have. So it’s become more like a personal story.

You seem to be very affected by your space then. What shifts did you see as you moved from city to city?

I think moving to Paris was kind of an amazing thing, but at the same time, it really didn’t feel like home there, so I started looking back to Russia a lot. I was using Paris as a studio mostly. It wasn’t for inspiration, no inspiration talking, not at all. It was really about creating my family, with friends and artists, like a small island. It’s like clothing yourself.

Here, in LA, I fell completely and finally out of this, you know? When you’re still like really inspired, and you still want to work.

How do you keep track of your ideas and what you’re inspired by?

I always carry a pen and a notebook and a camera. But last week, I fell in a fountain with my camera, so I’m so sad because I always have it with me. I think the fact that I started with photography and then left it behind at some point, it’s now become a kind of notebook. It’s the base of the research. Then it’s a lot of writing, and I’ll see details and do lots of interviewing also.

How long do you think it takes from you having an idea to creating the piece? So for instance, the project that you’re working on right now. 

So when I moved here, it straight away felt like home, so it was not so connected back to school. I was like, “Oh, I’ll explore more”, and spending time with kids from Otis College of Art, I saw that kids in art school, they love talking about like all those types of traumatizing experiences, which is really impossible in Russia for example, or in France. It was super interesting for me how they love opening up so much. That’s why I did, maybe you saw, this white plastic bag, that says like “Psychological Help,” where I put down my number. I left my number so that they can call me anytime and tell me their stories.

In Russia, forget it. Nobody would tell you straightforward that they were raped or something, you know? I mean this example is kind of too big, but like even smaller things that kind of traumatized you when you’re a kid, you’re like, “No, this is weak, my weak experience. I would never share it.” And here it’s still kind of surprising. I mean it’s just a completely different cultural thing. And it was so shocking, but you notice where all this experience comes from; mostly childhood. And then I was just like seeing more and more of those playgrounds and thinking what is my experience? And I also figured out that I grew up most of my time on them.

So then I started making the actual pieces that came out of this idea, so it’s why I had like all those tee shirts hanging on the clothing lines and teddy bears. I was playing with those techniques, like finding real teddy bears, then putting them in clay. I also found really ugly dolls, but I made them into rabbits when I put them in clay and repainted them. The actual objects burn inside in the kiln, but the imprint kind of stays and you can completely change it.

It’s interesting what’s hidden inside. 

Mhmm, and it’s super fragile also. I don’t want to be a ceramicist; it’s only one of those tools. And in Paris, it’s like the only free thing that we can get. But I do love the connection of ceramics and its fragility. Or even the fact that I’m like the biggest winner of breaking things. I’m so good at it.

When I think of your installations, I think about the polarities of reality and imagination. How would you describe it?

That’s the thing; I think I’m really bad at talking, because I’m trying to make things that are already talking for themselves, you know? That’s what I really love, the reaction when I’m showing the work here, people were like, “Oh my God. Yeah, that makes me think about this or this.” So they all had the stories that started popping out and then it was like, “Yes! Okay, that’s what I want.”

In Eastern Europe, we don’t really talk about our feelings, so my work became really personal here. It’s just like, I’m so happy, like happy and over-emotional, in a good way. It’s so hard to talk about.

It’s interesting to hear this, because recently speaking with European friends, they aren’t very fond of LA. 

I don’t know how you could hate it here. You feel like you’re at the end of the world. I really like feel like coming here is like being on the border, where you don’t know, it’s like the wind which brings everybody in the winter. You have everything. It’s like a small planet. It’s a city with so many cities in it; I don’t know a place like this. If you want snow you, you ride two hours. The desert, forests, the ocean.

What other artists are you inspired by right now?

I think this new generation of artists, like Jasper Spicero, he’s from a small town in the US, but he’s pretty big now. Or his girlfriend, Bunny Rogers. Or I don’t know; it was such a pleasure meeting young artists here. You see how much more freedom in thinking they have because in Europe it’s still pretty classical in many different ways. I mean here, people also talk a lot about like, “What’s the concept? What’s the concept?”, but people here could consider the concept the story, but in Europe it should be tied to a philosophy.

So what’s next for you? What shows do you have coming up?

So I’m working with a few friends who are from here, but they all went to SAIC in Chicago. We were chilling next to the pool one day and decided to do something. Sometimes, it seems a little bit like if you wanted to do a show in a gallery in LA like, that you need to take time or that there will be complications. But we just decided, “Let’s have fun and this just make our own little show.” And so I decided we should do it in a motel. You can take a room like that, change it completely, and recreate the mood inside and have fun. My friends make clothes and do installations too. That will be next week.

There is also a group show happening in Moscow at the beginning of September at Triumph Gallery. They are like the only gallery that also goes out of Russia, for the Venice Biennale, for example. It’s going to be a fun show. This show is specified in ceramics, so there will be like some Russian artists and some artists from London; so it’s cool that it’s a young, International group. In Russia, this is the thing, if there is a contemporary art show, everybody wants to show artists who are in their fifties; they are good, I mean, it’s easy to sell. But this gallery, they are working more and more with young people, which is amazing. And so I’m preparing a big project for them. And then there is another group show at the end of October in Paris, Biennale de Paname.

Will you be showing pieces that you’ve made in LA?

Everybody really wants to use the pieces from LA, but I’ve got to keep some for collectors too. The coolest part is that, since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to live off money from sales from my pieces. I’m like, “Ahh it’s not bad.” Of course, we should always work, but it’s been nice that I don’t really have to right now.

Do you remember the first piece that you sold? 

Hmm yeah, oh my God I was like 17. It was the photo biennale that I’ve done in Moscow, and I sold the series, and I went to Central Saint Martins and moved to London with that money. I just did a base foundation there for a little bit. I’ve been to lots of schools, but never really stay too long.

Photography: Madeleine Dalla

Styling: Hodo Musa

Assistant: Dari Kreitenberg

Additional art photos supplied by Apo

Stay tuned to Milk for more art happenings. 

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