Entering into the world of Marta and Slava seems, at first sight, entering into a world of color and figurative work. But that changes when you really dive into it and you start discovering works full of symbols and signs. Nothing is as it seems in their work. Their creations require a context. It can be the context of the artworld, the context of our society, or the context of their past.
Who is this artist duo? They are Marta Volkova and Slava Shevelenko. They work in Maastricht, the Netherlands and in their studio in the Ardennes, in Belgium.
Originally both come from St. Petersburg, Russia but they left the Soviet Union in 1991, to first settle in Leeuwarden in the North of the Netherlands, before moving to Maastricht in 1999.
To illustrate how they work, let me share one of the anecdotes they told me when I visited them recently. We saw work made at the end of the ‘90’s, before they decided to move from the North the South of the Netherlands.
This work, deliberately made in the style of Socialist realism is their translation of the myth they heard in Friesland, that in Limburg (the most southern part of the Netherlands) the soil is so fertile that they have 2 harvests a year and carrots of 150 cm high.
Another example is the series of works made about refugees that come to Europe and are being used by artists in order to seem “politically correct”. Do these artists really feel engaged in the topic of migration, or is it just a way to get attention of institutions that need to be politically engaged.
These examples show how Marta and Slava bring such facts and situations into their projects or series of works.
Understanding their work is also understanding where they come from. Living in a repressive culture in their early careers has made that their topics are political or social commentary, always questioning and sometimes even confusing. The way they deal with many topics is full of humor and a bit of absurdity.
Their absurdism is a constant in their work. Nothing is as it is. Absurd images and objects are being explained in a very serious way, challenging the observant to find the reason or sense in the work. Their series about biotechnology is stunning: experiments that can only exist in phantasy are presented as if they are hard facts.
Their Russian origin has long not been present in their work. They are very happy to have found their home in Maastricht, but social and environmental questions do show in their work. From the Altai Files to the Yeti, from the museum for the latest biotechnologies.
Their project approach, making a series of works that belong together as part of one story, is perfect for showing in a museum or art institutions. And Marta and Slava have indeed had many exhibitions in museums.
Their recent Yeti project and the Altai archives have been shown at the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam and will now be shown at the Dr. Guislain Museum in Gent, Belgium from June onwards.
The Altai Files were presented at the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht in 2016 to remember the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the exhibition the artists try to reconstruct myths that are deeply rooted in reality for the public, in the form of an installation that can be described as a report of their expedition to the Altai region of Siberia. Paintings, drawings, objects and videos tell Volkova’s and Shelevenko’s version of the story of the unexpected consequences of space programmes in this region.
Occupying the main rooms of the museum, they built a datcha at the Bonnenfanten Museum in 2016 and used the space to inform the viewer about the impact of the dust coming from outerspace impacting the population.
For more information about Marta and Slava and see their latest work, visit the Museum dr Guislain in Gent, Belgium, here is the link
Here a short overview of some of the projects presented in institutions:
Their Beetle project, From the Life of the Beetles, shows that Euros can grow.
The project was presented in 2012 at Shunck* in Heerlen,
in 2014 at the Stichting 38CC in Delft and
in 2015 at the KAI 10 | ARTHENA FOUNDATION in Düsseldorf.
The Altai Files were presented at the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht in 2016 to remember the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the exhibition The Altai Files, the artists try to reconstruct myths that are deeply rooted in reality for the public, in the form of an installation that can be described as a report of their expedition to the Altai region of Siberia. Paintings, drawings, objects and videos tell Volkova’s and Shelevenko’s version of the story of the unexpected consequences of space programmes in this region.
Below a detail of one of the “flying carpets” found in Siberia.
We leave you here with a slide show of photos of the studio visit so you can get a glimps of these wonderful artists.