MF: Mahmood Fazal
DX: Daniel Stewart
SP: Stanislava Pinchuk
MF: Welcome to Mont Icons. This episode we interview nomadic artist .Stanislava Pinchuk (aka. MISO). Stanislava. Welcome. So good to have you here.
SP: Thanks for having me.
MF: What have you been up to?
SP: I guess, like everyone and locked down, I've sort of been minding my own business and try to sort of work through it. But it's good, I think I've kind of come out on the other end with a really good focus and productivity. I feel like you're really on the path. So now I'm trying to avoid the distractions.
DX: It's a bit of a demand to go from lockdown to and having no conversations interpersonally to come and talk to us. But it's also been a demand for us to suddenly develop these skills because, like, everyone, I haven't seen anyone. So talking to people. And one thing I've noticed is I think you were saying this earlier, that the stimulant of conversations with actual people in the real world, like having had all of my stimulation side run by like, kind of AI algorithms for so long, like it does actually affect your capacity to create. So, like, can you just talk about that for a little bit? Because I think that's really interesting. Like, how did that? How did you how did you, your your you feel as you're kind of coming out of this?
SP: Yeah, I think during lockdown, I think it was kind of two things combined. And one, one, which was really incredible sensory deprivation, you know, I live in a small city apartment, so I missed, even like touching animals or having a bath or feeling something on my skin, like rain or snow, I kind of really missed that. So I would go to the park and just when the cops weren’t doing the rounds, I just put my, like bare feet on the grass and winter. So I think it was that, but it was also missing kind of happenstance. So I was missing just random kind of encounters or someone recalling something to you or making a tenuous connection or, you know, seeing something you didn't expect to see and feeling inspired. It kind of made me realize what a big part of the creative process those two things are.
MF: Yeah, I really miss, and there's something that is definitely lost, even when you have these bizarre Zoom drinks with friends. Like there's just something I find terrifying about that and perhaps it's my yeah, complete narcissism because I just can't help think about how I look to them because I'm watching them and yeah becomes this strange thing where I can't focus on the conversation at all and and like you said, the the conversation doesn't meander into, you know, across a range of topics like when we're talking to people it definitely things bounce around and ideas just shuffle and there's something about zoom conversations that I've found terrifying because it's Yeah, just staring you in the face or something.
DX: Body language like you've missed body language, like people telling you things with gestures and stuff that you just, you can't read that stuff very well from a distance.
MF: I don't want to see everyone at the same time. There's something about that too. Like maybe my mind, it's not for my, my way of thinking, I just need to look at one person in the eye and hear what they have to say. And then look at someone else. But when we're all just in these boxes, presented like a deck of cards. It's yeah, it's a bit terrifying.
SP: Yeah, I think I kind of retreated completely, I think. Yeah, I found Zooms such a strange phenomenon. And you know, there was two weeks where everyone wanted to have drinks or these sort of novelties on there. And it seemed to get pretty thin pretty quickly, but I just kind of thought, okay, like if, you know, I work really, really hard and I think at a certain point, I sometimes have to call the shots or take the you know, the riches of, and the and the benefits of what you've cultivated and for me, that was no Zoom. Just no Zoom, you can call me if we need to talk. And it was so good.
MF: What do you think it is? Yeah, calling that's so much better than Zoom because we but we had this chat two numbers and a number of occasions where we said just fuckin call like, let's stop this Zoom shit. What do you think it is about that?
SP: I think personally, I'm actually quite introverted and quite private. So I think even that strange thing of dissecting interiors behind people.
SP: Children coming into the frame and you know, which is great because it proves that parenting is not a nine to five, you know, break. It's not that there's just something I think that you just have this kind of the necessary information without trying to replicate real life.
DX: Yeah, I like to pace. Like, when I'm talking, like on the phone, I like to, to move around. And sometimes I'll do tedious tasks that I would be really embarrassed to the person you are doing, like, kind of surreptitiously tidying stuff. But, um, when you're like, I mean, I fidget a lot sitting there in front of a thing and being observed. And to think that like, 30-40 years ago, every sci-fi representation of the future had us like, like, in front of huge screens, just loving the idea of like, video calls and stuff. And now that we're in that, like, it's, it's really disgusting.
MF: It's something like the panopticon about it. It's like, you don't know. You're being watched. But you're you assume that someone's constantly watching your every movement.
SP: And they are, they're mining the data.
MF: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Yeah. Yeah. Pretty, pretty scary.
DX: I'm interested in you're, like, well traveled? And this would this be like, the longest period of time in which you haven't been able to do that? And? If so, like, um, can you, can you talk a little bit about the effects of that? Like, I'm really curious about that, because I felt that longing. And I travel like maybe once or twice a year, but I'd like to hear a bit about that from you.
SP: Yeah, big time. I mean, I think I was on the road, at least once a week of, you know, at the most, you know, every two weeks. So as a pretty frequent flyer and changer of continents, and that suits me really well. I'm not good with domesticity, necessarily, and I'm not good with routine, I find that stuff very encumbering to me. So that's really my happy place. And really, my, I think the kind of the rhythm of life and curiosity in which I really shine.
So, quarantine, yeah, I think I hadn't been home for more than a week for about 10 years, you know. So it was a really huge change that I, it's something that everybody asked about, but I have to say really, honestly, I, I absolutely loved it. And I think I was a little bit burnt out. And I think it came at a really incredible time for me personally. And like I said, I'm quite good at keeping my own company, and curiosity and keeping to myself. So I think, actually, it was this really phenomenal experience, you know, for all the sensory deprivation and, you know, difficulty and financially and being in the arts. I think I, you know, I was very curious about all the people who, you know, kind of wouldn't find time to reflect about the decade that is coming, you know, we're not ending a decade, we're beginning a decade. And for me, it was so much about knowing that this isn't the first, you know, can I say shitshow on here?
DX: Oh, yeah.
MF: You can say whatever you want.
SP: You know, knowing that it's not the first shitshow that we'll encounter in this decade and thinking about, you know, especially for me with, you know, being Ukrainian, the shitshows of the last decade. I think it really made me think a lot about what I need and my place in life and what's working what's not. And I think I made some pretty wild decisions I wouldn't have made otherwise just staying busy. So yeah, I was quite curious at all the people who kind of wouldn't take the time to reflect and kept busy with zoom pilates and baking, like with some weird trauma level, you know, everyone has their own way of doing it. But I, I really enjoyed the time to wrestle with the big questions.
MF: When was the last place you visited? And did the lockdown force you to reflect on that in a different or unique way?
SP: Yeah, big time. I mean, I was living in Bosnia Herzegovina, I was living in Sarajevo last year, and luckily gave up the lease on that flat and came back to Australia for a project and yeah, I mean, in a huge way. So I've kind of been locked down, I've decided to relocate again and found a new place and kind of just did it all over viable with no floor plans. And, you know, banks. It's pretty it's pretty funny. But you know, you've got to do something crazy every now and again. So yeah, I think I really gave me a lot of time to think clearly.
MF: What was it about the lockdown that made you decide to move there and buy an apartment there?
SP: I mean, I fell in love with the Bosnian and then I fell in love with Bosnia. It's pretty easy. But I think for me more, you know, I'm an artist. It's not the cash cow people think it is. So I think it was more about, I really looked around at my place, which is really great. But it's it's kind of not big enough as a working studio and kind of thinking about the next decade or, especially for the next five years of things that I have lined up, I think I just realized I just needed space, like physical space and mental space to make. And I think that's something I couldn't have here.
So I think there's just a slightly different life and a slightly different freedom that I think I kind of need for the moment.
MF: What's your favorite memory from your trip with Ennis? Who is definitely one of my favorite writers from the Melbourne scene? What What was your, one of your favorite memories from from that trip? that that that really? Yeah, made you feel like, I could live here.
SP: I mean, I think to the first one was, I was starting to really panic about how much I was going into the country and back last year. And I think on the last entry, where, you know, I get in trouble at the passport booth, you know, on the reg, it's, you know, I'm very good at it by this point. But um, I was getting a little bit nervous and the passport controller, you know, really flicked through all the pages my passport and, you know, really kind of looked at it said something really quickly in Bosnian and I kind of said, I'm so sorry, I'm, my boss needs a little bit shitty. Can you say it slower? or English? Or Russian or French or something? He's like, you don't speak Bosnian? Why not? And just stamps my passport and lets me in and I was like, Ah, this is it. This is, you know, the countries where kindness is more important than rules, I think is something I've been thinking a lot about.
DX: Can you name other countries like that?
MF: Because we love rules. We fucking love rules, go through customs and you get a real wake up call to how much we love.
SP: It's not the UK, I'll tell you that. It's definitely not my best friends at Heathrow.
MF: For those that don't know, why do you get in trouble at these customs? And why do people raise their eyebrows at your passport?
SP: I think the first ones that I travel a lot of my Ukrainian passport, which is not a great passport, full stop to travel on and I think until quite recently, it was impermissible to even visit other European countries without a visa. So I think that's the first one. I think the second one is I work in kind of data mapping conflict zones and war zones and sort of mapping how kind of political events change the topography or how land kind of holds memory of a political event, or evidence or testament. So, I think I've got a pretty colorful visa situation and a lot of stamps that have got me on a few watch lists, to be honest, for a few countries. I know. So. Yeah, it's something I've kind of gotten quite good at.
MF: W did that come from? That passion to trace that biography and how the birth of conflict zones shifts? Like, what prompted you to explore that? Because I remember when I was young, you were doing a lot of paste ups around the city. Very different to this, or maybe not.
SP: Yeah, I started making art, kind of doing graffiti and street art when I was a teenager. And yeah, kind of really being punk rock. And that was sort of really made the whole DIY world was very much my kind of creative education and orientation. And then I'd sort of been making work for a while. And it was a lot about mapping. But it was very personal. It was sort of about you know, living in Tokyo, going to my friend's houses mapping, drinking and dancing. And it was very early 20s work about how much I love my friends and going out and then Ukraine was invaded. And I'd always known that there was a big part of me. That was very political, obviously, punk rock and everything that it wasn't in my work, so I knew it would get there one day and I'm very, very sorry for the circumstances in which that happened. And so I think these two big things for me finally, came together. And so when Ukraine was invaded, I was a really big rupture.
MF: Where were you when you heard that?
SP: I remember I was in a car with some friends. And I mean, it was sort of it was brewing for a while, you know. But I really have a clean memory of that time. But um, yeah, I think I sort of really shut myself off for six months. And I worked. I don't think I saw anyone, I don't think I went out for dinner with anyone. I think my whole life was on fire, like, every part of my life was on fire. It's kind of this really difficult, phenomenal time. And yeah, I think I just sort of data my studio, I mapped the whole thing.
DX: Is this something that you were able to talk to people about at the time? Or did you need to, like be insular about it and kind of alone with it? Like, I'm very interested in how that conversation would have would have turned out?
SP: Yeah, I think outside of speaking to other Ukrainians, you know, I'm from the east. So it's really the, you know, I'm from the border. So it was something we never expected would happen. And, you know, there's this attitude when you're from a sort of, you know, developing nation or, you know, you're from a country with a little more turmoil, that there's an expectation that these things happen. And I think in all my experience, now, I think nobody ever thinks it'll happen, you know, it's never something people are really reconciled with. And I that was so true for me the big rupture of, of what happened, and especially being, you know, a border person, and, you know, the rule of thumb for border people is, you're not from the border, the border cross, do you write, you know, usually bilingual, bicultural, you know, you live kind of at ease, and suddenly some kind of conflict is created on your behalf? You know, by the powers that be? You know, it's a story for a lot of Ukrainians, you know, throughout history. So, what was I talking about?
MF: Tell me about you processing that. And then you go to Ukraine. What was that, like when you land in Ukraine?
SP: I don't know. I mean, I think, as you expect, you know, absolutely, as you expect, and so I think, I guess that's what I was saying. So this is sort of what started the work and the interest in kind of mapping the topographic sort of evidence and remnants and shapes that are, that are created by what's going on. And, you know, this idea of evidence, and, you know, we're so much in the era of fake news. And, you know, this kind of misinformation, especially what happened in Ukraine with the control of media and, you know, taking over the airwaves and things like that, and in certain parts of the country on the border.
So it really made me think about ideas of evidence and what's kind of unarguable, you know, and I think how, you know, how, for example, how can you argue what happened in Auschwitz? When you see the ruins, you know, so it really made me think a lot about ideas of evidence. And I think that's where kind of the practice built on from because I didn't really see people, you know, whether academically or in the art world or as architects, or anything kind of working quiet in that field. And yes, I think that's where the practice really originated. And it kind of kept echoing in these sort of autobiographical layers out from there.
DX: Is this something that you're pursuing with your next piece of work? Like, is this an ongoing concern? Because I imagine it would become as a theme, like more and more active.
MF: There's no shortage of war.
DX: There's also no shortage of like misinformation.
MF: Yeah, I mean, your work. And the work of forensic architecture, for example, is a to me some of the most important in the not that there's is art stripped like proper, but I think it's really reimagining journalism. Like as a as an idea.
SP: Thank you. Yeah, I mean, their work is so incredible. It's so inspiring, and the way they can work as a team and kind of brace these worlds. It's so mind blowing to me.
MF: What are some of the other countries that you've visited? I know you've done a work with the ruins of Mosul or…
SP: Yeah, there was a kind of collaboration I did with a really interesting team, which is sort of my first collaborative work, which was mapping the, the oil files set by Isis, south of Mosul, and the al-qayyarah. basin, basin by the river. So it was about mapping, the particles that were coming out of the oil fires over pretty much the span of the fires, and then measuring the particle weight as it moved, because obviously, particles have different weights. And so depending on the wind flow, they settle in different places and different continents.
So it was kind of extrapolating all the elements from the air. And it was really interesting for me to work with people who don't work with land, but work with air. So it's this kind of completely different geospatial kind of terrain that I then I work to, and it's so much more abstract than me working as that kind of surveyor on the ground by myself you know. So it was a really, really incredible way to kind of orient thinking as well, for me.
DX: And you, have you already kind of plotted because you've made a lot of decisions for the future, obviously, um, have you already plotted, like what you're going to be working on when you get when you hit the ground? August?
MF: Yeah. How do you decide? Like, how does that happen? Or is it just something that enrages you or inspires you?
SP: Yeah, I think enrages is probably the right word. To begin with, you know, I think rage and anger are really, really interesting emotions. And I think they're kind of really interesting, interesting catalysts to kind of sublimate into something else. But I think strangely, everything that I've worked on has been kind of quite autobiographical. And I think that's really important. You know, for better or for worse.
So I, after the first works in Ukraine, I worked in Fukushima and Chernobyl. I was in living in Japan. And I think when Fukushima happened, I was very surprised that I knew what to do. And I think because I was born right after Chernobyl in Ukraine, and, you know, a lot of people in my apartment block on my level, where I grew up with cleaners. And it was really funny how I was so prepared and all these sorts of other young, politically active people around me, I was surprised they didn't quite know what to do.
And I think it made me think a lot about kind of Chernobyl’s long shadow. Especially on my generation of Ukrainians who, you know, I was born in the Soviet Union, and, you know, we’re so formed by the collapse. And so it was interesting going to Chernobyl, and that's the really interesting one about when you get there, there's nothing was a surprise. It's like going to New York for the first time, you know, you've seen it on every film, every sitcom, you know. And it takes you about three days to realize you're in a new place. And that was Chernobyl, you know, this sort of psycho geographic map was totally there. But I think that's what it's like for, you know, Ukrainians, I think we were so shaped by this event in such a major way.
MF: So it's quite, it must be dangerous visiting a place like Chernobyl, right? I mean, have you do you have to wear special gear or something like?
SP: Um, no, neither for Fukushima or Chernobyl. It's something that I had to do. But I think you've just got to be really, really careful about cross-contamination and where you go, what you touch what you wear, how you do it, you know, what you take back into the car, things like that. Drinking iodine afterwards, and it's sort of more about your long term micro-Sieverts exposure, then your short term, unless you're somebody with a very, very high concentration. So it's kind of just about managing that as you do the field work.
DX: I always, when I picture, I always think about the zone. Like when I picture like, yeah, yeah. And but I'm fascinated to hear about the animals. Did you see any animals here? Because I heard that the wildlife there has this, like, really kind of arresting kind of effect on people?
SP: I have a lot to say about that. Because a lot of people say that it’s regenerating, but it’s poison. It’s poison. Some animals feel it more, some animals feel it less. There’s so many interesting projects and biologists working out there. Working with mushrooms and working with wolves. And I saw a lot of wild horses with cataracts. But for me it was beekeeping, I come from a long line of beekeepers.
MF: We were planning on digging into your beekeeping stories.
SP: But the really beautiful thing about Chernobyl is, there's a lot of oral history that the first people who knew that anything happened, because obviously, people weren't told, for the first 36 hours that something had happened. And the fine lines were cut with a beekeepers. So it was quite a warm day. But all the bees went inside their hives and didn't come out for a few days. And all the worms went really far under the soil. And so those were the only people who thought something was wrong. And that said, so that was kind of the genesis of my work there. And the data mapping and the land measurement was really tied to bees. So there is a really, really interesting kind of way of looking through the zone through biology that I think is probably the most important way to look at it.
MF: What kind of conversations or memories or lessons that they impart on you the beekeepers of Chernobyl?
SP: Oh, the beekeepers anywhere, the thing about beekeeping. And you know, you're really talking about sub culture here some, there's like this friendship of beekeepers, there's nothing I don't know if there are other things like it. But there's just such a curiosity about how you do it, what your bees are, like, because it's so much about that, like the nuances of your place and your seasons. And, you know, every season is different. And so, you know, there's no really school for it, you just learn by talking and doing. So beekeepers have this really amazing kind of charity and kind of pool wherever you go. And this real understanding of like the care of what you do. So, oh, man, you just find the beekeepers anywhere and like talk shop and you’re in.
DX: I'm interested to hear about your apprenticeship into this world. Did you have like because Greta had was is a beekeeper as well and had like a finger. Like almost like a master that would like inductor and like explain the kind of process and stuff and that they're still very close, you know, so I'm interested to hear like about that kind of like almost like master / apprentice kind of relationship. Did you have that? Or was it because it's in your family? Was it immediate to you or almost like, intrinsic?
SP: Yeah, actually, I mean, the nice link is that my great grandfather, who was a very, very good beekeeper with many hives, he was kind of well-known resistance leader. So he was in Poltava region, he was organizing all the resistance against the Nazis every night. And I think sort of a couple of nights where he was the only man who survived and he always regrouped and always kept going and survived the war. They had a really big bounty on his head. So I think this was kind of like you know, bolshy beekeeping that I've really kind of inherited but I'm actually it's, it started here. So when I was working in Chernobyl, I emailed a beekeeper who had kind of been keeping tabs on his become now one of my really good friends and just said, Hey, do you know anything about this, you know, bees detecting radioactivity thing I can find that they can find all these papers that they detect electromagnetic waves, but I can't really find anything on radioactivity, what do you know? And we sort of started trading notes. And when I came back to Australia, we sort of started beekeeping together and so that's kind of how I came into it was a little bit later in life. I grew up in like Soviet flats. You know, we didn't have beekeeping, it sort of skipped a generation.
DX: And do you work with native bees or European bees?
SP: I've got a European bees here. Native bees tend to be solitary.
MF: What do you like about beekeeping? Like, what is it that because there's something deeply spiritual and philosophical about it. What was it that you really enjoyed and when you're in the motions of it thought, this is so much deeper than honey?
SP: Completely, I mean, we're really not going to survive without them, are we? You know, it's such a It's such a kind of primordial human thing to do. You know, when we walked out of Africa, we walked out with bees, you know, we carried them with us, and they've been kind of the basis of our sedentary agriculture since then, you know, and yeah, we really don't, we've really got about four years without them, you know, so I think there's that, but I think it's also such an incredible way to kind of deal with the super organism, you know, as a human because we don't really think of ourselves in that way. And we don't think of our society in that way. And there's something so beautiful about seeing how a beehive works and being able to tend to it and to care for it and yeah, I mean, I think there's no there's no surprise why it's so tied to religion, basically in every culture under the sun, you know, of what bees mean to us. I think it's so sublime to be a part of that.
DX: How’s your beekeeping journey going?
MF: It's only just begun. I think we're gonna need you to come over Stanislava and give us a few tips because um, yeah, my partner's collecting her first hive. And we spent last weekend putting together all the things yeah, all the frames and that.
DX: This is the start of something quite special.
MF: This is the beginning of my honey land journey. Back to back to the roots of civilization.
SP: Welcome to the friendship, the handshake of beekeeping.
MF: Tell me, you're in you’re in. Thank you. I'm hoping you'll come around and show us the ropes. But like we were talking about punk scenes around the world, tell me about the different subcultures around the world because I know you've done a bit of traveling and I want to know that the inside scoop on some of the different quirks of beekeeping around the world.
SP: Yeah, it's I mean, it's so different because everyone leaves under such different winters, such different seasonal conditions and also with, you know, the climate emergency that we're facing, and especially, you know, the Asian Hornets as well as and Varroa destructor mite and all these things that kind of beekeepers around the world are facing there’s kind of as much as their subcultures are always so these really big commonalities, you know, but I was really lucky I with Nick, my friend who I just mentioned before we and some beekeepers, we know from Paris, we drove through Morocco, down the honey highway, chasing honey in the Sahara, and it was so beautiful to kind of meet beekeepers just by word of mouth and someone gives you a phone number and people are so proud of their hives. And as soon as you have honey from your hive from the other side of the world you're in, you know, and I think there's such a beautiful generosity out there as well you know, stay for three days see my hives taste this, you know, have a jar of this and you know so much curiosity about how you do it, what your problems are, and so many different ways of beekeeping, you know, like Ukrainians, we used to keep them in really beautiful thatches, like straw thatches. And then for example, in the Sahara, it's these really beautiful logs that are kind of clogged with mud. And families would come and put them in this very specific site in in a mountain, which is the one I was speaking about the world's oldest apiary and kind of tend to them after the season and kind of round back up and collect their honey. And then they're you know, beekeepers who keep it in logs and keep it you know, up in trees really far about bears, and you know, and especially up north and you know, this country that people kind of live with a sugar bag and you know, tap out the sound and crack the tree. It's a million ways to do it. It's so beautiful.
MF: Are there any pirates that steal other people's bees?
DX: It had to get to gangsters and crime? At some point?
SP: They’re called bears.
MF: Are there any like, people in I'm sure there are in communities. I just remember seeing that film in that HoneyLand and the woman gets her bees stolen by that Turkish man from the city. It just felt gutted for because he'd been cultivating this hive for so long. These tragic stories that you've heard, I'm sure you've heard many.
SP: Yeah, I mean, I don't know how you feel about more white-collar crime. If that floats your boat, but um, there are a lot of beekeepers who don't keep for the honey but they keep bees for the pollination and those keepers can be I think quite hardcore, and I think sometimes at the detriment of the health of the hive of the knowledge building of the hive, but they basically tour their bees to big agricultural fields for, you know, really, really large scale production for supermarkets, vegetables and fruits, things like that, just to pollinate across the fields, and then they move them on. And it's sort of a paid gig. So they have just a truck, and trucks and trucks full of beads. So it's, there's kind of a really big scene is sort of in that world where the hives get stolen.
MF: Whoa, Really?
SP: Yes. There’s one for you.
MF: Yeah, right. That's interesting. I want to we want to talk about some of your inspirations. And you mentioned, you're involved in the punk scene a little bit. How did that shape your work in the early days?
SP: Yeah, big time. I, you know, I never went to art school. So I think that was really the big education for me, kind of, I guess half street smarts and half creativity. And I'm really grateful for it. So it was kind of not long after I arrived in Australia. So I think it was the kind of the real moment where I sort of found community and friends and kindred spirits, and my English was good, you know, so I think I kind of really orienteer myself.
So I think for those listening in Melbourne, I really grew up with the tote and the art house and the pony. When it was the pony and it's good. I mean, it's what anyone in punk rock will tell you, right? Like you learned how to screenprint, you learned how to make flyers, you know how to distribute stuff. It sounds very, like Dickensian, you know, before the internet. But it really taught me resourcefulness.
And you know, especially graffiti, street art, how it goes, you know, it really taught me how to kind of be quick, say what you want to say and keep evolving. And, you know, that's the really nice thing about subcultures you know, like there's this real onus on momentum and everyone supporting each other in a best case scenario, and yeah, I think that was a really big one.
And I think I've always kind of come back to it as an adult, when you're actually not living the philanthropy of your teenage years, but you're an adult who has to pay rent and make decisions and work with people and reject, you know, great offers with money attached when you need it. And, you know, these kind of really difficult big life things of how you actually live as an adult. And I find myself yeah, coming back to punk rock in all these really different in tangential ways. And yeah, I feel so grateful for it.
DX: One thing that I found really amusing and exciting about talking to Spider about punk was just how little I knew about it. And so he would ask the most beautifully naive questions. And so, I think we should ask you a couple of beautiful naive questions…
SP: But you’re the really punk rock one.
DX: But when you when you say that, that word it just like it, there's so many connotations for so many people. And so much of it is is is not like inspiring, and it's not kind of creatively affirming like there’s, there's such a huge side to that world. That's really just like, repetitive and dead. So but the culture continually, like regenerates itself and emerges. So give some examples like specifically of like, the stuff that actually you found inspiring because I think that that's, um, I think that's important to kind of continue our friends education.
SP: I thought you were punk rock as hell.
MF: Me? Why would you think that?
SP: You kind of you walk in with the energy.
MF: Nah, I listened to rap.
SP: Back when the genres were you had to choose?
MF: Yeah, I didn't know. Nobody in my neighborhood was listening to punk. Yeah, no in my area there was no ethnic punk kids. Yeah, it just never it never happened. But I got kind of was interested in it. Early on after reading the work of Hanif Kureishi, and he writes about being in London in the 70s. And like, there was one Pakistani punk kid and just being like, that's so fucking cool. He plays in this band? And he writes about it, but yeah, they just seemed like a world outside of mine. Rap. Gangsta rap made sense in the communities that I was living in.
SP: I think I cuz I came to your work with the Muzza article. And it was so great to see it in words, you know, and to see it recorded and this. It was so refreshing, you know, and I think my boyfriend would just wouldn't stop talking about it as well. I think it resonated with, with him so strongly. But yeah, I mean, I think I was listening to hip hop when I was a kid, I think all the punk kids, like there's so much Public Enemy NWA, things like that, that really kind of crossed over to that energy and kind of political care.
But I think to your question, I think the stuff that I was most excited about was the stuff that I saw myself in, you know, which for me was so much about Pussy Riot, you know, obviously sticking it to Putin is part of my daily routine. And a big part of my practice, and Gogol Bordello and you know, Eugene Hutz and being you know, a Romani being Ukrainian, Romani was so incredible for me to see, you know, and this incredible charismatic man, but also kind of singing in bilingual kind of phrasing. And, you know, putting all this sort of Romani imagery out there was really mind blowing to me. And, you know, I think I was saying before, but Crass as well, because I think there was so not straight up punk rock, but married this sort of hippie idealism, with being a crusty punk and politics, but also sort of weirdly bohemian world. And I think they kind of was a bestie kind of interesting to me, and I think I still really feel like that, like, so interested in the world of poetry and emotions, and then this kind of world of kind of serious politics and activism. And yeah, I come back to them more than anyone.
DX: it's very rare to kind of hear something that really does marry that I'm the kind of that the abstract use of language with like, the real ferocity and like primal force of like that music where you have like it, they really like galvanized and brought together that such disparate areas of the world, I was talking to Mahmood about this, so that there was like, kind of this time where like, like, punk didn't necessarily mean like that you would like left wing, there was a lot of like, just kind of confused, angry football hooligans that were attracted to us purely for the violence. And Crass was one of the kind of bands that like, really, like drew a line in the sand. And that will like you like, knowing like, you know, this, this, this is like, I'm not about kind of like, like, celebrating machismo or, like, fun, really, they weren't really that fun. It was incredibly serious. And they were living in a commune and stuff like that. And I think like, they're kind of a band that's, like, really difficult to imagine a teenager getting into like, but that's like, when you get into it, like, you know, can you talk about how you heard it? Like, were you here?
MF: What was the first punk record or experience that you had?
SP: I mean, I think I kind of grew up a lot around prog rock, you know, Pink Floyd, stuff like that. I think they'll sort of clash records in the house, maybe. So it wasn't, you know, so kind of, you know, something that really came and sort of throw a rock into my face. You know, I think it's like with kids, right, you know, the right thing, right time, right place and just something clicks and, you know, the worst thing than being too late is being too early, you know, and there's just something about that synchronicity of when everything lines up and make sense. I don't know what the first one is, for me.
DX: I think it's really hard to remember. I find it really difficult to remember. And part of it was like, the, kind of the way my family moved around so much when I was younger. I don't even remember how it happened. Really. I'm not I'm not trying to conceal my historic…
MF: Obsession with rancid.
DX: But it actually hit me so, so hard, you know and that like it's difficult to tell where it hit me or when.
MF: You know, it's the first artist you you're fanatical about like for me and every other young Muslim I know it was 2PAC who was the first maybe yeah, artist doesn't have to be part whatever that that you were fanatical about like you wanted all of their records and listen ro hear everything.
SP: That's a good one. I mean, I love 2PACC because he always seems so kind of punk rock and transgressive.
MF: Was it the leather vest?
SP: I mean it was what tattoos, you know, real, real talk for me. Yeah, that's a really big love of tattooing and, you know, particularly more homemade, you know, tattooing which, which he's had and so iconically and there's just something about those videos of you know, 17 year old 2PAC when he's still in performance school and he's so feminine and so kind of gentle and beautiful and kind of talking about how he wants to make his mom proud and there was something about it I was so into 2PAC I think from those because he was so transgressive.
MF: Like he studied ballet.
SP: Yeah, that's what those are from. Yeah.
DX: That’s amazing footage. He's so eloquent. And so calm. And then when you put that against my favorite footage of him, which was when he's like spitting at the, at the press.
MF: To tthink he would have been like, 24 when that was happening, like 25, maybe even younger man.
DX: Maybe. Didn’t he die when he was around 23?
SP: But then, you know, the guy recorded “Hit Em Up” A few years later. It's so incredible, the kind of creative force that he had.
MF: Yeah. Yeah. So good. So 2PAC was your first fanatical love?
SP: No, no, I think. I think I kind of listened to music really widely. I loved it. No, Nick Cave, I think was a big one. That's funny. I've been going back. Every time I get stuck with artwork, I go back to Nick's lyrics. When any titles when I need to clear my head. It's like this palate cleanser. So I think it's still a really, really big one for me. No, I love Television. I loved Richard Hell. That was my ultimate teenage crush. Absolutely adore that man. I think he's still pretty. Does he listen to this.
DX: He's probably our number one listener… to a podcast that hasn’t been released yet.
SP: Yeah, that was that, I was an avid reader. I was a strange kid. I think, you know, really academic and really into graffiti. Strange kid.
MF: What books were you reading?
SP: I love the Russians and Ukrainians that the Russians claim, I love Bulgakov, I love Dostoevsky, I loved Tolstoy. I was reading a lot. Yes, yeah. Academic kid. I think I was a bit bored as well. I think Ukrainian schools quite hardcore. I think when I came to Australia, I was a little bit ahead in math and things like that. So I think I kind of Yeah, it was really academic. But I was also kind of acting out because I was a bit bored and, you know, kind of going off to gigs and painting graffiti and doing street art and yes, I think I was kind of being a fan was a really important thing. Being a fan of artists being a fan of music being a fan of writing was a salvation.
DX: Has that continued for you?
SP: Yeah, yeah. Because much as I'm in my own world and in my own projects, and kind of you know, work with bigger teams and bigger deliverables, is such a pleasure and just being a fan of being lost in someone else's world.
MF: What it did Melbourne look like when you got here?
SP: You know what blew my mind. The plastic playgrounds, blew my mind. And that people had carpets that went to the edge of the room. You know, like, carpets that you can't lift up and wash with soapy water and beat with a broom. That blew my mind.
I just I think that was the biggest thing, but I really remember Melbourne, the city was so different, you know, so many warehouses, so many abandoned spots you could go into, I tried to try breaking into some of the other day out west. Good luck, man.
It was so different the way we could go and, you know, be 14, 15 and just go play it like the Spencer street power station, find rooms of asbestos, or find rooms of disused staff and paint whatever you wanted. And, yeah, really different.
DX: How important is like just being able to, like, walk around and get into spaces for you like, and how much did the last few months kind of affect that because I would just go for walks for like hours just aimlessly, like wandering through streets just to be doing something. But um, I feel like such a strange time to be doing anything, and of your like, out in the world, like, what kind of experiences have you heard like, with an empty city and kind of at your doorstep?
SP: I think I've loved it. I have to say, I think I'd love the clarity. I love the emptiness I find I found it. Yeah, I found it really moving kind of head clearing, and it's sort of matched the time. You know, it wasn't, I mean, it's not my first time being in situations where the politics are bigger than me. I don't think you know, anything was a shock. I think, if anything, I felt so grateful to be here, you know, and I feel like, as tough as you know, being in the worlds so far, longest and hardest lockdown was, I feel so grateful to be here. And I wouldn't have been anywhere else, you know, and I think I felt that through the whole time very strongly.
DX: That's a fascinating thing that I don't think I've heard anyone say.
DX: No. How were you able to channel your fanatical nature or your fan kid experiences? Like what were the things that really got you through? Like, what are you reading? And yeah, particularly new things. I'm curious about that.
SP: More than anything I've been, I've been writing a book, which is new for me, I really like writing in my practice. But you know, I never write more than 5 or 6000 words. It's been a while I went, I got a degree in philosophy. So, I was quite used to writing at a certain point a lot. But it's sort of you know, hopefully it never goes, you just need to sharpen the skill. You know, you know about that, but sort of actually been really in my own world of writing and everything else that I do, I can have, you know, six meetings a day, I can tell people to do this to do that to get back to me. I can start this stop that. But with writing, man, I've just got to be in the zone. You know, you have to be in the world of it. So maybe it came at a great time.
MF: You're writing a book? Do you set like a word limit on yourself? Or do you have a kind of routine that you'd have…
DX: For someone who hates routine, how do you get around that? How do you negotiate that?
MF: Because I need this advice? For sure.
DX: Help us please.
SP: Yeah, I mean, my partner's a writer. So I noticed you guys are really creatures of habit.
MF: Oh, we are?
SP: No, I think for me, it's actually still been quite routine, you know, some days, it just doesn't happen. Some days, you get distracted, you have to do other things. You have to reschedule your life three times over. and negotiate all of that. And, but yeah, I think I sort of I sort of been a mix of, it's a book about sort of histories of women tattooing other women, you know, in, in all the ways that kind of means something through time in place. You know, and I think a lot of the times you see tattoo books, they're sort of in a section with, you know, motorcycles and surfing and they cool tough guys stuff, which is great. And it's really important.
But you know, such a big part of the history of tattooing, is women tattooing other women. And it's really tied to childbirth and, you know, interiors and ceramics and textiles, and, you know, beauty and religion, all these other things. So, it's kind of the PhD have probably never write that I wanted to write. Wow. Yeah. So, it's kind of been a little bit irregular in that, you know, sometimes it's research sometimes it's really furious writing, sometimes it's images. Sometimes it's interviewing someone, you know. Quite eclectic.
MF: You must have seen a lot of the beautiful Berber tattoos when you were in Morocco.
SP: Yeah, they're so beautiful. And so yeah. And in Bosnia as well. That was a big project in Bosnia last year was recording tattoos as it is sort of a dwindling custom, unfortunately, and sort of the last women that have it are quite old and there are sort of small kind of acts of revival and, you know, reclamation, but I think hopefully there's more to come there. Yeah. It's been incredible work.
MF: In Afghanistan, it's definitely fizzling out with Kochi tribes, you know, like the Kochan, and their women would have really beautiful tattoos. But yeah, I think post-Taliban era. Yeah, the way that countries become more radicalized, it's really dissolved. Love to read that. Yeah.
SP: Yeah, it's interesting, you know, this, that you Morocco and Bosnia as well is sort of a really interesting point where, you know, interpretations of Islam come in or more kind of physical copies of Quranic texts that suddenly people realize it's sort of looked down upon.
And before it was kind of really integrated into spiritual belief. And, you know, part pagan, part Islamic, it’s kind of been a really big part of, kind of, I guess, disintegrating the customs. Even though it was yeah, such a strong part of kind of spiritual worship. Yeah.
SP: How has this work? Or, has it reframed the way you view tattooing, because you've been a pretty prolific tattoo artist, and it's documented widely and you got a lot of critical acclaim for it.
But how has it made you think about or has it made you think about tattooing in a new light, this project?
SP: I think all of these things were the reason that I was really drawn to tattooing in the first place, you know, and pop punk and pop, you know, giving your friends tattoos with sewing needles, which I've definitely done. And that's awesome. But, I think I've always loved things that are kind of really part of the decorative history, or the history that gets kind of written off as being, you know, craft or, you know, whatever you want to put under that umbrella. And, so I think that whole kind of history in that whole attitude of yeah, women tattooing other women was always kind of the biggest call for me, in even starting to tattoos. So I think this is kind of an amalgamation of 10 years of kind of travel and tattooing practice and tattooing pretty widely and kind of different ways of looking at it.
It's been cool to do in lockdown because I'm obviously not tattooing anybody or touching anybody. So it's kind of interesting to think about bodies and human connection and touch and sweat and all this kind of stuff when you're totally deprived of it. So it's actually been quite a cool space to write the book in.
DX: Is it a fairly, like international or universal practice? Like? Or is it kind of like to find towards an areas like, as far as you can tell from your research?
SP: No, I mean, I think the idea of women tattooing other women is sort of touched every continent and time and place. There's so much about teaching children about pain, you know, in young adults about pain, and it's, it's such a prerequisite for marriage, you know, pretty much in every way that tattoos, it's something you do as a teenager at first, you know, and then there are these really interesting studies, when they've put teenagers into CT scans, and MRIs before they get the big tattoos and after, and they find that their gray matter actually changes.
So it's this really big rite of passage thing, and especially for you know, girls and women to teach about the pain of childbirth, you know, as to kind of, in that prolonged pain for long amounts of time. And you know, it's why so many places they say the girls with the biggest tattoos are going to be the best wives and the best mothers because they can withstand. Yeah, it's really teaching about endurance. You know, getting through what you think you might not be able to get through.
MF: Did you interview women who are like, the tattooists, tattoo artists of their area in Morocco?
SP: Yeah, it's a fading custom. So in Morocco, whenever I've chatted with women, it's women who have the marks, but I've never met anyone who's given them.
SP: It's, it's strange. And same in Bosnia. It's some it's so taboo. Now, you know, I'm sure you find it in Afghanistan as well. It's like you actually have to talk of at least for about 10 minutes before you mentioned them and you saw you know, and by the way, and you know, obviously I have tattoos and you can see them my hands, you know, whatever else I'm wearing, but yeah, it's funny, like women often like recoil a little bit, and you sort of have to pick up the conversation again, very gently and very kind of tactically. But, because there is such a taboo around it now in most places, and it's funny, I think you can have these really great conversations. And sometimes, it's nice, because, you know, that's that conversation hasn't been had before, if someone appreciating them and knowing about them, taking an interest, and you can kind of really see it in people's faces, I think.
MF: What did they talk to you about, like, what were they saying about the tattoos or the practices?
SP: I mean, every, every place is different. I mean, I'm like a chronic, like, you know, touch of like, asking people about their textiles or their jewels, or their tattoos or their you know, whatever it is, I'm kind of very, I think, very curious and, hopefully very good at it by now. And, you know, very respectful but um, yeah, it's funny, even, you know, in, for example, I spoke to a woman in Bosnia, who was saying she had so much shame because all the all her tattoos, traditionally there, they date from the cult of mithras. So they kind of the oldest swastikas that are kind of known through Europe, and they're about sun worship, and the worship of the Roman god Mithras, who was a kind of, creature of the sun, and they sort of became Catholic. In the way they're applied, but they never became like, you know, Sacred Hearts are long crosses, they always stayed equilateral. It's quite interesting. And so I remember really speaking to the woman, and she was saying, I feel really ashamed of these, you know, my mother did them on me when I was, you know, I think, like, 10 years old, and, you know, I didn't really have a choice. And now I work in Vienna a lot. I work in Austria, and people think they swastikas in the, you know, fascistic sense. And so she's kind of had all this sort of shame around, hiding them. And I think for her, it was, yeah, really quite cool to speak to someone who kind of understood what they were and what's really enthusiastic about them. Yeah, it was really beautiful.
DX: When you were having these conversations, had you already kind of conceptualize working on this project, or was this just something that you'd been kind of the there's curiosity?
SP: Yeah. Just curious. And a bit of a magpie? Yeah. So I think this book is more just like, a really nice organic, kind of, I don't know, but maybe like a full stop to 10 years of tattooing. Yeah.
MF: So what else have you got in the works these days?
SP: I'm working on some sculptures that are sort of around the idea of migration and bureaucracies violence. So the idea of paper workers kind of knowing obstacles of, you know, prevention of human rights and the idea of sort of weaponization of language and forms of communication and, you know, bureaucratic lineage as a kind of really expressed form of violence.
So it's kind of a body of work that's speaking to the idea of Homer and the Odyssey, as a sort of the idea of the first great migrant, you know, quote unquote, novel, which pitches lines from the Odyssey, in exact matching to lines from redacted migration documents, any sort of documents of violence, I guess, that's really comes from, yeah, as a migrant, we kind of pretty permanent migrants, the politics of that, that's kind of a big series of sculptures.
And then I'm making a film in Ukraine and Bosnia, that's for acne, which is still a little while away, but it's sort of about hairdressers and grave makers, as sort of sites of resistance in kind of war zones and post war zones. And the sort of idea about, I guess, kind of European national identity. You know, I think what struck me being Ukrainian as we always thought we were Europeans, you know, where the line where Europe meets Asia. And that's how, you know, a really big chunk of the Earth is talked about and you know, with Ukrainians going back to Heroditus who saw you know, the river that divides Ukraine is the line between East and West kind of met? But you know, then they say about Kazakhstan, they say it about Turkey, you know, they say it about Bosnia, they say it about every country in a very, very wide block of the world.
But it made me think a lot about, you know, which countries are European and which ones are not, you know, and for a continent who after World War II said, never again, you know, never a genocide again, never, never again, it has happened again. You know, and I think there was this real value judgment with both Bosnia and Ukraine, you know, obviously, two countries that are now home for me is that was something that was kind of accepted and kind of not helped in a really big way to two countries who always found themselves European.
So I think it's about the kind of those parallels in Ukraine and Bosnia is, you know, he sort of kind of twin countries in the conflict, 30 years apart, and sort of, it's sort of about the prime of the conflict. And after effects of the conflict, three decades later, what that looks like, pitted against each other, told through gravemakers and hairdressers, like sites of resistance, where you keep life going and document and resist and do your hair and do these things that are vain, but are actually really important. You know, they're all the Auntie's go to talk, and this is kind of recording that.
MF: Why is that? Why is that important to make things and to do this work? Like? Because you must stay, you have to stay inspired to juggle all the things you're doing and to do this amount of work? Yeah, what keeps you going? And why do you think? You know, you need to do this, because you do need to do this. But what inside your head? Why do you think you need to do this? And make things and present them to people?
SP: Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, I think that everything I've spoken about is probably a really healthy mix of anxiety and anger, and poetry and frustration and curiosity. You know, I think we've got one life in this world. And I think to be an artist is as difficult and precarious as it is the biggest privilege you'll ever get. You know, and I think to make something with your hands or your voice or your feeling is about as good as it gets, you know, and to show people what you see, it's pretty, it's pretty fundamental human thing, isn't it?
DX: I think it's very rare to meet someone or to hear someone speak as eloquently about art as you do. And I feel really privileged for this experience. But I also think it would be, like quite nice to hear if you had like, kind of advice for a young artist, or someone who's like, kind of just really discovering the kind of anxiety, anger and curiosity, that like, is driving them somewhere.
MF: Who is faced with the hopelessness…
DX: Or just yet, even just that, that overwhelming feeling of needing to create, but not even knowing where to start, like, like, you know, is there anything you could say to someone that position because I'm sure you would have heard something like that from someone else in your lifetime? That wasn't like, I gave you that kind of clarity, I can think of moments like that for me, where someone said something that quite simply made it important that it was writing a song. At that moment, I had to do that, you know, or writing a poem or like, even some, like, like, organizing an event or something like that.
Can you think of something like that? Like, I know I’m putting you on the spot? Yeah. Would there be some sunlight that they that you can pass on to, to the youth?
SP: to the youth? I mean, it's a funny thing, that creativity, there's no one way to do it. Right. I think it's kind of more about making your work your best friend making what you need to make and surrounding yourself by the right people who inspire you or feed you or in a really good way, a kind of competitive, you know, in a in a really healthy and kind of loving way that make you want to better yourself or, you know, give you an education if you don't have one, you know, through a more formal means about school or university or whatever it is. But, you know, I think I've been sort of surprised, I absolutely slugged it through my 20s. And sometimes it felt really, really thankless. And I don't feel like much has changed in my 30s. But I think at a certain point, people just recognize that you're gonna stick around, you know, and in your 20s Yeah, everyone makes art, everyone makes music, everyone's in a bad everyone DJs You know, there's such a kind of plethora of creativity. But I think when people see that you're dedicated, and you've stuck with it, I think something changes when people know you're in it for the long term. I've been really surprised by that, because I don't think in essence, my work has changed so much. But now things are coming. For past works that felt kind of thankless, but they've been around for a few years, and now things are kind of coming back. And people are understanding them. And you know, curators said stuff kind of a little bit beside the point at the time, you know, why don't you make things about Australian migrant identity? You know, why don't you talk about these things, that kind of now understanding the work the work you made about your home, not about your identity, I think small things like that, but um, you know, with time that really changes, and I sort of wish someone told me that, I think I would have had a lot less sleepless nights.