Art News Magazine

Ekatherina S.

Born in Russia, Ekatherina S.,
as she calls herself, lives in
Germany and New York, and
has exhibited in both the
United States and in Europe.

Most recently, she spent time
in India, becoming familiar with
and photographing the country`s
great spiritual centers. She uses
these photographs as the basis
for these stunning, brilliantly
colored works (all 2008).

Art News Magazine, September 2008
Art News Magazin

By painting over images of classic temples and robustly carved statues, she imbuses them with an otherworldliness, often adding lines of calligraphy or graffiti to intensify the mystery.

In the deep pink-purple India 1, the frieze of voluptuous goddesses, photographed from below, is interrupted by squiggly white childlike tracings that bring the scene up to date and subtly unify past and present. More majestic and almost humbling, India 11 - which along with India 7 is among the most gorgeous works in the exhibition - shows an elaborate temple soaring from deep blue into a golden light. Oddly, the paintings conjure up a futuristic landscape as much as they do an ancient one, and this may be the artist`s objective. She has chosen a very tantalizing and seductive way for viewers to see India, not so much as a geographical place but as a richly layered and nourishing state of mind.


Donald Kuspit

All of Ekatherina Savtchenko's interests converge in her powerful Kama Sutra series, the quintessence of her complicated dynamics, as mentioned. In Indian mythology, Kama is the god of love, and, more fundamentally, the personification of the creative impulse, by reason of the fact that he is born of primeval chaos, and makes all later creation possible. He is often represented as a handsome young youth attended by heavenly nymphs, which is the way we see him in Savtchenko's series. The Kama Sutra, which is the point of departure for her ecstatic imagery, has been attributed to the sage Vatsyayana. Savtchenko's series, like the book, is an account of the ritual lovemaking necessary to generate the cosmos - out of ecstasy, as it were - as well as a "demonstration" of the gods all human beings are when they make love.

Force is what Savtchenko's paintings are about, and it is implicitly cosmic force. This is all but explicit in Kama Sutra Red (2000), in which a grand spiral curves inward toward the center, even as it expands beyond the frame of the picture. This contradictory movement evokes a double infinity, a double beyond - the fluid space of the infinitely inward cosmos and the fixed space of the infinitely outward cosmos. Near and far, the intimate and the unreachable, converge in the spiral's relentless movement. It is a kind of endless spiral staircase, along which innumerable figures dance, their bodies intensifying and individualizing its dramatic curve. It is as though Savtchenko has flattened the dome of some great cathedral of consciousness, or as though she has unfolded the surface of an ancient Greek vase, spread out its levels of discourse so that they can be read in a single glance, as in a medieval picture. Flattened, the various scenes seem to be happening simultaneously, suggesting their inevitability. The whole narrative seems concentrated into a single dramatic moment, making it all the gripping. (The spiral appears again, as an abstract force in its own right, in a 1999 series, It is all the more magnificent as the tail of a Scorpion (1998) coiling itself into a pure white sun.)

The first thing that strikes one about Savtchenko's paintings is the richness of their color, and the second thing one notices is the peculiarly archaic character of her dynamic figures. The "Fire" series (1998-1999) make the point succinctly: an ecstatic figure, black as death yet full of life, dances in the blazing color a chaotic mix of yellow and red, the colors of the sun at dawn and dusk, heightened to a new intensity by reason of their transitional character. The paintings are a double performance: of the swirling paint, at once vivacious and morbid, and the figure, which sometimes holds its own against the fiery gestures, sometimes seems to dissolve into it - only to return, undefeated, a female phoenix perpetually rising from the eternal flames, (The figure, a maenad or devotee of Dionysus, as Bacchae (1998) indicates, is implicitly Savtchenko, and explicitly, as is evident from a photograph of her in the act of painting, and from her animated, even impulsive appearance in Fire I and II.)

There is an air of invincible intensity to Savtchenko's expressionist pictures: despite the emotional pressure of the driven paint, the figure retains its human integrity, identity, and dignity. It signifies an ego that is the master of its own instincts, even as it gives them free play - apparently complete license. Savtchenko's rhapsodic figure seems to give into its drives - indeed, passionately indulges them, as though 1osing herself in their energy. At the same time, her aroused passions, however aroused, remain connected to - even implicitly contained by - the sturdy blackness of her body. Its inpenetrable density, symbolizing its indestructibility, condenses and concentrates their wild energy into a singular force.

Savtchenko's figures are archaic in form and spirit, both by reason of their abstract, schematic, emblematic character and execution. They are often composed of spontaneous lines that seem incised in the surface, which tends to be dense and solid, however agitated the gestures that compose it may be. The linear figures of the Archer paintings, the Boat paintings, the Script paintings, the Circle paintings, the Rhythm paintings (all 1998-99), all have a quixotic, lyric look, conveying the visionary excitement with which they seem conceived. Some of Savtchenko's sources seem Egyptian - her boat has a family resemblance to the Egyptian Boat of the Dead, transporting the soul to the afterworld - while others seem Mineoan, as Tiger (1998) suggests. That violent creature, reaching toward the red light of the ultimate sun, appearing in the infinite distance, is to my mind even more of am emblem of passionate spiritualism than Savtchenko's dancing females. The ground of the painting is black, and divided into earthly red and heavenly white zones. The aurae that radiate from the sun spread over the plane of the entire picture, implicitly extending beyond it in all directions.

Mysterious, cabalistic texts - sacred writing indecipherable except to the initiated, the illumined - fill the spaces between the concentric lines of the aurae. (Savtchenko's works in general often use a frieze of quasi-hieroglyphic figurative elements.) The animal reaches through them toward the sun, showing a passion for the divine - an awareness of higher life, as it were - that suggests its deep intelligence. The archaic Sun- Archers (1992), with their huge single bow, are the ancestors of Savtchenko's tiger and scorpion, who are more inwardly alive and dynamic than any of her human beings, even her dancing figures. In general, Savtchenko has a marvelous feel for animals, suggesting that she identifies with their wildness and alert energy, even as she turns them into emblematic symbols. This is vividly evident in Aries, the lions in Bacchus's Triumph and Dionysus, the Centaurs (all 1998), the lion in Herecles and the horses in Apollo as Helius (1997), and the bull in Europa (1996).

It is the animal in all of us, Savchenko implies that understands the u1timate, not the ordinary human beings we are on the surface. It is the animal in us that is the mystic - that is capable of mystical-ecstatic experience - not the everyday person. Indeed, Savtchenko seeks again and again to move beyond ordinary, "selfish" to extraordinary, "selfless" experience, whether by means of ecstatic solo dancing or ecstatic sexual intercourse, as many of her works indicate. Again and again we see male and female figures in a kind of ritual mating dance, suggestive or ceremonial, impersonal sexuality. Amor and Psyche (1996), Dance of Love, Night (both 1997). Light, Duo Red, Duo Blue, Duo Yellow (all 1999) are notable examples of Savtchenko's orgasmic- ecstatic ambition. The figures are not particular individuals - they have no faces - but mythological abstractions, as the titles of many of the works indicate. Ecstasy makes them mythological - transcendent. Besides themse1ves through ecstasy-inducing Experience-painting clearly seems as sexuality for Savtchenko - they become more than themselves, indeed, a kind of mystical material, like paint at its most fluid yet dense. 

Donald Kuspit is Professor of Art History and Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the A.D. White Professor at Large at Cornell University. He is the author of several books and hundreds of articles on aspects of modern and contemporary art, including The Cult of the Avante-Garde Artist, Signs of Psyche in Modern and Postmodern Art and Idiosyncratic Identities.

 Marcelo Gleiser

There is a creative tension in the cosmos. We feel it every time we look at Nature, and at ourselves. It is revealed in the smallest of details, such as the dew drop balancing on the tip of a leaf in an early Fall morning; and in the largest, such as in stars burning their entrails in order to survive the inexorable crush of their own gravity. Our collective history can be told as an effort to represent and make sense of this creative tension, this constant dance of chaos and order which shapes the world. We have created narratives, drawings, dances, and countless rituals in search of meaning, in search of answers. How can something come from nothing? Can order emerge by itself, without a guiding hand? Is beauty a mere accident of Nature, or is there a deeper meaning to it? Why do we crave for beauty, as junkies for a drug? What is it that makes us plant a garden, compose poems and symphonies, mathematical theorems and equations? Why can't we be content simply by eating, procreating and sleeping? These are questions that bridge our ways of knowing, being part of cutting-edge scientific research, philosophical meditations, religious prayer, and artistic output. We have an unstoppable urge to understand who we are and what is our place in this vast Universe. In many ways, it is through this search for answers that we define ourselves. And, although the answers may vary, as cultures vary from place to place and time to time, the questions are the same, and remain, to a large extent, unanswered. The unity is in the question, not in the answer.

Ekatherina's work searches for this universality in human expression, for a bridge between language and feeling, reason and emotion. As with some of the most modern ideas in science, she feels that there is a single principle operating behind all this perceived order, and all-embracing urge to exist, to create, that manifests itself at all levels, from the racing world of subatomic particles to the edges of our observable Universe. It also manifests itself in our lives and our history. Humans cannot escape this alliance with something bigger and much more ancient than they are. Our tensions are part of this universal tension, our creations and destructions are part of the same rhythms that permeate the cosmos. Through them, we search for transcendence, for a reality deeper and more permanent than ourselves. Through them, we become the gods we create.

It is rare that an artist incorporates the findings of science and technology into her work with such lucidity and wisdom. It is even rarer that the final message is not overwhelmed or limited by this inclusion but, actually, amplified and enriched by it. Here is one place where we distanced ourselves from Nature, blinded by material success: wastefulness. Nature is never wasteful, it never uses more energy than it has to, it never chooses the most costly path to achieve the same end result. This is true of electrons within atoms, of bacteria, of elephants, of galaxies. Wastefulness means breaking the balance, interrupting the flow of tension between opposites. Our wastefulness is reflected in the way we treat our planet and ourselves. It is a cancer that grows and overwhelms what lives. We must look back at Nature, learn from its simple elegance, from its aesthetical commitment to functionality and form. For this, we must look across boundaries, beyond our immediate needs and greed. We live in a time where multidisciplinarity, the jumping over the many fences separating the various disciplines, is being pursued with ever growing energy. It is as if there is a widespread breeze of awakening blowing across the planet, inviting people to lower their guards and to cross the boundaries of knowledge, of knowing. It is not enough to tolerate difference, for tolerance may be short-fused. Only if we respect differences we will be able to learn from the other, from those who believe differently than we do, for those who live and look differently than we do. It is here that Ekatherina's invitation shines the brightest, a testimony to the rich diversity of existence, to the many ways of knowing. There is much wisdom to be learned from Nature, from contemplating its ways of knowing and being. But we must be eager to learn.

The powerful lyricism in Ekatherina's paintings, the bright explosion of color and motion, are expressions of her deep conviction in the underlying unity of all things, human and not human, material and spiritual. The message is one of union, of harmonic tension, of complementarity. As in the bow, that must be arched back in order to propel the arrow forward, as wrote the Greek Heraclitus, some 600 years before Christ. We learn by seeing, by absorbing the messages written in her canvases, by resonating with her voice exposing the very best and the very worst that we are capable of. Hers is a voice of hope. And I hope we are all listening.


Marcelo Gleiser is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy at Dartmouth College. He is the author of "The Dancing Universe: From Creation Myths to the Big Bang" (Plume, 1998), and, more recently, "The Prophet and the Astronomer: A Scientific Journey to the end of Time" (WW Norton, 2002).

 Alexander Borovsky

Ekatherina Savtchenko has passed through an intense and eventful schooling. After receiving a higher education in computer studies, she studied at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg - an arch-conservative institution still faithful to the behests of the great elders of the nineteenth century. She then studied under A. R. Penck at the arch-liberal Düsseldorf Akademie. For more than ten years, she has worked independently, in the full sense of the word, firmly and consistently following her own line.

Examining the oeuvre of Ekatherina Savtchenko in toto, in the space of the museum - the artist has already been honoured with several museum exhibitions, an impressive factor - there would seem to be, at first sight, several lines co-existing in parallel. Savtchenko began with a form of ideogram or her own form of sign-painting, recording natural orders and cycles. Directly activating archaic art (mostly ancient vase paintings) and expressing the mythological motifs of rituals of the conception of life, sign-arabesques are still very much part of her arsenal, just like the traditional painting and sculpture with which she started. The only difference is that she is now more interested in the process of sign-birth as such.

A second line is linked not to painting, but to video art, photography and performance art. The role of the first element is played not so much by a liberated sign-arabesque, as a sign-arabesque liberated from the designative. The world-formative and world-connective element is fire She brought fire down upon herself, quite literally, employing her own body in a project including large photo-painterly panels, a video installation and performance art. The artist's body was portrayed on a panel and she acted in the video installation - giving herself up to and likening herself to fire.

A third, similarly steadfast line is Savtchenko's photobased art. This is the direct thematisation of a device, when the artist paints on the photographic surface, not with a brush, but with her own fingers - impasto, nervously and percepibly tactile. The gestural power reveals the desire to break through the cultural layer and come into contact with the fundamental elements of the body, fire and movement.

A new theme and a new means of visual realisation appear in Savtchenko's latest series - visualisation of the new mythology of communication. Ekatherina explores the morphic similarities between gods and computers, radiotelephones and tele-pictures (the light-textural possibilities of an electronic picture and a pixel raster paradoxically enrich the "archaicised", fresco-like expressiveness of the artist's visual language).

These are the externally diverse lines of Savtchenko's art. In the aforementioned museum space, however, they come together in a single unity, at the heart of which lies a systematic, philosophical underlying cause - an analogy of esoteric philosophy. This is the concept of cosmological structuralism, in which there is a place for all planes and levels of existence. The most "detached" - to employ an eighteenth-century term - phenomena, concepts and hierarchies are put in order. With the conceptual "all-acceptance" and sensation of the inevitability of being fitted into an integrated system, the very concept of eclecticism diminishes - both on the level of formcreation and ontology.

Ekatherina is equally interested in modern physics (fractal theory, baby universe theory) and the sciences of the hermeneutic cycle (derived from the name of the father of esoteric science Hermes Trismegist) - numerology, astrology, etc. In her understanding, something interesting implies a need for visualisation. In short, a single fabric arises; a metaphor for a picture of the world according to Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz - "like an endless, entangled fabric in which each part is linked by endless threads to everything else."

Ekatherina's most recent project - "Mystery of Man" - also represents a new, separate and independent line in her art and, at the same time, the thread of a single fabric. The most remarkable aspect of his particular project is the economic means of expression.

In her most recent works - generally polymedia, bringing together easel paintings, photo-based art and video installations - Savtchenko might appear to activate the cognitive plane of her mytho-poetic (esoteric) model of the world. Take the hyper-scale of Unity - physical states of matter, initial psychological states, basic components of civilisation and the somewhat naive cogency of a graphic manual imploded by the artist's temperament and convictions. Against this background, "Mystery of Man" is laconic. Solitary male figures in natural or interior environments and the trademark painting of a photographic image, while activating the tactile factor (brushing against or entering into the photographic surface). The second factor of loconisation or, rather, concentration on the main thing, is the refusal to manipulate cultural codes, which was always a typical facet of Savtchenko's poetics. Even in the Dream series, externally similar to the "Mystery of Man" in terms of its typology and means of visualisation (a female figure immersed in a river or a metaphorical fiery lava - the same device of her photo-based art), the profusion of codes is impressive, ranging from traditionally literary ones to those activated by contemporary art, like Anselm Kiefer's versions of Lorelei. Here we deliberately come back down to earth - a contemporary type, without allusions to ancient or any other prototypes; a situation of candid posing reproduced in glossy magazines.

One immediately senses, however, the enormous scale of this particular orientation and the representation of a full and integrated view of the world. What does the artist aspire to embody? The word "embody" immediately conjures up images of the flesh and is particularly applicable to photography, which handles corporeal material. At the same time, the process visualises many essential issues of the relationship between art and life. What we have here is three models in typical posing situations - the sea shore, the interior of a bedroom, an artificial and dramatised environment. All three models slip into given environments or what actors call "given circumstances". Savtchenko does not attempt to conceal the "professional model" aspect or to create the effect of a game. She is satified that the situation of posing, selfdemonstration or self-delivery is, for her heroes, the most natural situation and a manifestation of identity.

Unlike technical or magazine photography, creative photography is generally more interested in the anomalies of the corporeal. The undoubted beauty of the male models, ranging from the extremely masculine to the potentially androgynous, triumphs. Not that the most important thing here is the gender issue. While Ekatherina pays tribute to the male type of beauty, in all its various forms, not denying herself the right to admire and aestheticise, this is not the most important thing. There is nothing accidental about the setting of the norm (youth, beauty and charm) or the articulation of the posing aspect (minimalist and open, no special stories, a minimum of narrative).

The mysterious object is not the male in some story, biography or drama, but the presence of the male in the world - an enigma of rise and fall, death and invetible rebirth. That is why the individual-psychological, the biographical and the generally specific are captured so candidly. The aim is not to hide behind some form of posing or norm. Savtchenko is interested in cycles other than biographical ones - natural and cosmological cycles, explaining the motifs of tides and the sea in general. This explains the elements of creation, expressed in her "handmade" photography - painting with the hands and fingers directly on the photographic surface. There is a more complex and nunaced aspect about the very understanding of the mysterial according to Savtchenko. Working with standard young and beautiful models - types and bodies; the individual-psychological, I reiterate, is either not taken into account or is kept to a minimum - the artist activates the idea of the encumbrance of normative beauty (I employ this word in analogy to the legal term of encumbering assets). From Diane Arbus to Joel-Peter Witkin, classical modernist photography employing the material of old age and deformity showed anomaly as an encumbrance of life. Working with an aesthetic norm - young and handsome male models - and not attempting to conceal their typology or collectiveness, i.e. the unrevealed nature of the individual, Ekatherina appears to be thinking about another encumbrance - the extenuation of a corporeal or carnal sort inevitably accompanying unruffled beauty. This is truly a burden and, in one of her works, Savtchenko offers a metaphor for this burden. The model seems to writhe in transparent coverings, like Laocoön, attempting to escape the entangling embraces. This is the transparency and "glassy" fragility of the corporeal, at the moment of the triumph encumbered by the inevitability of destruction.


Simple verification, albeit metaphorical, is nevertheless only one aspect of the mystery. Another is the inevitability of the rebirth of the male element. The enigma of rebirth is conveyed by including regimes of the passage of time other than the biological time of man - geological and cosmogonic times - explaining the motif of ebbs and flows and the theme of red-hot volcanic lava. Dissolving and swallowing up human, biological, "male" and "bed" time and all its encumbrances, these rituals promise rebirth. The mystery of the presence of the male element in the world is inexhaustible. Ekatherina S. nevertheless offers a very convincing and human version of this presence.

Dr. Alexander Borovsky
State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg


Gregory Christie

What does it require to be a citizen of the universe? Is it possible to be at home everywhere and what price must one pay to exist without homeland or borders? Further, can an artist, as the universal denizen, find their home in any materials? In many cases, these possibilities forewarn an uncomfortable uncertainty dilettantish sloppiness or, at worst, uncontrollable chaos. For multimedia artist Ekatherina Savtchenko, it is cause for inspiration.

Savtchenko produces and exhibits around the world and works
across media, through the instability and spontaneity of the borderless,
in order to demonstrate universal balance. Her latest work, featured in
a group show presented at the Imperial City Art Museum and Museum of
Contemporary Art in Beijing, expounds upon her philosophy: an ancient
notion of nature and symmetry within the ultra modern context of the
universal village.

The show, appropriately titled Passport, features 20 of Savtchenko s large (200 x 150cm) painted photographs alongside the work of Chinese artists Huang Yan and Reng Rong. Collectively, they meditate upon the concept of identity in a global world. The subject connects to many of the artist s other familiar motifs most prominently cosmic connections, energy and encountering the unknown.

Her pieces center on two metaphorically and literally universal subjects: Savtchenko, captured during a dance performance in Spain, and Chinese pianist, and New York transplant, Tian Jiang. It was a ritual dance with trees and earth, she explains of the performance captured in the photographs, expressing the feminine aspect of universe, unity between human being and nature. The accompanying hands demonstrate the unity between creator and creation, the masculine aspect of the universe.

Beyond a geographical passport, Savtchenko presents a pass to the intimate world of her subjects: the photographs are close and explicit studies into the vibrancy of the human form displaying the minutiae of each tensed back muscle and limber digit. The figures are simultaneously obscured and exposed in the dreamy and abstract bursts of acrylic, washed over the compositions.

The synthesis of human subject and tactful spectrum of color presents a number of convergences and parallels. The slow, swirling prayer painted in green and blue between the palms of Jiang s chiseled and masculine hands is balanced by the feminine energy and motion suggested in the red and yellow, which arabesques around Savtchenko s twirling body. Her performing body is united with its dramatic Spanish backdrop, as they are simultaneously engulfed in the acrylic. The entire compositions are perfectly unified through the technique; the factual, documentary photos and passionate brushstrokes compliment each
other in a celebration of the subjects.

The images suggest a new language for the universal citizen; an energy emanating from the human form beyond the rigidity and limitation of geographic borders and identity. Art performing as a passport. As the artist writes: It enables us to go beyond our boundaries and for one single instant feel the energy of the universe. It will travel next year to the Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai, Nanjing and Hong Kong.


NY art's Magazine in March/April 2007 number