There is something enigmatic about the work of artist Stanislava Pinchuk – a distinct spirit, consistent across all her outputs, which stems from a wholehearted commitment to a singular vision. Yet each body of work she produces is an intricate world of its own, rich with history, politics, data and beauty.
With a practice that encompasses drawing, installation, tattooing, film and sculpture, Stanislava’s work documents changing landscapes – often though data mapping of war and disaster zones – and explores what exists at the nexus of the physical, the personal, the catastrophic and the mundane. Stanislava was born in Ukraine and grew up on the outskirts of the city of Kharkiv, “in a classic kruschevka, the standard socialist concrete housing blocks,” she explains. “In one direction, concrete blocks as far as the eye can see and, in the other direction, little 19th-century farmhouses with goats and chickens and so on. To this day, I see it as a kind of magical place to grow up.” While she moved to Australia at the age of 10, the impression left by her childhood in Ukraine was formative.
The impetus to make work about sites of war and conflict came when her homeland was invaded. “Seeing the illegal invasion of Eastern Ukraine over the winter of 2014-2015 by Russia, and the war still ongoing, had a profound rupture and effect on me,” she says. A body of work made in 2015, titled ‘Surface to Air’, documents the first year of the invasion of Ukraine, as it impacted the land and sky. Collected during field surveys, topographical and sonic data from the war zone was mapped in three-dimensional model form, before being transcribed onto large sheets of paper and drawn by a series of pin holes. This incredibly involved and scientific process resulted in pieces with a quiet reverence. From the unique textural quality of the morphing forms, drawn by countless pin pricks – tiny empty spaces – emerges a sense of ephemerality.
From Chernobyl to Fukushima, Stanislava surveys the land as she finds it, rather than through those motifs most associated with the documentation of war and disaster. “I’m a little sceptical of the photo-journalistic image or repeating the already seen images of war that show it as we expect it to be,” she says. “I think for me, it is really interesting to find a sensibility that draws in a different way, that kind of tricks and unravels itself. Something that comes more from the intimate or domestic, made at a human scale.” Such intimacy is ample within ‘Borders’, first exhibited in 2018, examining the forced evacuation and destruction of the Calais Jungle migrant camp in France. In this body of work, impeccably formed terrazzo blocks are shown alongside a series of data maps. The blocks contain everyday items from the refugee camp – such as SIM cards, toothbrushes and shotgun shells – that were trampled into the ground during the forced evacuation. Lured in by the beauty and familiarity of the terrazzo and then faced with detritus that ranges from relatable to shocking, this is an entirely disarming and personal way to consider the impacts of conflict.
“I’ve become really preoccupied with brutalism, with concrete forms and casting – the authority of its design sensibility”
In recent years, Stanislava has unburdened herself of ties to particular mediums and has instead gone in search for “the right expression for the right idea, and the right technicians, producers and collaborators.” Concurrently, her subject matter has also diversified. A recent collaboration with designer Henry Wilson saw Stanislava responding to the natural world and referencing the architectural landscape of her childhood, creating a sandstone water fountain titled ‘Mostra’. “I’ve become really preoccupied with brutalism, with concrete forms and casting – the authority of its design sensibility,” she explains. “I was really happy to see that obsession infiltrate the design of the water fountain.” ‘Mostra’ was commissioned by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and was carved from a single piece of sandstone. The work responds to growing concerns of water scarcity and climate change, functioning as a multitiered water source with varying access points for native and domestic animals, including reptiles, birds and insects. At the same time, the delicately proportioned fountain pays homage to brutalism, a double meaning that is a phenomenon of ambiguity ever-present in Stanislava’s work.
Collaboration has also featured heavily in her newest endeavour, ‘The Wine Dark Sea’, to be exhibited as part of the 2022 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia from 4 March to 5 June 2022. For this body of work, 23 marble sculptures called for input from various parties. Stanislava has embraced this way of collaborating with and learning from others, describing “a really great process of working with G-LUX [stone suppliers] in Naarm [Melbourne].” She describes how G-LUX enriched her knowledge of the medium before she embarked on “shaping it up with stonemasons and grave-makers to make it all come together.” Surrendering to the processes of creative collaboration, Stanislava saw the work emerge in unexpected ways. Originally planning to create more elaborate forms from a simpler stone, she shares that she “ended up being so inspired by the wild cuts and rare things that G-LUX had in their warehouse.” Captivated by the material before her, Stanislava reoriented the work to accommodate a “love-letter to marble and let the magic of the stone shine through,” she muses. “I think if you bring in passionate collaborators and technicians along through the whole way, you never know where you’ll end up – and it’s so great.”
Earlier this year, a career survey of Stanislava’s work, titled ‘Terra Data’, was shown at Heide Museum of Modern Art. “Heide was a beautiful time to look over the last five years, when I consider my practice really, really started – to sort of look back before looking forward again,” she shares. Now, amidst relocating to Sarajevo and preparing to direct her first film, there is plenty to look forward to. Yet Stanislava remains grounded in the daily rhythms of her work. “Honestly, all this is a marathon and not a sprint,” she says, reflecting on where she has been and where she will go next. “For every up, there is always a down – it’s always in waves of fortune when it’s a life’s work.”