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In the dialogue with Saturn Six Gallery, Ustina Yakovleva shared insights into her artistic principles through the prism of her worldview. Since Ustina’s embroidery works demand a lot of time and labor, the artist detailed how she prepares herself for the creation and how the process then develops in relation to her personal state. Yakovleva also clarified the preference for folklore crafts as the basis of her art, describing the Russian North’s belief system and their contemporary relevance. In addition, Ustina illustrated the influence from respectful observation and awareness of natural processes on her work.

Is art more of a method of research or a method of self-expression for you?

For me, it’s both at the same time. Sometimes I’m going deeper into research of traditions, family roots, nature, and how it’s all influencing each other. But after these moments of exploration, I introspect and reflect on what I’ve discovered and collected. Then, it all passes through my perception prism, undergoing a process of intuitive creation that constantly changes shape like a living creature.


You have once mentioned that you create artworks without a preliminary sketch, allowing the composition to form on its own. How do you tap into your intuition throughout your creative process?

It’s a special moment when I need to be alone, sometimes for a few days, to enter a calm state before starting something new. It necessitates time, space and clearing of influences from my surroundings. Once I initiate action, I remain adaptable, ready to switch to different mediums or techniques as the creative process unfolds. I follow my intuition, discerning whether there's vitality and energy in what I'm doing. If not, I am open to making adjustments at any stage of the process.


Do you feel that you are capable of achieving a higher state of being through the process of creation?

Since my artworks demand a lot of time and attention, I realized that it’s really like a sponge, absorbing my emotions, thoughts, and everything that surrounds me during the process: what I hear, what I think, and how I feel while I'm creating. It has become a moment of self-discipline and hygiene of my mental space. With the overwhelming flow of random information around, I strive to remain conscious of what I experience during my work.


Does your work reflect your own biography? Can you see your own life written in the work?

Yes, before, it was more abstract, but shaped by my experiences, emotions and thoughts. But, several years ago, I began to explore more the story of my family, tracing my roots back to the north of Russia, where they originated. This led me to get direction of storytelling and documenting daily routines. Now, I investigate more what actually connects me to my ancestors.


Is it something specific about the area of the Russian North that attracts you?

First of all, my family; then culture, nature and, of course, people. I admire the profound respect and connection to nature, and the system inside of society which can function independently, even without money in the process of exchange of resources. I value clarity in distinguishing between what is truly important and what is false, as well as the depth of inner worlds, the openness of people’s hearts, optimism, gratitude, and self-worth. The fact that we can make anything ourselves. I learn a lot from there.


Since the forms you use take us back to folk traditions and worldviews, are you trying to preserve a certain feeling that humanity has lost throughout history?

As I grew up in Moscow, at around 20 years old, I began feeling that I didn’t understand who I was, where I came from, and what my roots were. So, I asked my mother and grandmothers to join me on a trip to the village where our ancestors lived, and there, I felt this sense of connection - with the place, nature, tradition and extended family. For every important event in life, there were rituals and knowledge on how to support the person at that moment, which I still miss in my life. Through my art, I explore this for myself and share it with others because this knowledge sustained many generations until it began to fade. But I also perceive that even within myself, unconsciously, there exists a body of knowledge encoded in our DNA - ancient wisdom waiting to be unearthed. But it requires a slower, more conscious life, along with time and attention, which we are losing now with fast news, fast fashion, and fast food.


Do you believe these folklore motifs have any connection or relevance to the modern world? How do you see them intersecting with contemporary themes or issues in your art?

I see that there’s always a contrast going deeper into the digital and AI world. On the other hand, we start to feel a lack of something real, tactile, and physical. So, I feel the need to create a bridge between tradition and the contemporary world. I believe in the synergy between them and how they can mutually benefit each other.


What do you want to convey to the visitor through your art? What do you want to provoke in people who view your work?

I like to catch their attention and slow them down. Let them go throw my work in deeper connections with themselves, dive into memories and feelings, heal. Get into a special atmosphere where they allow themselves to stay longer and just be present.


Do you have a desire to travel the world to explore other sites and places?

Yes I do, I’ve always traveled and still do it. I’ve realized now that I also enjoy returning to the places I’ve fallen in love with; each time, they reveal new secrets to me.


What aspects do you focus on when exploring a new place?

For me, it takes some time to adapt to a new place and I explore it little by little. Within one two weeks, I can already start feeling a connection with the place, the people, and a new version of myself. At first, I open all my senses to avoid missing anything that might catch my attention. I slow down and give time to the process. Although I travel a lot, my trips are slow; they can last for a few months in one place to allow me to connect without feeling rushed. I focus on what catches my interest, which can often be something entirely new. I focus on being present. I’m not running around trying to see everything or make numerous connections.

How do you see the perfect exhibition place for your works?

Before, I was fond of white cube, but now I’m more drawn to the more experimental places such as factories, the towers of castles or palazzos. Places with history where I can integrate and find something new for me and for the space.

Reflecting on the present-day disconnection from nature, I'm curious: amidst the complexities of modern city life, what elements or aspects do you find yourself longing for or missing?

When I just started creating my art, it served as a form of escapism - a longing for a safe place where I could reset amidst the intense visual and auditory distortions. Then I began to move away from the city and into nature, and even now I still do the same. I recharge and explore myself in nature, but I find it difficult to focus on my work there. I prefer working in the studio in the city afterward, as it provides a contrast and allows me distance to digest my experiences and create something new.


Your works combine a variety of textures. How do you create such a dynamic interaction of materials?

Often, it’s sensual attraction - a collection of visual and sensual libraries. When I go on hikes or snorkeling trips, I observe structures, exploring the connections between their balanced shapes, colors, timing, and functions. Then, I wander around places, touching materials and mentally connecting them with the purpose of future creations.


Your artworks have been frequently likened to the metamorphoses of life, especially one piece notably portraying the image of mollusks. Among all living creatures, which one captivates you the most with its existence, form, or other qualities?

I have a big interest in and respect for water. I was very impressed by my first snorkeling experience, as I explored the underwater world, which operates under completely different rules despite being so close to us. I believe that it’s not the space that we should study first but the oceans. I always try to go from the simplest things to the more complex concepts. That's what happened with the mollusk series: Mollusks were the first ones on the planet in the evolutionary process. I think that actually if something were to happen to life on Earth, they would likely be among the last survivors. Also, the immortal jellyfish is just mesmerizing for me.


Does working on natural processes give you a greater sense of the planet's permanence, or of its fragility?

It gives me a larger perspective on seeing how much we all connected. All creatures, plants, everything, have the same construction and a lot of power to heal and grow, and follow the same laws. Life is amazingly powerful if we just don’t stress it too much and give it a chance to be as it is. Then, it automatically heals itself.


Where is the border between natural and artistic processes in your works?

As an artist, I appreciate the method of evolution, so I follow it slowly. But, as the creator, I add my personal story into my work. I see that by being honest with my experiences, I connect with many people worldwide who are undergoing similar situations, experiencing growth, and navigating crises. So, I’m like an orchestra conductor, weaving my symphony from details, memories, and stories, guiding both myself and the viewers towards a shared destination. The artistic part is a conscious choice and a will to make it happen.


Is there an ephemeral component to your works, what is it?

I’m often inspired by the ephemeral state of nature, emotions and moments. This is reflected in my embroideries on different mediums such as paper, textile or plexiglass: I aim to capture the fleeting essence of time, creating illusions that the embroidery may seem nonexistent on transparent materials. Despite this illusion, the weeks of meticulous work remain embedded. That is something on which we don’t pay much attention through a busy daily routine.

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