Artists see the world differently, weaving their own fabric of reality. Daria Usova has, undoubtedly, created her own universe, made up of the images bombarding us in everyday life. She acknowledges that we live in a society of the spectacle but she adapts this to her own artistic purposes. Initially, her works come across as paintings, and only when approaching them close enough, does one discover that they are collages consisting of layers upon layers of fragmented visual images carrying hidden meanings that one first needs to unearth like an archaeologist and then decode like a detective. It is telling, perhaps, that Daria’s artistic method is called “Pieces Art” – a unique invention patented by the artist.
Daria upcycles out-of-date, used and thrown-away glossy magazines, and transforms them into her own ironic artistic commentaries on the contemporary situations. Since her student days, she has been collaborating as an illustrator with major glossy magazines, such as GQ, Наrреr’s Ваzааr, L’Officiel and Vogue. “I am a child of 1990-2000s,” admits the artist, “when the glossy fashion industry ruled supreme, producing these artifacts of our time!” Eventually, her meticulous collages, resembling painted images, return to where they came from – the very same glossy magazines they were made from. The cycle comes full circle.
Each collage is highly personalised (if it is a portrait) and customised (if we are talking about landscapes or other representations). For each artwork, she would normally need up to 3000 pieces containing readymade images, video stills, printed texts with key phrases and emotions that would eventually populate the canvas summarising one’s life or the visual narrative conjured up by Daria. When toiling on her collages, the artist performs all work personally and by hand – no assistants, no gadgets, no cheating. Only hours of meticulous, painstaking, fastidious work.
Daria’s artworks filter important issues, - among them are human impact on the natural environment; obsession with celebrity and social hierarchies; manipulation of narratives and visual representations by mass and social media; gender disparity and gender stereotypes, - through the lens of contemporary popular culture, bringing the traditions of 20th century art in dialogue with contemporary, cultural, gender and social agenda. In her recent series of works, she is interested in exploring the subject of transformation and the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses, the relationship between individuals, organic life and technologies.
Daria is a true citizen of the world, a globe-trotter, who worked in Switzerland and Russia, and ended up in Monaco. She travelled extensively to the remotest corners of the Earth, from Alaska to Hawaii. Inspired by the art of Gaugin, the artist studied local art practices whilst staying in Tahiti. After she moved to Côte d'Azur, Daria "discovered some barely discernible colour hues”, which resulted in her Serenityseries, inspired by the experience.
She can also boast of receiving portrait commissions from the Prince of Monaco Albert II (HSH commissioned the double portrait of His children in Daria’s signature technique) and of having completed the portraits of the members of the House of Grimaldi, which later featured on the covers of various Monégasque periodicals. Among her very recent creations was the collage portrait of the legendary art-dealer and gallerist Jeffrey Deitsch, offered by his gallery staff to the maître as homage on his birthday in 2021. “That collage is everything,” commented one of Deitsch’s followers on the gallery’s Instagram account.
So, we thought it was a good time to catch up with Daria and find out what shows, projects and plans are coming up in 2022/2023.
Daria, when did you discover that art was your vocation?
Quite early in my childhood. I have always been aware of my wish to engage in dialogue with great artists and become part of the continuous creative process. Art was something I succeeded at very early on and could see the immediate results of my efforts. Looking back at my life I can trace a certain logic in the way it evolved: first, I went to kid’s art school and then ended up with two degrees in art history and fine arts.
Why did you choose collage as your major artistic technique?
I invented my own “Pieces Art” collage technique when still an art student. It is a mosaic-like method, which results in a collage’s visual semblance to a painting. Each element within the collage mosaic contains a piece of information: a fragment of a phrase or an image. It may also encapsulate a statement which I wish to convey – like a cell with its own DNA code within a living organism. The DNA chain is a unit of information comprised of minor fragments. Similarly, the whole human life consists of fragments, moments, details, fleeting impressions, associations and memories. Thus, the application of each small piece onto my support (mostly, paper) is comparable to applying pigment onto canvas, or to building a DNA chain: I start with installing a small piece of data within a large data group, or adding a special visual element (I call it a “hashtag”) to the whole message. This helps me to create a story within a story, or rather, a metanarrative which may transcend the visible plot, thus, totally changing its context and apparent message. My viewers need to look out for what is hidden – not just stop at what is obvious.
At the very start of my career, I stood under much influence of Pop Art. Vivid colours, celebrity images – all felt new and inspiring. Soon afterwards I fell under the spell of the Dada movement and its followers. The concept of the ready-made, when strange, chance objects are perceived as independent works of art grew on me. In the same manner, my collages contain the images of objects that are key to my narrative, scraps of information, media links, lifestyle insights, symbols, expressions of personal motivations and goals. My working method also consists in following whatever interests me at the moment when I work on my collages.
And you are inspired by?
I draw my inspiration from the life around me: the cities and places I travel to, as well as the glossy magazines I come across in these cities. In wishing to portray my time, I follow in the footsteps of Andy Warhol. I believe that an artwork should intrigue, engage, amuse, comment, confront, criticize, and provoke. I hope, it encourages my viewers to access what lies long forgotten and hidden within themselves. And this is how I weave my own canvas of life: by rearranging together small smalt-like fragments and perceptions of reality. My collage fragments are my palette, whilst glossy magazines and ready-made images are, paradoxically, my artistic mediums.
How did you invent and patent your unique “Pieces Art” technique?
This happened in 2003 when I studied at the School of Contemporary Art in Moscow. I worked on a course project whose main theme was reconstruction. My method was born in the process; strangely, it came to me in a dream. Upon waking up, I immediately made the image of John Lennon reconstructed from the fragments of his songs and the episodes of his biography. Patenting an invention is tantamount to submitting a PhD: one has to review the facts and practices that existed before the proposed invention; then, as this was in my case, I had to argue the uniqueness of my method and explain why my art was so different; and to conclude, I had to provide the samples of my artworks. Eventually, my invention was patented under No. 2344053.
Would you call yourself a Pop artist?
I certainly am inspired by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Claes Oldenburg.
I also wish to reach out to the inner child of my adult viewers. I act as a chronicler, looking at the current situation and offering my own social commentary between the lines (or rather, collage pieces). These comments are mostly humorous observations of people and places, which assume the guise of popular cartoon characters or celebrity figures. For this reason, some would define me as a Pop artist, who invests instantly recognisable, mass-produced images with new meanings, commentaries, and references.
Please, tell us about the most memorable episodes in your artistic career.
Oh, well, there were lots of them in my life. I sometimes think that I act as a magnet, drawing them to myself. Most of these memories are linked to encounters with extraordinary people who also commissioned my artworks. I had the pleasure of meeting Albert II, Prince of Monaco, Prince Fuad of Egypt, legendary British singer Bryan Ferry, French actor Vincent Perez, and many others.
Perhaps, the most striking experience that happened to me took place after moving from Switzerland to Monaco. I suddenly became overwhelmed with inspiration and produced series of works about the principality’s life. Several years afterward, the Prince of Monaco honoured my exhibition with His visit. Another memory to treasure was when the Jeffrey Deitch gallery – the gallery of my dreams - selected my work and featured it on the gallery's Instagram account as a tribute to the maître on his birthday in July 2021!
How did your works end up in the Imago Mundi collection?
This happened before I moved to Europe. An artist friend of mine was invited as a guest curator for one of the Foundation's exhibitions [i.e., Fondazione Imago Mundi, established by the fashion designer and art collector Luciano Benetton, with Christo, Laurie Anderson, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid acting as earlier contributors to the collection – I.K.]. He approached me and encouraged me to submit artwork in my signature technique. And so I did. Curators of the Foundation’s permanent collection liked my work, approved it for the exhibition and then it ended up in the Imago Mundi collection. Now we are re-connecting after the gap in communication. I wonder why I have not done it earlier, especially as the Veneto region is so close to Monaco – only a 4-hours car ride away.
What private and museum collections hold your works?
Good question. These are the Prince Albert Foundation, the collection of the Prince Fuad of Egypt, the Simon de Pury Collection, the Guggenheim Museum Foundation (New York), the Ekaterina Foundation in Moscow, Moscow MOMA, Samhart Art Gallery (Gstaad), A.P.T. Gallery (Hong Kong) and many other collections worldwide.
Please, tell us about your collaboration with major luxury brands.
As a young artist, I collaborated with many fashion magazines. After all, my art is made up of glossy magazine images. So, I worked with Vogue, GQ, Men's Health and was involved in art projects for such brands as Martini and Mazda. Furthermore, I created artworks for the leading fashion designers, such as Paul Smith, French icon Chantal Thomass, and legendary British designer Zandra Rhodes. Recently I met with the Dolce & Gabbana Art Director and was commissioned several works for the family of the celebrated designers. I believe that the history of a fashion brand is always a puzzle consisting of inspiration, personal choices, experiments, and eventually, success, crowning all efforts.
You travel extensively and explore the artistic practices of different indigenous nations. What is your most memorable experience?
When travelling, I seek to discover impressive ambient landscapes and learn more about local artistic practices. For instance, Nazca drawings in the Ica Valley in Peru boast an extraordinary backstory, the dialogue with spirits. For me, South America means practicing shamans and their ability to transform human consciousness.
In Alaska, while on a helicopter expedition, I was struck by the sight of the glaciers amidst the mountains, looking like giant albino leopards. It was comparable to a trip to the surface of the moon with biological life on it. Another memory was that of the blazing sun and sledges, pulled by the husky dogs with their white-blue eyes. In that kingdom of eternal snow, they were like creatures from other planets, who pulled our sleigh along the snow-white plains towards the infinity of the horizon.
I also like the riot of colours of the Marquesas Islands and Tahiti, colourful fresh fruits and the wild unbridled energy of the centre of the Earth. The place where I reboot and recharge my batteries is the Maldives - an endless boundless lagoon that helps to relax one’s mind and refine one’s consciousness. I also love the Swiss Alps, I know a lot about Swiss cantons and their traditions and consider Switzerland my second home. It also reminds me of a bizarre collage of lands, languages and customs.
How does your work correlate with the theory of “the society of the spectacle"?
Well, the theory appeared in the late 1960s, and it was the French philosopher Guy Debord who introduced it in his book The Society of the Spectacle. He wrote: “The whole life of those societies, in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” Over the decades the book has not only gone out of date but become even more relevant than when it was first written. I might not be sharing some of Debord's Marxist premises, but he was absolutely right in diagnosing the state of our image-saturated culture and the role that advertising, film, celebrity and TV play in our lives. Today, our social life, as never before is getting subsumed and hijacked by technology and commodified images. And even our own impressions or experiences, posted on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or TikTok, turn into commodities. In his opus magnum Debord foretold that “the spectacle" would reduce our reality to an endless stream of commodifiable fragments, taken out of their contexts, thus, shifting focus from lived experiences to appearances and imitations.
The problem also lies in the fact that these appearances, or simulacra, are mistaken for real life, and many people are wasting their time and resources in an attempt to emulate fabricated representations as a lived reality. Certainly, this is what glossy magazines and advertising are responsible for in the first place. I explore this in my series such as the Mannequins (2006), Strike a Pose (2007), Glossy Attraction (2007), Cosmotheca (2010), Serenity (2016) and Actual Art (2018).
Around 10 years ago, women became even more vocal about the art world being overwhelmingly male-dominated. Do you think that such events as the recent Venice Biennale, with its major theme borrowed from Leonora Carrington’s book The Milk of Dreams, would help overcome and heal the gender inequality and differences in representation existing in the art world?
Oh, absolutely! First of all, I very much welcome the idea of the present Biennale. And thank God, it finally happened after all these years of pandemic. The art world is very competitive and tough and being a woman can be both very empowering and very daunting. In my opinion, women are the new superheroes: the narrative gradually shifts from Batman and the Joker, to Harley Quinn, Cat Woman, Maleficent or a Superwoman, if you know what I mean. In recent years we have also witnessed new interpretations of the story of Medusa, who became a new feminist icon. Fortunately, more artists wish to explore traditional narratives from female perspectives rather than rely on prevailing male-oriented interpretations. Curiously, with the exception of a few, most female superhero characters tend to be represented as villains (don’t you think there is a certain cognitive bias here?).
Fortunately, today women can choose between the infinite variety of opportunities whilst also opening new avenues for themselves and those who follow in their footsteps. If a woman can give birth to a child, then surely, she can also act as some kind of a portal that can create alternative worlds, universes and lives. The world of art is one of such universes. Mind, that a male artist usually needs a muse, a female artist – only support. She can be her own muse. Over the years, the examples of Cindy Sherman and Guerilla Girls, fighting sexism and racism inside and outside art communities, were a constant source of solace, inspiration and motivation to me. I am very pleased that today a woman has a voice of her own and the right to make her own choices. She has the opportunity to act as the scriptwriter of her own life, and to stage and film this script the way she wants. The main plotline of her life will not be dictated by society but will be written by the woman herself. In this case, art produced by women has to stop being perceived as “female”, -- a definition strongly reeking of the times when women artists were permitted and encouraged to represent only sweet, pretty images of flowers, cosy domesticity, children or other such like “feminine” subjects. The voice of a woman artist can become a strong and powerful voice of a creator, not just of some competent dilettante who dabbles in art as a socially acceptable pastime.
It is time to start talking again about a New Woman Artist. The one who builds her career and visual repertory around the forms of solidarity, sisterhood, ethical and sustainable living, and above all, respect for other people and living beings on this planet.
For instance, the altered state that I experienced during my pregnancy became that certain chemical component that facilitated my approach to the subjects that I deal with in my art. Also, I think that increasingly more women artists will be addressing the issues that have never been dealt with before by male artists, simply because they have never appealed to male artists or have ever been acknowledged as worthy of their attention.
By the way, I also find the description of Leonora Carrington’s magical world very appealing: she sees the world where life can be constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination, where everyone can change, be transformed, become something or someone else, and this is what I find very close to the ideas underpinning most of my projects.
Lately, you seem to be increasingly driven to NFT, you engage with the NFT communities and produce your own NFT works. What do you find so attractive about this new medium?
This is a new world made up of programming codes, somehow reminding me of the patch-like nature of my art. I view this virtual realm as some kind of Alta Mater – a digital matrix of images, from which they descend upon us and enter our consciousness, and to which they afterward return in the form of NFTs. I am currently creating the project called SuperCats, maintaining that everyone in the virtual realm can become a superhero endowed with superpowers. It is not about zillions of avatars, but rather about some unique custom-made haute couture art, which makes my works stand out among millions of NFTs across the virtual net space. I have also established time-labs, i.e., films capturing my process of digital art-making in real-time but in a fast-forward mode, some kind of video art for collectors.
Which other projects should we be looking forward to in the near future?
I am currently working on my project on spaces and environments. This is a series of large-scale works, each stretching like a 130 x 200 cm carpet made up of millions of details. The process of its making resembles an adventure on the way to one’s true self: self-improvement, the creation of one's own reality and the ability to manage it.
In my case, I was inspired by the convex mirror in the parking lot. Like a mirror from Lewis Carroll’s fairy-tale, through which Alice entered Wonderland, her alternative fairy-tale world, my first works resembled distorted landscapes. Gradually, this distorted reality morphed into Portals. Then these Portals transformed into a Target, into a black hole, and then, finally, into the most sacred space – a mother's womb. This project took such a whimsical turn whilst I was expecting my second child. This altered state of a female artist’s consciousness offered me certain insights and allowed me to grasp the very essence of this visual logic. I also made immersive versions with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) and 3D visualizations featured on windows with mirrored screens, resembling a spaceship. I admit that I am very much interested in the idea of metamorphoses and the way bodies can morph into other objects and even spaces while on an imaginary journey. I am also interested in establishing correlations between various organic and non-organic beings.
Perhaps, one should think of alternative forms of existence and question the definition of human once again. I feel it is high time to do this, and perhaps, new technologies will come to our rescue.
You would not be able to live without…?