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Shura Chernozatonskaya's Red Hook Studio
We paid the painter a visit as she prepared for her solo show at the Brooklyn Museum.
Where did the idea for your installation of traffic light paintings at the Brooklyn Museum come from?
That piece is about walking into a museum and having some expectations, that's where the traffic light comes from—it's about doubt. The previous series came from that, and this is playing off that; are you going to accept something, or are you going to reject it? And the paintings kind of make a pathway towards the entrance. My idea behind this installation was musical; most of my ideas come from music, I used to be a musician. I played classical piano, and just recently I found a recording of mine when I was 18, and I realized I wish I could play that piece again, but differently. And I realized there's no way of that happening, so I decided to do it with painting. It's an Argentinean composer from the 20th century, and every beat is divided in either two or three. So I thought the twos are double squares, and the threes are circles, which create the rhythm.
Were you listening to music while you painted them?
I always listen to music, but I wouldn't say that I listen to a specific piece that I'm thinking about. I know if I have to get working I'll put something on, and if I have to get to thinking it will be something different. Music is the biggest drive for me.
What about the other portion of the exhibition?
The rest of the pieces are going to be in the Beaux-Arts Court, the big beautiful open space on the third floor, with the glass floor and really high ceiling. I had a crazy idea, which they didn't accept, to put 32 pieces around these high windows in that room that are closed, but that didn't work, thank god. But then we decided on having two paintings for each wall, so they're diptychs. Two of them relate to a new exhibition they put up called "Russian Modern," and that was the hardest because it's not one genre, it's very spread out, and I couldn't quite be as straight-forward. So when I was in Russia I kept asking everybody what is the simplest identifier of Russia for them, and it came down to vastness, bleakness and sometimes a kind of sadness.
For each diptych I was thinking that one painting is something that pulls you in and the other is something that pushes you out. Not in the formal sense, like when you talk about push and pull, but in more of a metaphysical sense. Kind of like one painting is what you see, and the other one is what you see when you look at a room with closed eyes. They all have titles, which are the exhibits they're facing in the collection—for instance this section is called "Art and Devotion," so one painting is titled "Art" and the other is "Devotion."