Elena Lyakir Looks for Birds and Sweats with Locals Q&A with Twyla artist Elena Lyakir
New York City-based artist Elena Lyakir developed a passion for photography as child intrigued by Soviet cinematography and historical family photographs. She picked up her first camera as a 7 year old living in communist Ukraine before immigrating to the United States with her family seeking political asylum. They moved to New York City where Elena developed a fascination with the 90s art scene and enrolled in art school. Experiencing oppressive authority and discrimination in Ukraine as a child motivated her to pursue her dream of creating art. We asked her about her path to becoming an artist and what she’s up to when she’s not looking for birds and nature in the city’s parks.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
When I was a young girl growing up in communist Ukraine, I was very creative and was always making objects, drawing, and writing. I had this heightened awareness of my surroundings, yet I saw everything through an obscure filter, which transcended reality. I was a dreamer. When I moved to New York in the 90s, after immigrating to the US, everyone around me was experimenting with art and performance. Everything impossible suddenly seemed plausible. So I took a leap into art, collaborating with friends and taking art classes.
What drives you as an artist?
I believe that feeling is crucial to understanding a work of art. I am driven by visceral and emotional responses to the process of seeing. My work is a kind of visual metaphor for the complexities of our interior landscapes. Often at a compelling emotive moment, which arises from the inner depths, I get an impulse to give to something larger than myself, to connect with others, to understand and be understood.
What are your main sources of inspiration?
I see nature as the first and most fundamental source of essence and myth. I am inspired by both its beauty and nourishment, as well as its unpredictability and fierceness. The emotional ramifications of my own diaspora relate to how I feel towards nature. I am always in flux and on a journey to find a place to call home.
Describe a typical day in your studio.
I usually start with a 10 minute meditation and then gaze out of my window in contemplation of the day ahead. I often read or work on ideas in the morning, while my mind is fresh. Then I move onto my computer to tweak and layer some images, do research, plan a project or a trip, tend to my emails or go to the lab to print. In my recent series, City Parks Romance, I explore random sights of vegetation in city parks to create dreamy atmospheric depictions of romance and nostalgia - sentiments we feel toward nature as a result of living in urban environments. So depending on the lighting conditions, I walk to a park or drive to a secluded location to shoot and look for birds. To conclude my day I like to work on a poem or draw. Sometimes I listen to the news to catch up with the world.
What are you currently fascinated by?
My son. He is almost 12 so he is in transition between a child and a teen. Every day he surprises me. It’s absolutely fascinating to see him grow and shape into this unique and astounding being. His awareness and emotional intelligence are awe inspiring and I continue to learn from him. He is the mirror for my actions, my successes as well as my failures. He is also my muse and possibly the most photographed child in the world!
What artists do you most admire?
I really admire Marina Abramovic, whose memoir Walk Through Walls I just finished reading. I am in awe of her commitment to art and the ways she applies the complexity of her life into her work. Anais Nin incites mindfulness, imagination, and poetic flow. I deeply relate to her perpetual search of beauty and desire to create transcendence through work as an artist and as a woman. Sally Mann because she is brave. Hiroshi Sugimoto for his ways of seeing. I am very much moved by film. Works by directors Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Akira Kurosawa, Maya Deren, Dziga Vertov, Wim Wenders, and Luis Bunuel have all inspired me in different ways.
Favorite things to do outside of the studio?
Nature being my primary subject, most of my work actually happens outside the studio. I spend quite a bit of time traveling to remote locations, often I bring my son for the adventure. I appreciate culture very much so when at home in New York or visiting other cities I often go to the theater and cinema, see performance, art and music. The rest of my time I spend at the Russian - Turkish Baths in the East Village where I steam, sweat, and drink vodka while contemplating life with the “regulars."