Artist Inquisition: Peter Tarasiuk
Words: Lauren GuymerImages: Courtesy of artist
As part of our ongoing Artist Inquistion series we caught up with Peter Tarasiuk whose solo exhibition 'Sleeping Districts' opens this Thursday 22 September at Junior Space. 'Sleeping Districts' is Peter's first solo exhibition, featuring work shot during an excursion to Lithuania and Ukraine in late 2015.
'Palanga' by Peter Tarasiuk, Image courtesy of artist.
Who is Peter Tarasiuk?
Peter Tarasiuk is a mildly irreverent human who wishes he were an explorer. As that job no longer exists, he picked up a camera.
Can you please tell us a bit about your solo exhibition coming up at Junior Space?
Sleeping Districts is body of work shot in late 2015 on a trip to Ukraine and Lithuania. My mum’s side of the family is from Lithuania and my dad’s is from the Ukraine. I went there with the idea to explore and shoot. Shoot what, I wasn’t sure. I wanted to let it come to me, which is why I went alone. The work that came from that approach is kind of interesting to me. They are definitely not “travel” photos but they will hopefully give you an insight into my feelings about those countries.
Was this your first time visiting Lithuania and Ukraine? Tell us about your experience.
It was my first time in Ukraine but I had been to Lithuania around 10 years ago so I had some idea what to expect. I intentionally wanted to explore outside the larger cities so I hired a car and drove a lot. I discovered that I’m scared to death of driving in snowstorms. I also tracked down my great aunty in Lithuania and spent the afternoon eating dried apples and drinking black coffee with her and her husband while not understanding much of what they were saying.
The hangover of Soviet occupation still hangs pretty heavily in Lithuania particularly. To me there is quite a sense of melancholy, but not in a negative way. I’d almost describe it as gentleness or there is something quite considered about the people. Perhaps it’s a sense of relief due to their reasonable newfound freedom. I’d encourage anyone to watch the documentary “The Other Dream Team” if you want to get a good insight into the Lithuanian people. It’s about basketball but not really.
Ukraine was pretty stunning. Kiev is a beautiful and huge 1500 year old city. It’s quite intimidating when you first arrive and the people can tend to look a little hard but you find very quickly Ukrainians are super warm, jovial and funny people. I really saw where my grandfather got his personality.
Is there a photo from this exhibition that you’re most proud of, or one that has a particularly interesting backstory?
There are stories behind every image in this show but I suppose one that has quite a personal story for me is “Pergales”. It’s a shot of some flowers on a grave stone covered in snow. That was shot in the town of Kavarskas, Lithuania which is where my grandmother was born in 1912. None of my family have ever visited Kavarskas and I was walking around the cemetery in a snow storm looking for relatives graves. Obviously it’s rather difficult when everything is covered in snow. Kavarskas is a tiny town and the effort to get there was immense (scared of driving in snow) but for all I know that stone may be where my great grandparents are buried.
How does living and working in Melbourne influence your work?
I think sometimes living in Melbourne can distract my work. I still want to live in a little cabin by the sea. That’s where I feel most inspired. In the city I spend way too much time looking at a computer or doing things late at night that I shouldn’t be.
That said, the amount of galleries and great art we have at our disposal is ridiculous. There is not a time that I have walked into the NGV and not found something new. I’m sure Melbourne influences me immensely, but getting out of Melbourne and breathing some fresh air influences me more.
Who or what do you turn to for inspiration on days when creativity just isn’t flowing?
Mostly the ocean. Creativity can’t be flowing all the time. Sometimes you need to stop trying to be creative and just drop it all for a day or a few weeks. Go to the beach. I made a decision a few years back that any idea I have while I’m surfing will be a good one and I must follow through with it. It could be as small as, “I should make cauliflower puree when I get home” or, “I should become a photographer” (two actual things I decided while in the ocean). That decision has made some fun things happen in my life.
What is your favourite artwork of someone else’s, and why?
The Pioneer by Frederick McCubbin. I love that painting. Everyone in Australia has probably at one stage or another had a print of that in their house. It’s the first piece of art that made me feel something. I was around 9 years old and lying on the couch at friends of my parents waiting to go home. I’d seen that print a million times before but that was the first time a really looked at it and understood the story. It’s such a beautifully sad story in 3 panels. And you can see it for free whenever you want at the NGV!
The pioneer, 1904, Frederick McCubbin [Source]
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
In photography – Do what you believe in. If you believe in it someone else will too. Fakers don’t get very far.
List five things you can’t live without:
I’m pretty sure I’m supposed say camera here but that’s not at all true. I’m pretty easily pleased so aside from food and water I’d say the ocean and music. That’s a sentence, not a list.
What question do you wish we'd asked you, and what would your answer have been?
Your answers are very serious. Do you take yourself very seriously? Shit. I hope not.