An Interview Series —
Self-Taught Art with Doukhneaux
Offline Matters: An Interview Series is co-presented with No Fun Mag, a membership newsletter by Jess Henderson, author of the book Offline Matters: The Less-Digital Guide to Creative Work.
In our latest interview, Jess speaks with social worker and self-taught artist Doukhneaux who shares more about his practice and the work he does with the elderly in Israel.
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This week I have an interview I am notably excited to bring to you. Last week I came upon the work of an artist who goes by the name of Doukhneaux. His website is both illusive and interrogating. The work is viscerally figuring something out, thus I wrote to him in hope of finding out what.
Doukhneaux, whose real name is Fyodor, was both generous and humble in being up for to sharing more about his artistic practice and life at large. I found out he is a recent immigrant to Israel, currently doing social work with the elderly as a means of income during the pandemic.
The below interview was conducted over CryptChat (a service I recommend), which was an instant throwback to the days of chatrooms and MSN Messenger.
As a side note, an absent functionality which stood out for how acquainted we have become with it, is the ability to see when somebody is typing. On CryptChat there are no animated ellipses. It made for a hilarious interaction of continuously ‘talking over’ one another, assuming the other person had finished writing when there was still more coming on a thought.
If you want to mix-up your virtual interactions at present, taking a conversation onto CryptChat could be a fun addition to the at-home options for online tête-à-têtes.
For now, Fyodor.
doukhneaux: Hello. My name is Fyodor.
I live in Israel right now. I was born in Sevastopol when it was Ukraine, and lived in North-Western Russia (Murmansk, Saint-Petersburg) until 2019.
I have a very mundane occupation–I’m a social worker. I help older people in the times of COVID-19, and I’m a self-taught artist primarily using photography.
jess07: That’s not mundane at all. Did you do this job before the pandemic too? I’ve been intrigued by the work on your website. How long have you been doing your art for, and is photography your sole medium?
I didn’t do this social work before moving to Israel. I immigrated in June 2019 and the pandemic broke out, so I needed some work to live while learning the language and all that stuff you do when you are new to the country.
It is hard to answer the question about the medium, ’cause you see, I don’t feel like I am one of the majority of young artists who knew what they wanted to be and do.
I started as a musician, then switched to photography (street, fashion, street-style…) and now it’s a multiplicity of practices. For example, right now I’m busy with making the content for a scanned-art zine.
I do have solely photographic series, and some mixed with graphics. I think I’ve been working with photography for around five years, maybe little bit more. But as for ‘the artistic path,’ maybe a year.
Do they require certain qualifications for social work in Israel, or are they looking for workers of all types now?
Can’t say for the whole industry. My work is to help only the elderly. If there wasn’t a pandemic crisis I would have to attain special courses paid by the company.
Your work on your website spans workbooks to ‘instant abstractions.’ Can you first tell me about the workbooks?
The workbooks are simply just that – workbook exercises in abstract and thoughtless formations. Originally they were just another step in search for an idea.
I bought several dozen-packs of blank stickers and began to paint on them with Indian ink. Ever since childhood, I was more the type of person who would be writing something. Eventually all of these exercises were sequences, from the simplest ‘writing’ and compositions, to more complex ones. And somehow, they did their work.
I discovered I need these asemic and thoughtless visualisations.
Have you come closer to the idea you are wanting to articulate?
I think it is just a visualisation of the ‘unsound,’ something that you have inside your head but it is not formless. It is not lexic. It something THAT close that you can express it only by writing down. And these workbooks were a step in searching for the ideas through technique. I forge the path this way. (This is all too poetic, but still.)
How about ‘instant abstractions’ – how do you create these, what is the process and the idea here?
Instant abstractions also are a by-product, actually. They were made while I was searching for a technique and method using mirrors. They’re nothing but formalistic images shot on polaroid. And I don’t own the originals any more.
Where are they?
I gave them as a gift to an internet gfriend from the UK.
Have you found a technique that gives you the greatest pleasure?
I don’t think I have any pleasure… Except the mere pleasure of ‘Omg. Finally I’ve made something.’
It seems even more special that you don’t have them anymore, only a digital artifact. And the project ‘No Face’, is that ongoing? What was the motivation you’re expressing there?
All the collages were therapeutic as I can see right now, in retrospect. And also they are another example of trying things and methods and techniques. Feel like I’d better delete them.
Why would you delete them?
They are awkward, weird and personal. I don’t think they would be interesting to anyone. There’s no idea or spirit in them. They’re more about articulation.
Though I suppose having no idea is a bliss and a curse simultaneously.
As an observer, I think there is something very spirited about them. Don’t delete.. They look like a period of self-examination, or an articulation at collaging one’s many facets. Did you make them in a period of change/transition?
The collages were made in a period of recovering from a long term depression, which triggered alcoholism. Together they launched a very drastic change in my life. So the face you see on those collages is no longer mine actually. I look different now since I’m recovered and clean.
I always work on several different series. And there’s no one firm course or idea. One is about the very primal moment of visualising what is seen in the form of a letters, it is very naive and shot very strangely and abstract. But I feel that there is something similar there to the Buddhist term ‘bardo’ (the intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth.) Another one is about the formation and structures of thoughts and emotions. Another one is about impermanence and uncertainty. One is about detachment. And so on.
It’s a never-ending process of articulating different things.
This relates to something you said when we first spoke about your artistic practice; that ‘I don’t think it is formed, but it is forming’. Is this because you feel like you’re in early stages of experimentation, or because it is a process that is ever-ongoing?
I think that it will never end. I don’t want to be an artist who makes one thing their whole life, you know? It is a process of finding what to express, and the way to express it. Sometimes I don’t have a thing to express. I just draw like children do. It is about transformation and searching all the time.
Can I send images here? I want to show you the difference in my new work.
We can’t share images in the chat. Email them?
That is very raw material. But I wanted to show you that there are some more images in motion than just those on the site.
I’d also like to ask you what the relationship to the internet is in your artist practice?
Most of the time I’m offline. I use the internet as a tool for research, to talk to my mom and friends on Telegram, and as an educational tool. I grew tired with Instagram and found out that it is very addictive. I don’t have Facebook.
If you were to rate how you feel about the internet on a scale of one to ten (one = hate, ten = love) where do you think you sit?
Well, I guess I’m 10.
I’m a 90’s kid, I grew up with this thing. For me it is a great library and a biggest source of information that I can get access to, almost anywhere at any time.
Don’t forget that I don’t have any formal art education. All my art education has been were my parents’ genes, plus libraries and internet.
I’ve also met several very interesting people on the net and I doubt I could have met them without it.
That’s cool. I’m a 90’s kid too, and I also have a lot of admiration for self-taught artists. Is there a direction you would like to take your art practice in? I’m also wondering how it fits into you life – as fulfilling pastime, something you would like to become more central in your life, a personal outlet…?
As the son of a painter, I have always felt that urge to draw or paint. So, I believe I’ll come to that somehow eventually.
My art practice is actually my main thing among my total activity. I work only to pay bills and get some food.
How many hours do you spend on art making in a day?
It depends. From 3 to 5 or 6 hours. I try not to waste time.
Do you ever feel any tension relating to how the boundaries between time spent on-and offline seem to be blurring? It sounds as though you are very good at making a protective zone for yourself to think and create.
I think I am too. Generally, I don’t feel any tension about being online whatsoever. It is always very natural and effortless to be on or off.
Sometimes I do feel lower when I watch YouTube for too long. But I know how to cope with that swiftly.
I live in town called Ashdod (look on it up on maps.) For some series, I go to the dunes. Also simply to ride my bike on my days off. I’m realising now I do need to spend a lot of time offline to ‘get the job done.’
Thank you for the chat Fyodor. It’s been great getting to know you and hearing more about your work. I look forward to seeing how it continues in the future.
Thank you! Be healthy and happy!