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Emma Andijewska, Ukrainian artist from Munich
She can arguably be called one of the most elusive artists and authors of Ukrainian art and literature who creates and writes enigmatic, arcane works. In order to penetrate into the recondite world of Emma Andijewska, one has to go through an initiation, to acquire the ability to think in irrational terms, to become intuitive and highly spiritual, to let one’s subconsciousness provide its help, to free oneself from fears which may hamper your movement towards the very centre of her creative labyrinth.
Ms Andijewska’s creative subconscious seems to be functioning non-stop round the clock; she must have tamed and harnessed the subconscious’ energies to feed the fire of her creativity, as if it were the lightning that she has learnt to ride.
Tetyana Lysenko, a freelance journalist, interviewed Ms Andijewska for the Welcome to Ukraine magazine.
At was age did you leave Ukraine?
I left Ukraine when I was twelve and since then I’ve been living abroad. But I continue to give my pictures Ukrainian names, providing translations when necessary. I insist that I’m a Ukrainian artist, that I’m a Ukrainian who happens to be living abroad, not emigre, not part of the diaspora. When I had an exhibition of my works shown in Capua, Italy — incidentally, that’s the town in which the famous insurrection of the gladiator Spartacus flared up over two thousand years ago — in a palace, I insisted on me being called a Ukrainian artist, not an American or a German one.
Not part of the Ukrainian diaspora? Then what is the diaspora in your understanding?
It’s those Ukrainian emigres who have been scattered all around the world, but I’m not part of this diaspora, I’ve never been touched upon the themes of the diaspora, I’ve never lived among the diaspora, I’ve always walked all by myself, I’ve always been concerned with Ukraine, my first and last love.
Incidentally, I did not speak a word of Ukrainian until I was six. You see, my mother wanted me to be raised as a Russian, speaking Russian rather than Ukrainian, — for prestigious reasons — and when I became aware of my national, Ukrainian identity, it struck me as very unfair that I, a Ukrainian, had to talk a foreign language. I’m of the opinion that all the citizens of Ukraine, regardless of their ethnic background, must regard themselves as Ukrainians. It’s a matter of honour! I’ve always been on the side of those who are mistreated or persecuted or suppressed. And the Ukrainians are among the most badly yoked. Whatever I write, I write only in Ukrainian. Never in Russian. I can and do write in French and German, but never in Russian. I give Russian a miss, that’s my choice.
As an artist and a writer — do you earn enough to make a living?
I give most of my paintings and books as presents, for free. There are so many intellectuals in Ukraine who have my oil paintings. All over Ukraine, and that’s quite a few, I can tell you. I have to do so many things, and I work 18 hours out of every twenty four, but I work for the love of art, not for money. Oh yes, I do get tired, but I do not spare myself. As long as I’m living, I’ll be doing my best to keep on creating — painting and writing. I have no time for myself — all my time is taken by my desire to recreate through painting and writings those worlds that exist in my special private world.
Are there many worlds?
O, infinite number of them! Everyone who reads my poetry or looks at my paintings has a chance of discovering these worlds for themselves. You have to learn to look and search in the right way though. My creative writing has not been yet properly understood. The time will come when the Ukrainians will discover my poetic world — I’m creating a new world, a world of words used in a manner that’s not been used before.
I know I’m different. Being original does not depend on your rational wish to be one. If you just want to be original nothing will come out of it. It does not come from the mind. I’m accumulating information — information understood in the broadest sense of the word — and then it is transformed into something that comes out as creativity. All those things that fascinate me are transformed into my creativity. You’ve got to listen to your inner bell ringing — that’s the only way. And you should not listen to what others say about your art — good or bad — it does not matter.
Those inner worlds of yours — what kind of worlds are they?
Oh, all kinds. Everybody has them, but only very few pay attention to them, they are just ignored. There’s the whole infinite cosmos right under noses — all you’ve got to do is to look at things from a particular angle to see it.
How did you learn to see it?
You can’t learn it — it’s either there or it is not. All you can do is to improve your vision, that’s all. I’ve always been able to see it. I know all the ways to improve the ability to see them though I did not have much in the line of formal education. I could not stay in any school for a long time — I was sick most of the time, badly sick. I had to study by correspondence, everybody could see I had a bad health problem — among all my other illnesses I had tuberculosis of the spine. But I do not have time to pay attention to my diseases — being sick helped me to react to things faster, to absorb faster. There’s some kind of inborn knowledge in me to create things the way I want them created. It takes me a very short time to learn a skill or a technique I need.
Do you believe in God?
God? God is something that cannot be explained, the way we understand God depends on our culture and upbringing. Some see God as a bearded person on a cloud, for others God is the abstract Absolute, for still others God is something else. All depends on your spiritual background. All I’m sure of is the existence of the transcendental Divinity — I cannot tell in which form — but it does exist beyond us, that’s hundred percent sure. I consider myself a true painter and poet and I feel this transcendental power passing through me. I don’t care to create something that comes from me — I have to have a vision first, something that gives me an impetus to create. Everything that goes into my paintings and into my poetry has been revealed to me in visions. It’s a state of the soul similar to meditation. My subconscious is on twenty four hours out of twenty four hours. You’ve got to be living in such a state without caring what others would think of you. You must shoo away everything that may interfere with your creative urge — and concentrate on the main thing. Then you can get right into the heart of things, you acquire colossal creative powers, something that’s worth living for. It’s very easy to lose it. Or it gets transformed into something else. Up to the age of thirteen, for example, I could create tunes, I could write symphonies and other music pieces if I had studied composing, but I did not, I could not go to a music school, and the music I could potentially write entered my poetry. My subconscious selects the right kind of information for me… Yes, I have all kinds of visions for which I thank God, and I note them down and use for my poems or paintings. And if you use this kind of inner energy, if you live by it, then you feel that it’s never exhausted, it grows all the time, and there’s no end to it.
I’m seventy one years old but I have not discovered yet that my creative energy has begun to subside. This energy continues to feed my memory, my feelings and emotions, my thinking. Time goes on without affecting me. I’m outside its influence.
How do you mean?
Well, time is there and I’m here. You see, when you live a spiritual life, then time has no power over you. And I live in my world of spirituality. I’ve always lived like that. Everything else has always been on the margins of my life — though I know there are many good and kind things in life… My husband waited for nine years for me to say “yes” to his marriage proposal, he was a real gentleman in this respect, he patiently waited, and then I awarded him with my acceptance, and we lived for forty years in a happy marriage which broke only with his death. Cohabitation of two people is an extremely difficult thing. My husband always loved me madly, but he never seemed to care about my works. He used to say to me, “You must throw all this stuff out, it’s no good.” But there’s no man or any human being born who would be able to persuade me to quit my art. I rely only on my inner feeling, on that inner bell that tells me where to go. Yes, he was my husband, and a very good person at that, a very fine person, I took good care of him, but as a critic he was nothing to me. As far as I am concerned, it is the women who make geniuses out of men, not the other way round.
But maybe it’s a reciprocal process?
No, never. Men dampen the spirit, that’s all they do.
But probably there are men who can spiritually inspire you?
Probably there are some men like this, but I’ve never met one. The woman, you see, is designed to take care of two human beings — herself and the child she may carry. By contrast, the man is designed to take care only of himself, and that is why he is only a half, as it were, of what the woman is. That’s why it is the woman who has always been taking care of the man. Look at some of the great achievers in the sphere of the arts and literature — if not for all those women who were around him, they would have never become a geniuses. There’s no one around me, in my art I’m doing all by myself. There’s nothing to stop me, I’m an achiever. There’s no man who could help me achieve what I set myself to achieve. If I were a weaker person I would have either committed suicide or would have told the man who would try to interfere with me: Go to hell, my good fellow, and live your own life. However, I found the way to get along fine with my husband, we lived a good companionable life together. But it was only at the literary soirees that he heard my verses read. His usual comment was: It’s all eclectic, but I knew better — I knew it was given to me by the Divine Providence. Eclectic my ass, I thought, there was nothing like this in world literature, let alone in Ukrainian literature. I listen to that inner bell of mine — Socrates called it his daemon — and it never failed me. Everybody has this guide but not everybody cares to listen to its voice or follow its guidance. In my case, the circumstances of my life turned out to be such that there were never people close to me who could help my creative development — rather the other way round, those who were around me sought to hamper it. I was too much for everybody, and they wanted to curtail me. But I knew there were at least 10 creative titans coexisting in me, and no one from the outside world could thwart my creative ambitions. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. Everyone has enough strength in themselves, everyone has a chance to develop their creative abilities. It takes so much effort though. However everything is possible in the sphere of creativity. The spirit can move the whole universe. I imagined myself being the only Ukrainian in the world whose existence supported the existence of the Ukrainian state — I told myself, So it is going to be me, who’ll care about the Ukrainians, I’ll sustain their spirit. You should always begin with yourself. My example should be there for everyone to see, so that those who understand it, will exclaim: I also want to be like this. It’s the only thing that can persuade for real. And all this loose talk, lecturing, it’s just chaff, nothing, emptiness. You should live in accordance with the world that is inside you.
You’ve mentioned “cosmos” — do you put some special, your own, meaning into it?
Cosmos? Yes, probably I do, but we actually do not know what cosmos is. We know so very little in fact. We attach certain definitions to certain phenomena, we build up certain patterns, forgetting that every definition or a pattern are the products of our brain, and our brain, confronting the chaos, tries to find a way out, a niche where it can find some respite for some time and ponder things. In my poems I try to express the inexpressible, the ineffable, the sublime, the indefinable. My novel Labyrinth, which I’ve not completed yet but which is all of it in my head, develops the idea of labyrinth as the clearly defined highest attainment of the human spirit. A lot of writers have written about labyrinth, but no one wrote the way I am doing it. I develop a totally new concept of many notions and ideas. My position proceeds from my theory of chaos which I developed about forty years ago and which I wrote down in my diaries. I posit that chaos is a super perfect order but an order on such a grand scale that the human mind cannot fathom it. When I told others about my theory of chaos, I was told in return that there was a theory of chaos, similar to mine, that had been developed recently by the physicists. Recently! But I postulated the basic ideas of chaos forty years ago! Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955; French priest, paleontologist, and philosopher who maintained that the universe and humankind are evolving toward a perfect state — tr.) put forward the idea of noosphere (the sphere of human consciousness and mental activity in regard to its influence on the biosphere and in relation to evolution — tr.) in which all the human thoughts of the past, present and future are concentrated. Well, not exactly all the thoughts — only those that are produced by thinkers who devote themselves to thinking things out. What is a genius? It’s a person who can pick ideas from the noosphere and implement them.
Does love play any role in your scheme of things?
There’s nothing greater than love. Love is alpha and omega of all things, of human life. During our life we may think that inspiration, creative work and so many other things are worth striving for, but a second before we die we realize that there’s nothing which is greater than love. Love is the miraculous gift to us from God, it’s God’s grace. Without love there is no humanity. The miracle of love is the greatest of miracles. In love, two persons become one — isn’t the greatest miracle that can happen to the human beings?
Do you follow any particular trend in art? Do you belong to any particular school of art?
No, I do not. I absolutely do not care for any pigeonholing. I seek to express the ineffable, the sublime. Some may say there’s something of surrealism in my paintings or of some other -ism. But there’s only one -ism in my art — it’s Andijewskism! I may borrow things from surrealism, or naturalism, or expressionism or what have you, but only those bits which are parts of the being, little drops of great importance.
Do the night dreams play any role in your creative activity?
They do! And a great role at that! Night dreams come from our subconscious and carry ideas which can be used in creative writing and painting. Once in a while it happens that when I wake up, still stiff from sleep, the first thing I do is get a pencil and write down what has come to me in my night dreams. Sometimes, whole episodes in my stories come to me in my dreams. When you work at something real hard, your subconscious continues to work on it even when you’re sleeping, and then it presents you with solutions to some of the problems you faced in your creative waking hours. When I’m working at something, I’m giving myself totally to it…
I love people, I love socializing with people, though, unfortunately, I do not have much time for that.
Children are particularly sensitive to things, they are without falsehood, they have not been programmed yet, they have doors open to many worlds, and that is why children are my keenest admirers. When I hear a child exclaim, “Mum, look at that! It’s wonderful! And his mother tells the kid, What? That hideous thing? Come on. Let’s move on!”
In your opinion — is there any link between insanity and creativity?
Every genius is insane in a certain respect but not every insane person is a genius. If insanity is a break with the usual logical setup of things, then insanity can be used in creativity. In creating poetry one should not be guided by the rational and logical. “Logical” poets are no poets at all, they are one-dimensional. I invent things, I fantasize, my fantasies create new worlds. It’s my calling, I follow it. I’m not interested in what is called realism, on schematic things, in limitations. There are no limits for me, I was born like this.
Do you have any special attitude to colours, to what is beautiful or ugly?
Black and white — it’s the denial of colours, black and white — it’s hideous for me. Sometimes when I feel drawn to something hideous, this drive is transformed into something totally different. I transform things. If I look, say, at a clump of dirt, I can see flowers sprouting from it.
But does it happen that something beautiful may be transformed in your eyes into something hideous?
No, I’m not masochistic one bit, and I do not care for things hideous. If I have to write about something which is revolting to me, it’s transformed into something good. I’m full of light. Ukrainians in general are like this — full of light. That’s why it’s so difficult for them to live in this world. Ukrainians are herbivorous, metaphorically speaking, and you have also to be carnivorous in order to build up successfully your country…O I love the very fact of being Ukrainian, the essence of being Ukrainian — and this essence is so refined, so tender, so compassionate.
You write your poetry in Ukrainian but I can’t find the image of Ukraine in it.
I sublimate images and emotions. If you write: “I love you, Mother Ukraine,” it’s one dimensional, there’s no depth in this statement. I have a multitude of dimensions. My love of Ukraine is rendered at such a level where nothing else matters. And if you read my poetry carefully enough, you’ll feel the Ukraine that comes through it — the Ukraine that comes through me and out of me — and it does in such a manner that other distinguished nations are nothing compared to it. But I do it without mentioning Ukraine by name.
In your poetry there often appears an image of “the bottom”. Is it meant to be metaphorical?
Yes, primarily so. But poetry, mind you, is very subjective. Bottom and bottomless can go together, not denying each other. For me, every word is bottomless, every word has any number of roots. You can develop any metaphor ad infinitum, and your image may totally disappear in a metaphysical fog…There are so many miraculous things in the world and I myself live in a world of miracles. Everything is a miracle for me. Meeting each new person is a miracle for me. Every person is a new world and the discovery of it is a miracle. I’m happy like a small child who just gets to know the world around us. I stick to my convictions, I know there’s a lot I can do. Every new thing I create must be a discovery, I do not repeat what’s been done before. I open ways to multiple interpretations of my works. A shape in my painting, a word I use in my poetry are substitutes for all other possible shapes and all other possible words. There’s so much creative energy in my works, and the viewer or the reader is welcome to use this energy. Once someone told me this: “I do not want to read your poetry because if I come to understand it, all other poetry will stop existing for me.” I think it renders the essence of my creativity.
One of the personages in my writings is called Jalapita. It’s a Sanskrit word which means “the one who lives in water.”
“As Jalapita walked down the street he kept pondering why people when they walk swing their hands and arms, and he has come to the following conclusion — they do it in order to measure the space, to keep their balance and to ventilate the cosmos.”