Conceptual Cherkashin Metropolitan Museum

Valera & Natasha Cherkashin



Valera Cherkashin was born in 1948 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He began to photograph himself and his actions in his early teens. He studied with a camera the process of his developing body and personality from a young age and has continued to film the human figure in his works.

Since 1968, Cherkashin began studying the theory and practice of visual art, but in 1976 he quit visual art and dedicated himself to martial arts. He deeply studied the practice of meditation and work with energy under the leadership of the Vietnamese masters. Later it became a main component of his art. In 1978, in Kharkiv, he began working as a martial arts instructor. At the same year Valera made the exhibition of his early works together with Boris Mikhailov. After that, in 1979, he returned to visual art and moved to Leningrad, where he worked and exhibited together with the "Sterligov's Group" which develops the traditions of Russian avant-garde. A year later he moved to Moscow, where he became more familiar with contemporary art and met with Ilya Kabakov and other artists.

Valera met Natasha in the Moscow Metro in 1982. Their initial collaborations focused on public spaces and cultural memorials of the Soviet era. Photographs and newspapers became the basic materials for their artistic work, and in turn now document historical moments in this period of work entitled "The End of the Epoch." In one, now famous "happening", the Cherkashins staged a wedding at Moscow's "Revolutionary Square" metro station where a woman was "married" to one of the three-dimensional soldiers from the 1930s in a traditional ceremony. The Cherkashins like to express their conceptual ideas using traditional forms of visual culture. In their project "The End of the Epoch" they used the traditions of the Russian avant-garde, the form that was born at the junction of the two epochs.

In 1994, the Cherkashins left Russia for the first time and traveled to the United States by invitation from the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, NM. Following their instincts to explore the cultural differences in the USA, they returned to Russia with a new understanding of the historical changes reflected in their own culture. This led to other important series, such as "Mirage of Empires" and "Travel as Art" which led them to discover and record cultural monuments around the world. Their travels and projects have taken them to Germany, Spain, Great Britain, Italy, France, Austria, Japan, China, and Mongolia.

In 1999-2000 the Cherkashins created an underwater installation in the reflecting pool of the World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC, "Good-bye, Favorite European Portraits: Hello Euro." This installation merged ideas of art, money and national identity, to create a unique and provocative concept. The emergence of the Euro marked the beginning of the new era in the unity of European countries; however, some nostalgia as reflected in the installation was associated with the disappearance of the national currencies.

The ever-changing state of the world continually requires a search for new forms and materials to reflect it. In the late twentieth century, the Cherkashins began to work with digital technology and with the support of the New York School of Visual Arts (SVA). This collaboration inspired a whole new body of work that has taken on large proportions.

In 2005, the Cherkashins chose to develop further earlier themes of the metro series. A new project began in the subway of New York City and was soon transformed into a worldwide project. The "Global Underground" reveals the similarity and cultural diversity found in the underground transportation systems from countries and cities around the world. Video installation also became a concurrent part of the new project.

Most recently, the artists have been working on issues related to world economics, politics and environmental changes. In their series ("The Evolution of Chaos: Apocalypse,") the Cherkashins approach these issues by creating works that reflect society's self-destructive behavior. Since 2010, the noted shift in planetary climate change and the transition to the Age of Aquarius have influenced the Cherkashins to create a number of new series related to water. "Immersion," "Vibrations" and "Radiant Outburst" are among the new projects.

Valera & Natasha Cherkashin live and work in New York and Moscow.

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Valera and Natasha Cherkashin work with deeply rooted social archetypes - universal symbols of human existence. They are interested in the presence and development of these eternal archetypes of human civilization in the present, in real life.

Lately, their attention is drawn to apocalyptic problems - the fate of humanity burdened by the knowledge of tragedies and disasters. Terrestrial civilization in the third millennium is truly experiencing a fantastic fracture and the Cherkashins can feel its powerful "tragic roar." They do not know what it is, they cannot rationally explain the underlying tectonic shifts that they perceive - they transform their intuitive comprehension into forms of art.

The Cherkashins do not make predictions; it is hard to know even whether such predictions will come true. The process of artistically interpreting the global, catastrophic problems facing all humankind is recorded by their figurative visions.

Being true artists, the Cherkashins have a heightened power intuition and sense the shadow forecasting the future. Their purpose is to express in a form of art how the eternal is refracted in the momentary.

Dr. Aleksandra Shatskih 

Unpublished Interview with the Cherkashins

New York City, 2011