An Interview with Live Sculptor Roman Ermakov

Images & GIFS Pavel Levchuk

We dedicate the GIF’s of this interview to Zaha Hadid, whose vision and architecture has enriched our world- forever and beyond.

Russia is, despite decades of Soviet-era isolation and today’s political tensions, positioning itself as a centre for cutting-edge art, through a new generation of creatives who are redefining what it means to be an artist in Russia today. Moscow’s game-changing museums, galleries, and underground art scene make the city one of the world’s most exciting capitals right now for contemporary art- and fashion. And it is here where we meet an extraordinary artist, blurring the lines between the realms of art and fashion, through a language of lines, body, shape and space.

Live sculpture artist Roman Ermakov understands that fashion need not always be about wearability, but that it can form a vehicle to create images. A way to alter and provoke new perspectives, ones that were perhaps once unknown to the viewer. Roman seeks to emphasise personal transformations of ones inside world, believing that human beings are in a constant state of transformation through everyday new experiences. His work unites architecture, sculpture and fashion, resulting in otherworldly colourful shapes and beings, playfully interacting with the space around them. These sculptures have crossed beyond the borders of Russia, with installations all across Europe and breathtaking runway presentations at Berlin Alternative Fashion Week- and have landed him successful collaborations such as with pioneering designer Ria Keburia.

Roman, what is fashion to you?

Fashion as a flat term, doesn’t mean much to me without artistic depth. I can’t engage in something seriously, when it is put higher than humanity. I think fashion is something of alternate realities: To one it can be meaningful, in that it helps a person to express individuality as a personal art form, whereas another can lose its individuality to it.

You studied civil engineering and specialised in Architecture, but you landed in the art world.

I just couldn’t wait to start ‘creating’ and began to engage in the arts scene during my studies and so the two worlds sort of melted in one. The transformation of shape and body has interested me from the start and it is the basis of my work today-as for my architectural costumes. I also experiment with space through my sculptures and installations. And with every new experiment, installation and costume- I get to know myself as well as architecture better.

Is a successful building or public space compatible with art?

Definitely! Architecture has always gone along with the arts- both fields are expressive and are part of ones cultural heritage. And there are buildings and squares out there today that have a playful artsy character to them.

Live Sculpture by Roman Ermakov

Is there a dialogue between architects and sculptors?

This is a very important question for me at the moment. There are many architectural projects today that aim to create sculptures or installations for urban spaces, but they don’t provide sufficient time for artists to explore and experiment with space. So often you’d find that there is a dialogue gap, resulting in foreign forms in the urban space. It would benefit both sides to efficiently work together and learn from each other to achieve harmony of space.

What can Architects and Sculptors learn from each other?

It’s the story of functionality vs. interactivity. Sculptures can be more functional and vice versa architecture could aspire to be more interactive like sculptures, experimenting with space and form. Both sides have already adapted things from one other, you see many new buildings today with a playful or monumental character and there are several sculptors whose work can be classified as architecture. So far the relationship between the two has been successful but unfortunately it’s not yet available everywhere.

What is the essence of your work?

I’m always experimenting when creating costumes and installations. I never use social or political themes in my work. It’s far more important to me to visually stimulate my audience, by creating new images that reveal new perspectives. It is not to offer an escape from reality, but rather a desire to show an alternative to the current reality around us.

What kind of images?

Sculptures can make you see things in a new perspective. Everyone has images of their own, in that they are personal. I only try to provoke the viewer’s consciousness- and I hope that people will be able to see new shapes and perspectives of their close surrounding or the world- perhaps from a side that was unknown to them before.

 But aren’t people – especially today – driven by social and political themes?

People are driven by all kinds of factors. And for those interested in socio- political art, there are plenty of artists to choose from. And that’s good! The choice is always there.

Live Sculpture Roman Ermakov

So where do all these ideas and inspirations come from?

I’m inspired by plucky and creative people who don’t spare themselves and are able to overcome the boundaries of their own capabilities. And, of course, nature! Nature helps to find balance and enables you to see fresh new ways- and nature is the best architect and designer known to man.

How do your living sculptures interact with the space around it?

It’s always different. And it’s very interesting every time. I prefer to use monumental spaces or areas with a homogeneous feel to them. I noticed that when my living sculptures are placed in an industrial space they become technical objects, becoming part of the urban environment. But if you see the same sculptures placed in a natural environment, say in a forest or at a lake, you might think that this is some kind of a fantastical plant or animal. These are the ‘images’ I was talking about earlier, whereby sculptures can transform shape, body and space.

I saw your work at Ria Keburia’s NeonaNeon runway at MBFW Russia, I absolutely loved those customised Vans and the fabric design- how did that collaboration develop?

Thank you! It was an amazing experience and Ria is a visionary! She offered me to take part in her collection after seeing the video of one of my shows in Berlin. We had a long conversation on the possibility to introduce architectural elements in the collection, but we realised that what we really wanted to make is a comfortable and functional collection. So I took the development of the fabric prints on me. We wanted to make a very bold and artistic collection and we were ultimately inspired by the symbols of the Olympic Games in 1980 in Moscow. I designed about 12 print variants, of which five went into production.

Live Sculpture by Roman Ermakov

That runway presentation was pretty gender neutral, was that deliberately? And how is the reaction to gender neutrality on the runway in Russia?

We knew for whom we did the collection. And as expected the response was very good. You can show whatever you like here in Russia fashion week, but our goal is to see these clothes on people, to get them out on the streets. This is perhaps the complex part of the story- that I feel I have to explain first. Many people in Russia today are still not free of traditional stereotypes and are not ready yet to express their individual uniqueness or extraordinary personalities in public- whatever they may be. This is what needs to be tackled first, to move on to the next level.

We chose to make gender-neutral clothing as a vehicle of unity: to enable both sexes to find the courage and confidence to celebrate their individuality-together- in the same clothing- through easy wearable garments. It’s very important to know that you are not alone out there and that there are many beautiful and different ways to express your individuality, as presented on the models on the catwalk. And of course – at the same time you are making a statement. So in a way it’s two-fold, it’s building up towards the next step; I’m sure that knowing this we can change any attitude, or break down any social walls necessary.

Live Sculpture by Roman Ermakov

 Are you going to do more of these collaborations in the future?

For me the most important aspect in collaborations is the human click, the artistic connection between the artists. In that collabs are a window of opportunity to find new ways to explore this, to create and innovate together- and when that opportunity presents itself again, I certainly won’t decline.

What would be the ultimate thing you’d love to design/create?

Ooh, I don’t have an answer for that right now! I’ll tell you what, ask me this question in a few years. (Laughs)

Fair enough! Your work is very diverse, it’s architecture, sculptures and fashion- that being said- I am curious what advise you have for other creatives who are at the start of their careers.

Enjoy life! Possess everything, by having nothing! You have true freedom at the beginning of your career, this is the time to explore and feed your creativity.

Follow Roman on Instagram or visit his webpage for full updates and CV. All images and GIF’s made possible by Photographer and Cinematographer Pavel Levchuk