Beyond reality: the surreal digital universe capturing the madness of Russia’s modern visual culture

Anyone entering the universe of Nastya Vladimirskaya does so at their own risk. The filmmaker’s visual world is wild, colourful, and relentless. Made of videos less than a minute long, her works immerse viewers into strange, otherworldly journeys — be it a trip to a psychedelic nail salon in a lonely Moscow suburb or an alien disco on a deserted country road.

Often, they use uniquely Russian references, ranging from gardening magazines and local supermarkets to garish photo wallpaper. These fragmented, saturated narratives are slightly kitsch, and could seem artificial. But they could also form the start of a new post-digital authenticity in Russian visual art.

Based in Moscow, the photographer and video-maker has been drawn to the expressive potential of visual art since early childhood. But after studying classical art, Vladimirskaya switched to photography for its immediacy. Today, her practice is a perfect reflection of the contemporary visual environment: reference-heavy, dream-like, and hurtling through digital space at 100 miles per hour.

“There is always a character in a fictional story at the centre of my work. That is a reflection of my own perceptions and fantasies which surround the people I photograph. I love coming up with different scenarios and places [while working],” says Vladimirskaya. “Often, my models won’t even know where they’re going to end up [in the final image] and how the result will look.”

The scenarios which Vladimirskaya creates for her portraits range widely: from a car drifting in the ocean for Lumpen agency’s founder Avdotja Alexandrova, to a queer fairytale forest for artist and model Danila Polyakov. But Vladimirskaya’s subjects are always central characters in these cinematic visions: a slightly surrealist take on 15 minutes of fame.

“My key influences are painting and film — directors like Luis Buñuel, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Terry Gilliam, and David Lynch,” says Vladimirskaya. “During my studies, I focused a lot on surrealist art. I later realised that through photography I am always looking to augment and manipulate reality.”

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