The makers: meet 8 of the visionaries leading Siberia’s creative revolution

These designers are creating everything from surreal jewellery to birch-tree artisanal furniture

10 November 2017

Krasnoyarsk/Berlin

Anastasia Koshcheeva

Designer crafting Russian birch trees into artisanal furniture

Ironically, it wasn’t until she moved to Berlin that Anastasia Koshcheeva fell in love with birch bark. Now she uses the typical Siberian material — which is stripped from birch trees — to create her exquisite artisanal furniture. “Its properties are like those of skin,” says Koshcheeva, who grew up in Krasnoyarsk. “In the past, birch bark was used as a de facto substitute for plastic.” All her objects emerge from a process of experimentation, whereby she makes a few sketches on paper before using her hands to try out different forms. In 2016, she launched her own workshop near the old town of Vladimir outside Moscow that employs two full time artisans. Koshcheeva experiments with new ways of using birch bark and says that craftsmen who have been working with the material for half their life are often surprised by what she produces.


Novosibirsk

Echotourist

An independent music label giving a platform to Siberia’s experimental electronica

Mikhail and Yevgeny Gavrilov have created a non-commercial record label bringing together the best of Siberia’s passionate electronic music scene. Echotourist came into being in 2010 in Novosibirsk when the two brothers first began playing and recording music together. Transitory populations, the niche nature of Siberia’s electronic scene and a lack of appropriate venues means that the artists Echotourist feature are motivated by love of the genre — rather than money.

Most of the music Echotourist releases is on tape, which Mikhail and Yevgeny say is far more interesting than CD. And they have focus closely on accompanying artwork and design. Although they are not catering to the mass market, they have sent their tapes to customers in countries all over the world.


Novosibirsk

Lera Petunina

Artist capturing wildlife and pop culture in exquisitely embroidered broaches

Wade through the Siberian forests with Lera Petunina, a Novosibirsk-based artist. Living in a city where foxes get domesticated and owls are regularly spotted soaring over rooftops, it felt natural for Petunina to tame the local wild spirit into a recognisable artwork. A painter and graphic designer, Petunina captures nature’s tiny details and dynamics, making her embroideries look incredibly real. A stray bird setting off a shirt collar or wheat harvest peeping from the chest pocket of a T-shirt: it’s the smart combination of the expected and the new that makes Petunina’s signature style and wins over everyday buyers and savvy fashionistas alike. Some of her work is more akin to woven art objects than accessories. Her highly detailed pieces – bunch of grass breaking through asphalt, a person lying on the shore of a river, a portrait of a friend and a bunch of replicas of well-known paintings – would be as much suited to hanging in frames in an art gallery, proving that embroidery can go far beyond traditional craftsmanship.


Krasnoyarsk

Alexey Martins

Performance artist and sculptor whose totem-like wooden sculptures are in praise of wood’s burning warmth

Siberia is at the heart of the art produced by Alexey Martins, who grew up in the city of Krasnoyarsk. Preferring to use drawing, video and performance, Martins strives to create situations that precipitate people coming together, forming mini-communities. “I consider my performances to be a kind of social sculpture,” he says. The artist has an Instagram account where he only posts photographs of different types of snow, and in his Be Together performance in 2017 at Archstoyanie he created a huge bonfire of wooden crates, an enormous hearth around which people were invited to sit on benches. Martins criticizes environmental degradation in Krasnoyarsk and has recently moved to Moscow, but he says responses to his work in the capital are the same as in his hometown.


tomsk

Alexander Karpinski

Nature-inspired artisan forging surreal jewellery and tableware

Alexander Karpinski is inspired by the nature that surrounds him when he creates his surrealist jewellery and tableware, which are dictated by the feature of the raw materials he uses. He decided to embark on a career in metalwork when, one night, he watched a meteorite fly across the night sky in Tomsk. Fittingly, first objects were made out of meteorite fragments. Later, he moved on to bronze, gold and stone. Karpinski says he prefers using his hands and the most simple modelling materials. In Tomsk, there are a small group of people seeking to preserve traditional culture that provide a crucial well of support. Karpsinksi says he also follows the work of the most talented people in his field, including artists and designers, but warns that too much time spent admiring the work of others means you run the risk of unconscious plagiarism.


Tyumen

Katia Sergeeva

Co-founder of the creative space Nalegke, and the brains behind Tyumen’s thriving craft scene

Yekaterina Sergeeva is a photographer, art teacher and famous dinner hostess. After finishing university in Tyumen, she and a friend — another Yekaterina — turned their socialising into an artistic concept, laying on different spreads and full table service for a group of invited guests. The practice became know as Katya invites you to dinner.

Out of the community that emerged around the project, Sergeeva launched Nalegke, a space that is used for art teaching: photography, drawing, film and design. They began with fashionable classes like botany drawing, which later morphed into a watercolour class. They have continued the dinners, but on a non-commercial basis. “We’ve brought people together,” says Sergeeva. “We value an approach to socialising and perception that is natural and at ease. At Nalegke you can be yourself, paint how you paint, and do what you want.”


Omsk

Marina Butenko

Fashion designer reinventing traditional knitwear into high fashion

All set for a career in road construction, one day Marina Butenko wandered into the Institute of Design and Technology at one of Omsk’s main universities. The first thing she saw was a student in wooly socks, a cup of coffee in her hand and pillow under her arm. “The girl and the homely atmosphere determined by fate,” Butenko recalls.

Since then she has gone on to create a colourful and distinctive knitwear under the Mari Butneko brand — despite a lack of local support, ageing machinery and the high costs of travel. Her favourite raw material is yarn, which she usually has to order from Italy and her work has been displayed in several Russian cities and as far away as Japan.


Omsk

Viktor Skuratov

Coffeephile behind the Omsk-based independent coffee chain taking Russia by storm

In order to make his coffee standout, Viktor Skuratov hired a professional roaster from Germany. Along with new equipment, this gave him a springboard to move his firm, Skuratov Coffee, into the coffee retail business and he now has coffee shops in both his hometown of Omsk and Moscow. The successful venture shows how far Skuratov has come from his previous job a a long-haul coffee bean delivery driver. He counts corporate culture and customer service as the keys to his company’s success — each of the baristas he employs is trained for at least six weeks. “It’s our shared values that gave us a competitive advantage,” says Skuratov, who is a lover of literature and wanted to grow up to be a writer. The company is currently looking to open branches in St. Petersburg and Kazan.