A golden humanoid lion, an overcoat made of herrings, and drawing noses. Dorothy Max Prior profiles the work of visual and performing artist Jenya Stashkov
Russian artist Jenya Stashkov is many things – a renaissance man, you could say. He is a visual artist and illustrator; but also a playwright, performer and director..
With his wife Elena Stashkova (aka Ionova) he creates surreal performances.
Their current main project is the Vibrating Body performance troupe, an ‘independent theatre troupe with a non-permanent cast’. Each project they create is unique and has ‘literary, theatrical, artistic and musical components’.
Jenya describes their activities as ‘[exploring] mysticism, the joy of creativity, archetypes, dreams, the paranormal’. A belief in pacifism is key to their work. ‘We condemn Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine,’ says Jenya. He and Elena are hoping to emigrate from Russia at some point in the near future.
On process, Jenya says they are ‘working with modern, mystical and avant-garde dramaturgy’. They work both on stage and on the street. The ephemeral nature of performance appeals strongly. In an interview for Round Lemon, Jenya says:
‘The Vibrating Body is engaged in performances in the urban environment, theatrical performances, video poetry and various cultural projects. Our performances are usually held only once. We like to compare them with the practice of drawing mandalas by Tibetan monks, who spread images of coloured sand for a long time, and then immediately destroy them.’
Theatre work has included Plays Without Words and Action, created in Moscow in 2019 and performed at Praktika Theatre. The work is based on a play by Juno Hoay-Fern from Malaysia. This was followed, in 2021, by the creation of I Feel a Dream, created with Vladivostok, Primorsky Youth Theatre, and based on a number of short plays by contemporary mystical Russian playwrights.
The company’s street performances and performance actions in public spaces have included Pilgrimage Of Water (2017, Saint Petersburg), and Hatching (2017, Nizhny Tagil).
There is often a surrealist aspect to the work. Pilgrimage Of Water, for example, is a processional performance ‘dedicated to the embodiment of architectural archetypes, filling the missing water in the Fontanka River and walking a golden humanoid lion in the company of two plaster maidens’.
Jenya has also been implementing the Independent International Award for Improper Dramaturgy project for four years. In 2021, he was awarded the Neem ‘Turquoise edition’. The Neem award was created to support and identify ‘underground dramatic currents’. The Vibrating Body were awarded a prize in the category ‘a play that no one will ever agree to stage’ – which seems a pretty intriguing concept. Here’s a taster:
‘A man dressed in an overcoat of herrings appears on stage, lit by the backlights of ten million first generation iPhones. He sees two thousand Russian Roubles on the floor. “Oh,” he cries, using an Old English accent of Wessex dialect, “that’s equivalent to over twenty British pounds”. The paper money changes as we watch, from Roubles to Malay Ringatas. The herrings chant Handel’s Messiah in reverse, and then explode. The man is discovered to be a drunken Chihuahua. Curtain.’
In an interview for Round Lemon, Jenya was asked about the ease with which he crosses boundaries of artform. Ultimately, it would seem that it all comes down to the fact that it is the ideas that are paramount: the form then presents itself.
‘As a mystical artist, I’m generally interested in the process of embodying weightless invisible ideas. Ideas always lose their purity when they are embodied in our earthly world. Different types of art allow us to experience these losses in different ways – different media, different types of communication of the final result with the audience, different temporal processes. Psychologically, it’s easiest for me to do illustration and graphic work.’
When asked where he takes his inspiration from, this is his answer:
‘I get a huge boost of inspiration from the realisation that inspiration comes on a schedule that is beyond human logic. I like to imagine creative energy (inspiration) as a person with whom I need to build personal relationships, like with relatives, a wife, children, or bosses. We can’t spend 24/7 with someone, not even with the person who we’d consider as closest to us. Therefore, I train myself to give inspiration a rest from me. This is my way of getting inspiration.
Jenya is also a talented illustrator: ‘I love flowing shapes, ornaments, noses, references to Sumerian culture and acid colours in particular,’ he says.
His maxim is ‘Only create what brings you joy’.
Like all true surrealists, for Jenya playfulness is paramount. And art for art’s sake is the name of the game:
‘Everyone who makes any steps in art is blessed. Spirits and gods support them (in non-obvious ways).’
Here’s wishing Jenya Stashkov and Elena Stashkova and their company The Vibrating Body much future success, be that within or beyond Mother Russia.
May the spirits and gods support them in whatever way they can. Blessed be!
Featured image (top): Plays Without Words and Action (2019, Moscow, Praktika theatre), performance by Vibrating Body based on a play by Juno Hoay-Fern (Malaysia).
More about Jenya Stashkov’s work:
Vibrating Body website:
For the cited Round Lemon interview, see https://www.roundlemon.co.uk/zest-archive/jenya-stashkov-interview
PLAYS WITHOUT WORDS & ACTION (ENG) (2019, Moscow, Praktika theatre), performance based on a play by Juno Hoay-Fern (Malaysia)
I feel a dream (RUS) (2021, Vladivostok, Primorsky Youth Theater), performance based on short plays by Contemporary mystical russian playwrights
Pilgrimage of Water (2017, Saint Petersburg)
Hatching (2017, Nizhny Tagil)