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Artist Interview - Polina Schneider

Wow, what a series, Polina, so much to see and think about! First thing, though, what's the story with the cats?

The project is not about me as a person, but rather about the feeling of how the war in Ukraine, and everything that revolves around it, affects people. It is also about being a superhero, and not being afraid to state one’s opinion. That’s why people should not be distracted by seeing my face but should rather identify with the protagonist I am representing – the superhero that wants to change the world.


Polina Schneider

As per definition, superheroes have to wear masks. These masks not only disguise their identity but give them superpowers as well. So, when the idea of the project was born, I browsed the Internet in order to find something suitable. Heroes from D.C. and Marvel obviously did not fit – mostly too male, too American. Female protagonists that popped up in my mind were not suitable either. I had to go for something that is applicable and relatable to Russians. And then, the algorithm presented me with the Grumpy Cat mask and it was perfect! Russians claim to be THE cat-loving nation? Good! Superhero’s not happy about the current political situation? Make her grumpy! Nice contrasts of black and white with green-yellowish eyes that stand out in every picture? Even better!  That’s how the cat mask found its hero.

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Who are the actors? Is that you?

It is always me in the picture. I am the one wearing the fancy dresses, it is my head hidden under the superhero mask. The feelings I embody in the portrait series are very personal, so choosing a second character was difficult. I knew, it had to be somebody who is close to me, with whom I can share my fears and ideas. It is the exact combination of the feelings presented together that makes my perception unique; while others might share most of the feelings, they can only imagine how overwhelming the guilt, sadness, and grief are.  When another character is necessary it is my husband or a very close friend.

Its site is essential to each image. How do you find such perfect backgrounds? Do you have help with staging, lights, logistics?

The portraits that turned out best were actually taken at spots where I spontaneously decided that the location just feels right. Most of the time I already know the topic that I would like to represent with a photo, sometimes however it is simply based on my gut feeling. My team is usually just me and my husband. If the dress is too much to be put on alone, he will keep me covered and zip me up.  I use the staging / lights, etc., that are right there on the potential photo spot. I get my dresses from eBay. I wouldn't want to wear new dresses or something that I would potentially destroy just for the sake of the photos. I’d rather use old, second-hand dresses that are already not perfect anymore and that people are having trouble getting rid of. (Plus, eBay's prices are low!)

What motivated the project? Where did the idea come from?

The project started as an outlet of my own feelings about the war, merged with fears my family and friends shared with me and the numbness, powerlessness, and guilt we all had in common. I felt (and feel!) paralyzed, helpless while trying to digest all the news and messages that reach me daily. About the war, about the political – I was about to say "change" – but it is not a change, merely a manifestation of autocratical power, its speed, and its continued acceleration. Therefore, the feelings depicted have more dimensions than simply the invasion. It is not even about the war alone but focuses on the current situation in Russia.

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