Meet The Artist: Miso, AKA Stanislava Pinchuk
Stanislava Pinchuk has been having bad dreams. She relates how in one, all of her tattoos — the horizontal line on her hand, the symbol on her little finger, the science textbook drawing of a bee on her arm — suddenly disappear from her body, and how upset she is by it.
Mostly though, she's been dreaming about Fukushima. She's only just got back from the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, where she's been mapping the area inside the exclusion zone. "There's something really confronting about how dead that earth is," she says in a deliberate way that suggests she thinks everything through before she speaks. "Just how irreversible it seems, but how invisible it is as well."
Stanislava Pinchuk — the artist known as Miso — was born in 1988, in Kharkov, Ukraine, and moved to Australia when she was ten years old. Part of the time she's based in Tokyo, other times she's based in Melbourne, where she produces work out of her plant-filled studio in the Nicholas Building on Swanston Street. Her work is both subtle and elaborately decorative, made up of pinholes on paper that trace out barely visible lines. The work take physical strength to achieve — each hole is hammered in, dot by dot, of real and imagined topographies of her memories and experiences. The National Gallery of Victoria acquired her work in 2013; she's one of the youngest artists in the collection.
Her most recent show, Surface To Air, looks at the landscape of the Ukrainian civil war — the title is a reference to the type of missiles used in the conflict (the same type that took down the MH17 flight). The works appear nearly featureless from far away, but up close, reveal themselves to be lyrical undulations like twists of fabric or mid-burst fireworks/bomb blasts, drained of colour. Closer still, and you can see Miso's crazy skilled precision, no pinhole out of place. She describes the decision to produce work about the war in her home country as inevitable, saying, "I never thought I'd see my home invaded — I never thought I'd ever see something like that in my lifetime."
The Surface To Air exhibition is the latest evolution in her practice. In the past, her work has been almost diary-like, focusing on personal memories and experiences, and the maps that make up her life and the lives of her close friends. Thinking about the war in Ukraine changed that. "It was a catalyst for me to make work about other people and things that are a lot bigger than myself — that are still really deeply personal, but engage more with ideas like place and time and conflict."
Miso worked with In Context Music on a sonic score for the exhibition, based around the sound of a heartbeat. "It looks at the way wars exist in these really abstract, ephemeral ways that I feel more qualified to talk about than the violence of it. It starts with quite glitchy heartbeats, and then builds up to a larger, looming score, and then fades back into the heartbeats," she says. "I just wanted something really slight playing in the space."
The score also ties the work to an older Ukrainian conflict: "My great grandfather was a resistance fighter. I started thinking a lot about this forest in my city in Kharkov, and there's a big killing field where my grandfather fought," she says. One night the Nazis shot all of the prisoners of war and buried them in a mass grave — but later, when the Soviet soldiers came though, there were still people alive. And the ground, it's said, had a heartbeat. "Now there's a memorial," explains Miso. "It's an eternal flame, but it flickers. I thought it was a really beautiful symbol of the way the sound and the earth come together at a conflict site. It kind of echoes through the forest. This kind of heartbeat has beat through a lot of conflict in Ukraine."
These works make clear the deep link she has to her birth country, but she doesn't necessarily feel connected to any one place as her home. "I think that happens when you're between a few cities or cultures and languages," she says. " I've never really felt very Australian — people always ask me where I'm from. But I also don't look like the people in my home city very much, so when I do go home, people treat me like an outsider. I spend a lot of time in Tokyo, and I don't really blend in there either." She pauses for a long moment. "But it's kind of a nice way to be. I don't really see it like a conflict."
This sense of rootlessness, of being a nomad, has fed into her art practice in a direct way. "It's why I started working with mapping — because I was really displaced and travelling and not having anything to show for it," she says. "I started to make works that made something physical out of all this time and effort that I had nothing to show for. It's become more about making sense of my place, and making sense of other people's places."
Along the way, Miso's work has received co-signs from brands like Chanel, and she's currently working with Neuw Denim to produce custom leather jackets stamped with tiny constellations for people like Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevingne. She also teaches paper cutting workshops at Megan Morton's The School in Rosebery, and is probably the most popular tattoo artist who you literally can't get a booking with. She only tattoos her close friends and collaborators, and then, only for trade (example: she recently tattooed Florence Welch in exchange for a song).
Diversifying into things like teaching and fashion helps her to think about her work in new ways. "It's really hard being a young artist and you do have to do other things that anchor yourself outside of your practice," she says. "Growing up, I always thought I'd work in fashion — it's not contrived because I do have such a big love for it."
Right now though, Miso's head is still filled with thoughts of the Fukushima nuclear site and the landscape that's been left in the wake of the disaster. "What's interesting for my show is that they've been removing the top 15 centimetres of soil and bagging it. So there are just these bags sitting everywhere — it's created this new landscape from the conflict, which is what I've been mapping." I ask her whether she'll be creating a score for this show too. "I don't know yet. I think not," she says. Inside the nuclear exclusion zone, there's an unsettling sense of stillness. "Being in a highly radioactive site, you can't taste it, or see it, or smell it, or feel it. That's the weird thing about Fukushima — it's dead quiet."