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23 May, 2012  ▪  Спілкувався: Yuriy Makarov

Age Means Nothing

Artist and playwright Les Podereviansky talks about his personal evolution and people that never change

Getting an interview in the middle of a rehearsal was easy: the cult writer and artist does not live the life of a celebrity. Instead, he tries to enjoy the process, no matter what it may be.

U.W.: This is not the first attempt to bring your plays to the stage. The first one failed. The second one, Pavlik Morozov directed by Andriy Kritenko, was staged a year ago. My impression is that your pieces are self-sufficient, and their image as theatre pieces is only a mask. What is it about the stage that lures you in?

Whatever should happen always happens. These pieces have lived a long life and they will get to the theatre sooner or later. Actually, I didn’t do anything to bring them there. It just happened. I love theatre! I mean I love to work with Kritenko. This is not our first project. We staged The Orgy based on Lesya Ukrainka’s writing. I was involved as a stage designer. The joy of creative interaction is our key motivation. We both do what we like and radiate the energy that excites everyone else. That’s the law of art, I don’t know any others.

U.W.: Aren’t you concerned about your popularity as a writer overshadowing your fame as an artist?

There is no other way. Most people think in words. Only some think in images and they are painters. They, and a few others around them, are the only ones who understand all this. This is a self-contained system. Gaining fame as an artist is next to impossible. Why do people paint? Because they cannot help but paint, that’s all!  Words are easier to grasp, therefore they’ll always prevail. What is the worst question to ask an artist at an exhibition? “What were you trying to say with your painting?” He said what he wanted to say, but he didn’t say it in words because it didn’t translate into words. Actually, I used this trick in my latest exhibition at the Collection gallery. I put an explanatory note next to every painting so that visitors would read it and leave me alone. But the painting always comes first. I can write 100 explanatory notes for each one.

U.W.: I’ve recently learned that colleges offer separate courses on your writing. What do you think about that?

I hate it. People should hate everything colleges and schools stuck in their heads. I, for instance, hated all the Russian and Ukrainian literature I was taught in school. I only began to really read books on my own when I grew up. Schools cultivate revolt, so I don’t want my writing to be in school programmes.

U.W.: I don’t think there is a single journalist who hasn’t asked you about profanity in your pieces. Even 10 years ago, a swear word spoken or written, much less published, caught the eye for a moment. Now I see young people saying the ‘f’ word with no hesitation at all. Does this mean that the profanity in your writing no longer serves its purpose?

You want censored words – try reading Shakespeare’s originals in Old English. His poems were not something noble ladies would read. A friend of mine, a UK literature expert, confirms this. This has never been an issue for me. When I describe a character, he should speak the language he speaks. I never liked falsehood. Once when I was in the army I went to the library and asked for a book about the army. They gave me a book of short stories where a captain tells a private, “Mr. private, would you be so kind to…” Of course, I knew this wasn’t how captains talked to privates. In real life, it was something like “You, son of a b…tch, get over there, fast!” The author does not own anything in my plays. My characters speak the language they speak, no more and no less. There is no scandal in it. As to the attitude towards profanity in the writing, civilized countries have only two taboos: murder and child pornography.  

U.W.: Ok, does this signal that reaching out to today’s spoiled audiences is becoming more challenging?

All we have to worry about at this point is the quality of the play. We’ve involved August Birkle, a well-known avant-garde composer and performer. Andriy Kritenko invited him from Germany. Gortchitza will sing in it and Peter Mueller will arrange the lighting. He was involved in Pavlik Morozov but he actually works at La Scala.

U.W.: Critics describe your writing as the continuation of Sam Beckett’s and Eugène Ionesco’s line. You said in an interview that you strive for the quality of Ancient Greek drama. But that drama reflected reason, the plans of gods or fate. That is something opposite to the chaos of absurdity. How do you reconcile this?  

Actually, I have been evolving. I began to write in the army, inspired by its environment of absurdity. My first play really was totally absurd. Then I began to write more realistic pieces. I was always interested in juxtaposing opposites, things of opposite textures: colorful and faded, glossy and matte, smooth and rough. When opposite textures collide, they sparkle.

U.W.: Are you reacting to the growing concentration of absurdity in our lives over the past year or two?

I have never been tied to the evils of the day. My art would grow outdated very quickly if I had been. I’m not interested in newspaper satire. Instead, I’m interested in things that existed yesterday, exist today and will exist tomorrow. Clearly, I can’t separate myself from reality but I see no big difference between the pieces I wrote 20 years ago and the things I’m doing now. People haven’t changed since the 1970s. They have the same jokes, the same swearwords, the same dirt. And the same love.  

U.W.: No, people were afraid in the 70s…

They still are.

U.W.: People are less afraid today. I heard a great anecdote about this. A guy bought an SUV and took his friend for a ride. “Why don’t you use your turn signal?” the friend asked. “I didn’t buy an SUV to use the turn signal,” the guy answered. This guy who is afraid of nothing at all has become the new protagonist.

They all come from that same time, the time of The Dreams of Vasilisa Yegorovna. They are all the same people. They would be different if they came from a European environment. I see no difference at all. If we had given people SUVs in the 70s, they would have done the same things they do now. The only difference was that they had no SUVs.

U.W.: What about the younger generation?

It’s a great generation, actually…

U.W.: I don’t disagree. But they often use words that I have to look up in online dictionaries. Don’t you ever feel a bit behind the times when you talk to young people?

You know, I never tied myself to my generation. I never have any nostalgic feelings about “my time.” I’ve seen old 30-year olds and young 80-year olds. Generation means nothing to me. Every generation has stupid people and people who are able to think. The former always prevail. The only thing I don’t like about them is how they use the Internet. The web offers us huge opportunities for self-education and self-sophistication. Meanwhile, they treat it like a public toilet at a bus stop somewhere in a remote province. Whatever they used to write on walls and fences, they now write on Facebook. We lived in a closed society with little access to information, while they have access to everything. They should have grown smarter and better educated than us, but for some reason they haven’t.

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