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(Fragment) Synchrodogs. Photo:

The nature of subconciousness 0

An interview with Ukrainian artist duo Synchrodogs

Ieva Laube

The captivating work of the Ukrainian photographers Tania Shcheglova and Roman Noven, otherwise known as Synchrodogs, has finally found its place in the Latvian art scene. Through July 2 their exhibition, Back to Nature, is on view at the Contemporary Art Centre kim?. On this occasion, Tania and Roman guide us into their own private universe – the thoughts and behind-the-scenes of their work.

Their photographs balance on the fine line of complete comprehension for the eye and mind, and an alluringly surreal mysticism, proposing a precise photographic scenography that mostly shows a human body embraced by nature. As the two artists explain themselves: “We work a lot with ideas from our dreams, so they do have a surreal tincture. With our works, we try to blur the borderline between real and imagined, between natural and artificial, between evident and unknown.” And a lot of it comes from visions acquired through a self-made meditation technique that takes place on the verge between sleep and wakefulness.

Finding a perfect spot for a shoot takes days, even months. Before setting out on a mission to capture the most unusual and beautiful locations, endless hours are spent on Google Maps to understand the area, and then taking almost every turn the road in front of them offers. “We really rely on our intuition a lot. The meditation is just half of the process, and the other half is intuition and finding a location.” And when it’s done, a lot of work goes into making sketches of how the shot should look, creating props and costumes – pre-staging the shot to get those 36 great frames of film. Working with natural light, they have even waited for hours to finally catch those 30 seconds of perfect sunlight. And sometimes, it just takes a minute to do the shot, while the process of getting there took months.

Having received their educations from technical universities, Tania and Roman found art photography when they met each other online and started taking photographs together; they would meet in a city in between their hometowns, which are an eight-hour train ride apart. Since then they have been published by Vice, Dazed & Confused, Vogue, and Esquire, among others, have collaborated with some of the biggest names in the fashion world, and have opened shows in Europe, Russia, Australia and across the Atlantic.

Synchrodogs. From the series Supernatural. Photo:

The title of your exhibition, Back to Nature, betokens a return to, or arriving at, one’s place of origin. What does it mean to you?

Nature has always been an escape for us. An escape from the messy city life – from people, cars, and concrete. It is where we feel ourselves as being safe and happy. So, the title has both a metaphorical and a literal sense, putting emphasis on the importance of making time for ourselves to find harmony. We’re exhibiting works from two projects – Supernatural, which we made for the Dallas Contemporary in 2015, and Reverie Sleep, which we did for the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kyiv. Both projects deal a lot with intuition and subconsciousness, as we have been working on our own meditation technique for years.

How does this technique actually work? What’s the preparation process and what is it that you usually see?

We tried meditating during the day many times, but it never actually worked for us. There was always something disturbing us: street noise, rain, the sound of an elevator, people. And it’s really hard for us both to go to sleep – we wake up really late and go to bed at around five o’clock in the morning. So, our brains are really active at night. Over the years, we developed a way to calm our thoughts down by doing monotonous, repetitive actions in our minds when trying to fall asleep. For example, when we close our eyes, we try to imagine a black canvas in front of us and we try to paint it in an even blacker colour, then an even darker and darker colour, and then it makes the brain so relaxed that you start meditating. Something obviously went wrong, and we saw something like night-time dreams while still being partly awake...some weird images. We started taking notes on these hypnagogic hallucinations so that we could stage them afterwards, in our personal projects. We have been doing that for the last seven years. And these two projects are about interpreting and recreating the images that we have seen.

Synchrodogs. From the series Supernatural. Photo:

Most of your photos show a human body set in a scenic landscape – what kind of role does the body play as a character or an object in your work?

Our art is about nature. So, the intention is to make a human appear as something abstract – something that exists in the context of planet Earth only. It is something as natural and unquestionable as a tree, or a rock, or the Sun. People ask us – why is it so irrational, why are the poses so weird, why aren’t they as they should be? Because that is what nature is like! A tree grows as it wants to; it’s irrational, it’s free, and that’s what we want to convey with this weird posing and the whole awkward aesthetic of our work. It needs to convey this freedom that the natural environment exposes.

Having a technical educational background, how did you dare to start doing something like this?

All people are free to do whatever they have in mind, as far as it’s not illegal. And we did the same when we got our first film cameras. It was like having a whole new world opening up in front of us – at last we could let all the ideas out, and have control over something (in a good sense).

Synchrodogs. From the series Animalism Naturalism. Photo:

You’ve worked with media and fashion giants like Vogue, Vice, Dazed & Confused, Bimba Y Lola, Kenzo and even Lady Gaga. Can you recall a specific moment that launched your international career? And why do you think people are drawn to your work?

We have been shooting together for almost ten years now, and through all these years we remember ourselves as having worked very hard: developing ideas, creating props, making photo shoots, reading and writing a lot of emails every day, doing interviews, working on exhibitions and publications, sending prints. So, we can’t say that there was an exact moment when we gained recognition; it was a very gradual process, from small blogs and zines contacting us to the biggest international magazines and brands who liked our art. We’re not sure why people are drawn to us, but maybe because we never had the intention to make art for the sake of it being sold or noticed; we just made it because we were passionate about our ideas.

As an art collector once said to us: “You are successful because you don’t strive to be.” So, when your motivation is pure and you’re doing it just for the sake of making something beautiful, it works.

How do you personally feel about combining art photography with commercial fashion projects?

Art is for our souls, and fashion is more like as an exercise for our brain. If art is something that we interpret as total freedom, fashion is almost always restricted by conditions and rules like showing clothes beautifully or sticking to a topic. The brand has its own aesthetics that we have to follow, and at the same time, we have to maintain our voice. We have to make it something between KENZO and Synchrodogs. And we can’t control the outcome because brands have so many rules that they have to follow – if there is not enough eye contact, they “photoshop” it in, and if they need a black bag instead of a white one, they do that, too. And we’re totally fine with that because it’s not about us; it’s about them. We’re just making it as perfect as it can be. And we find it interesting to work in both fields. We never get bored of working in the same direction for a long time.

Synchrodogs. From the series Reverie Sleep. Photo:

What about the creative freedom in these kind of projects? Who plays by the rules of the other – you or the client?

Clients that approach us usually know our style and like it; otherwise, they would have contacted somebody else. But commercial projects are always a kind of compromise. We see the brand’s aesthetics and form our ideas based on it; we make drafts in Photoshop that look exactly as we would want to shoot it. We “photoshop” everything in – how a hand should go, what kind of a bag we would use – and the collages look really good. We always joke that we do collages better than we actually shoot pictures. So, the client sees the shots, i.e., how they should look at the end, and they write down which ones they approve of and which ones are not in line with their vision. So, basically, we have several rounds of approval, and still shoot only our own ideas.

How did the name and concept Synchrodogs came into being, and how is it for two artists to work under one name? Do you fight the worn-out concept of “artist’s ego”?

We haven’t existed separately for so many years now; we do everything together – four hands, four eyes, two brains...although, of course, we do divide small responsibilities. When both parties put so much effort into the project, there is no reason left to argue who is more important; the two halves are equal. We can fight about small details sometimes because we are perfectionists, but for the big things, we have the same opinion. Sometimes we fight because we can’t agree with each other on things like “do you want to go out in ten minutes or in fifteen minutes.” That’s why ‘Synchro’ – we’re really alike in terms of ideas, thoughts, and perceptions; quite often one of us thinks of something, and the other says it aloud. And being devoted to the endless fields and forests added to the concept of ‘dogs’.

Synchrodogs. From the series Supernatural. Photo:

What does it mean to be photographers/artists from Ukraine? Do the associations the world has about the place you come from influence you in any way?

For many years, being an artist from Ukraine felt like all the countries had open doors between each other, but we could only see everything through a small window. So, we’ve always been aware that we have had to struggle more in our career than many other artists, as all we had at our disposal was the Internet. Now a lot has changed – we’re busy with shows and publications, we travel often, but just five years ago, it was hard to get a visa to simply go to a neighbouring country. Associations that people have about the place that we come from vary. Most people tend to think it’s dangerous to come here, but they don’t realise that Ukraine is as big as half of Europe, and that the war is going on only in the eastern part of the country, on the border with Russia. Ukraine is still a wonderful country that gives us a lot of inspiration. It made us who we are; it brought us up as artists, to some extent. And we believe that people have a positive attitude about our country, since they express this when they talk to us. It seems that they understand that we are just on our way to independence. 

Synchrodogs. From the series Supernatural. Photo:

Synchrodogs. From the series Supernatural. Photo: