Irina Petrakova: between drama and splendour

The Protean artist, who avoids being associated with a certain medium, technique or material and never lets her practice turn into a series of “projects”, has unveiled a solo exhibition at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. By the end of the show, part of it will disappear forever.

There are several reasons for becoming an artist. In the case of Irina Petrakova (b. 1981), it came from discontent with what she had learnt in art school, first in her hometown of Ust-Ilimsk in Irkutsk Region and later at university in Novosibirsk. What her studies taught her was how to do everything right. They succeeded in teaching her how to make the perfect drawing of the human body. However, they had failed to show her how to delve into the real essence of art. Petrakova intuitively recognised that art is not about being talented enough to make reliable copies that beautify the world we live in. Something was missing. For her, art is about being able to convey the drama of someone who has been abandoned in this world and how they can survive in this splendour. Art, like life, lies in this tension between drama and splendour. This is why, when she makes a drawing of a body – a central theme in her work – she does not strive to create a perfect anatomical copy. What she transfers on paper or canvas is decomposing matter. It is the expression of an emotional mixture of anguish and joy. At the end of the day, it is not the task of an artist to speak clearly. Art to be art must vibrate.

The range of Petrakova’s work is particularly wide and diverse, not only in terms of the medium – embroidery, drawing, painting, sculpture, performance, to name a few – but also in terms of subject – from the stylised rendering of hydroelectric power stations to the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, for example. Equally varied is the tone of her work, with overtly ironic pieces often followed by very dramatic ones. Unquestionably, one method, subject, or material cannot define her as an artist. Not even when certain works have been a commercial success. In fact, when asked to make a new series of her popular embroidered trousers, she promptly turned it down, because that would have turned the work into a “project”. She strongly opposes any attempt to confine her art into a series of defined projects. However, each of her works is part of an uninterrupted line, a continuum, with its own sense of harmony, the chaos is only apparent.

Petrakova continues to evolve as an artist. For instance, her use of several colours in a drawing, instead of a monochromatic colour scheme is rather new. Also novel is her deployment of a performative action lasting for several days; and creating a screen – the live performance can only be watched on a screen – between her and the public, as in her latest exhibition, ‘Manifested by Disappearance’. Here, process becomes the product and, as it has always been in her case, intuition rather than improvisation is the driving force. Importantly, the final work will not be kept. During the last week of the exhibition, the room will be painted over before visitors’ eyes and the work will cease to exist: splendour and drama once more.

Irina Petrakova. Manifested by Disappearance

Moscow Museum of Modern Art

Moscow, Russia

February 19 – March 28, 2021

Sign up to receive our regular newsletter

Related Articles


Sign up for our newsletter