On Friday, Moscow-born menswear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy discussed his film Transfigurations at London's ICA. The film follows hot on the trail of Crimea/Kids, his 80-page photozine which was published last week, of which there were only 300 hand-numbered copies. It is the first publication to come from IDEA Books, the Dover Street Market booksellers, and it sold out in three days.
In the film, made two years ago, Gosha gathered footage of skaters in a closed off part of St Petersburg known as New Holland, where skate culture was flourishing. The film epitomises his brand identity: strong young men with vulnerable expressions wearing a uniform derived from 80s punk music and 90s skate culture. Making reference to Russia’s orthodox past through glimpses of religious paintings, and a soundtrack ranging from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird suite to t.A.T.u., the film illuminates a country undergoing political, economic and cultural turmoil whilst proving that its maker belongs to a post-Soviet generation bent on creative change.
The film zooms in on individual figures, including Maxim, just fourteen at the time of filming, and Tolia, a twenty-something and a regular throughout Gosha’s work. Gosha is present in the background, asking the boys questions about their dreams and ambitions, and the difference between Russians and Ukrainians. It is a poignant documentary of life in a backwater prior to the political crisis now enveloping the two countries. Maxim lights a cigarette, much to Gosha’s dismay, and argues that school is only important to avoid conscription to the army. His main life ambition is to open his own skate shop. But it isn’t all dreary. Positivity presents itself in the form of friendship and solidarity among the young men, and much humour. Here, Gosha discusses the making of the film, and how it sits within his work as a designer.
Gosha Rubchinskiy on... the making of Transfigurations
"I wanted the film to be part of an effort to rebuild Saint Petersburg creatively, and to make it a more prominent part of the cultural state of Russia. I spent two months in New Holland, where the boys were coming and going to skate. They were authentic, beautiful boys. The skate community there is very large, and quickly word spread that I wanted to make a film. Nobody knew I was a designer and there wasn’t a casting process. It happened by word of mouth – people were excited to be part of it and that’s how the project built up. The film opens with a young boy saying, 'Life is shit'. Every project is a journey. I wanted to start with a negative comment so that the audience could follow the transfiguration. (That boy is now making techno music, which is quite funny.)"
Gosha Rubchinskiy on... relationships with his muses
"Tolia was 14 when he was in my first ever show. I have watched him growing up and I use him throughout all my work. With the skaters, it is like a big family. There was no script. When it came to Maxim, I liked him because whereas the other boys would come and go, Maxim was at the park every single day, practicing how to skate. I felt comfortable talking with him, and he stuck around. I just like him and I asked him questions about his dreams and the future. The relationship developed organically. His dreams are always changing, just like mine."
Gosha Rubchinskiy on... the longevity of his work
"I filmed Transfiguration before the crisis with Ukraine, but revising the work it becomes relevant now. It is my best possible comment on politics as an artist. Russians skate on tanks but they also skate on skateboards – they are not all bad! It is hard to separate film, photography and my design work. The menswear design is an outcome of everything else and the relationships I have built up with my muses. Photography came first, because I started taking pictures and filming my friends at school, just for a personal archive. But I can always look back on my work. It all becomes relevant at a later point."
Text by Harriet Baker
Crimea/Kids by Gosha Rubchinskiy sold out in three days. 10 copies, costing £10 each, are available exclusively for AnOther readers at Dover Street Market from 5pm today.