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Image: Laura M. Lombardia

We discussed their work and production practices with Vova Vanenkov and Kostya Bushmanov, founders of FLOWGARDENZ, an artistic collective exploring the natural world through sound, science, design, video, and performance.

Who are Vanenkov and Bushmanov? Can you briefly tell us about yourselves?

Vova Vanenkov: I am an artist hailing from the vast landscapes of Western Siberia. My artistic journey began with the pursuit of Craft degrees at an art college in Khanty-Mansiysk, where I delved into various mediums such as woodwork, ceramics and painting.
Kostya Bushmanov: I am a director, screenwriter, and creative producer. Born in Estonia, my educational journey led me to St. Petersburg for my initial studies. Later, I ventured into the realm of documentary filmmaking, obtaining a second degree at the Moscow School of New Cinema under the expert guidance of Artur Aristakisyan.

How did your journey to becoming a globally recognized artist duo begin?

FLOWGARDENZ: Our journey commenced with the production of the popular science series "The World of Indoor Plants," in collaboration with the legendary film studio, Gorky. During that period, Vova was engaged at «The Main Botanical Garden of the Russian Academy of Sciences», dedicating his time to the study and observation of rare tropical plants. Simultaneously, Kostya served as a documentary film director, collaborating with various artists and producing films. Driven by fascination for extraordinary plants, their lifestyles, adaptive mechanisms, and communication methods, we conceived the idea of creating a film depicting the remarkable journey of rare tropical plants, spanning thousands of kilometers to adorn the windowsills of ordinary citizens. Our aim was to delve into the essence of the emerging green trend, showcasing enthusiasts, scientists, and artists who devoted their lives to the study of plants. We aspired to educate the audience about plant care and provide insight into their intricate organization.
In an effort to captivate the audience's perception, we endeavored to establish a novel narrative format, incorporating modern graphics, music, relevant footage, and costumes. Taking on the roles of creators, we developed the series concept, scripted the content, designed the sets and corporate identity, supervised the entire art direction, and directed the filming process. Our mission was to infuse vitality into the conventional format, drawing inspiration from classic popular science films. Throughout this project, we assembled a unique team of like-minded individuals, laying the foundation for numerous subsequent large-scale endeavors.

Can you tell us a bit about FLOWGARDENZ, which works with different myths and concepts of contemporary culture to bring an alternative perspective to art inspired by gardening and plants?

FLOWGARDENZ is an artistic project that delves into a realm of imagination where traditional boundaries and distinctions blur. Its name, "FLOWGARDENZ," symbolizes a virtual space that exists without a fixed, concrete location in reality. It's akin to a mirage or a dream that can manifest anywhere at any given moment. This illusory nature, the sense of unreality and fragility, is a crucial aspect of our exploration. Time and its continuous flow are our primary building blocks. We believe that time-flow must be structured, with a discernible beginning and a defined "end." This flow should transform into a tangible form, as the form has the power to evoke potent emotions and responses from the audience. The quest for a unique form is at the heart of our daily research and practice. FLOWGARDENZ is always open for collaborations and is a fertile place for the birth of new projects.

FLOWGARDENZ projects cover a wide range of media types, from music videos to documentaries. How does switching between different environments affect your creative process, and in which projects do you particularly like this versatility?

Most of all, we enjoy crafting complex, multi-component projects, like festivals. What makes it fascinating is the direct interaction with the audience and the extended duration of the format. Festivals can unfold continuously for several days, allowing the work to take on new meanings and unexpected transformations. We relish building the festival's universe, creating its identity, merchandising, developing unique art forms, and devising mechanics and adventures for the audience. A festival is inherently unpredictable, vibrant with emotions and energy. We always contemplate how it will metamorphose from an offline space into a virtual environment. It's crucial to recognize that many members of the audience may not physically attend the location where artists are performing or a total installation is unfolding. Therefore, the transition into a digital stream becomes another form of our creativity.
Thinking through a narrative for social networks and tailoring our work for viewers tuning in from all corners of the globe is exceptionally intriguing. The transformation into a digital realm adds a layer of complexity to our creative process, challenging us to engage with our audience in innovative and meaningful ways.

How does the process of selecting the plants and natural materials you use in your works with blurred boundaries, without a specific place, gender, or time progress?

We endeavor to work with local materials and plants in our artistic endeavors. Local products inherently carry a profound connection to the context and specific histories. They exude a stronger emotional resonance, a sense of authenticity. When we assert that FLOWGARDENZ exists without boundaries or ties to a particular place and time, we are primarily referring to the final artistic narrative, which often assumes an imaginative form. At times, this narrative may sound more realistic than actual reality, but in the end, we must work with tangible, concrete materials and plants in a specific location.
We recently launched an educational module for artists to delve into the world of biomaterials. This module empowers artists to study and create with biomaterials, opening up new avenues for artistic expression. We draw inspiration from the ingenuity of the new generation, recognizing the immense potential in the artistic utilization of bio-materials. This venture is an exciting exploration at the intersection of art and science, and we look forward to witnessing the innovative works that emerge from this initiative.

Could you tell us a little bit about your production process? Are analog or digital technologies closer to you?

We find excitement in the convergence of technologies, where one seamlessly transitions into another, giving rise to new forms of meaning. Take, for instance, our project Still Life, an audio-visual performance that originated from a nine-hour session with artists capturing rare sounds from plants, resulting in a captivating catalog of plant-generated sounds. This analog performance eventually evolved into a live show for the audience, featuring musicians alongside the original sounds. Beyond the powerful auditory experience and the actors' physicality, we incorporated a nineteen-meter round screen broadcasting 3D animation, with the sounds processed by a neural network. The outcome took the form of a series of virtual sculptures, showcased at the Blazart contemporary art exhibition as NFT objects. Living in a digital age, analog is inherently a facet of the digital realm. Therefore, our production process seamlessly integrates both analog and digital technologies, enabling us to craft narratives that transcend the boundaries of these two environments.

At the moment you cooperate with many global brands. Which of your works excited you the most in terms of the design process and the final product?

Every year we embark on the implementation of one exceptionally ambitious project, which is characterized by complexity and scale. This year we had the honor to take part in the International Flora Festival in Cordoba, Spain. Every year, the event presents a selection of the world’s leading contemporary artists to create site-specific installations in some of the city’s most emblematic institutional courtyards. The theme of this year was "Plant Intelligence." Our goal was to immerse the audience in the complex world of plant structures, culminating in the creation of a "CELL" – an monumental installation consisting of more than 30,000 flowers, reproducing the structure of a plant cell magnified a million times.
Our intention was to put the audience at the very core of the plant. In a game of scale that pushes man into the background and brings nature to the fore, we invite viewers to immerse themselves in the insides of a plant cell, evoking a sense of insignificance in the face of the greatness of this microscopic reality. The installation transparently reveals its structure, designed to become an integral part of the artwork, reflecting the continuous and dynamic processes taking place inside a living cell. Industrial aesthetics complement the organic beauty of flowers, creating a combination that emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between nature and human intervention. Competing with famous artists who presented a total of five works, our installation took second place. It was genuinely thrilling! Being in the company of these incredible artists and going head-to-head in such a serious competition was a fantastic experience.

Can you tell us a little about the sources of inspiration behind your work? Whose names do you follow with curiosity in this field or other disciplines?

Inspiration for us is a dynamic process that often stems from the exchange and clash of our own ideas. The most fascinating part is the ongoing dialogue and debate, which leads to the creation of something entirely unexpected and beyond the scope of individual imagination. In addition to our internal creative dynamic, we find inspiration in various elements of daily life – be it travel, city strolls, mountain vistas, people and their Instagram stories, new materials, technologies, delightful culinary experiences, news, the seasonal transformations of grapes in our yard. This daily flow generates countless thoughts and ideas.
Moreover, the realms of art, photography, fashion, design, cinema, and music contribute significantly to our creative wellspring. However, we consciously maintain a certain distance, ensuring we are not overwhelmed by the influence of powerful works, allowing us to retain our unique perspective.

Are you excited about the future, and what are your plans?

The future holds a mix of excitement and trepidation, unfolding at its own mad pace. We find ourselves in a perpetual race against the relentless stream of information and content emanating from our smartphone screens. To get a little grounded and feel the ground under your feet, we are in the process of establishing a new studio, envisioned as a haven of creative freedom where we can engage in an uninterrupted dialogue, sharing our ideas and works with our audience. At the same time, we are actively preparing for our first solo exhibition, which is scheduled to debut in the spring of this year. This exhibition promises to showcase many completely new works and techniques. However, the centerpiece of our focus is a novel art project that diverges significantly from our current pursuits. We anticipate unveiling it shortly and hope it captivates audiences as much as FLOWGARDENZ.


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