In his Hare series artist Vlad Zorin photographs a Ken-doll-like figure almost completely nude wearing a hare mask that covers half of his face. The images look like they have been shot somewhere like Los Angeles, probably by a top fashion photographer. And, while Zorin is experienced in this field, these images have just been displayed a stone’s throw away from the Kremlin at Cube.Moscow. Gallery Girl spoke to Zorin about his inspirations, as well as sexuality and freedom in Russia.
Born in Chelyabinsk, on the border of Europe and Asia – not a place known for its art and culture – Zorin began his career as a fashion photographer at the age of 14, having already shot his first cover by 16. Yet, despite this success, he quit soon after, deciding instead to focus his efforts on getting noticed by the art world. And, shooting images that are so overtly sexual is one sure way to do so. While same-sex relationships were decriminalized in Russia in the 1990s, it is still not considered the best place in the world if you identify as LGBTQ+, so it takes someone who is quite gutsy to exhibit provocative imagery in the country’s capital. “Russia is still a young and new country”, says Zorin, “We are still cold and not open to everything. With Hare I am trying to speak with people about sexuality, tolerance, self-acceptance. We had complicated stages of history and we are still finding ourselves. I believe if we make an effort we will be a tolerant and open society soon.”
The chiseled figure at the centre of the Hare images is actually Zorin’s boyfriend. The photographs were shot intuitively after Zorin found the mask in Barcelona and had his partner pose in it in front of a palm tree. The project then evolved to depict the protagonist on a motorbike and in a swimming pool. The text accompanying the images explains that Hare was made in an effort to understand unique and talented people who live among us, but who are misunderstood because their ideas are different to ours. But still, they try to fit into our society, and do normal things like go to the gym or to the supermarket. In this respect, Zorin’s figure is pictured buying groceries and in the pool. The only thing that separates this character from anyone else’s life is the fact that he forgot to put his clothes on this morning and decided to wear a mask instead.
When asked why he chooses to depict sexuality and freedom in his works, Zorin explains that he didn’t choose anything, but rather the message was made subconsciously. “I was very curious when I was a child, my parents gave me a lot of freedom. They understood immediately that I am creative person, I think I was doing everything when I was a child”, he says, “I am very grateful that it was like that. It allowed me to become who I am now and do things that I am doing now.” At 23, Zorin is already doing what many older artists dream of, before the show at Cube.Moscow, he had another solo exhibition at Moscow’s Osnova Gallery. He was also the first Russian photographer to appear on Paddle8, featuring in the fourth volume of the website’s Boys! Boys! Boys! auction.
Speaking about the response to the work, Zorin explains that he is usually met with curiosity. “They see only the naked body”, he says, “But after they read or ask about the concept, they change their opening about the project. I like that I can catch people’s attention with something light, bright and sexy and then tell them my concept when they are already involved. They are like ‘Wow!’. Today everything is so fast, we can’t concentrate and if you want to interest someone, you need to use something they will like.” This makes sense, Zorin’s images are beautiful. The skies are the perfect shade of blue, his subject’s body is immaculate, and it all seems as though the photographs were taken in a dreamed-up land. In fact, Zorin even explains that his main inspirations are his boyfriend, the air and the sky. This explains the lightness within his images. “I’m sure it’s easier to look deep into difficult themes with a light and bright start”, he adds, “If you are always serious you can become crazy.”
Zorin approaches his career through his feelings and is inspired by being outdoors. “I spend a lot of time in nature”, he explains, “Watching the sun’s rays on my body, my hands and how the leaves could be similar to my body. I try to guide myself thinking about the next project, which will tell how the human body and nature is alike.” As for the future, Zorin prefers to live in the moment. “I’m a little tired of dreaming and planning”, he says, “Let’s count on destiny.”
Hare was on display at Cube.Moscow throughout June 2019