Environmental agenda and recycling practices in the works of Ien Syr
On a small pink paper square there are circles cut out of plastic bottles and hanging red threads. This is a Ien Syr’s object from the "Rains" series, which resembles the works of the minimalists of the 60s. The paper is hand-cast from used cash receipts. Initially, the artist began experiments with recycling due to the lack of suitable materials for ink painting.

"I didn't get enough from art paper, which is usually sold in stores. She has no soul: you just buy something ready-made, produced in a huge factory. It didn't inspire me," explains Ien Syr.

At first there were experiments with waste paper, then the idea of using receipts appeared. "About three years ago, sorting points had just begun to appear in Yakutsk. I watched lectures by eco-activists popular in the republic about recycling and realized that recycling needs to be made a part of my life and creativity."


The artist creates sheets of paper right in the kitchen, using a screen, a grid and water. To "cast" 5 thin sheets, you need two full packages of receipts, for a large canvas - a whole bucket of receipts. Each sheet is covered with varnish or paint: Ien Syr uses colored paper for small objects, and white paper for drawing.
The value of the artist's recycling practices is that she does not resort to far-fetched conceptualization, so popular with many young artists. Ien Syr does not articulate her art in a political or ecofeminist dimension. Rather, she enjoys working with the material itself, testing its plastic capabilities. For example, she stitches fragments of a paper sheet into a spatial object for an installation dedicated to the visibility of the problem of domestic violence. The artist invites the viewer to put a thing connected personally with this topic,
in a special box wrapped with sheets of recycled receipts. Such a "transfer" becomes a kind of ritual that may help to survive a traumatic experience.
One of the most powerful works of Ien Syr using checks is embroidery "Mutter" on pink tinted paper, referring to female physicality. The work triggers an unobvious associative series: motherhood, the female body, recycling and has a critical potential. A completely different story with the "Consumer Cube" object is a large plastic box similar to a swimming pool, but with receipt instead of water. A rather obvious anti-consumerist metaphor seems out of place against the background of much more subtle and personal works of the artist. Moreover, for Ien Syr, ecology is rather not a new global policy, but a "theory of small affairs".

"I make the paper I need and at the same time change my lifestyle. This is a small daily manifesto against the consumer attitude to the outside world."

How long this daily manifesto will be small largely depends on the physical size of the Ien Syr’s workspace. She bluntly says that the absence of a workshop does not allow her to work with large formats. Art related to recycling has been developing in Russia in recent years along the path of gigantomania and collaborations with major brands. For example, in August, a public art object was installed in the Yekaterinburg MEGA-park from spent engines, engines and pistons melted in the furnace of the Pervouralsky Intermold plant. The Moscow department store "Tsvetnoy" installed a box on its territory to collect old knitwear, so that then the Vereja clothing brand would "dissolve" the sweaters into threads. Of these, the brand's artists created a 25-meter recycling installation. The demand for such joint projects is increasing. Therefore, it will be difficult for artists to use recycling, including Ien Syr, to think through their own artistic strategy without taking into account this trend.
Motherhood, charms and self-awareness as an artist
"In Yakutia, there is a concept of "emeget": if an object is "humanized", then it becomes a amulet of its owner. Shamans considered emeget their patron. The birth of me as an artist is closely connected with this concept. This is the subject of the work "ichchileekh ete ...", for the creation of which I used human hair, plastic bottles and slimy toys. The symbolic representation of female tubes, an embryo — is a metaphor for my art. With this object, I "humanize" him and make him a amulet of his own life. Because the meaning of my life is creativity," is how Ien Syr talks about the object "ichchileekh ete...".
Ien Syr next to her works at the Blazar Fair
The realization of herself as a professional artist came to Ien Syr after the birth of her second daughter. Before her maternity leave, she managed to graduate from the Arctic State Institute of Culture and Arts in Yakutsk with a degree in "Environment Designer" and work for several years by profession. The artist created interior items in the workshop of forged products and designed small architectural forms.

"After the birth of my second daughter, I experienced postpartum depression for several months. When I was working, I drew for myself in parallel. At the moment of forced isolation, I returned to creativity. Art saved me and the depression went away. After that, I started calling myself an artist."

Ien Syr works at night when the children are already asleep. Her time starts at 11 pm and ends at 4 am. At night, the kitchen becomes a workshop.


In her interviews or public texts, Ien Syr does not pronounce the use of feminist optics and critical theory, does not compare herself with artists like Louise Bourgeois, Mary Kelly or Katie Kollwitz. "I never analyze how different aesthetics can be combined or mixed. I work from the image: I carry it and then it comes out at one moment. The topic of pregnancy and motherhood is my present and I am now waiting for new images and feelings in the future."
Surrealism and the spirits of the forest
Surrealism and the spirits of the forest
The surrealist Max Ernst often used his own frottage technique. The artist translated the texture of various objects on paper: from the old wooden floor to the leaves. Yen Syr achieves the relief she needs thanks to experiments on casting her own paper. Moreover, for objects, she chooses the most "rough" sheets with expressive breaks. But such experiments are far from the only intersection of her work with the surrealists. For example, the artist weaves the image of the eye into a fantastic landscape, in much the same way as Max Ernst did in his “Natural History” series.


"I have been interested in abstract and surreal paintings since childhood. I went to an art class and in art history classes we reached the XX century: we talked about Picasso, Dali, Kandinsky. I looked at their work with delight and thought: was it even possible?" In the surrealists, Yen Syr is attracted by the mystery and absurd connections between objects in one work.


The surrealism of Yen Syr organically coexists with the rituals and mythology of the Sakha people. For example, the objects in the installation "River" resemble a fish, a boat or the "eye of the river" in shape. The river is one of the most revered entities in Yakutia. They ask her for help and bring small gifts. "If a person crosses a river for the first time, he should always ask her to make everything go well. Each river has its own history and mystery. I think that through my "Eye of the river" I was able to convey the deepest mysticism of rivers and the image born in my head."


The Yakut epic Olonkho paints a picture of a magical, fantasy world, but with its own clear structure. The Upper world is inhabited by good gods - “ayyy”, the Middle one - people, as well as "ichchi", that is, spirits of various beings and objects. Abaasy demons live in the Lower one. All three worlds are connected by the great tree of life Aal Luuk Mas. "There is complete surrealism going on there!", laughs Yen Syr. "Probably, the ability to marry a folk epic and European surrealism is written in my genetic code."

Artist's personal website: https://www.iensyr.com/