Class of 2021: Veronica Petukhov

Gray’s School of Art BA (Hons) Contemporary Art Practice graduating artist Veronica Petukhov speaks to Orla Foster.

Veronica Petukhov uses augmented reality and glitchy visuals to create a hypnotic digital universe. Born in Italy to parents from the former Soviet Union, Petukhov is a BA (Hons) Contemporary Art Practice student at Gray’s School of Art, where she first started designing immersive audiovisual experiences. By turns playful and surreal, her work invites the viewer to experiment with virtual filters while considering some of the ways we each manipulate our own image to navigate cyberspace. Rather than viewing the transition to an online degree show as a setback, Petukhov is eager to explore the creative possibilities of the medium and to develop new ways for viewers to interact with her work.

What are the main elements of your practice, and what kind of work will you be showing at the degree show?

The main elements of my art are 3D, video and augmented reality. I really like vibrant, neon colours like acid green, and textures and shapes that have been mapped in 3D to give that weird feeling where you aren’t sure what is real. A lot of people, when I tell them what I do, think I just grab an image online and put a colourful filter on it. But it’s a very long process, with a lot of trial and error. I want to make a degree show where people can try out augmented reality for themselves, with art they can look at on their phones and see how it works.

How have you used this aesthetic to explore ideas around social media?

I’m really interested in the curation of social media, particularly the ways beautifying filters can impact on people’s self-esteem and how they perceive themselves. I used to use a lot of beautifying filters because I was very insecure with myself, but since I started researching augmented reality, I explored the positive side too. I began to embrace how you can become art just by wearing a crazy filter. With augmented reality, people can try on my work and interact with it.

How has your work changed in the time you’ve been doing your course?

In my first year, when I had just moved from Italy, I was still very attached to my classical roots. In Italy you do a lot of sculpture and painting, learning the anatomy and drawing from life models. It gave me a base to do what I do now, which I’m thankful for, but after ten years, it was too much and I decided, OK, I need to change drastically. So I started glitching and learning how to corrupt files and do all these weird things with video. I started databending and datamoshing and also a type of node editing. Back in 2018, I wouldn’t ever have thought that I would be able to code and sculpt in 3D, or create an augmented reality filter that people can use on Instagram. But it’s totally pushed my boundaries as an artist and my capacity to explore different ideas.

What do you hope to achieve with your degree show?

I want to make people look at digital art differently, because although it’s becoming more popular it’s still a bit frowned upon. In my house in Italy, my parents still display all the paintings I did when I was younger, and they keep asking me when I’m going to make real art again. When I show them my glitchy, crazy 3D, they don’t understand it at all! So that’s my goal with the degree show: to introduce people to augmented reality and all these cool modern ways of showing your art work online.

What are the challenges of preparing for an online degree show?

It’s been a challenge mastering new software, and trying to make everything look right in this virtual degree space without physically building anything. Originally I wanted a physical installation so I could show my work on a screen, and have the opportunity to talk to people, maybe even sell works. And I had to scrap that and start thinking: how can I present my work in a virtual degree show but still make it elaborate? It’s also been tough not having those human connections, like a group tutorial to see what other people are doing. Instead I’m just sitting for ten hours straight at my desk, drinking six coffees a day, trying to finish everything without killing my computer in the meantime.

As a digital artist, have you been able to use the online degree show format to your advantage?

I must say that I’ve been the lucky one. They started teaching us how to make the virtual degree show in the first semester, and it was not fun for my poor classmates who don’t use 3D programmes. But I was pretty shocked that last year, lots of students just created a standard white cube. It was a bit of a shame because in 3D you can literally create a fantasy world, something that in an actual gallery wouldn’t work out. I’m definitely going to do something super crazy that doesn’t exist in reality. There will be floating platforms, and trees with skin texture, and people will be able to scan everything with their phones and be part of the virtual degree show with me. I’m happy because I just want to spread more of this digital art. I’m probably the only person who is happy about having a virtual degree show!

What are your plans after graduation?

I fell in love with Scotland and the UK, so I really would like to stay here, maybe in a bigger city like Glasgow or Edinburgh. I would like to be somewhere digital art and electronic music are more relevant. As a young creative, though, it has scared me to see how many jobs were lost and how many places closed because of the pandemic. Maybe 2021 is not a great moment to be an artist. But because this is my dream and it’s what I really want to do in life, I’ll keep going and I’ll work for it. All generations have tough times, but it will get better.

Degree Show: Virtual Degree Show launches 9 July 2021.

Interview by Orla Foster.

1. Veronica Petukhov, dentroloschermo: Inside the screen, 3D image created in Blender, 2021.
2. Veronica Petukhov, 1B5D3CC9-B352-4A64-BF53-889E0C4863E9:  Selfie with Augmented Reality filter applied, created in Blender and Spark AR, 2021.
3. Veronica Petukhov, Screenshot from the video La Maschera, created in TouchDesigner and Adobe Premiere Pro, 2021
4. Veronica Petukhov, DSC_0052 (Filming process), 2021. Photo: Claudia Sneddon