Irina Valkova is a Russian artist now living and working in Bielefeld, Germany. For the last 15 years she has been living in different countries because of her husbands career. She studied at Art Center College of Design (Los Angeles), Smolny College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Saint-Petersburg), majoring in Fine Art Media and System Theory, and received her BA and MA in Fine Arts from Weissensee School fo Art (Berlin). Read more about Irina on www.irinavalkova.com/works
Moving around for 15 years because of my husbands job
I am a visual artist currently living in a mid-size city of Bielefeld in Germany. For the last 15 years we have been moving quite a lot, which was related to my husband’s work. My professional activity has much to do with artistic research and non-commercial contemporary art, so it has never been a shortcut to a bread-winning position in the family. At the same time, art allows me to be professionally flexible in new life situations: after all, curiosity and openness are among chief artistic tools, as is the ability to look at things in a non-judgemental way. These are the skills that were helping me to get adjusted to new places and be open to people of different social and cultural backgrounds. They shaped the content of my work, too.
Setting up interdisciplinary contacts
As we arrived to Bielefeld, I was, frankly, not very excited about the city. It was my first experience of living in a town with a quite humble artistic scene. Besides, Bielefeld was almost completely destroyed during the war and only a tiny part of it was restored. Being a “visual” kind of person, I was craving for beauty. So I was seeking it everywhere and found it in the city’s dance scene, which turned out to be very rich and inspiring. Overall, I explored institutions and people that could be interesting to collaborate with of just good to know – and they were not necessarily from the art scene. For a while, I worked as a curatorial intern at the local Artists Union – the place for contemporary art in town. It was an important experience as I got to know several really interesting colleagues. I found out about the art theory programme at the university, which is a very noteworthy institution. There I visited some top-quality lectures, seminars and conferences that also answered some of my professional questions. Therefore, I highly recommend looking beyond your main professional interest and setting up interdisciplinary contacts.
Very important was the understanding of the fact that the city is rather small but the world is big, so I can make my projects practically everywhere: it doesn’t have to be exactly where I live. Germany is a relatively small country with well-developed train system and you can travel easily.
Professional freedom and personal development
Now I work between Berlin and Bielefeld, also exhibiting my work in other cities. All this gives me a completely different perspective of professional freedom and personal development. And I still try to find connection to the city, first asking myself what I can improve here and where I can be helpful.
Another important thing was somehow not to lose my own identity. I know who I am and what I like, so my ability to adjust has its limits. Although I was curious about the local way of life, I have never planned to become a German in Germany or a Dane in Denmark. I just borrowed what I liked in the local culture and ignored things that did not suit me.
The most challenging was to understand, that I don’t have to spend all my time in a town where I live. I can enjoy its advantages (friendly and curious people, more or less affordable housing, closeness to nature), but I still work on my projects elsewhere in Germany as well as other countries. Germany has plenty of opportunities for funding art study and artistic projects.
While moving between countries, you inevitably learn to deal with people from other cultural backgrounds, it’s like training the muscle of your emotional development. It’s a great chance to become more curious, compassionate and more confident in your communication with others. Now I enjoy seeing how my child gets similar social skills as we travel and how relatively easy it is for her to be surrounded by truly different people, to have friends speaking different languages.