Anastasiya Tarasenko: Medieval Menageries of Mirth and Mayhem
Anastasiya Tarasenko started I Want Therefore I Am, I Am Therefore I Want (2021) by painting the two humans in the bottom center and working outward. First to the blue whale they are seated on, then the red and blue disembodied arms whose middle fingers they engulf into their open mouths, and finally the menagerie of animals (some fornicating, others fighting) surrounding them on little green islands. A lot is happening. Yet rendered in bright, primary colors and rounded, bulbous lines, these characters assemble in the painting like a seamless comic strip, and encourage the eye to bounce from one critter to the next.
In my interview with the artist about I Want Therefore I Am, which is included with the Kinstler puzzle featuring the painting, she attributes her style to the influence of medieval art, saying:
"They had a very cartoonish way about them, but it was also very specific and quite serious how they depicted people. They didn't care about realism whatsoever. There was no beauty, they depicted an anecdote in the simplest possible terms…You believe them, even though they're extremely cartoonish, you believe what is going on."
Tarasenko speaks about making the heavy scenarios she depicts—humans and other animals performing acts of consumption, greed, and power—goofy. It is a strategy to get at the essence of lived experience, which teeters between joy and trauma as animals fulfill their desires.
The dueling warships in the top center were the last pieces of the composition that the artist added, and is indeed the furthest away by the logic of two-point perspective. That allusion to war, along with ice-caps melting and slowly submerging land until only the bits of an archipelago remain, forecasts an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world according to the foibles of contemporary humanity.
We spoke shortly before war broke out in the artist’s native Ukraine, with attacks by Putin’s Russia realizing some twisted national manifest destiny… to live the story it tells itself. It’s hard to find levity in the on-the-ground horror of how this story plays out. Still, Tarasenko manages to imbue humor amidst the persistence of destruction. After all, a good laugh is the ultimate act of survival.