Visual Observational Comedy: the world of @thundergirl_xtal


Katya Molchanova is a Russian artist and art director based in Moscow. Under the instagram handle @thundergirl_xtal she publishes videos and images that infuses daily life and objects with irony, paradoxes and novel meanings, exploring hidden facets of reality. Starting from a strong bond with the natural world, Katya creates impermanent sculptures and performances that can be witty, disturbing or just surprising, gracing the feed of her follower with glimpses of wonder. We interviewed her previously, and here we go deeper in her artistic practice ahead of her upcoming solo show in the summer in Moscow. Here is our Q&A with the artist:

To what degree your studies and upbringing influence your art?
I went to university to study graphic design. In a manner of speaking, from the age of 18 I was in the atmosphere of complete acceptance and endless conversation about art, aesthetics and taste. We had a friendly community of like-minded people, including talented musicians, poets, fashion designers and set designers. I studied design and my mentor was a very talented artist who always supported me. It was at the university that I became imbued with the history of art and realized that the stories about contemporary artists, their methods of work and concepts really appeal to me and resonate with me. I began to take the first modest steps and look for myself at the end of my studies, and I was able to call myself an artist only two years after graduating from university. No one taught me how to take pictures, work with light and the human body. I wasn’t trained to be an artist, but the environment gave me complete freedom, I could be whatever I wanted. And this is the most valuable.

Your art lives in the intersection between photography, make up, fashion, sculpture and performance. How did you develop your aesthetic?
I’m always on the lookout. The world is so diverse and beautiful that I don’t want to limit myself to any format. I focus on my idea and choose the most accurate format that can convey it. I would love to add dance, poetry, and music to my art, but for now, for me, these areas are like a wild forest, inviting, very beautiful, but impassable. I will be very happy if in a couple of years I can express my ideas not only through photography and performance, but also through music or stand-up performances. Now I record my work with the help of photography and this is the most accessible way of self-expression. I have come a long way to understand exactly how I need to present my art, which more accurately reflects my ideas. At different stages, my photos were in varying degrees sharp, provocative and bold, but there was always a physicality or visual pun in them. Through experiments and mistakes, I found my signature style.

You employ mainly natural elements in your practice: what is your relationship with the natural world?
I try to use in my work either found objects, or those materials that can be recycled. All other materials for me are more of the restrictions that bind me to the workshop or to the size of the space. And things made of traditional durable materials need to be stored somewhere, and I really do not like to take up a lot of space, which is already not very much in the life of a modern person living in the city. It’s important for me to stay mobile and make art no matter where I am. I often do my work in nature. Whether it’s a beach or a mountainside, I’ll always find the perfect material to work with. Because of this, all my work is short-lived, they gradually dry up, rot and sometimes stink, but quickly turn into compost. It’s funny, but I don’t have any of my  work: they all either became fertilizer, or are eaten or reused for other tasks.

Does irony have a role in your process?
Now I describe my art as “Visual Observational Comedy”, because my work is based on the paradoxes that I notice in everyday life. I am very ironic about my ideas, they often arise from jokes and puns. I have a specific sense of humor, I would like it to be read in my work.

Does your work deal with memory, childhood, nostalgia?
My childhood and childhood experiences are the foundation of my work. I had a very happy childhood, full of unconditional love and tenderness. I was a very quiet and dreamy child, I could play for hours. When you are a child, every day is an adventure, an expedition full of experiments. Children learn the world, think outside the box, without certain patterns, they are not afraid to make mistakes and come up with hypotheses, test them. I grew up, became an independent girl with a great career and a wonderful environment. But at some point I realized that I really want my life to be an adventure, like in my childhood. Because of this, my works often refer to children’s games, during which the leaves turn into money, the petals into the most beautiful nails, and the most ordinary stone becomes a jewel.

What would you like to communicate with your images?
Through my work, I learn about myself. For me, my work is an opportunity to turn to myself, to listen to what I really want. Doing my work, I get a lot of pleasure and every time I find answers to my questions to the world. The topic of identity, the issues of norms and patterns are important to me. It is important for me to loosen and expand my boundaries, what I consider beautiful and ugly, scary, threatening and beautiful. I often use popular formats. For example, I photograph my work from the same angle as usual Instagram stars present their perfect makeup, but my photos show all the pores, and my face is decorated with slices of radish. I turn over the usual beauty rituals and show that the face is a perfect place for experiments, and cosmetics can be replaced by other materials: petals, twigs and leaves.

Do your work more in terms of single images or series?
I like to do both series and individual works. I have favorite formats and motifs that I often repeat.

What are you currently working on?
Now I am preparing my personal exhibition, which will open in the summer in Moscow, in the midst of the flowering of all my favorite plants. This is an exciting moment for me, my last exhibition was three years ago, during this time a lot has changed and I really have something to show.

We live in a time where images are overwhelmingly present, where our vision is constantly overstimulated – how does this affect your creativity?
I have a difficult relationship with social media, they take a lot of time and effort. I try to give myself more personal space and focus on my life outside all of it. For me, Instagram is a personal page where I allow myself to post not only my work, but also simple everyday photos. This is not a job for me, but an opportunity to show what I think is important, funny, beautiful and not. I specifically created such conditions and filters for myself to dose the flow of information that I receive. I try not to race or compete with anyone. I do and show my work only when I want to. Now everything is changing so fast that I try to focus on myself and on my needs.

It’s a time of uncertainty and political polarization, what is the role of the artist, the role of beauty? Do you feel a responsibility?
I really want art to help and support people in such difficult times, we all lack good news and stability. It is important for me to stay in touch with my community, to support internal initiatives and ideas. I believe that everyone can be engaged in creativity, you do not need to have talent or abilities, because of this, you want people to allow themselves to create and express themselves more.

What is the most thought-provoking and challenging image you took in your opinion?
That’s a good question! My favorite works are the most accurate and simple images. Works are symbols, they are unambiguous and easy to understand. For example:

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