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Lilia Li-Mi-Yan
Katherina Sadovsky

Lilia Li-Mi-Yan (B. 1971) and Katherina Sadovsky (B. 1985) are a duo of Russian artists, currently based in Yerevan (Armenia). They studied photography at the Rodchenko Art School, Moscow. They have been working together since 2016. Their versatile approach to art practice covers such art media as photography, painting, sculpture, photo books, installation, video, sound, intervention into public and natural spaces, social activism on collection of plastic waste in Moscow.

Your film "When the Hawk Comes" was a finalist in the Best Experimental Music Video category at Experimental Brasil 2024.


1-Can you both introduce yourselves and share a bit about your artistic backgrounds and how you came to collaborate on projects together?


Katherina: We are a duo of multidisciplinary artists—Lilia Li-Mi-Yan and Katherina Sadovsky. We met at Rodchenko Art School (Moscow, Russia) as students, and we've been working together ever since. We exist as artists not only in collaboration but also in personal projects. Lilia has a passion for modern photography, and I have a passion for new media and videos. This giant golden thread mix is noticeable in our common projects.


2-What inspired the creation of "When the Hawk Comes," and what themes or messages were you hoping to convey through this film?


Lilia: I wouldn't describe it as inspiration. These are events that have thrown us into shock. We lived relatively peacefully until February 24, 2022 (Russia's invasion of Ukraine). And since I am also a citizen of Armenia, I am very much affected by what is happening there – the endless problem of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh (an unrecognized state in Transcaucasia) and military operations there. The accumulated pain resulted in this project. It is essential for us to show how we feel about what is happening. We believe there should be no war in the 21st century, and a civilized society should negotiate, not grab a weapon. The main thing for us is not to follow what we are told from above but to have our own opinion on what is happening, not to lose our human appearance, and include critical thinking in what is happening.


3-How did your training in photography at the Rodchenko Art School influence your approach to filmmaking and visual storytelling?


Katherina: The photo was the beginning. It also has visual storytelling, and it's very powerful, especially if we're talking about a series or a project. It doesn't have to be a documentary photograph. A series of images or objects can tell you a story through the poetry of an image – light, shape, text, colors, or their absence, something in the image pushes you to memories or associations. This is experimental cinema if you make the images move.


4-Can you discuss the significance of using the Armenian lullaby as a central motif in "When the Hawk Comes" and its connection to the broader narrative?


Lilia: In the original, the lullaby in Armenian sounds incredibly beautiful. Its melodiousness lulls you. Still, when considering the words, it is clear that the singing women accept their son's decision to become a warrior and can lose him at any time.


In a conversation with Armenian women, we realized they did not interpret this lullaby so deeply. When they thought about the words, it became clear that they were preparing their sons to become warriors, go to war, and die from the cradle.There should be no wars in the 21st century; a person's life is our most valuable thing. We are against cannon fodder in the role of man. We are in favor of negotiating!


5-The film explores the relationship between humans and nature, particularly in the context of war and ecological concerns. Can you elaborate on why these themes are important to you as artists?


Katherina: The film "When the hawk comes," which we present at Experimental Brasil, is a poetic metaphor for today: War, the violence of power over people, a woman, and her tragedy in the war. Ecology and the relationship between species are in our other works. These topics interest us because they are the pain of our modernity. Our reality stretches from the past and has no sharp and positive changes. An artist should explore, talk, and reflect on today and a little about tomorrow so that the day after tomorrow, the world can modernize for the better by the forces of society, whose personalities are shaped by art. If this does not happen, we have little chance as a species:)


6-As a duo, how do you navigate the collaborative process when working on multimedia projects like "When the Hawk Comes"?


Lilia: It's very easy for us. We always share the work. But before that, we discuss our vision for a long time and, in detail, the meaning we want to convey, the visual range, music, etc. Sometimes, financial constraints make us professionals in different fields, and we combine many professions in our person.


7-Your artistic practice covers a wide range of mediums, from photography to installation to social activism. How do you decide which medium to use for a particular project, and how do these different mediums complement each other in your work?


Katherina: We have only worked with digital media and video for the last three years. Now, we are in the territory of video art and experimental films. We have an image, sound, visual language, story, video, and CGI, which are enough to embody. We have a project called Where is my plastic bag? Which we have been working on for several years. It's an environmental issue. It includes several types of mediums – from photography of objects created from recycled plastic to scientific research and development (we tested the development of biodegradable hydrogel, which is used in agriculture). We could not limit ourselves to one or two media in such a big job.


8-In your director statement, you mention exploring questions about the future, ecology, and human-nature relationships. How do you see art's role in addressing these complex societal issues?


Katherina: Art, like science, is the territory of research – through thought and visual image. I don't think art can solve problems; it has other functions. But art can scream and hit you right in the forehead. Then pop culture picks it up and carries it to the masses.


9- Can you share any insights into the symbolism behind the recurring imagery of women in "When the Hawk Comes" and their role within the narrative?


Katherina: The video is based on an Armenian folk lullaby, which sings how a mother puts her son to bed, but he cries and cannot fall asleep. Various birds fly to his nursery window and sing songs to lull the boy to sleep. Each bird symbolizes the child's choice in the future, who he will become, and which road he will choose. For example, a nightingale symbolizes a clergyperson, and a magpie symbolizes a merchant. And when the last bird, the hawk, starts its warlike song, the baby falls asleep. This means that he chooses the path of a warrior. His mother cries but comes to terms with it. We are reviewing the impact of folklore and old ideological beliefs in a culture where a mother does not agree to send a child to war. This lullaby sounds throughout the video, interpreted by modern musicians and the choir.


Nineteen women are wandering through the desert, historically a battlefield, or locked in a dark cave. At first glance, the spacious landscape has no boundaries, but it is impossible to get out of it. Just as the walls of a dark temple may not be a prison, but a refuge in which our women are locked up, as if inside their grief.


The stones hang in the air under the alarmingly changing sound of the lullaby. The predatory hawk turns into a drone and the expectation of catharsis increases. We bring the audience close to him, and twice. At first, space explodes with a cataclysm, suggesting the fateful presence of higher forces, and later, the glow of sunset looks too much like a fatal explosion of human origin. It becomes clear that in this story, there is not only a happy ending but no end. Here, this usual technique takes on a new meaning and significance. The story begins from the beginning, and the viewer returns to the pile of female bodies that wake up from sleep or get up after death. Folklore motifs of a lullaby are filled with relevant meanings, and meditativeness is filled with hidden despair.


10-What do you hope viewers will take away from experiencing "When the Hawk Comes," especially in terms of its commentary on contemporary social and environmental issues?


Lilia: It's hard to say what the viewer will feel or what conclusion they will draw. We want the audience to be able to immerse themselves in a culture that is unfamiliar to them but a familiar story. We saw and felt the beauty of the images. Of course, art will not solve all problems, but we can allow the viewer to think.


11-Are there any upcoming projects or ideas you're excited to explore in your future artistic endeavors?


Lilia: We always continue with a thought project. We are currently working on a new video project about cyborg. It will be a 40-minute or more film, which will use CGI and 3d effects, and the text (cyborg monologue) is written using several text neural networks. The cyborg man can be perceived as a symbol of evolution, showing how closely our future is linked to technological advances. It can raise questions about what is truly human and how technological improvements affect our essence. This may allow us to rethink the meaning of humanism and our attitude to technology, which becomes a living example of the dynamism and complexity of modern society, offering new ways of understanding our place in it.

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