Pyotr Bystrov (P.) Lena Kovylina, my women, doesn’t make my life very easy. Zero point zero zero comfort. Nothing but discomfort. But I find it motivating to face her endless demands, her claims, all the conditions she sets. They motivate me to grow personally. I’m telling you: unlike all the other guys, who sit around at home comfortably, sleeping and eating, nobody’s degraded or anything, they’re all still alive, but it seems like they’re all resting or hibernating, because their girlfriends let them do so. But I’m constantly chasing Lena, who is a person you will always have to catch up with. She never yields and is far more energetic than me in many ways. She’s a person who has made herself what she is. Like Baron Münchhausen, she’s constantly pulling herself out of a swamp by her own hair. She’s strong enough to take any risk, to win or to lose, to experiment. So our love and our relationship is actually completely different from all of the relationships or loves that my friends are involved in, some of which, in my opinion, have lowered the stakes of their experiments, deciding to take it easy.
Tsaplya (Ts.) Recently, you’ve been taking part in Lena’s projects as an assistant and have been less focused on pursuing your own art, even though you’ve been quite successful by Russian standards, both as a member of the “Radek” group and as an artist in your right. Does this mean that you’re willing to play a secondary role for the sake of your relationship?
P. I can afford to play a secondary role. I’ve always been immensely attracted to those figures in culture who didn’t realize even half of the potential they had.
Ts. Like who?
P. Examples would be arbitrary. I could give you examples, but this would only confuse your perception of what I’m saying. There are people who demonstrate some kind of drive or strength, a readiness to throw themselves in the breach, which they then never actually realize. Needless to say, there’s strength in weakness. A great deal of strength. And having a great deal of human potential consists in doing less that you are capable of. I’ve stepped back from my own art and my own ambitions for almost a year now, in order to help Lena with some of the technical work. In a way, this refusal can be read as strength. To be more precise, it can contain a form of strength. You don’t necessarily always have to come out on top in order to be a leader, a strong, independent person. Intimacy demands a certain measure of self-denial, in terms of time, health or whatever.
Ts. You’ve neglected your career for almost a year now. Has this given you something that you wouldn’t have gotten if you hadn’t taken a break?
P. Of course.
Ts. You’ve expressed the desire to change your name to Pyotr Kovylin. What were you thinking? I mean, did you immediately decide to play a role opposite to that of the male role in a traditional marriage, when society forces a woman to recognize the man’s priority by refusing her own name?
P. I have to say that Lena didn’t feel more important in a relationship with someone who wanted to take her name for very long. She wasn’t proud or happy about this at all. She immediately told me that it would bother her. And at the same time, although I didn’t even think about it at the time, it was a kind of career-move. Which is why it seems so absurd.
Ts. Why’s that?
P. In part, it was a way of going to the mountain. If the mountain does not come to Mohammed, Mohammed goes to the mountain. It was a very difficult project. I decided that I had to fall in love with a girl. I was making my choice: first, I went out with one girl, then another, but then, I met Lena by coincidence in Vienna. And suddenly I came up with this plan. I wanted to live with her; she would be my wife; I would never be with anyone but her. This is something that is impossible to explain; you would have to dig around in my life quite deeply to find any kind of answer. We can leave this task to my biographers. I simply decided to enter into a deep, intimate relationship with this other human being.
Ts. So tell me, did you actually fall in love, or was it more like an experiment in order to see whether you could fall in love and interact with someone who is pretty forceful and far more experienced than you are?
P. You can fall in love with anyone really. In this sense, it was a rational construct to some degree. I was interested in creating the conditions necessary to falling in love. Of course, later on, I really did fall in love, but at first, it was a discursive project. You know that I made this project public quite often. I offered Lena the chance of stepping into a kind of relationship that cannot be read as an example of any genre. It didn’t mean being lovers or being in love with one another, nor did it mean partnership. Our project consisted in that we went to the so-called experts, people who gave us advice on what to do in order not to get sucked into love, into a routine, into the every-day. We create a kind of relationship that is impossible to characterize from the outside. I always like situations with ambiguous identities. I was interested in forcing internal errors. It would have seemed that everything was obvious. I write Lena a note: “Hi Lena and tu-tu-tu”. You don’t have to wait for expectation. And in this sense, it’s easy to fall in love. It’s also easy to make someone love you. What could more interesting than spoiling this beautiful picture for yourself? I wanted to construct a relationship as it was, protracted in time, with a perspective for the future, but about which it would be impossible to say anything, where it would be impossible to know why these people are actually together?
Ts. And now? How quickly did you slip into the “norm”?
P. I don’t want to say that this didn’t happen. For how long can you walk on water? For a fraction of second? But does this mean that the person who can walk on water for a little longer comes out as the winner? The only thing that is important is the precedent, namely that people were able to create something different from the absolute majority of most people. It’s important to get beyond the typical, absolutely standardized forms of communities between women and men. For me, the attempt to create alternative forms of communities is the only absolute quality; it is what I have dedicated all of my inventiveness to. This isn’t for the benefit of other people, but for myself. I simply find it boring if my girlfriend cooks me lunch and gapes at me in wonder. Of course, we’ve fallen into some more or less normal regime by now, but we don’t live in one house or even in one country, so whenever we meet, it’s complete euphoria.
Ts. So you actually stepped into a relationship in which each person’s strength expresses itself to a maximum ?
P. Yes. We undertook a form of cartography; we wanted to explore and to open up each other’s geysers and subterranean springs, each other’s fields of force. To generate a maximum of tension in order to allow a miracle to occur. Because in an extreme situation, a person can confess to something, for an example, or offer something. The smaller the challenge and the more routine, the less people think. The idea was to radicalize the everyday with the goal of allowing each of us to reveal our personal resources.
Ts. Tell me, is there victory or a victor in this situation?
P. I don’t think in these kinds of categories. We’ve been together for about one and a half years. I’ve changed tremendously since then. I’ve done a mass of things that I would have never done earlier on. For an example, if somebody insulted me back then, I would either beat them up or refuse to talk to them ever again. You know, recently, I watched a cartoon in which a little boy enters the witch’s hut and find an entire palace inside. The cartoon called this a “trick”. It’s the same in relationship: you see one thing and relate to it in a certain way, but in the end, it turns out to be something absolutely different. I used to believe in Blitzkrieg. I’ve always asked myself whether love was war or alliance? And I still haven’t found an answer to this question.