Interviewing Irina Antonets

In today’s interview, a Prague based artist, Irina Antonets talked about her work, where her inspiration comes from and the still very unfamiliar world of microorganisms she’s trying to uncover. With most of her art based on fungi, she’s dedicated her work to introducing us to their charm and raising awareness about the importance of mushrooms in people’s lives. 

What was the first thing that drew you to art?

I suppose, I think of it as a natural instinct from my childhood because as a kid I was really interested in drawing without anyone really pressuring me into it. I used to spend hours just drawing. I would sketch these figures of princes, princesses and horses all the time with this fairytale theme. Back home in Russia, I still have tons and tons of papers I used to work on. I would draw on my father’s work documents and even doors in the house. Basically, any surface I could find… I don’t think I ever questioned what drew me to art because I believed there was always something in me, from a very little age. As early as I could hold a pen, I was smitten by it. There was no particular thing that made me think of art, it was always there. At four I think, I already had my first exhibition in kindergarten. 

When did you decide that you wanted art as a career?

I believe this was also something that came naturally. I didn’t hesitate much, although I was always torn between design and art. I knew it had to be related to art in the end, but I was a bit reluctant in deciding what I wanted specifically. I did design and architectural projects in school and I also had an extracurricular class where we would study about composition rules. Even though I viewed myself as more of an artist, I saw design as something a bit more serious than art at first. I felt that design would be an occupation with better job stability, so I went into college as an industrial design major. There is this prejudice towards artist where they’re seen as a bit frivolous. I even did my master’s in a similar field – future design at PCU, which now I see as a slow transition towards art. In the middle of my master’s, I acknowledged my desire to draw and at that point I organized my first exhibition in Prague. That was when I really understood that I had moved towards art. After graduation I went straight into another master’s in fine art.

Most of your art focuses on plant life and mushrooms, why does so much of your inspiration come from nature?

I would say there are two points. The first one would be my childhood. Ever since I was little, my parents would take me to the forest to go hiking and pick mushrooms. We would do it all together and have these little games and competitions. I get this feeling of sweet nostalgia when I go into nature. It’s kind of in my blood to go search for them. Now that I’ve moved away from home, I have this need to go to the forest because I feel it brings me closer to my family. The other point is, that as an adult I started reading scientific articles about mushrooms and microorganisms. I started researching them and their behavior and became fascinated by what they can do and ways they can help in. Then, I began microscopic research as well. When I see this universe that’s under the microscope, it takes my breath away. I think these are the main things that inspire me.

What is your favorite piece you’ve worked on?

It’s actually very difficult to say. One of my favorites would be the project I did for this mushroom farm in New York. A man contacted me through Instagram where I’m connected with a big network of mushroom enthusiasts. He asked me to do a logo and I came up with this nice composition consisting of three types of fungi. I also enjoy making animations out of my illustrations which I post on my YoutTube channel.

You’ve recently started a new project based on fungi art. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

Right now, I’m in ‘Triglav’ national park in PIFcamp in Slovenia. Here, I’m working on my newest project called ‘Mycostories’. Parallel to collecting mushroom stories all around the world, I’m conducting microscopic research. Based on this, I am creating a series of illustrations with the aim of spreading knowledge about fungi. At the same time, their purpose will be to describe these little tales, all of which are so unique and individual. I love how all of these stories connect into one sophisticated structure. What I didn’t even expect is to collect so many of them just by randomly talking with people here at camp. I would say that this is just the beginning and I will continue collecting more and more stories, because as I do I become increasingly captivated by them. The result will be the series of illustrations I already mentioned and an additional animation of them. Who knows maybe even a book in the future…? It's fascinating to see how people who were never interested in mushrooms before, suddenly fall in love with them, and how fungi are changing people's lives, helping them to heal cancer, anxiety, addiction, and many other diseases and problems.

Mirna K.

August 27, 2021

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