Meet identical twins Maria and Natalia. The pair were born in Leningrad yet departed from the city the year it regained its original name, St. Petersburg. Their father, a film producer and their mother, a theater director, were both part of the Russian creative scene. “We were, of course, also part of this scene as children,” Maria recalls and the twins both laugh. “We became interested in drawing at a very young age and our parents brought us to the children’s studio of the Hermitage Museum.” Already as children the twins knew that they wanted to be artists. “We never thought of any other profession.”
Natalia and Maria were twelve years old when the Perestroika movement for reformation in Russia started. During this period within the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, there were a lot of opportunities arising which hadn’t been there before, the sisters explain. “New types of schools were opening, for example. Among other great things, international exchanges were being offered to school children,” Maria tells; an opportunity the girls took, and a little later they found themselves staying with an American host family in Providence, Rhode Island. Their host parents, two professors at the Rhode Island College, liked them so much that they eventually convinced the twins to return for their further studies as well as assisting their applications for a scholarship from the theater and art departments of Rhode Island College. “We were absolute pioneers,” the twins laugh, reflecting back to that time in their lives. At the age of 17 they moved to the US and started studying Art and Technical Theater at Rhode Island College. They eventually graduated with Masters degrees in Fine Arts from Hunter College of the City University of New York in 1999. “Living in the States was a very exciting part of our lives,” they say in reflection.
The pair made their move to Germany in 2000. Their parents had just recently settled down in the northern city of Hamburg. “Being artists at that time in Russia was very difficult, so we decided to join our parents in Hamburg.” “We never planed on living in Germany,” the twins continue, “In fact if someone had told us 20 years ago that we will end up living here we wouldn’t have believed it.” The twins express to me that they find the contemporary art scene in Germany to be one of the leading in the world. After living and studying in the US, it was easier for them as artists to fit in here than in any other country. “We didn’t speak a word of German though. We didn’t even know the word ‘Kunst’ [German for ‘art’]” the twins laugh. They went on to learn German and to exhibit their works in galleries as well as teaching art at the Education Department of the Hamburger Kunsthalle – one of the largest museums in Germany.
Whilst living in Hamburg the sisters travelled extensively. “We took part in eleven different residency programs in France, Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Spain and Finland. We were always packing our bags for the next residency. At some point we wanted a permanent address and our own studio, and this is why we moved to Berlin,” the twins finishing the sentence together.
In 2010 they received a studio in Kreuzberg from the artists’ union (BBK) and came to Berlin. “We loved Berlin right from the beginning. For us, Berlin has the flavor of New York City and, at the same time, feels very Russian,” they say. Both are fascinated by the complex history of Berlin and tell me that it provides a lot of inspiration for their art work. “We wouldn’t call Berlin a particularly beautiful city. It is definitely a lively city, full of energy, full of charged substance. We feel we could make work about Berlin for the rest of our lives and we would still be finding new things,” Maria and Natalia agree nodding at each other.
For more information about Maria’s and Natalia’s work go to www.petschatnikov.de.
Visit their exhibition “Collecting the City” from 19.05 – 03.07.16 at Galerie im Tempelhof Museum, Alt-Mariendorf 43, 12107 Berlin.