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Yves Klein, 2012

Poor but Cool

Overthrowing symbolic tyranny with Tumblr's freshest, Vova Vorotniov

Achilles' running shoe pierced with an arrow, Michelangelo meeting his Ninja turtles name twin and Chanel in the hands of the poor but cool. Kiev-based visual artist, Vova Vorotniov's images will confuse you then tickle you - the best medicine in this visually oversaturated world.

Fuelled by irony and the manipulation of everyday logos and iconic imagery, Vova is a t-shirt designer, whose tongue-in-cheek 'Poor But Cool' Chanel print cemented his print-savvy credentials. Documenting his inspirations and logo ironies through his tumblr, Vova spends most of his time either travelling to the least obvious destinations across Europe or capturing his surroundings in Kiev, Ukraine, which provide him with endless material for irony and surprise.

Vorotniov’s works are set to be exhibited in Worcester from next week as part of “Cedar’s Graffiti Supply Store”, a group show curated by artist and curator Cedar Lewisohn, who is responsible for Street Art at Tate in 2008, the first major museum display for street art in London.

Here, Dazed speaks with Vorotniov about visual clichés, the show and why most T-shirt prints in the world suck. 

Dazed Digital: Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from and how did you start doing art? 

Vova Vorotniov: I'm originally from a Western Ukrainian mining town, close to the Polish border. It was the last territory to become part of the Soviet Union in 1951. I've lived in Kiev for 15 years now though. I started doing graffiti in the 90s and then went to University to study philosophy - quite a weird mix, so my involvement with art was just a question of time.

DD: Which of your works are included in the exhibition? 

Vova Vorotniov: Actually, it's photos printed from my Tumblr. The show is about making a quasi-graffiti shop at the train station somewhere between Wales and Birmingham, so it's imagery mocking the 'wild' style of most lousy graffiti-zines. 

DD: How did you meet Cedar? 

Vova Vorotniov: We met in Wroclaw, Poland where I was painting murals during the Out of Sth Festival. He was on a research mission there, I think. Beer brought us together.

DD: Your most famous works are T-shirt prints. What attracts you to making T-shirts?

Vova Vorotniov: Making a T-shit isn’t a unique activity, that's why most of the prints in the world suck. I've been inspired by 'vintage' tees I was collecting from second-hand stores and I was influenced by my cousin who did DIY prints in the 80s. Somehow I started doing it on my own, but when I started I was making bullshit like an image of a cockroach on a dinner plate, gradually I got smarter.

DD: Is it true that the “Poor but Cool” print with Chanel logos is super popular in Kiev? 

Vova Vorotniov: It is. I can tell from my wallet! No other print of mine has been so popular. I did it as a slogan for a flag for my friends' circle of artists, photographers and graffiti writers. I found it funny to use the Chanel logo as a double-O, but I think there are some people who are buying it just as a legitimate Chanel knock off. 

DD: Why are you working so much with brands and logos? 

Vova Vorotniov: Because those logos are already like a livestock branding, and I just mock it and make it subversive. It could be a more definite statement then the decoration or beautiful drawing transplanted from the paper on the T-shirt. I don't only do logo-play though.

DD: It seems that your work is about challenging visual clichés. What reaction do you want to evoke in the audience? 

Vova Vorotniov: As an artist, I work on the margins of visuality. I don't trust the image. Only if I want to be voluntarily hoaxed and mystified. I question and deconstruct powerful or well-known symbols. Discrediting symbolic tyranny is the goal.

DD: What inspires / influences you in the visual environment of Ukraine? 

Vova Vorotniov: Ukraine is sort of an aesthetical cloaca, nothing really inspires me here, except my sufferings. 

DD: Do you think there is something which differentiates Eastern European artists from Western ones in their perception of cultural codes (like brands) or is it all global now? 

Vova Vorotniov: I think there are no geographically determined differences anymore. It's more about the social class, levels of curiosity and conformity everywhere in present-day Europe.

“Cedar’s Graffiti Supply Store” runs from 3 October - 9 November in Worchester.