The only voice of ancestors is in our selves...
Mikhail Tarkovsky, 1979
This is an interview by Lana Yeager with Natalia Tarkovskaya, who speaks about belonging to the renowned Tarkovksy family, a lineage that continues to produce talented Russian artists.
On September 19, 2018, Tivoli Cinemas in Westport will screen Stalker, by Andrey Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky’s name is a symbol of an era in Russian movie making, a stylistic current that makes Time the main character of every movie. Andrey Tarkovsky created a new language for cinema, one that interprets life with such purity that life’s imperfections become beauty.
Recently, I spoke to Natalia Tarkovsky, a visual artist and writer who is the great granddaughter of the renowned Russian poet, Arseny Tarkovsky, and the grandniece of Andrey. Natasha’s father, Mikhail Tarkovsky is a well-known Russian poet and writer.
LY: Natasha, it is very nice to talk to you after our recent graduation from the Gorky Literature Institute. It is interesting that we studied together for many years but didn’t have the time until now to exchange our stories. What can you tell me about yourself?
NT: For me, it is always difficult to tell about myself. I can start with a standard biography. I was born in Moscow, have two graduate degrees in the humanities and an associate degree in fine arts. As a child, I traveled a lot to central Siberia. My parents worked there. After school, I went to Italy for art college, but I had to return to Moscow. It was a challenging time for me and my whole family back then: my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She wanted me to stay in Italy to continue my education. I couldn’t. I came back to Moscow.
The next page in my life is at the Gorky Literature Institute, studying poetry, and the Russian State University of Humanities, for theater criticism. And I never stopped drawing. Poetry, theater and fine arts: this is what I love. I also want to say that I love to travel. It is how I connect with my inner self.
LY: You are a very creative person. Did your famous relatives influence your creativity? And if so, how?
NT: This is a very interesting question. First, I was interested in drawing, and saw it as my life and my future profession. Even though I loved literature, I never thought that I would get into that sphere. I always wanted to have my own way, without influences and interconnections with my relatives who were writers: Arseny Tarkovsky, Andrey Tarkovsky and my father Mikhail who by the way graduated from the same Literature Institute as you and I. But I was artificially pulling myself away from something that was already a part of me. It was meant to be that I would study literature.
LY: You are involved with different types of art. Which one is more significant and valuable for you?
NT: For many years I've been trying to choose, but I realized that I cannot stay with only one. What is most intriguing for me is to blend different arts in one and create my own synthesis. It is a combination of word, image, color, movement, voice. From there, the dimension of performance and performative theater with the fusion of poetic imagery is born. This is the project that I dream about.
LY: Do you feel a burden of responsibility because you have a "loud" last name? Sometimes, it seems that the descendants of famous people are trying to prove that they are as talented as their famous relatives. Have you tried to prove that you are you and not they?
NT: For a very long time, I was afraid to express myself openly in writing. I always wanted to find myself in a different medium, something different from the others, and not to live in the mindset of competition. At one point, I realized that all of this was just in my mind. Despite my last name and the achievements of my great ancestors, I have my own path, my life and my journey. Don’t take me wrong; it is very important for me to preserve the cultural values of our family dynasty. I cannot describe it well, but I feel connected with my relatives not only by blood, but also in soul. Perhaps it is my primary responsibility to convey and share the inner values that I have inherited from my talented ancestors
LY: Tell me about your grandfather, the poet Arseny Tarkovsky. What relic from his life surprises you the most?
NT: I love my Great-grandfather’s poetry very much. As a child, I saw him only a few times. Unfortunately, I do not remember those days, but we have photos of him and me. I experience a connection with him through the imagery of his poems. I recognize myself in his work. I know that it is not only a genetic link, but also a spiritual one. Poetry for me is basically a window, a portal to another, higher reality. My Great-grandfather’s poetry helps me see that. I read his poems and feel them, I recognize myself in them. Please understand me, I do not dare to compare myself with the poetic level of my Great Grandfather.
What surprises me... Probably the combination of Arseny Tarkovsky’s life story and the level of his talent. I am always fascinated by the way in which life turns affect someone’s art, how the power of human spirit transfers into creative work. What surprises me is how the essence of time continues through the family, in my grandmother Marina, his daughter, and my dad, his grandson. In each of us I see the continuity of one heritage.
LY: Can you share an unusual or surprising story about the director, Andrey Tarkovsky?
NT: I only know about Andrey from stories of my grandparents. I read a lot of books about his work. I am fascinated by the story about creating the movie, Mirror, which is an autobiography. It contains footage from real life. In the background of the scenes, you hear the voice of Arseny Tarkovsky reading poems. For me, all this together is like hearing a confession. Watching it, I witness a sequence of confused memories, and see simultaneously with the eyes of a child and an adult. I've always wondered how it was for him to make such films. In them, there is an incredible inner flair of the director’s mind, and the courage and strength to follow an artistic idea. It is exceptional. Andrey shows the magic of cinema. This is not about control and mechanics. This is about the internal movement of the soul, which is read between the lines, in the background of scenes, beneath images.
LY: You already know that soon in Kansas City the Tivoli Cinema in Westport will be screening Stalker by Andrey Tarkovsky. How do you understand the creativity of Tarkovsky? He's better known as a filmmaker, but he is a poet and a theatrical director. What's his main talent for you?
NT: True, he had many, different talents. For me, Andrey Tarkovsky is the movie director. I love rich, slow motion footage, the psychology and drama shown in his cinema, always very discreet, and almost ascetic. I also drown in the depth and simplicity of his films.
N. Tarkovsky with her parents
LY: Tell me about your father, Mikhail Tarkovsky. He is the grandson of the poet Arseny Tarkovsky and the nephew of Andrey Tarkovsky, right?
NT: Yes, he is. My father lives in Siberia. He chose the road of solitude and almost escape from the big city’s influences, and the opinions and expectations of others. Dad writes prose about the life of the Russian people of Siberia. His writing is about a Siberian village, its everyday life, simple but very challenging at the same time. Perhaps he is looking for connections to his spiritual and folk roots. For me, he's always just a dad. And then, he is a writer and a researcher.
LY: Now it is time for you to speak without questions. Feel free to share your thoughts.
NT: My grandmother, Marina Tarkovskaya, and my grandfather, Alexander Gordon, both wrote interesting memoirs. Marina was Andrey Tarkovsky’s sister. My grandpa was a movie director as well, and also a classmate of Andrey, his brother-in-law. My grandpa is an example of incredible kindness and nobility for me, and sometimes it occurs to me that he had a big burden — to be a director next to Andrey Tarkovsky. My grandpa, Alexander Gordon, has always devoted his life to the family, and now he writes memoirs about Andrey. One day I hope to write a book about my grandpa and his work as a film director.
N. Tarkovsky (at left), Grandmother Marina (center), the sister of Andrey Tarkovsky, and Mother of Mikhail Tarkovsky
LY: What did you wish for our readers and the viewers of the Andrey Tarkovsky’s film, here in Kansas City?
NT: I am very glad that Andrey's films are shown in other countries. When I was in college in Italy, I went to see Tarkovsky’s Andrey Rublev. I was surprised that most viewers neither understood nor connected with the story. Scenes describing Russia of the 15th century for a foreigner are sometimes too difficult to comprehend. At that moment, I realized that to “tune in” to this type of movie, viewers should be prepared. It is not an entertaining cinema, but instead it is an art that requires internal work and reflection. Not everyone loves slow cinema-thoughtfulness and cinema-meditation.
LY: Thank you, Natasha, for your sincere conversation. I look forward to watching the movie by the great Russian director Andrey Tarkovsky when it screens in Kansas City on September 19, 2018. I am preparing myself to tune in to this unique cinema from my homeland.
September 15, 2018
Images: Natalia Tarkovsky family archives
Join the event: Stalker by Tarkovsky at Tivoli Cinema on September 19 at 7 PM.
co-hosted by Svetlana S. Yeager and Russian Cultural Association "Russian House of Kansas City"
The Russian version of the interview in the Russian America newspaper, the Russian Kansas city section.