Tsvetava's wolf / in wolf's skin [working title] R&D

(latest entry at the top of this page)

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The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved


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“If you see critical animal studies as a continuation of radical feminism,” explains Haapoja, “this is taking place in the core of patriarchal humanism.”

“Wolves in Finland are considered somehow intruders,” says Gustafsson. “They don’t respect the borders that humans have tried to draw between nature and culture.”

The wolf, says Haapoja, is “a symbol of the control of the centre over the peripheries, of the EU over the individual”.


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Adopt / Adapt, 2018, still from test shoot towards the application (below). Shot at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust

- part of a cinematic body of work looking at the discrepancies between spoken (human) language that is used to describe behavious of captive wolves, and those behaviours.

Towards {...} application: the aim is to spend as much time as possible at the UKWCT* before its closure to the public in the Autumn on 2018: https://ukwct.org.uk/index.php?page=important-information

This marks the end of the era of 'spectacle' (listen to what I said in TPA 24.04 on spectacle) and the beginning of the era of 'care' at the UKWCT. Attending the final few visitor experiences will allow to document the cusp between the two statuses of the Trust. Addressing the ethics of animal-keeping will be at the centre of this work.

Aims: to attend 'experiences' offered by the / animacy, or performativity of language/ my argument is that, despite the obvious need for empathy and the removal of 'fear factor' in our relationship with wolves instilled through generations of fables and fairy tales in the Western culture, a distance, physical and psychological, must be maintained. Socialised wolves are not domestic dogs (and recently I experienced a worrying incident involving a lovable and loving Retriever belonging to my neighbours**); the language that is used in conservation (at least in my experience in the UK so far) is no doubt aimed at a more respectful view in the general population towards these animals - the 'big bad wolf' is just as scared of you as you are of him: 'if you have seen a wolf, it has seen you a hundred times' a volunteer at the UKWCT told a classroom-style auditorium.

This is a discourse concerning 'the wild'; here, within the perimeter of.. acres, the discourse is centred about these animals being not quite wolves. The volunteer guide spent a great deal pointing out their playfulness; throughout the evening the handlers, living up to their role, were stroking and petting the wolves; the wolves, in return, competed for the attention in the ways that wolves tend to communicate: in growls.

I want to emphasise here that the aim of the work is to be made with the wolves and their human volunteers;

In the light of the sudden news that the Trust is closing its doors to visitors from 31 August 2018, now is the only time in the foreseeable future that the interaction between the wolves and the people orchestrated through a variety of experience can be observed and documented. This work will be the first opportunity for me to spend an extensive amount of time with the same group of animals and to work alongside them, with them, not simply be a brief observer. Observers, however, are just as much a part of my study.

Although the focus of this work is to document the animals, it is important to contextualise this within the wolves' current political stance. In Finland the wolf has recently become “a symbol of the control of the centre over the peripheries, of the EU over the individual” (from the article about The Trial published on The Learned Pig). In the essay '...Sexual Difference and the Love of the Wolf' (published in The Animal Question in Deconstruction, ed. Lynn Turner) Judith Still refers to Derrida writing 'the wolf has a privileged place, usually outside the law and thus the polis'. The latter source served as the catalyst for my interest in the wolf as biopolitical figure. In the UK, wolves continue to be the centre of an ongoing debate on rewilding: once a thriving species on the island, reportedly the last wolf was killed in 1680 by Sir Ewen Cameron. Current proposals of reintroducing a small wolf population to Scotland in order to maximise biodiversity (following the Yellowstone example), continue to be faced with opposition from landowners and farmers on the argument of 'danger' to both stock and people.

There is a strong element of spectacle and spectatorship in such places; this work is a study of this staged relationship between two most powerful types of a hunter: the audience play themselves, and so do the wolves, both sides directed by the volunteer handlers.

This work will mark a crucial point in my practice: a move away from working with a representation of the wolf, the wolf by proxy (see examples of existing work) and towards working with the live animals testing out the approach of 'artist as field researcher'.

How do the wolves play when nobody is looking?


I inherited my interest in language and communication from my family. My grandfather spoke his second language all his life, fluently, only briefly dipping into Tatar in telephone conversation to his siblings; in recent years it became known how alien this language was to him at first, then a young boy - during Soviet time his mother tongue was not favoured and observation of Islam discouraged, while during pre-Soviet time French and German was being taught at his school - he still remembers some words; my mother is an interpreter and was a top English language specialist in her youth during the stormy 90s in my hometown in Russia; she now teaches at the ACS International School. My artistic communication is carried out in my second language. I am now also learning British Sign Language and exploring non-human communication.


*Crossing politics and borders, the Trust donates to wolf projects in Armenia, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Ethiopia, France, India, Iran, Israel, Syria, Morocco, Nepal, Portugal, Spain, Russia, and the USA.

**This is a dog called Toby, he is a Golden Retriever, around four years of age; he is someone I usually refer to as a 'friend'; I met him first and then his 'parents' as they prefer to call themselves (although I do not favour such terms). I take Toby out on a walk usually once a week and have done so for over four years; this is not a job and I don't get paid - I go on a walk with a friend. 'He loves you!' - he definitely does.

The time of the incident is my first visit this spring after almost three months absence due to a knee injury incurred by Toby himself; I came to visit the house and was welcomed well as usual but still not strong enough to take him out on a walk proper; Toby didn't know this. He took my arm, one at a time attempting to first lead me into the house - 'look Olga is here!', then, as I was about to leave, he was suddenly taking my arm with more force than ever before; he was clenching his teeth on my arm; marks were left. This was not aggressive, there was no growling; but a strong and confident hold on my arm. This was his expression of disagreement with me attempting to leave without taking him on a walk first.

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A fear of wolves: a review of wolf attacks on humans

report published by the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe and the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, 2002:


See also: http://www.wolvesandhumans.org/articles/are_large_carnivores_dangerous.html

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'Wolf is...', 2016 - ongoing, live reading at Chalton Gallery, 9 July 2016

"'Wolf is' (2016-) is an accumulative performance-reading by Olga Koroleva. It stems from her research into the threefold image of the wolf: wolf as animal, wolf as concept and wolf as myth. Weaving personal history with factual statements and speculative information she creates an intimate story of reflecting upon physiological trauma, dysfunctional family structure and mortality."

The vintage gown belonging to my late grandmother is laid on the floor before I enter. Pristine white with several stains, it resembles a medical coat

I enter the room wearing only the headscarf and holding a notebook

I lay the book down, pick up the coat and dress myself

I sit down and begin reading from the notebook

When finished, I leave the way I entered

Text excerpt:

Wolf is an animal
Wolf is feared
Wolf is man's enemy
Wolf is a predator
Wolf is a canid native to the wilderness and remote areas
of North America and Eurasia Wolf is numerous and disputed

Wolf is a social animal
Wolf is hunted
Wolf is respected
Wolf is a Sabine loanword Wolf is Romus
Wolf is Remulus
Wolf is loneliness

Wolf is me lying to myself
Wolf is a smile turned frown
Wolf is me lying to others
Wolf is the realisation your cheeks are now sagging
Wolf is court language

Wolf is non-human assistant
Wolf is a nighttime horror;
waking up in cold sweat,
dreading not being here, not breathing, not feeling, not thinking
Wolf is a song I wrote for you

Wolf is 'she is crying' - 'I know
She cries here all the time, too'
Wolf is hungry
I'm hungry!
I'm hungry!
I'm hungry!

Wolf is in your head
Love your head, your hair,
your face, your teeth
My, what big teeth you have, grandma!
'Grandma', he says all the time,
in every sentence,
'when your grandma was still alive'


I woke up on time for cattle out only twice in my life.
The first time I must have been six;
I went as far as the edge of the forest where the cold, clear stream meets the mountains.
Our former landlady was ahead.
Dry and stern, and always drunk, or at least so I was told.

The second time I was 26 I think.
With the neighbours' dog in tow I went out on the hunt for that authentic image of the countryside
I had re-imagined all these years of absence.
The unshaven shepherd led the herd.
Steady, I thought when he walked too close
and brushed his hand past my side.

He extended his arm and pulled me over. Clumsily pressed his lips to my cheek. 'He reeks of milk and sweat.'

Having freed myself I got him to pose for a portrait. My camera is my best defense, I thought.

Wolf is protection.


Wolf is lost
Lost for words
- It’s never enough It’s never enough -
Wolf is worldly
Lost for world

Wolf is acting against your won instinct
Do people still have instincts?
Could this be, along with empathy,
one of those vestigial features in us, humans.
Like the ability to move one’s ears


Wolf is hurting myself
No, don’t get me wrong, nothing gruesome
‘You cut yourself out of my body again and again! How am I supposed to live with THAT?!’

Wolf is falling
Wolf is falling and having nothing to fall back onto


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Le Gars rehearsal with Latana Amari Phoung. Camera: Katherine Fishman, sound: Giles Bunch

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In Wolf’s Skin (working title) is a new performance for camera by Olga Koroleva based on the work Le Gars (The Kid) written by Russian Silver Age poet Marina Tsvetaeva while in exile in Prague in 1924. The premise of this fairy-tale, as the author herself called it, is a story of a young girl who falls in love with a werewolf yet guards his secret eventually paying with her own life and that of her family. A chilling and beautiful 138-page poem translated into French by Tsvetaeva herself, raises questions on gender and power structures and is an important example of a daring feminist approach in Russian literature.

Taking the poem as a starting point, Olga Koroleva creates a live performance in collaboration with opera singer Latana Amari Phoung, where the bodies of both women become a musical instrument through which the poem’s distinctive rhythm is played out live. While reciting the key moments from Le Gars in Russian and French the performers’ voices become one other instrument, literally, giving them a voice. Lyrical violin sounds are intermittent with sharp, strong thumping noises produced from the contact of hands and fists of both women on their own and each others’ bodies.

Rooted deeply in the artist’s interest in animal rights, it is a work that first and foremost reflects on our nature as contemporary urban living beings. Gender, femininity and power structures are further addressed through costume designed and made especially for this occasion. This work will see both female performers dressed in unisex style influenced by Russian Constructivist Theatre. It is a bold yet sensitive take on Le Gars, and the problems and questions it opens up for discussion.

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Reading group update: we now have a sister group based in the Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin and led by artist Teresa Gillespie. They will follow our reading list to begin with; an extended reading session across two groups (via Skype) and a discussion on further exchange and collaboration is planned for the end of the summer 2016.

To date we have held five session in London on a monthly basis.

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These two clips are a test video walk-through of the test 3D wolf skin landscape made from photographs taken of Tsvetaeva's wolf - in fact a wolf skin, not the one she owned but a matching one, spread across the floor in her former study in Moscow's House-museum. Here instead of the wolf's plastic eye replacement we are given (Autodesk 123D-Catch uses phone camera images to construct a 3D version of the subject; the user has no control over the final design of the object. Interesting here to think about giving up / away of control, an on-going concern within my practice) an empty eye socket and a relief closely resembling a mountain range, albeit a thin and peculiar one.


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A couple of visual reference for performance for camera with Latana (for Katherine):

note camera movement; CUs and following shots, no 'general view' shots; give the viewer the impression inclusion bordering on overwhelming; details and textures -

Dead air / pregnant pause (2012)

A window view at the location - use to stage a shot with myself and / or Latana similar to this shot from the Mirror (dir. A. Tarkovsky, 1975):

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While in Tula I asked my granddad to translate an excerpt of Helene Cixous' text Love of the Wolf from Russian into Tatar, his native language. This will form some of the narrative within the 'wolf as myth' and 'wolf as political entity' parts of the triptych. His handwriting:

Here, within the film narrative and in my thoughts in preparation, I return to the consideration of language as an integral part of the construct of a living being called human. In this specific scenario I want to think about the changes that the Tatar language underwent throughout its history from Arabic origins to its conversion into Latin alphabet and eventually, under Soviet State, conversion into Cyrillic, as it still exists now.

Stills from some of the footage I shot while granddad was translating and reading out the text. We had to shoot this short sequence in several takes as he was getting too tired to translate (he is 88). Hence the change in lighting.

Original text by Cixous:

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Wolf is / wolf - a set of rules (for solo performance)

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The poem I wrote on the 2 hour train journey from Moscow to my hometown Tula, Russia following the visit to Tsvetaeva's House-Museum. I desperately wanted to give this wolf a life that was, arguably, unnecessarily and untimely taken away.

[Updated on 15.05.2016 - currently developing a performance piece to be presented at Prjkt MOM at Safehouse 1&2, Peckham in which I will 'dress' in wolf skin by means of covering my entire body in images I took of the close ups of his fur. The images will be applied using soap 'gluing' - a method still used in some houses in Russia to insulate drafty windows during winter. Strips of paper are covered in glue and are stuck to the window frames. Dressed a 'wolf' I will recite the poem]


the wolf sings

sings a lullaby

lonely and heard by none

least by her

his mother and host

his only one

his lover

his flesh emptied

his skin spread

restored according to the memories of those

who never dreamed to dare

come close to him

in his life

while in death

they admire and hold and stroke and breathe on his skin

torn and flat

his eyes rid of light

not mute

reflecting only the confines

of these lifeless walls

that smell, no - reek, of old and long forgotten dreams

of brown thoughts

of greenish hopes

of pale smoke

that never saw the air of freedom

the wolf stares right at me

upon our first encounter

he asks

who are you

why stare at me

why come to visit

what is it that you’re searching

what is it that you’ve missed

until you found me

my vacant plastic stare

that you somehow

you recognise as mine

mine that stared right into those that took my life


it’s cold in here

i say

i long for warmth

and fur like yours they used for warmth isn’t that so

look at that fur they used to say

they had forgotten

once you were a wolf

one to be freed perhaps

now nothing but that fear I read in all your being that no longer is

no longer breathes

a life into the hearts of those

who held you once

who now explain what is it like to touch you

just like a dog, perhaps 


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Tsvetaeva's wolf at her former study in her Moscow house, now a Museum in her name holding a collection of original publications, photographs and restored furniture. I have not had much success in finding out the history behind this wolf presence in the flat. The museum attendant stated 'Tsvetaeva had a wolf' without further explanation. Photographs from 12.04.2016

In the same room is a photograph of Sergei Efron, Tsvetaeva's partner, holding what appears to be a wolf, or a wolf skin. The photograph is currently displayed in the study (above).

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Studio space, The Showroom. Exploring the textures and indicated movement existing within the space that I can use to my advantage when filming Le Gars performance for camera with Latana:

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Costume ideas / designs for performance / perf. for camera with Latana (based on Constructivist theatre designs):

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On wolf as animal:

archival footage from Edinburgh Zoo, 1946

My original thoughts behind using archival footage were to: refer to the absence of these animals in the wild; refer to the archaic nature of the wolf story told by granddad; lack of proof of authenticity of the said story; explore the re-introduction of the wolf into Scotland (following Yellowstone example). This may or may not be plausible depending on funding, and may be unnecessary as such, and therefore I am looking for opportunities to film live - preferably wild, wolves myself.

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A recording from the first rehearsal with Latana Amari Phoung of Le Gars - in preparation for potential live performance and / or performance for camera:

Some pages from Le Gars in Russian, annotated during the rehearsal:

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Below is my original proposal for the Whitstable Biennale commission (when the film was intended as a single piece instead of the three it has subsequently developed into). The proposal was shortlisted in the 15 application from 300 and received 'enthusiastic support from the curatorial team' (Matthew de Pulford, Programme Curator, Whitstable Biennale in personal correspondence).

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January 2016: The Political Animal reading group set up. First session 1 February 2016.

Aims of the reading group: to further my own knowledge and understanding of this (new for me and my practice) area as part of my research; to provide a non-hierarchical platform for discussion for those with similar interests, irrespective of their level of knowledge on the subject; to connect organisations, individuals and institutions on the premises of shared interest in this subject area; to programme a series of events resulting from the year-long reading group. I will not list every single session on this page, however, this first one was directly relevant to my research into the image of the wolf.

In the first session we read: Judith Still - Sexual Difference and the Love of the Wolf published in The Animal Question in Deconstruction (ed. Lynn Turner, 2013), and Helene Cixious - Love of the Wolf published in Stigmata (1994).

Some questions / points I want to think about in this and following sessions as the group and discussion progresses:

1. What contemporary applications these examples (of the wolf) have?

2. How do we move from an abstract and metaphorical image of the wolf (Enlightenment) towards a discussion of the physical animal body and it's significance in the discussion of contemporary society / contemporary art practice?

3. How do we understand society? What are the different circles of socium that one could be included and excluded from? Passively or actively, by force or voluntarily?

4. Bestiary of political language (Derrida)

5. Awareness of our own mortality —> awareness of own mortality (ours / theirs) - isn’t the segregation into ours (human) and theirs (non-human) far too akin to the political social separation between the legal subject (citizen) and illegal arrivals (immigrant)? Isn’t this a dangerous tendency? How can  we (again, we) talk about the distinction between special in an inclusive rather than mutual exploitative way?

6. Wolf ‘shares’ liminal position with the sovereign - is it possible to share a position of sovereignty?

7. Gender differences across languages - while in French and others la / le points to gender, in other languages, such as Russian, the noun itself changes leaving less flexibility / malleability to the term / image of the wolf’ gives a more direct and simultaneously contained definition to the subject in question.

8. Love of the wolf / outsider / rebel  - self-sacrificial / knowingly giving up own power


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Lullaby for a wolf. A test recording I made in which I sing a well-known lullaby in Russian that my own grandmother used to sing to me. I had never looked at the lyrics closely until now: in the text of the lullaby the child that is being sung to is warned against sleeping on the edge of the bed - or a wolf will come and drag it into the forest. Its sinister quality paired with the usually sweet and soft singing voice of the parent or grandparent became very attractive to me. Instead of singing to a child I wanted to sing to a wolf. The plan is to sing to wolves in the wild (long term no doubt) in an attempt to bridge the gap in communication between human and non-human animals.


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The Wolf that Changed America is the true story of Ernest Thompson Seton, the wolf named Lobo and the start of America's environmental movement. Below: image of Lobo caught in metal traps, one on each leg.

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Thinking about wolf as animal:

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My interest in this area began with an unexpected link I found through the essay by Judith Still (Sexual Difference and the Love of the Wolf published in The Animal Question in Deconstruction (ed. Lynn Turner, 2013)), which among others cites the poem Le Gars (1924) by Russian Silver Age poet Marina Tsvetaeva, and remembering a story my grandfather told me about a young girl who witnessed a pack of wolves attacking her mother. The girl, from what I can recall, subsequently lost her ability to speak for several years after the accident. Aside from being a fascinating story, this led me to thinking about the political undercurrents in its narrative. The girl's muteness is akin to the loss of (free) speech.

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