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E-MERGING: Illya Goldman Gubin’s art is a nostalgic snapshot in time

For the Ukrainian artist, everything connects, you just need to reflect.

Text: Juule Kay

The world is changing, and with it, a new generation of trailblazers is taking over. In our monthly series E-MERGING, we introduce the people adding to the cultural moment with their creative minds, new ideas, and unique approaches. It’s a glimpse behind the scenes, a way to dig deeper and look beyond the picture-perfect outcome we’re swamped with every day.

Nothing is as it seems, at least when it comes to Illya Goldman Gubin’s artwork. With his infamous “Karton” series, which started back in 2020, the Berlin-based artist turned cardboard boxes into one-of-a-kind sculptures to sit on or just look at from afar. Even Balenciaga’s Demna added some stools to his personal collection. “I wanted to include a new dimension to my art, something that people can touch,” says Gubin, who grew up in a small town near Kyiv, Ukraine. It’s an ordinary object filled with memories for everyone, whether that’s building make-believe homes or cars out of cardboard boxes when we were kids or lugging boxes through friends’ staircases for a slice of pizza. By covering them with resin and fibreglass, the artist creates a nostalgic snapshot in time in the form of sculptural furniture that carries us rather than the other way around. “The process is very physical,” he explains. “I had to find out how I could crush the boxes with my body without destroying them.”

Everything we hear and see is a code.

Trial and error is key to Gubin’s work. Inspired by the Japanese idea of “Ichi-go, ichi-e”, which is a cultural concept of treasuring the unrepeatable nature of a moment, but also by the infamous “wabi-sabi”, he learned to let things go and accept what you can’t control. “Some artists, especially the ones from Gutai used wabi-sabi to be okay with things not being perfect,” he explains. It’s about trying out new ways of doing things rather than striving for perfection. With his brand IGG ATELIER, which can be seen as a continuation of his artwork, Gubin experiments with fashion. “The materials I use for my clothes are often the same as my art pieces or come from the same narrative,” he continues. Early on, Gubin realised the potential of clothing and the way people see you based on what you’re wearing, which also led him to study fashion in 2015. Whether it’s sculptures, clothes or photography (an art practice he has been very fond of in the past), the essence of Gubin’s work is both honesty and being true to himself.

When it comes to his creative process, Gubin usually relies on misunderstandings and uncontrolled moments. “Everything we hear and see is a code,” he explains. “Our brain can or cannot decode the information.” Once he’s fixed on an exciting idea, he double-checks if it’s original before entering the test phase. “I do attempt to set some guidelines and stay true to the original idea,” he goes on. “It was [the Spanish painter and sculptor Antoni] Tàpies who believed that instead of the artist being in control and directing the art, it’s actually the art that guides and influences the direction taken by the artist.”

I believe creativity and art reside in all of us.

As a matter of fact, Gubin is firmly convinced that we’re all full of creative potential. “I believe creativity and art reside in all of us,” he concludes. “If you’re attuned enough, you can unlock the ideas. If you’re reflective enough, you can give these ideas weight. And if you believe an idea is a valuable addition to the world, you begin to actualize it. All ideas are within reach for each of us.”

What’s an everyday object that keeps fascinating you?

I’m really amazed by atoms. It’s so weird to think that everything––from the chair you sit on to the food you eat to your own body––is made up of these tiny particles.

What’s your happy place?

The times when you can calm down, reflect, and see everything from a different perspective. It’s a feeling that comes from within.

Which artwork lives rent-free in your head?

Any work of Shiraga.

What’s something that keeps you moving?

The aim is to find my own path.

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

I learned how to play “Okey” in Türkiye.