Russian VJ and former CAMP Artist Vadim Epstein – “visual composer producing complex visual stories in realtime”

Who is Vadim Epstein?

Vadim Epstein, born 25.05.1969, is a Moscow media-artist, theorist and practitioner, leading Russian VJ.
Primary education – physics. Graduated Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys in 1991, issued two articles on theoretical physics, then learnt computer science on my own.
Started with [1996], worked with interactive hypertext, then moved to experiments with club environment [1997] and visuals [1998]. As an artist, performed live at hundreds of concerts, festivals, parties and commercial events, personally tending to the bright recognizable aesthetics with high impact on the audience, natural to post-industrial culture.
Since march 2009 – founder and creative director of in [visible] video design studio, expert in hi-tech visuals.

Who Vadim Epstein really is… in his own words

Vadim Epstein (c) Tata Kluykina

Vadim Epstein (c) Tata Kluykina

It was around 1996 when I realised that something else in life is definitely worth to be considered, besides corporate job and personal life. That was the time when WWW appeared, so obviously that strange and powerful medium grabbed all my attention. It also suited perfectly my main feeling about creativity – with huge lots of things existing in the world already, no need to create something new, much more decent was to produce guided tours and trips around already existing stuff. DJs and webmasters were my idols at that time (VJs came later) and such compilations looked much more valuable for me than any of their components.

So I’ve created some website, named It was pretty thoroughly mixed set of promiscuous materials of various kinds – short texts, weird images, unexpected facts and trip reports. I had two main goals of doing that: (1) attempts to explain and explore personal feelings and revelations and (2) attempts to „explode the brain“ of visitors, get them out of everyday routine. Fairly common approach for creative youngsters, I guess.

Both goals were successfully reached: the site became quite well-known in every meaning – both famous and notorious. Some people loved it, some hated, but there was no chance of indifference.

We didn’t call it art then (despite it was definitely in the context); we just had some fun. At some point we decided to go offline and produce some live events, following the same „remixing“ approach in real. It was the time when visuals had attracted my attention as a media.

Interview How do you define your art?

Vadim Epstein: I like to be called a VJ. Not the one with some primitive shapes and lines blinking on beat, but rather visual composer producing complex visual stories in realtime.
This term reflects best my tendency towards compilation techniques, allowing to mix, blend and confront very different content, while keeping intrinsic ideas and messages clear from unnecessary trash, like personality of the author. I’m not really interested in presenting myself as an artist (or my stuff – as art works); playing with the meanings and delivering unusual „brain food“ to the audience is much more important for me.
During recent years I got more interested in generative visuals and new media art in general, with both newborn and oldschool media – e.g. interactive realtime laser projections. It required much more abstract approach and produced interest to more subtle and less obvious things. Currently, the most exciting topic for me is „Myth and Math“ – combination of mathematics and psychology. When did you start with your kind of art?

Vadim Epstein: I did my first video in 1998 – it was some text, animated by DHTML script. Then, for several years, I was just occasionally playing with visuals, until around 2001-2002, when I finally decided to dig into live visual composing as a primary media. Next big step was around 2009-2010, when I entered the area of creative coding. How political may art be and why?

Vadim Epstein: Art is just outcome of the human life; it may be of any kind. Some people are really into everyday subjects; some care only about eternal things.
As for me, I usually try to stay away from social and politics, for many reasons (consider life in Russia as one). I also agree with one famous russian designer, who said: „if you want to stop a tank – go and stop it. Painting a poster ‚tanks must stop!‘ won’t help“. Are there any borders at your kind of art?

Vadim Epstein: Very subtle, if any. Visual language is pretty obvious for everyone around the globe. Of course, there happen messages, clear for some people and totally obscured for others; but I always tried to avoid „being local“ in terms of the context. I believe it’s more about being in sync than about experiencing borders. What is the outstanding aspect of your live performance – alternatively, what can the audience be keen on?

Vadim Epstein: One situation, repeating many times through my VJ career, probably answers that: people say that I stop dancefloors. That is, even working on big raves, I still do my best to produce the visuals for brains, not for legs; the harder energy and beat was coming from DJ, the more sense and visual impact I try to add to the music. And at some point it ended up with the whole crowd just standing still, staring onto the screens instead of dancing. Obviously, DJs did not like it, but I was pretty happy. Is there a general message of your work? Or is this depending on the project you are working on?

Vadim Epstein: If I have to select only one message, it’s probably: „Look ma! It’s so beautiful over there!“, pointing to some obscured things in unexpected combinations. 20 years ago I phrased my lifetime philosophy as „permanent defloration“, meaning both breaking barriers and expanding the psychological habitat over the unknown. I hope my external activity still follows that.

Vadim Epstein (c) Olga Agafonova

Vadim Epstein (c) Olga Agafonova What is your target audience?

Vadim Epstein: No idea. At times, I had tough security guys and old ladies asking for my recordings, while wanna-be-intelligent youngsters cried to stop that terror. People must be alive and thinking, that’s it; neither age nor lifestyle really defines it.
Quoting nice sentence „to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed“, it’s good to aim at the former, but the real audience is probably the latter.
As for audience in general, I mostly perform for myself and don’t really care if there is a crowd around or just an empty room. Some of my best works were done for couple of strangers. In fact, crowd only distracts from the process, pushing the ego over the real sense and value. How did you experience the CAMP festival in the year 2009? What was special about CAMP festival?

Vadim Epstein: Media art joins different areas: sound, visuals, physical objects, etc. CAMP applied the same approach to the creators, bringing together people from various creative areas, with different visions and skills. That required definite level of openness from the players – just as modern coding platforms have to have integration with other systems. I felt really lucky to participate in CAMP 2009, which was one of the best art projects for me, teaching to deal with artistic complexity (which hugely assisted my further job as an art director). At that time I only started to deal with collaborative interdisciplinary projects and this experience let me learn the real sense of such concepts as connections and controlled flow – maybe the core of modern creativity.

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