“An improvisation on a given topic is not a problem”

The first winners of the International “Coin constellation-2007” were awarded the prizes, created by Saint Petersburg sculptor Sergey Falkin. Sergey Alexandrovich turned out to be not only a famous sculptor, but to some extent a numismatist as well. He collects kopecks. However, he does that in his own way, he keeping them in three litre jars.”Zolotoy tchervonets” asked Sergey Falkin about those jars, the coin competition, and his other art works.

– Sergey Alexandrovich, you have been working in stone curving sculpture genre for a long time. But the prize for “Coin stellar constellation” competition was made in bronze. Is there any difference in working process with those materials for you?

– I can work with different materials as a sculptor. I have enough practice in that because I’ve been a sculptor for more than 20 years. First, I worked with amber. I started with amber, working as an instaurator and a carver in Tsarskoselskaya Amber Workshop. After that, I opened a stone curving workshop and and the era of a strong stone has begun for me. Because stone is needs different approach than amber. Now we are making plastic art which including bronze.

My aim is to create and idea, to make a model, and to carve it from stone or to cast it in metal. And after that I must graved it from stone or casted in metal. On the one hand, the material plays a second role as a way of implementation. This is just an evocation way. On the other hand, some ideas can often be recreated only in stone. Moreover, it must be a specific stone, say, obsidian or nephrite. However, there could be reverse situations. The specificity of each stone as well as its unpredictability and lack of knowledge create certain limitations, that sometimes don’t allow you to implement certain ideas. Whether you like it or not, you have to appeal to known materials and technique. I mean, bronze.

For example, I’ve recently made a model of Don Quixote in bronze, and I’m going to remake it in stone. However, I haven’t yet decided in which. The fact is that the stone brings color to a sculpture. And that’s quite a different story. You can strengthen your character’s story, using the colour. And at the same time you may destroy it. You may turn into your sculpture to some kind of a painted china statuette.

Anyway, the moment of concordance of your idea and material are very important. Sometimes, I consciously create some inner strains, seeking for some conflict between plastic and the material, when some fragile idea is embodied in a hard and heavy but fragile material. 

– Do commercial works hurt you as an artist? Is it boring to create a prize for a the coin competition?

– First, the coin competition is not a boring event at all for me and it’s not boring to create a prize for it. Besides, I liked many of those coins. There are some unexpected ideas and original technics in some of them. I would be interested take part in such a competition.

And speaking of commercial works, I think it’s a problem for those who can work on commission only if the topic happens to coincide with their already home-made model. But if you create all the time then an improvisation on a given topic is not a problem for you. I am stimulated and encouraged by any work limitations. It’s a shame to copy someone else’s work; I always want to find my own solution.

– How was the image of the prize born?

– It was born from a stroke. First, I dreamed about an embossed work when there is a stroke to an ingot metal. I mean a print on metal. The other association is about a stroke which took apart USSR. After all that I needed to find a plastic form. If you found right plastic (which is something i can’t judge about), then every spectator would have his own association. 

– Since we are talking about coins, can I ask you a delicate question: what are your relations with money?

– They were different in different periods of my life. But I always had a little bit of devil-may-care attitude to money. Most likely this is a result of my Soviet upbringing when we were taught that money is not the main thing in life. As for me, money is a necessary tool to solve vital problems. For example, there was a moment in my life when I had to sell my magnificent collection of art books. It was such a pity to part with my books, but I needed money to open my stone carving workshop. Now I’m recovering that loss little by little.

I suppose money as an equivalent of labor isn’t always a fair and true standard. But nobody has created has created anything better and I am forced to obey that law.

– Is it true that you collect coins?

– It’s absolutely true. I already have three three-litter jars of coins in my collection. One of them has foreign and old coins. The others have new Russian coins. Many of my friends, acquaintances and colleagues who know about my hobby don’t hesitate to take change in coins to bring those coins.

– And why did you choose to collect kopecks?

– I’m interested in things, that stand beyond this coin: history, people, destinies. I mean a history, a destinies, and people. In fact, kopeck, and not the rouble is the very measure of our whole life. Tthough today it means nothing, there were times when you could have a meal for a kopeck. This coin even caused a financial crisis in 1530-s. The cutting of silver coins was an absolutely disaster then. It was so wide-spread, that cutting of hands and pouring hot tin into throats were often used to prevent it. However, these measures didn’t lead to awaited results. That was the time when Elena Glinskaya, who would later become the mother of Czar Ivan the Terrible carried out a currency reform. The old money, both whole and cut coins, were withdrawn from circulation. And new silver kopecks have become a new economic base. Actually it was the time when the coin was had gained its name thanks to because of the picture of a horseman with a spear (in Russian – kopiyo) on one of its sides.

– Do you have such kopecks in your collection?

– I’ve recently received as a gift two coins that, judging by the form, were made in the XVI century. Then coins were made from a silver wire. The wire was cut and they were plated and that’s why the coins had almost an oval form. In the “Boris Godunov” a poor man is crying about these coins: «They took my lovely coin, they harmed a God’s fool».

– Do you have any other rarities?

– I have defective coins. For example, I have wrongly minted cents. I have some cents with pictures of American Indians. They were made in the first decade of the US existence.

– Why do you collect coins in jars?

– Where else do we keep money? We have big banks for big money and glass “banks” – jars – for coins. Jokes aside when you hold one kopeck from Czar Epoch the understanding that it costs several times more than a whole jar of modern kopecks overwhelms you. There are the weight and value in one of Czar Epoch kopeck . But in the modern one there is no weight. Even though a metal coin can be gravitated by a magnet. By the way, a kopeck weights 1,6 gram and has 16 mm in diameter. But whoever you ask, you’d be told that it’s no bigger than 1 cm. Even a this delusiveness of kopeck’s size speaks for itself. This coin is a symbol of our time and our epoch.

– Do you remember your first coin?

– I’m a collector by nature and I’ve collected marks, labels and coins since my childhood. My first coin – that was a Czar Epoch coin – I found, which sounds banal but is true. That happened in my home village Zaegraevo in Buryatia. I don’t remember if it was a five-kopeck coin or maybe a kopeck. Of course, i don’t have it now.

– When did you begin to collect coins consciously?

– I was having numismatic books appeared in my life when I was more or less grown-up. But I couldn’t let myself be entirely taken by that, because I knew I was reckless by nature. I was supposed turning my money-grubbing energy into peaceful activities.

– I’ve understood about rare coins but I still can’t understand why you need three-littre jars for modern kopecks?

– First of all, I want to create a 1 meter to 1 meter cube from kopecks. That a memorial to material culture, an installation and a symbol of the devaluated modern culture. Secondly, I have many different ideas connected with kopecks. I can’t tell you in advance. But I’m afraid need more than two jars. And I still accept donations.

Author Alexandra Makeeva

Interview for “Zolotoy tchervonets magazine” (Golden chervonets) journal

Translator Vera Badalyan