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Meet Ermina Takenova | LCC Graduate Residency Programme

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Published date 06 April 2018

As part of our Graduate Residency Programme, supporting LCC graduates in the rapid development of innovative projects which have the potential for significant social change or economic impact, we’re catching up with the progress of the 4 projects.

Ermina Takenova – Animator / Illustrator / Designer

Ermina is from Almaty, Kazakhstan and graduated from LCC’s BA (Hons) Illustration Visual Media in 2014. Ermina’s work for the residency focuses on creating an animated World Slang Dictionary – collecting words and phrases that are unique to various countries, languages and cultures. See Ermina’s website.

We caught up with Ermina to find out more about her practice and what she’s working on as part of the Graduate Residency Programme…

Which course did you graduate from?

BA (Hons) Illustration and Visual Media in 2014.

Where are you from in the world?

Almaty, Kazakhstan.

What have you been up to since you graduated? How has your work evolved since you left LCC?

I experimented with animation while I was studying at LCC and decided to take it further. After I graduated from LCC, I went straight to studying a Masters Degree in Animation at the Royal College of Art. I’ve learnt a lot about animation and different approaches in techniques, styles and storytelling.

My Royal College of Art graduation film ‘Mankurt’ played an especially big part in my artistic development. The work on the project was very intensive. I had to learn and do a lot of things I’ve never done before in a very limited time frame. The results of my hard work were so rewarding and gave me a lot of confidence and encouragement to produce more work. I’m currently working as a freelance animator and illustrator and I work on personal projects in between commissions too.

How would you describe your practice?

I would say my work is very narrative based – whether it’s illustration or animation, I always think first about the story and the themes I want to tell. I work in a very wide variety of styles, techniques and topics – i.e. drawings with very detailed rendering, semi-abstract work using bold shapes, children’s illustration and work dealing with more serious and sometimes dark and surreal subject matter.

I still like to experiment with different approaches and I feel like I definitely learn a lot from every project I work on – whether it’s commissioned or personal work.

Why did you apply for the LCC Graduate Residency Programme?

I was very interested in the theme of this year, which is Diverse Communities. I’ve learnt a lot during my time studying at LCC, so I felt it would be beneficial for my further artistic development to come back to the College as a working professional. LCC has a great work environment, which I find very dynamic and inspiring.

What does this year’s theme of Diverse Communities mean to you?

I think it’s a very important theme that definitely needs to be celebrated more. I feel cultural diversity contributes to the positive development of any society. When humans learn from different cultures, it helps them become more empathetic and compassionate. I believe diversity needs to be celebrated, as it helps us break boundaries and erase prejudices.

What are the ideas that you’d like to develop whilst on the LCC Graduate Residency Programme?

My LCC Graduate Residency Project is based on funny and bizarre phrases and idioms from various languages and cultures, which lose their meaning when translated. I was intrigued by how we, as humans, use languages worldwide and I was particularly interested in the quirkiness of various languages and cultures. One of the inspirations for this project was living in London, which is so culturally diverse and has so many languages that can be heard spoken on the streets.

I think the slang and idioms we use in our languages really illustrate the quirks of our cultures. Each idiom tells stories in a few words – and behind those words are centuries of a culture’s history, heritage and wisdom. I’ll be creating animated pieces based on those phrases from all over the world.

I also want to explore the idea that even though there are a lot of cultural differences, in the end there are also plenty of similarities. I stumbled upon a few idioms from different cultures, which sound very similar to each other. And a lot of idioms that are unique to a certain language or country, despite sounding bizarre when translated, do make a lot of sense. I feel our cultural differences are there to enrich our lives, not to divide us.

What do you find most challenging/rewarding about making work?

I find the very beginning stage of the project the most challenging – conceptualising ideas and finding the visual style for a project. It is definitely an enjoyable stage, but it can be difficult. There are so many routes a project can go, so it takes a lot of experimenting and research to find the approach that feels right.

Seeing the results of my hard work is the most rewarding feeling, especially in animation – since it’s so time consuming and labour intensive. It’s incredible to see the finished project.

What do you listen to when you’re making work?

When I’m at the very beginning stage of any project, doing research and conceptualising ideas, I definitely prefer working in silence. Or even at later stages – for example, if there is an animation sequence that is a bit challenging to work on – I find it easier to work when it’s quiet.

And when I get to the production stage and I know what needs to be done, then I like listening to various podcasts and music.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I’m very intrigued by the past history of my country: the ancient mythology, nomadic lifestyle and traditions, as well as our history being a part of the Soviet Union, that unfortunately has a dark side to it – which has inspired some of my work and future projects. I’m inspired also by literature, mythology, surrealism, history and nature.

What’s your favourite place in Elephant and Castle?

I’ve always found the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre building very intriguing and the atmosphere seems a bit surreal in there. It feels like the building hasn’t changed since it was built in the 60s, like time just stopped there. The history of the place is quite interesting too. It was built after the Elephant and Castle area was heavily destroyed in the Blitz. The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre was apparently the first covered shopping mall in Europe and was considered an ambitious project, in the attempt to give the Elephant and Castle area a fresh start. Aesthetically it’s not the best looking place, but there is something about it that always fascinated me. It would be interesting to see how it will change in the future and what would happen to the red Elephant and Castle statue – which is pretty much a symbol of the area now.

What does your workspace look like? Do you have a studio?

I’m a freelancer and I work from home, which I consider as a studio. My workspace is just a desk, a laptop and a graphic tablet. And dogs barking in the background.

What’s the best show you saw in the last 12 months?

In October last year when I was visiting my hometown Almaty, Kazakhstan, I had a very rare opportunity to see a special one-off screening of a 1929 Soviet silent documentary called ‘Turksib’, accompanied by a live orchestra performance.

‘Turksib’ tells a story of a huge engineering project, the building of a railway connecting Central Asia and Siberia. The name of the railway route Turksib derives from Turkistan (the area in Kazakhstan) and Siberia (the area in Russia). For a long time this precious footage was considered lost and it was found in the British archives. British Film Institute meticulously restored the footage frame by frame.

However, the music which was added to this silent documentary by the British specialists, did not reflect the essence of the Kazakh culture and used the colonial style music with Southeast Asian motifs instead. This fact inspired talented musicians from Kazakhstan to write a brand new soundtrack for the whole film. My mind was absolutely blown by the incredible performance and stunning music – which used the traditional Kazakh instruments with a contemporary twist.

The audience gave a standing ovation at the end of the show. It’s fascinating to note that the British bought equipment was used in the construction of the railway. And one of the scariest facts is that the Soviet engineers involved in the project were later repressed, prosecuted and shot by the Soviet authorities. I was so overwhelmed and filled with so many emotions, I think it’s definitely a screening that left a life long impression on me.

See more of Ermina’s work on her Behance.