Across a storied history and myriad of cultures, our common ground converges on a shared sense of wonder. We gravitate to the untouched, the unexplored, and the unreal. This curiosity inclines us to probe the balance and complexities of our natural and built environments.

Russian-born multimedia and performance artist Yuliya Lanina seizes this sense of harmony and disrupts it. Her highly charged, whimsical works defy definition, consisting of eclectic paintings, performances, and objects that unapologetically resist convention and challenge audience members to reflect on assumed notions of being and community.

The surreal, fantastical elements lull viewers into an alternative reality and subliminally invite them into an exploratory and uninhibited mode of consciousness. Yuliya’s exhibits often display transfixing cultural props, such as dolls, animatronics, and music boxes that bombard the senses. In her performances, she transforms into a living protagonist of an animated fairy tale. Her unusual artifacts, performances, and exhibits evoke a “dark matter” that beckons viewers to delve further into a magnetic world seemingly built upon non sequitur.

We’re always excited to share the amazing work of our talented instructors. We had the opportunity to speak with Yuliya and discuss her extensive body of work, honing in on the themes that her inspiring, thought-provoking art both embodies and deconstructs.

How did you get involved with practicing and teaching visual and performing arts?

I moved to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1990. After a few years of studying liberal arts and science I found myself particularly drawn to visual art. After I graduated from college, I moved to New York and, to support myself, worked as a graphic designer. However, the distraction of a full-time job made practicing art impossible. I felt the calling of being a full-time artist particularly strong when 9/11 happened, when everyone thought it was the end. I quit my job and went back to being an artist as my primary job.

Yuliya Lanina is an multimedia artist, whose interdisciplinary work spans different mediums such as painting, animation, performance, sculpture, and more. Photo by Scott David Gordon.

I try to foster love for art and collaboration among my students at The University of Texas at Austin, who often worry about their post-graduation job prospects. I teach them what is very much in line with what I do: creative projects that are collaborative, interactive, multi-disciplinary.

When incorporating different mediums like painting, sculpture, animation, etc., how do you decide the focal point of the artwork?

My work is about life and life experiences. Life is neither linear nor logical, neither predictable nor safe, and at times it is quite absurd. In some way my work mimics that. My characters and stories exist in the realm that is unpredictable, illogical and absurd. Yet the world they inhabit is filled with beauty, wonder, humor and hope.

I am inspired by the Surrealist approach to creating images, where play and the subconscious take the lead, leaving analytical thinking behind. Often times I start by painting or collaging and, little by little, the project takes shape.

Tales We Tell (2016). Thumbelina, wind up mechanical music box. Acrylic paint, wood, metal, 6” x 4” x 10” Photo by Scott David Gordon.

What are some of the challenges in practicing interdisciplinary art?

The main challenge is that there is no clear path. For example, this month I will participate in a gallery show, performance festival, film screening and prep a panel discussion for a conference at the SXSW Interactive conference. The variety of these activities can feel disorienting and overwhelming at times, especially compared to simply following one path. It keeps me on my toes.

Community and collaboration play a big role in your practice. Can you describe how a balance of different themes is achieved? How do you ensure that each artist’s voices are heard?

My main collaborators are composers, choreographers, and engineers. Each collaboration is different and has its own nuances. I have been fortunate to work with people who understand visual art and appreciate the alchemy that happens when visual art intersects with music and movement. The added elements bring new dimensions to storytelling in my work.

Yuliya performing in This is a Test of the Internal Emergency Broadcast System (2018). Multimedia performance featuring animatronic sculpture, projections, drawings, music, and movement. Photo by Leon Alesi.

Each project involves a huge amount of back-and-forth conversation. Working with engineers is mostly about solving problems, seeing what’s possible, and how to get things done in a way that is durable and safe.

Can you tell us about any educational/artistic community outreach projects that you’re working on at the moment?

Right now, I am creating new work for an upcoming solo show at Austin’s Gray Duck gallery. It will consist of paintings, animatronic pieces, installation, projections and performance. My creative team is very international: Colombian-born composer José Martinez, New York-based engineer and a lead researcher for AT&T Theodore Johnson, and Scottish projection designer Michael McKellar.

Dancers performing in Flight of Fantasy (2007). Concept, costumes, animation, installation and set design. Choreography by C. Eule Dance. Photo by Fred Hatt.

I always try to make sure my work reaches those who do not normally go to art and music events. I am working with Austin’s first sober high school, on bringing students in recovery to the performance.

Together with Jose Martinez, we will be reaching out to the Latinx community. We are planning to have a Q&A after each performance with the aim of further engaging the audiences and getting them interested in art and music going forward. Because the shows and performances will be free, anyone can experience them regardless of income.

You specialize in multimedia art that highlight a wide range of social issues. What is your advice to students and artists who want to address complex or difficult subject matter?

Do it! That’s what being an artist is about. Hold up a mirror to the society and speak as clearly and as earnestly as you can.

Empty (2016). Acrylic and collage on paper, 14″x 9″

What is a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far?

My favorite project is the one that keeps me busy in the present. It is always more interesting to be in the moment than to reflect on what’s already been accomplished.

That being said, one of my favorite projects was my first performance piece Not a Sad Tale (2016) which was commissioned by Fusebox Festival. It was the first time I collaborated with choreographer Andrea Ariel and composer Vladimir Rannev. The piece opened for me the door into the world of performance art and let me physically enter the animated worlds I create. Putting myself physically on the stage, inside my own work and in direct and intimate relation to the viewer has been the hardest and the most rewarding experience for me.

Yuliya Lanina in her first performance piece Not A Sad Tale (2016). Original music by Vladimir Rannev. Photo by Scott David Gordon.

How do you hope your art will evolve in the future?

I hope to continue pushing the limits of painting and sculpture by creating immersive multimedia experiences that hopefully entrance and captivate the viewer. I also want to keep making work that reaches people deeply, brings them on a journey and gives them hope. And I wish to collaborate with new people from other creative fields. I’m sure this would push me as an artist beyond what I can envision today.

To see more of Yuliya Lanina’s works and learn about her other projects visit

Yuliya Lanina teaches the course Gender, Race, and Technology offered by The University of Texas at Austin. You can enroll for free below:

Gender, Race, and Technology

The University of Texas at Austin