On My Own. A series of art workshops for women


A series of art workshops led by the artist Natalya Nikulenkova for women performing affective labour and experiencing burnout.

Affective labour is work aimed at changing other people’s emotional states — for example, sparking joy or creating a sense of security. One of its forms is care work — caring for children, relatives with disabilities or serious illnesses, as well as patients in rehabilitation centres and hospices. This kind of labour is usually gender-typed and generally perceived as «typically female». Cyclical, endless and monotonous, it goes unnoticed, although it is a physically and psychologically complex work.

The title On My Own is borrowed from the first women’s talk show on Russian television, which ran from 1995-2001, about the same time as the Santa Barbara TV series. The programme’s protagonists talked openly about their family problems, issues with men or their careers, and they discussed them with the studio audience. This popular programme was awarded a TEFI television prize and was one of the crowning achievements of post-Soviet feminist discourse.

At the On My Own workshops of Natalya Nikulenkova, we’ll explore the phenomenon of care work. An empathetic and supportive environment will encourage participants to share their emotions and discuss their experiences with others who find themselves in similar circumstances. The method of narrative self-help will complement artistic practices.

Natalia Nikulenkova. Captured Bodies (performance documentation), 2021
Photo by Tatiana Sushenkova

We cultural workers should create art that is drawn from everyday life and made up of the material of human relationships. To a large extent, we do this for the sake of our own mental survival, so we won’t be overwhelmed by a sense of doom that we can’t do anything about. In the master classes, we will try to create a space for comfortable and trusting exchanges of personal experience that in the future might serve as material for comic books about female superheroes overcoming everyday difficulties. A tutor will provide psychoanalytic supervision at the classes. The groups will meet with the psychologist Olga Bronnikova, who will help collect feedback (asking questions like «how was the session?») and have personal supportive talks with participants should the need arise.

Natalia Nikulenkova, workshop leader of the On My Own project

People who care for loved ones with serious illnesses or whose professional activity is associated with care labour will invent a comic book about superheroines. Before the start of the master classes, Natalya Nikulenkova will conduct a series of interviews with future participants to decide on the storylines that will form the basis of the script. The workshop will include consultations by a professional psychologist, Olga Bronnikova. The project will result in a comic-book zine.

Natalya Nikulenkova is an artist and activist. She creates video art and projects based on documentary material, combining social activism with artistic statements that explore interactive practices. She is a co-founder of the interdisciplinary collective Union of Convalescents, an artistic initiative that explores the construction of psychological normativity.

Olga Bronnikova is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, a graduate of the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education and the Bekhterev St. Petersburg Psychoneurological Research Institute. Since 2007, she has her own private psychotherapy practice for children and adults. She completed internships at European mental health clinics. For over ten years, she has been engaged in the Apartment project, which provides assistance to people with mental health problems.