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Contemporary art

Western art

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Svetlana Kopystiansky

Russia, United States of America

11 Nov 1950 -

Igor Kopystiansky

Ukraine, United States of America

16 Dec 1954 -


Igor and Svetlana Kopystiansky have recently collaborated on a number of projects but they each have established individual careers. Since 1988 they have lived and worked primarily in New York, where their work came to the attention of an international audience. In the early 1990’s they began showing in major survey exhibitions and biennales. They both exhibited at the Biennale of Sydney, ‘The boundary rider’, in 1992 and at that time the AGNSW acquired Svetlana’s ‘The trainer’, a construction in the form of a library with interspersed pieces of gymnasium equipment.

Their studio in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in what used to be the ‘meat district’ of Chelsea, is close to the Hudson River and subject to the cold winds that lash the grey streets. When they first moved in it was very affordable but, as usual, the galleries followed the artists and gentrification took hold. Much of the area is now home to the most prestigious New York galleries but at street level it is still rather desolate. The detritus of consumer life lies everywhere, as it does all over New York.

Although they maintain their own practices and resist being seen as a double act, the Kopystianskys have collaborated on certain kinds of works, including conceptual photography that explores time and chance. The film ‘Incidents’ is not about dirty streets so much as a celebration of chance encounters. Many hours of footage carefully collected on windy days of detritus blowing down the streets have been meticulously edited to capture these magical moments. It is remarkable how quickly we start to read characters into these discarded objects. The particular formal properties of each of the objects determine the very individualistic movement each acquires through the animating breath of the wind. At times the characterisation becomes so strong that audiences spontaneously burst out laughing. When an empty hamburger box moves forward in a series of jerky steps with its lid flapping up and down, it becomes a vividly anthropomorphic image and zanily Muppet-like.

There are also moments of great elegance, particularly when pieces of fabric or a plastic bag twist and twirl along the gutter or fly up into the air defying gravity then shudder and spin back to earth. There is a long and interesting history of discarded objects in contemporary art but this work brings to the genre to a new level of aesthetic pleasure.

Projects such as ‘Incidents’ took many months, even years, to complete. The Kopystianskys also work on parallel projects: for example while this film was being compiled they were taking twin photos of the same street scene just a few feet apart and with a slight time delay. The resulting images capture chance moves and conjunctions, figures move out of frame from one shot to the other, or figures come together or pass each other on the street – a strategy which fed into the procedural logic of ‘Incidents’.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006




Media category

Time-based art

Materials used

single channel digital video, colour, sound




duration: 00:14:56 min

Signature & date

Signed l.c. Certificate of authenticity, black fibre-tipped pen "S. Kopystiansky/ I. Kopystiansky". Not dated.


Purchased 2002


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Svetlana Kopystiansky

Works in the collection


Artist information

Igor Kopystiansky

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 11 publications


Anthony Bond, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Objects and associations', pg.332-381, Sydney, 2006, 348, 349 (colour illus.).

Anthony Bond, Incidents, 'Incidents', Sydney, 2003, (colour illus.). no pagination

Anthony Bond, Igor & Svetlana Kopystiansky, 'Incidents', pg.48, 2005, 12-47 (colour illus.), 48. not AGNSW edition

Anthony Bond OAM, Trace, 1st Liverpool Biennale of Contemporary Art, Liverpool, 1999, (illus.). not AGNSW edition

Thierry Davila, Les cahiers du musée national d'art moderne n°146, ‘Heuristique des courants d’air. De Léonard de Vinci à Marcel Duchamp, Hans Haacke et au-delà’, pg. 72-105, Paris, Winter 2018-2019, 99 (colour illus.). not AGNSW edition

Okwui Enwezor (Curator), Trade routes: history and geography: 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, Johannesburg, 1997. not AGNSW edition

Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Igor & Svetlana Kopystiansky, Helsinki, 2007, (colour illus.). not AGNSW edition

Anette Hüsch, From trash to treasure: vom Wert des Wertlosen in der Kunst, Bielefeld, 2011. not AGNSW edition

Philippe-Alain Michaud and John G Hanhardt, Igor & Svetlana Kopystiansky, Dijon, 2010, (colour illus.). not AGNSW edition

Angelika Stepken, In medias res : Berlin'den fotoğraf ve diğer medya sanatlari = Fotografie und andere Medienkunst aus Berlin = Photography and other media art from Berlin, Berlin, 1997. not AGNSW edition

Harald Szeemann (Curator), 4e Biennale d'art contemporain de Lyon: l'autre, Paris, 1997. not AGNSW edition