Alumni Services

Svetlana Kondakova & Maja Quille

In this joint offering, ECA graduates Svetlana Kondakova and Maja Quille talk about the gradual road to success, collaboration and the official launch of their creative partnership.

Name Svetlana Kondakova
Degree Course BA Drawing
Year of Graduation 2011
Name Maja Quille
Degree Course BA Sculpture
Year of Graduation 2012

Your time at the University

Kondakova and Quille

Svetlana: I had a very supportive and encouraging painting tutor, Colin Lawson, whose guidance helped me to produce a dramatic degree show, which I was very pleased with.

I learnt the most about painting however from fellow art students; it was they who made my experience at art school so full of colour and memories.

My brightest highlight from university is my Erasmus exchange to the Athens School of Fine Arts in Greece. The Greek influence resulted in all my paintings being inspired by Greek mythology for the following two years. The experience was completely life changing for me and I still employ the art and life lessons from this incredible time.

Maja: I returned to studies after a period of several years of working in jobs I didn’t enjoy and was a ‘mature’ student. I spent most of my time marvelling at the fact that I got to spend my days being so fulfilled and working with things that I loved.

I particularly enjoyed the workshop and bronze casting facilities and having the opportunity to create the things that until then had only been in my head. My time at Edinburgh also coincided with some of the major events in my life. I got married in my first year and spent the first summer holiday on a two month honeymoon in rural Tanzania, where I worked with the local village population to construct a large sculpture out of welded coins.

I also had my son (who is now three and has a baby sister) in my third year of studying, which made my degree show a pretty hectic time!

Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University

This sculpture will tie in with this year’s WWI centenary and will reference a factory which used to be located on the same area of land in Fountainbridge and produced thousands of pairs of boots for the British soldiers in the trenches.

Svetlana Kondakova

Since graduating we have both undertaken a variety of projects in Scotland and abroad both together and individually.

Svetlana: I have continued painting and have put on two solo exhibitions since, gathering a small group of ‘fans’ of my work. Selling paintings to some of them and getting commissions from others, I have been able to continue re-investing in my art career.

I also spent time on an artist residency in Bolivia with an incredible organisation called Sustainable Bolivia. There, I organised a project and exhibition involving local artists based on the coca leaf. The exhibition and I received a lot of attention. It was featured on local TV, in the local newspaper, on radio and the opening was attended by over 200 guests.

When I returned to Edinburgh, I co-founded Black Cube Collective (which I am now Director of) with art college friends Leo Starrs-Cunningham, Ronald Binnie and Piotr Skibinski, and later my ECA friend Elliott Burns.

We are an arts organisation supporting and creating new opportunities for emerging artists. I worked with Maja for the first time when she exhibited her work as part of the launch of Black Cube Collective in September 2012.

Since the launch, Black Cube Collective have hosted a variety of events and exhibitions for new artists in Edinburgh and one in my home town of St Petersburg, Russia, at The State Museum of Urban Sculpture.

We are currently working on two major European projects connecting art and technology and recently hosted an event at the Stills Gallery and at Edinburgh College of Art, bringing together artists and technologists, and will soon fund several collaborative projects arising out of the event. It feels great to be able to offer such opportunities to emerging artists, particularly as some of them are students at ECA.

Never, ever think that it’s too late to do something or give up if you have a dream.

Maja Quille

Maja: I was awarded a graduate studio at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (ESW) just after graduating, where I have been an active member since. I had a few exhibitions on the back of my degree show work and conducted some workshops at ESW with local primary school children as part of my research.

I focused on developing my style before Svetlana approached me about doing some joint work. We decided to collaborate when an opportunity to bid for a public art project for Napier University came our way.

Tree of Knowledge

Svetlana: Our proposal was a success and Maja took the role of lead artist, while I was in charge of project management. This was in January 2013. A year later, and having learned an incredible amount as well as overcoming a few hurdles, we installed ‘Tree of Knowledge’ beside Napier’s new student accommodation complex and the Union Canal.

The sculpture references Fountainbridge’s heritage going back to the 13th and 14th centuries when the area housed Royal Orchards. Its shape takes that of a 900 year old heritage tree and its branches form a bench, making the artwork a local meeting point for both students and the general public.

We now work on a variety of public art ideas together. In October last year we were shortlisted for a public artwork marking a new renewable energy plant in Sleaford. We also exhibited our idea for a public sculpture in St Petersburg as part of the international biennale titled ‘New Ideas for the City’. Our piece became the focal point of the exhibition and was aired on one Russia’s main TV channels ‘NTV’. Currently, we are bidding for a major monument commission in Edinburgh.

Napier was so impressed with ‘Tree of Knowledge’ that they have commissioned us for a second public artwork. This sculpture will tie in with this year’s WWI centenary and will reference a factory which used to be located on the same area of land in Fountainbridge and produced thousands of pairs of boots for the British soldiers in the trenches. It will be unveiled in the summer and will coincide with the official launch of our partnership - Kondakova & Quille.

Alumni wisdom

Svetlana: Go on Erasmus if you can, it can turn your whole life upside-down in the best way possible. Also, take every opportunity to collaborate with people - you can learn a lot from others and being part of team is an invaluable life skill.

Finally, I think that regardless of what your degree is, it is important to constantly network and establish good working relationships with people. It is a good idea to practice this while still at university in order to prepare for the ‘real world’.

Maja: If you can possibly avoid it, never turn down an opportunity - even if it doesn’t seem worth your time. You never know what might happen, and the outcome of something may be completely different to what you imagined it would be.

Never, ever think that it’s too late to do something or give up if you have a dream. The most successful artists I know were ‘mature’ students and have work or family commitments. I have had countless rejections as well successes since graduating, you just have to pick yourself up and keep going.

Read our April profiles

Alumni Profile | Morag MacCormick