Programme: Drawing and Painting - BA (Hons); Sculpture - BA (Hons)

Year: 2011; 2012

Svetlana Kondakova (Drawing & Painting - BA [Hons]) and Maja Quille (Sculpture - BA [Hons]) graduated in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and collaborate on public works of art, including two major works at Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge, and a new commission to create a prominent work for East Lothian Council in Musselburgh.

Tell us about your time at ECA

Svetlana: I started at ECA when I was 17, making me one of the youngest on my course. It wasn't always easy but it taught me to be self-motivated very quickly. ECA was a great place for exchanging ideas and mutual support with fellow artists. I learnt a lot from other students who have become friends for life and collaborators on a wide variety of projects since graduating.

Maja: I was at a very different point in my life to Svetlana. I was a ‘mature’ student, this was my second degree and I got married and had my first child while studying. Being a new mother and studying was very challenging. I still remember the first few years of ECA as feeling a bit like a dream. I had returned to studying after time out working and I kept having to remind myself that this was real – I could spend my days being creative and exploring my own form of artistic expression.

What did you like about ECA?

Svetlana: I had a great painting tutor, Colin Lawson, who was very supportive and encouraging of my figurative painting (which wasn't all that popular then). As a result, my degree show was a great success for me for which I created an ambitious series of large-scale paintings inspired by Greek mythology. I ended up selling half of them and getting a solo show with an art agent.

Maja: I had my first experiences with bronze casting at ECA, which is a truly magical and fascinating process. Those first experiments I did and the skills the casting technician taught me are something I keep returning to in my work. I spent many a happy day covered in dust and dirt, wearing my mother’s cast offs, casting mice into plaster moulds or grinding down bits of bronze kelp.

"The Archer" on the Esk riverbank, Musselburgh
Image courtesy of Svetlana Kondakova and Maja Quille
"The Archer" on the Esk riverbank, Musselburgh

Being an artist involves a lot more hard work than I imagined when I started at ECA – as well as the ability to adapt, reassess and be willing to start from scratch if something isn’t working out. It is also incredibly rewarding. Don’t let rejections get you down, I’ve had so many I’ve lost count. Oh, and you can be a mother and artist – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Maja Quille, Sculpture - BA (Hons) alumna

Tell us about your creative practice

We create public artworks that focus on heritage, interactivity and community. All of our concepts bridge the past with the present and it is very important to us to have a contemporary aesthetic. We believe that public art should seek to express the community as well as enhancing it, and should involve local individuals as directly as possible in the development and construction of artworks.

In 2014 we completed and installed two major public artworks in Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge, commissioned by Edinburgh Napier University. 'Tree of Knowledge' commemorates the rich heritage of the site, encourages playful interaction and has become a popular meeting place for local people, in particular families. 'Imprint’ commemorates the North British Rubber Factory and tied in with the WWI centenary. It addresses historical events of profound importance, remembering the people who worked in the area and those who fell in the war, while relating them to the modern day with its aesthetics and construction.

Public art has been a very steep learning curve for both of us and has taught us a great deal - from how to successfully engage the community in the creative process to how to construct a one-ton steel tree. With art, there is no ‘right’ way to do things, which means that you have to find your own way to do pretty much everything.

What have been your biggest achievements since you graduated?

Together, our biggest achievement is probably to have recently been commissioned by East Lothian Council to create a new prominent public artwork for Musselburgh. The artwork will comprise a life-size bronze cast of an archer on the Esk riverbank and 12 steel arrows installed at different locations around Musselburgh.

Alumni wisdom                                                                                           

Svetlana: You need to be sure of yourself and have the confidence to fight your corner as an artist. Financially, it is a highly challenging career but at the same time it can be immensely rewarding and, personally, I wouldn't change it for the world. There is nothing better than waking up and thinking about all those people sitting in an office while you're off to make some art!

Maja: Being an artist involves a lot more hard work than I imagined when I started at ECA – as well as the ability to adapt, reassess and be willing to start from scratch if something isn’t working out. It is also incredibly rewarding. Don’t let rejections get you down, I’ve had so many I’ve lost count. Oh, and you can be a mother and an artist – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.