'Russian Dreams…' exhibition
Curator: Olga Sviblova
Assistant curator: Ekaterina Kondranina
Designer: Yuri Avvakumov
Exhibition organiser Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
The project “Russian Dreams…” presents the work of twenty-three contemporary Russian artists, among them luminaries like Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov, AES+F group, Alexander Ponomarev, Dmitri Gutov, Sergei Shutov, Olga Chernysheva, Alexei Kostroma and Vladimir Tarasov. Also participating in the project is a new generation of young artists: Alexei Buldakov, Haim Sokol, Rostan Tavasiev, the MishMash project and Julia Milner. If the first set of names represent the generation formed in the 1980s to 1990s when the contemporary Russian art scene was dominated by Sots Art with its ironic deconstruction of Soviet myths and ideological cliché, the younger artists came to the fore in the new, post-perestroika Russia. This “Russian Dreams…” exhibition displays art created in the new Russia after the 1991 putsch and the break-up of the USSR. Art presented at this exhibition analyses a transitional phase in the new Russia, as it strives to achieve stability and search for fundamental new values and paths for the development of society as a whole, and art in particular.
Dreaming is a traditional feature of the Russian character. The vast majority of Russian folktales are based on the story of Ivan the Fool, who becomes tsar at the end of the fable without having to lift a finger. Incidentally, this carnival transformation is also reflected in the central slogan of the Socialist revolution: “We have been nought, we shall be all!” The dream of an opportunity to build an essentially new life and new spiritual reality served as the starting point for a remarkable burst of activity in Russian art of the early 20th century. Russian Futurism and Modernism, the work of Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Pavel Filonov, Vladimir Tatlin and others was the result of artistic mythmaking based on the idea of the great social Utopia. But lofty ideals of revolution were very soon transformed into totalitarian ideology. The Russian avant-garde was outlawed for many decades in its country of origin. A second upsurge in 20th-century Russian art occurred in the 1970s to 1980s. This was the period of underground art associated with such names as Ilya Kabakov, Erik Bulatov, Leonid Sokov, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. Oppositional games with the mass-produced clichés of Soviet ideology stoked the fires of Sots Art.
The early years of the new Russia marked a transitional phase: a new mythology and new dream were essential to ordinary citizens as a means of survival, and to artists for their work. This is why contemporary Russian art in the pre-revolutionary period turns to both the sources of national philosophy and the experiments of Russian Futurism and Soviet myths that strive for reconstruction and self-reproduction. The “Russian Dreams…” exhibition is an artistic analysis of the mythogenetic process, an attempt to chart its progress in modern-day Russia.
The present century is rife with aggression. It hovers in the air, each and every one of us feels its presence. Many of the installations in this exhibition project are essentially an exorcism of this aggression or an attempt to at least soften it, if we cannot destroy it altogether. Hence Alexei Kostroma feathers a gun with flimsy white plumage. Dmitri Gutov’s bullet-notes recreate the score of a Dmitri Shostakovich piano trio written in 1944, during the Second World War. The whistle of bullets continues to this day. The artist’s work is a visual dream of a world without bullets. In the project “Be Softer” the MishMash project dresses stones in hand-knitted socks. There is a time to cast away stones and a time to gather them. MishMash tries to gather and gently wrap them up.
The dream of a great empire periodically reappears in the Russian consciousness and it is no coincidence that Yuri Avvakumov’s mausoleum of dominos and Swarovski crystals and Andrei Filippov’s spiral of double-headed eagles feature in the exhibition.
The Russian avant-garde with dynamic diagonals pointing to the future and austere constructions was inspired by the dream of a radiant future. Nowadays works by Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky have turned into a commercial brand that has penetrated mass culture. Alexei Buldakov, one of the youngest participants in the exhibition, sets Suprematist elements in motion in his video, accompanied by what seems like the sound track from a porn film, yet another product demanded by popular culture.
The Russian experience of the twentieth-century shows that the value of the individual has disappeared from history, steamrollered by the great idea. Now we dream of a return to respectful and caring attitudes to the individual. Olga Chernysheva’s work “Sleep Street” shows a dilapidated village outside Moscow where the letters have fallen off a street sign, spontaneously and poetically renaming it “Sleep Street”. Wretched railings made from ancient bedheads guard private worlds where people put by jars of jam and salted preserves for the winter, in the time-honoured manner. This is a dreamlike microcosm left behind by the pace and rhythm of nascent capitalism, conserving the primordial purity of the human soul and appeasing with the quiet poetry of the everyday, stoic survival pursued by those on the side road of history.
Haim Sokol’s work “Foundation Pit” refers us to the eponymous novel by Andrei Platonov, the Russian writer who described better than anyone the yawning abyss between the life of the ‘little man’ and the mighty dream that inspires yet smothers his existence.
The nostalgic-elegiac installation by Vladimir Tarasov, composer, artist and co-author with Ilya Kabakov of several artworks, is linked to his memories of childhood in the far-northern village of Chushala, where both children and adults would sit in their izba and dream, gazing out the open window. This open window becomes a symbol and a metaphor of life for the artist, in a world where fear and aggression force us to tightly close our dwellings and our hearts.
The artist Leonid Tishkov and photographer Boris Bendikov has created “Private Moon” and humanised this ‘cold heavenly body’. The moon is a dictator determining the rhythms of the universe and human activity. Leonid Tishkov takes the moon with him on a journey across the expanses of a vast megalopolis, through gardens, subterranean cavities and the abandoned rooms of his parents’ old country house, drawing it closer to himself and others. This is his personal manifestation of the idea of Russian cosmism, which has always nourished Russian art.
In his work entitled “Igarka” Yuri Avvakumov applied constellations to photographs of a town located inside the Arctic Circle in Krasnoyarsk territory, symbolically drawing the attention of its inhabitants, mainly the descendants of political prisoners, to the cosmos. Igarka was designed in the 1930s by great avant-garde architect and Utopian Ivan Leonidov, who was also fascinated by the Russian philosophy of cosmism, but his plan was never completed and this remote town became an abandoned building project. Sergei Shutov also spent time in the Krasnoyarsk territory, in Zheleznogorsk, a town built by GULAG prisoners for the production of plutonium and sputnik satellites. Naturally production work is guarded by the same barbed wire that once encircled the GULAG. Shutov uses barbed wire to portray the celestial products of this closed city: sputniks and rockets that transfer our terrestrial boundaries to space.
“Defile” by the AES+F group was inspired by the ideas of Russian religious thinker and futurist philosopher Nikolai Feodorov, one of the founders of Russian cosmism, whose basic concept is the dream of physical resurrection. This exhibit by the AES+F group refers us to Feodorov’s ideas, reminding us of death as the fundamental existential problem of human existence, and to the concept of overcoming death in a moral and physical sense. At the same time the artists develop their theme of a criticism of the glamour industry and consumerism: with the aid of computer technology the bodies of the dead are arrayed in clothing intended for a fashion show.
For Julia Milner the cosmos is represented by real photographs of galaxies created by research astronomers using highly complex equipment. In her video “Universe” you see totemic symbols of the eternal femininity of the Universe appearing through these cosmic landscapes.
The mechanical devices in Alexander Ponomarev’s “Nimbus Generator” produce smoke rings or nimbuses that fade away high above the viewers’ heads, before their very eyes. In our lives poetry and dreams appear and disappear in much the same way.
The dream of erecting a tower leading upwards to the heavens is characteristic of every Generation Next. Rostan Tavasiev constructs his tower from cubes, balancing an essentially unstable construction. He packs his own cosmos and sky into each cube, consciously infantilising his dialogue with Russian Modernism. In this way he removes the stark opposition of past and present, gently and gaily aiming his vector of movement upwards, to the future.
Nikolai Polissky uses the creative process to turn his dream into reality, inveigling inhabitants of the partially abandoned village of Nikolo-Lenivets into his art-actions. As a result of this collective manifestation of the artist’s poetic metaphors a wild impulse of play and festivity captivates the villagers, who become co-participants in the creative process, and accumulates in the objects and installations they have created. The artist’s land-art actions are inspired by folk customs and awareness of Russian art history. For “Russian Dreams…” this consists of huge wooden rooks, birds seen as symbols and boundary markers, a pledge and signal that spring is coming.
In the Russian consciousness spring is also a metaphor for determining the political situation. The period marked by Nikita Khruschev’s democratic reforms is usually referred to as ‘Khruschev’s Thaw’. A dream of future democracy is also a dream of vernal transformation and the awakening of nature, man and society. Andrei Molodkin’s installation repeats the word DEMOCRACY twice. First as a sculptural composition of three-dimensional letters filled with oil, standing across the viewer’s path like a fence. The second form it takes is a light construction on the wall, where the shining word is written in a perspective reminiscent of Rodchenko. When combined they recreate a Suprematist composition from the Russian avant-garde, still the most important reference point for contemporary Russian art.
The Russian art of today can be ironic and poetic, aggressive and lyrical as the Russian soul, and we know that is an enigma…
Olga Sviblova, Director of the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow