TO RUSSIANS WITH LOVE
Updated: Aug 11, 2022
A surprising title you may think given current times. But the title is inspired by the plethora of Russian artists who are speaking out and demanding to be seen and heard.
During Art Basel, I attended three inspirational preview evenings that showcased the work of such talents. Emerging, unrepresented, even completely unknown, and often working without government sponsorship, these young creatives are defining a new consciousness that is both poignant and stark.
‘State of Disaster’ staged in the corridor of Basel’s Centre Point (Im Lohnhof 8, Basel) and presented independently by Basel based curator Pavel Kovlenko, provided a unique setting for this showcase themed on the brutality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. ‘An Endless Horizon of Violence’ and ‘March’, works by Irina Petrakova, are deeply emotional statements that speak volumes about the artist's sentiments towards the bloodshed and the sea of open wounds and swathes of gloom that prevail. ’Painting, explained Petrakova, ‘gave me an important emotional outlet to express my feelings on the violence and the darkness that war brings.’
The second preview, entitled ‘Goods’, presented by the Voskhod Gallery, Basel, was the first solo exhibition by artist Kuril Chto who employs irony to investigate serious and often painful themes.
Looting takes centre stage in the installation which features images of washing machines and small, soldier figurines carrying goods on their backs. The show’s intent is to convey the peculiar variety of looting that includes washing machines, irons and toilets to point out the mindless obedience towards authoritarian orders that go against the foundations of life.
'Looting has become the outrageous and incomprehensible suffering of the Ukrainian people caused by the actions of the Russian invading troops, comments Chto, through an interpreter. There’s a lot of violence while this happens. People are being shot even when riding a bicycle. The troops are united not by a high ideal but by the idea that they can loot, he continues.’the washing machine has become the main symbol of the Russian army’s invasion of Ukraine. Maybe this is a subconscious attempt to wash themselves metaphorically after the war,’ he suggests.
Chto’s images are a reminder of the fragility of our civilisation that can quickly dissolve under the influence of propaganda and authoritarianism.
The third exposition was a non curated mix of Russian talents that explored the intersection of past and present. Entitled 'X-Nowness', and presented by @voskhod-gallery, @obdnnie Gallery, Art Catch Gallery and supported by Voices of Culture, 38 Russian contemporary artists and art groups were brought together to offer a vision on the concept of time. The so-called ‘nowness’ or ‘diversity of time’, is in this context, the dynamic connection between the past and the future.
‘Each work, has its own meaning’ says Anna Merman, founder of OBDNE Gallery in Russia who walks me through the show on its last day in Basel. I am immediately curious about
several works. One is ‘The Stock’ by MishMash. A series of works featuring tinned food. ‘It’s about the instability and unpredictability of the situation. The artist looked for cans of food in her cupboard and started to ‘dream’ what would happen at the expiry date,’ explains Merman. The work is optimistic and the predictions are hopeful. ‘When the expiry date is over’ reads one image, ‘we will have forgotten our fear’. Another reads ‘when the expiry date is over, everything that is destroyed will be restored.’
A set of abstract drawings by Oleg Ustinov are the second piece that I encountered.Through a method that I discover is called ‘Xylocollision’, the series involved using both hands, each clasping and manipulating a bundle of pencils that make clicking noises as they are pressed against the paper, collide and fall within the tightly held stack. They are then picked up, and pass from one hand to another in a continuous motion. Music, I learn, is not just an inspiration but also part of the process and important to the outcome. I found some of the drawings soft and tender with an open arrangement of bright, coloured strokes, whilst others were more intense evoking confusion and forcefulness.
The third piece that caught my attention was by Moscow and Paris based artist Vika Kosheleva. Her works are reminiscent of the classical Dutch style paintings, and portray the trappings of the era. And so we are treated to a ‘kirtle’ style dress and the romanticism of a white rose. However, the ensemble is disturbed by an alien form character and a fluorescent blue rose which seems to question our understanding of the true reality.
There was a compelling mix of creative perspectives across the three shows, with each artist displaying a personal appreciation of the current zeitgeist. They depict the blunders and aggressions of our past that invade our present, whilst weaving a shimmer of hope towards a peaceful futuristic order. To paraphrase one of the artists, ‘let’s hope that war does not kill our spring!’
For further information about the works contact:
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© Copyright Hazel Clarke 2022.