'GAIETY IS THE MOST OUTSTANDING FEATURE OF THE SOVIET UNION' at the Saatchi Gallery.
The Saatchi Gallery presents an intriguing portrayal of life and times of those affected by the soviet empire & the aftermath of its downfall. Featuring a large photographic presence & intriguing case studies bringing some harsh realities to our attention. A collection of 18 artists representing new art from Russia have been assembled to display comments on the past, the present & the future of Russia’s cultural heritage & of the socially oppressive nature of the former state, the USSR, that existed between 1922 & 1991.
These artists come together to provide an insight into the current condition of the contemporary art world in Russia, whilst obvious connections to its recent history remain prevalent. A provocative & powerful display of the character of a changing world...
Valery Koshlyakov (1962-)
Grand Opera, Paris
Fascinated with the ideals of kingdom & empire & the role of the architectural masterpieces within these spheres Koshlyakov strays away from the realism that these buildings are usually depicted by & places them into a more street art aesthetic. The details of each brushstroke with the casual drip of paint combine to form an outstanding representation of each masterpiece rich in the merit that these buildings deserve.
Stretching 5 meters wide upon numerous pieces of discarded cardboard that have been loosely bound together forming the canvas stands Grand Opera, Paris. Other buildings treated in a similar vein include the gothic cathedral Notre Dame, the Luzhniki Stadium & the Raushskaya Embankment all of which are monumental.
Moscow, Luzhniki Stadium
An intimate portrayal of these celebrated buildings invites the viewer’s gaze to explore every detail without the distraction of passing figures as the sole focus is cast upon the glorious buildings. Overlapping cardboard creates an almost 3 dimensional world that you are invited to explore Whether you step back to allow each tear, splash of paint & purposeful shadow to merge into one form, or you stand close to inspect the intricacies of detail, Koshlyakov will challenge you to see the potential of beauty in the most modest of items.
These stained, ripped & seemingly flimsy canvases provide a comment on the failed utopia that these buildings came to represent.
High-rise on Raushskaya Embankment Paris, Notre Dame
Anna Parkina (1979 - )
In the era of the digital world there is something refreshing about Parkina’s reuse of collage techniques, which serve to reflect upon her cultural heritage often including russian cars, birds & Soviet architecture. Referred to as having a resemblance to Soviet propaganda art her deeply layered photocollages & use of silhouettes contain a mixture of figuration & geometric abstraction. The multiple layers are said to act as a visual metaphor for the various undercurrents of the social, cultural & political change present in modern day Russia.
Parkina prefers to reflect upon past influences to her native Russia & an element of industrial design associated with the dramatic rise of the Soviet empire can be observed in her work. She is a self confessed descendant of the Constructivism art movement of early 1920’s Russia, which favours the use of art as a practice for social purposes. She creates art work that enables and empowers her audience to understand their own place within the current world. However, Parkina’s work goes beyond this philosophy by challenging the viewer to reflect upon the subject matter of her collages & paintings. Through their abstract means lies interpretation as her works are not so representational.
Zamki I Samki
Take The Hollow for instance, a silhouetted figure of a man in a trench coat resembles the classical cinematic genre of film noir. This serves as an allusion to spies, to mystery & is an influence of the environment that she grew up in. These silhouetted figures are repeated throughout many of Parkina’s works representing the battle between protagonist & antagonist, the good & the bad as in the Hollywood films.
Embellishing her collage works with oil, photocopy, posters & books these mixed media pieces are strong in detail reconfiguring the everyday through an array of imagery.
TEATRIKS The Hollow (2008)
The Case Is Open II Blackscreanwritars
Gosha Ostretsov (1967 - )
With comic book art unable to flourish in Russia due to a ban imposed by a Soviet empire determined to abolish any connection to western culture, a void existed within Gosha Ostretsov. This forbidden art form manifested itself in Gosha who has sought to realign this deprivation by creating an entire fictional world. This has grown to become a conceptual movement with social ideologies encompassing exhibitions, installations, publications & even performance art.
Ostretsov has created the fantastical world known as the ‘New Government’, which has continued to be retold through various exhibitions to gather a narrative. He even places himself within his comic strips by playing out various roles including the leader of a new regime & a propaganda minister. He tells the story of a government whose rulers never appear in public without cover-all black latex masks.
Basing political comments within a fantasy world affords Gosha the ability to tackle strong subject matter in a satirical manner free from the somberness that it could so easily be associated with. The masks also represent the face of politics where many masks can be found.
A keen student of fashion Ostretsov spent 10 years working & living in Paris. He later returned to his artistic routes to combine his interest in comic strip culture with fashion to bring an absurd world to life.
In this latest edition of Ostretsov’s story masked figurines are contained within erected cardboard used to portray a number of blood stained cells. Distressed figures unrecognisable by features lurk confined within a brutal proposed reality. Some characters lay with dismembered limbs, whilst another hangs from the bounds of his cell. An air of aggression remains within one cell as this exhibit shows the varying responses to the cruelty suggested in the piece titled ‘Criminal Government’.
In addition to this Ostretsov displays a work titled ‘Sex in the City’ featuring distorted heads splashed with paint mounted on plinths of plywood. A comment by the artist on the ability of the Government to replace masked members without people being aware of any change.
The comic book iconography combined with the conceptual installations created by this multimedia artist provoke interesting reactions from those who view.
Sergei Vasiliev (1937 - )
Vailiev has combined his duties as a prison warden officer with his skills as a photographer chronicling russian criminal tattoos over a 30 year period. These tattoos of Soviet prisoners contain secret codes, which serve as a resistance to the Soviet regime that they had been repressed by. They were found to be filled with insults against the authorities. The code of conduct present within these tattoos is extremely advanced & detailed as the symbolism used depict much about their subjects, profiling their history. The use of certain imagery provides all kinds of information. For example, the image of a cat represents a thief, whereas a skull illustrates the highest criminality, an untouchable. Crosses on knuckles denote the number of times the wearer had been to prison & individuals found to have no tattoos would assume the lowest status. As further research has been carried out more information has been revealed about this iconic underground artistic practice.
With tattooing illegal in prisons these prisoners relied on melting down boot heels & mixing this substance with blood & urine to form the ink they worked with.
Boris Mikhailov (1938 - )
Mikhailov provides a shocking account of ordinary people affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union in a series of 413 astonishing photographs. Encouraging people in destitute conditions to reveal themselves, their flesh, sexuality, violence, desperation & companionship. This collection of photographs were taken in 1997-98 in Kharkov, Ukraine 10 years after the downfall of the Soviet system.
With no welfare system a rapid decline into destitution occurs leading to social oppression, devastating poverty & helplessness. The degrading nature of this journey is captured profoundly by Mikhailov who offers an insight to the public of a reality that many not knew existed.
‘Case History’ as the collection of photographs are titled, documents the social condition of individuals living in the Soviet Union and the aftermath of its collapse.
Dasha Shishkin (1977 - )
Elaborate patterning & bright blocks of colour give rise to these psychedelic abstract landscapes by Dasha Shishkin. Her intricate compositions encompass numerous pieces of mylar, a semi transparent plastic surface, which are arranged to form a large canvas. Referring to her works as drawings with keen attention to the patterning that is prominent her emphasis is on the lines & contours used to create this affect. The use of colour is secondary leaving the mixed medias used such as acrylic & ink to serve as the fillers & not the definers.
The complex scenes of human interaction depicted within these drawings often evoke a sense of gluttonous depravity. Shishkin’s mischievous & fetishist characters often lead us into a somewhat perverse nature of over exuberance, which can be associated to those who served the regime. This interestingly stands in grave contrast to Boris Mikhailov’s ‘case history’ & these displays shown side by side provide an intriguing account.
Survival Takes A Good Memory
Not Sad, Just Sighing What Does It Matter To Her Ever Creating Womb If Today Matter Is Flesh And Tomorrow Worms ^