October 4, CYLAND MediaArtLab continues the exhibition project “Silent Voices. Contemporary Art about the Siege” in Krasnoyarsk. Developed in cooperation with the NCCA and the Pro Arte Foundation for Culture and Arts, “Silent Voices” studies the daily life of a person in a besieged city. Based on available historical publications, archival sources and private evidence, the project is carried out with the help of contemporary visual forms and media. “Silent Voices” is curated by Ludmila Belova.
Read the curatorial statement by Ludmila Belova
The ideological control during Soviet times created certain clichйs in covering the Siege ofLeningrad, including the way it was depicted visually. Purposefully designed memory was based onselection and exclusion: appropriate memories were carefully separated from inappropriate ones,significant chosen over peripheral. All unwanted, uncomfortable, “non-important” accounts wereswept away; emphasis would be laid on valor and heroic war victories.
Perestroika brought to light a lot of new material: archives were opened, audio and videointerviews recorded, diaries, memoirs and photobooks published, including “The UnknownBlockade” project by Vladimir Nikitin. Nikita Lomagin in his book with the same title providesaccess to previously classified archival documents. Sergei Loznitsa offers a new approach to thetopic in his “Blockade” film; Polina Barskova has been long developing the subject in her literaryworks. One may also mention novels: “Leningrad” by Igor Vishnevsky, “To Sleep and Believe” byAndrei Turgenev (Vyacheslav Kuritsyn) and other works.
Contemporary art, however, has not yet reflected on the Siege of Leningrad on a large scale –several artists and institutions did give it a try, like the Krasnoyarsk Museum Center with its major2010 “AfterDisaster” exhibition about WWII. In 2015 the Goethe-Insitut launched a two-year project“900 and 26,000 More Days”. An exhibition under the same title was opened in Hamburg in 2015and in St. Petersburg in 2017.
The “Silent Voices” exhibition in the Nevskaya Kurtina of the Peter and Paul Fortress explores theways of transforming memory into new visual images. Diaries kept during the Siege served asmain sources of information and basis for the art-works presented at the exhibition, since theyprovide the most reliable accounts of the city’s everyday life.
“Earth” – an object by Alexandr Androsov and Vadim Zaitsev, displayed in the square facing theNaryshkin Bastion looks like a memorial. This was exactly the idea behind it: as part of the “900and 26,000 More Days” project the artists planned to design a monument dedicated to the Siege tobe later installed in Hamburg. However, it turned out to be more of a counter-monument of a ratherephemeral nature, meant to affect its audience directly: here and now. Public-art objects – such asthis “counter-monument” – are normally placed in the public urban environment, not in an areaspecially designated for a monument.
Sugar earth or sweet earth – this is how authors of the diaries kept during the Siege would refer tothe precious substance left after the fire at the Badayevsky food depot. A pile of black soil isencapsulated in a clear-cut cube. Memories, diary accounts are being transformed into a powerfulimage showing the tragedy through an abstract form, non-figuratively.
“Geometry of Memory”, an installation by Pyotr Bely, – is located in the very heart of the Peter andPaul Fortress. It is another counter-monument – a composition of three sculptures. The objects aresee-through, their delicate graphic ornament reminds one of the anti-tank (Czech) hedgehogsdeployed on the outskirts of the city, of the duct-taped windows, of the night sky illuminated by thesearchlights. The key image here is a cross that evokes numerous connotations.
To see memory coming back to life one may try Anastasiya Kizilova’s Hunger Cuisine installation.A huge table features food ration for Ivan Zhilinsky’s family day by day. By visualizing diary entries,the artist enables today’s visitor to see and “try out” the menu of the Siege.
In her Physical Evidence installation Vita Buivid interweaves her own memories of the stories theartist’s mother told her about the war into the collective memory, and does in a touching andmoving way. As if proving that youth, love and desire to look beautiful were present during thathorrible time of the Siege, the artist presents physical evidence: a crepe de Chine dress from1940s turned into a gypsum bas-relief.
The video “Million” by Natalya Tikhonova was part of the “900 and 26,000 More Days” projectlaunched by Goethe-Institut. We see the artist’s hand calculating how many deaths occurred perday, per hour… Arithmetic is used to help us understand the magnitude of the tragedy. As a result,one feels unable to perceive the monstrous figure of one million deaths.Natalya Tikhonova’s second project at the exhibition is titled “Verbatim,” i.e. “literally” in Latin. Inthis video Natalya tries to close the gap between herself and the author of a diary written during theSiege. One day from the artist’s life is intertwined with the excerpts from Lyubov Shaporina’s notesread aloud.
Sound installation The Queue by Elena Gubanova and Ivan Govorkov is filled with the hum ofvoices coming from the hanging string bags (called avos’ka in Russian). If you listen to themcarefully, you’d realize you’re listening to people queuing for bread in the besieged city. Theavos’ka bag is a perfect symbol of the period. It’s very name deriving from the Russian adverbavos’ – “hopefully”, “just in case” hints to positive expectations, ‘Hope, I’ll bring something back inthis bag.’
However, in the besieged city one wouldn’t make the food they’ve acquired visible to other people’seyes. A string bag filled with air and void in the installation “The Line” is an image of all-encompassing hunger. Mundane conversations about “nothing” hiding the main message: how tostay alive, add to the feeling of despair and, at the same time, hope.
A tiny book with a velvet cover – diary of artist and photographer Boris Smirnov is part of the“Camouflage-Free” installation by Alexandr Terebenin. The book has only three entries. Smirnovalso kept a photographic diary. His film found in the family archive has been printed out and theprints placed in a long rectangular lightbox. Double exposure applied deliberately of randomlycreates a feeling of emptiness, other-worldliness, something unreal. Terebenin reflects onscrutinizing the imperceptible, the unimportant, that can sometimes tell you more than any event-related photo.
In the installation “Blind Spot”, Anna Frants builds up some intangible memorial. Live broadcastingfrom the web-cameras located in Nevsky prospect merges with family photos hung on the wall. Ablind spot is a term drivers use for the part of the road they cannot see. In this work, the blind spotis the millions of people who suffered during the Siege. The turn of the rearview window in AnnaFrants’s project is an address towards the private, memory of a single family, story of the commontragedy told by means of a family archive.
The “Black Light” installation by Vadim Leukhin tells of a lesser-known way people used to travelthrough the total darkness of the besieged city. Fluorescent badges were invented to helpLeningraders find their way in the dark. The badges would be charged in the daylight, and laterwould give back their “black light”. Three objects of the installation are paintings on glass lit by bluelight. Vague figures, silhouettes of the houses, glowing dots of the badges… To this dark city-scapeLeukhin adds a sound that comes from earphones.
Alexandr Nikitin, an amateur-photographer and his tragic story became the starting point for MaximSher’s project titled “Image Ban”. In March, 1942 Nikitin was arrested by the NKVD and sentencedto 5 years in prison for taking photos in the street without permission. Nikitin died in a labor campand was rehabilitated after the war. Maxim Sher recreates the situation and tries on Nikitin’s role.He finds and photographs present-day cityscapes that look similar to Nikitin’s photos, and createshis own portrait in a form of a prison-file. The artist tries not only to tell a story, but to experiencepain of the innocent victims wrongfully convicted. How we create, transform, interpret images anddoubt their veracity – these are the topics covered in the sound installation by Sher: the artistinvites a visitor to enter a booth, sit down facing a mirror and listen to excerpts from the NKVDreports on the public sentiments in the besieged city.
Information manipulation, selective use of information is among the topics touched upon inLyudmila Belova’s installation “The Room”. Once we enter this room we find ourselves in anenvironment where renovation is in process: a ladder-stand in the corner, painter’s tools laid out,wall paint samples. The walls are papered with newspapers. The texts we see on the walls areNKVD reports and excerpts from diaries written under the Siege. Renovating the room is liketalking about the Siege. What do we choose? What is there to be preserved, and what is to bepainted over – and what color should we choose?
A critical look at the modern human’s unwillingness to address complex topics, and,simultaneously, a chance to pause and relax are offered by Vyacheslav Kuritsyn in his soundinstallation “Comfortable Reading”. A designer armchair symbolizes comfort and pleasant leisuretime before going to bed. The author deliberately recorded his novel “To Sleep and Believe” as anaudiobook to enable visitors only to listen to the book, not to read it. Comfort provided, the textwe’re offered does not allow for relaxation. It is a novel about the Siege.
According to the German historian and culture studies scholar Aleida Assmann, “Cultural memorypossesses an inherent ability to constantly change, innovate, transform and reconfigure.” The“memory boom” we have witnessing recently all over the world reflects people’s wish to reclaim thepast as an integral part of their present. One of these methods is possessed by artists, whotransform memory using a new visual language that is in tune with their time.
Silent Voices. Contemporary Art about the Siege
October 4 – November 25, 2018
Krasnoyarsk Museum Center, Ploschad Mira, 1, Krasnoyarsk
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