Russian and Ukrainian artists question borders in London exhibition – in pictures

An exhibition at GRAD in London brings together Russian and Ukrainian artists.

“Borderlands”, from 20 March to 16 May 2015, features four artists from Russia and Ukraine whose works question the boundaries between art and social commitment, as well as between aesthetics and activism.

Installation view of "Borderlands" with Zhanna Kadyrova, Untitled, 2014, at GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, 20 March – 16 May 2015. Photo Sophia Schorr-Kon. Image courtesy GRAD.

Installation view of “Borderlands” with Zhanna Kadyrova, ‘Untitled’, 2014, at GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, 20 March – 16 May 2015. Photo Sophia Schorr-Kon. Image courtesy GRAD.

GRAD: Gallery for Russian Art and Design is a pioneering institution in London that provides new insights into Russian art, design and culture through a programme of exhibitions, publications, live events, collaborations and digital engagements.

Curated by Professor Sergey Khachaturov – a Russian art critic, art theorist and curator, as well as Dean of the Faculty of History at Lomonosov Moscow State University – GRAD’s latest exhibition “Borderlands” is one such endeavour. The show specifically is a part of GRAD Lab, an experimental project that aims to facilitate communication between different disciplines and build cross-cultural dialogue.

Nikita Shokhov, 'Without Dictatorship of the Gaze', 2013, photograph. Image courtesy GRAD.

Nikita Shokhov, ‘Without Dictatorship of the Gaze’, 2013, photograph. Image courtesy GRAD.

Comprising the work of emerging and established Russian and Ukranian artists in a variety of media, including sculpture, film and photography, the exhibition challenges notions of politics and aesthetics – and their coexistence – in contemporary art practice.

The exhibited artists all demonstrate a concern for change and conflict in their current political and social situations. The press release states:

“Borderlands” studies the fault lines of art and politics, challenging divisions between the territories of aesthetics and activism. […] Named after marginal territories that overlap with imprecision, the exhibition addresses the contemporary shift of borders between art and action, art and activism, art and life.

ZIP art group, 'Brain-twister. Elementary Workbook', 2015. Image courtesy GRAD.

ZIP art group, ‘Brain-twister. Elementary Workbook’, 2015. Image courtesy GRAD.

The four artists in “Borderlands” are:

  • Zhanna Kadyrova
  • Evgeny Granilshchikov
  • Nikita Shokhov
  • ZIP art group
Zhanna Kadyrova, Untitled, 2014, installation. Image courtesy GRAD.

Zhanna Kadyrova, ‘Untitled’, 2014, installation. Image courtesy GRAD.

Mapping Ukraine

Zhanna Kadyryova (b. 1981, Brovary, Ukraine) exhibits a large-scale sculptural installation that was cut out of the brick wall of an abandoned factory. The sculpture stands in the midst of the gallery space as a solitary ruin, a vestige of the past as well as a window into the present and the future. Its shape is deliberately reminiscent of Ukraine, with its rough edges and crumbling pieces suggesting the annexation of Crimea and the resulting economic collapse.

Zhanna Kadyrova, Untitled, 2014, installation. Image courtesy GRAD.

Zhanna Kadyrova, ‘Untitled’, 2014, installation. Image courtesy GRAD.

One face of the wall is blackened by fire, while the other is covered in kitschy, original Soviet wallpaper – the testimonies of two opposing forces: destruction and life. Kadyryova created the work in 2014, during Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. She meant to highlight an important question:

Home and its walls give the feeling of safety, but how reliable is this protection in front of the changes of History?

ZIP art group, 'Brain-twister. Elementary Workbook', 2015. Image courtesy GRAD.

ZIP art group, ‘Brain-twister. Elementary Workbook’, 2015. Image courtesy GRAD.

Accepting ‘otherness’

ZIP art group includes Eldar Ganeev, Evgeny Rimkevich, and the brothers Stepan and Vasily Subbotin. Founded in 2009 in Krasnodar, southern Russia, ZIP conduct a practice that is somewhat guerrilla-based, with interventions, stand-alone works and long term projects. As expressed in the press release, the group seeks to

investigate the specific social systems particular to a place and the ways in which these can be altered by art.

ZIP art group, 'Brain-twister. Elementary Workbook', 2015. Image courtesy GRAD.

ZIP art group, ‘Brain-twister. Elementary Workbook’, 2015. Image courtesy GRAD.

Their project for “Borderlands” encourages tolerance and the acceptance of ‘otherness’, and invites visitors to sit down and take an educational test, Brain-twister. Elementary Workbook (2015). Comprising Spring Fashion (2015), a series of costumes that reference the Agitprop constructivist design of the 1920s, the interactive work functions as a reinterpretation of the ideology inherent in the concept of revolutionary ‘utility clothing’ used in the highly politicised leftist theatre tradition.

Nikita Shokhov, 'Without Dictatorship of the Gaze', 2013, photograph. Image courtesy GRAD.

Nikita Shokhov, ‘Without Dictatorship of the Gaze’, 2013, photograph. Image courtesy GRAD.

Multiplying viewpoints

Photographer Nikita Shokov’s (b. 1988, Kamensk-Uralsky, Russia) series Without Dictaroship of the Gaze is a subversion of the traditional single perspective provided by a photographic work. Instead of capturing an instant shot, Shokov scans a scene for up to 41 seconds, creating a fragmented and distorted image.

Nikita Shokhov, 'Without Dictatorship of the Gaze', 2013, photograph. Image courtesy GRAD.

Nikita Shokhov, ‘Without Dictatorship of the Gaze’, 2013, photograph. Image courtesy GRAD.

The viewer is thus confronted by a multiplicity of viewpoints, which imbues the images with a perception of the movement and dynamism inherent in the scenes represented by Shokov – official demonstrations and political marches. The artist here draws attention to the severity of regulations imposed by the state during such events.

Click here to watch ‘Courbet’s Funeral’ by Evgeny Granilshchikov on Vimeo

Between real life and performance

Evgeny Granilshchikov (b. 1985, Moscow) works with video and photography. For “Borderlands”, he presents his recent film Courbet’s Funeral (2014), which is an examination of the influence of contemporary politics on individuals in Russia, who in turn are interrogating their historical heritage.

Evgeny Granilshchikov, 'Courbet’s Funeral', 2014, video, 11 min 33 sec. Image courtesy GRAD.

Evgeny Granilshchikov, ‘Courbet’s Funeral’, 2014, video, 11 min 33 sec. Image courtesy GRAD.

Composed of collated video footage shot with a mobile phone, the ‘video collage’ blurs the boundaries between real life and performance, making it difficult to distinguish them.

In an artist statement about the work, Granilshchikov says:

“Courbet’s Funeral” is a film-collage, where video-poetry, documentary and fiction are absorbed and mixed together, creating multilayer associations connected with personal and national history. […] [It] is a video-diary pretending to be a document, a conversation about the present in present time.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Russian artists, Ukrainian artists, emerging artists, art and politics, photography, sculpture, video, gallery shows, picture feasts, events in London

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