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Gaiety Is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union – Russian Soviet Art at the Saatchi

March 8, 2013

Arts | by Maxine Kirsty Sapsford


Dasha Shishkin What Does It Matter To Her Ever Creating Womb If Today Matter Is Flesh And Tomorrow Worms 2012 Mixed media on Mylar 152.4 x 213.4 cm © Dasha Shishkin, 2012 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Dasha Shishkin, What Does It Matter To Her Ever Creating Womb If Today Matter Is Flesh And Tomorrow Worms, 2012, Mixed media on Mylar, 152.4 x 213.4cm, © Dasha Shishkin, 2012, Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

When walking around Saatchi gallery you are often bombarded with an array of thought provoking imagery, artworks and installations, but as of the 21st November that impact grew. It’s not often that you come across an installation that can provoke in some way each and every individual that crosses its path.

The Gaiety exhibit draws on every type of medium at its fingertips to promote its impacting themes and uses them to thrust its intentions in the face of every viewer, its versatility reaching each and every individual that passes through its doors. From installations depicting the demise of prisoners hanging themselves – only distinguishable as individuals by the colour of their ties, to the worthless and repetitive lives of citizens photographed at their identical apartments, Gaiety is an exhibition sure to provoke you into a sense of life reassurance if nothing else.

Vikenti Nilin From the Neighbours Series 1993-present Giclée print 165 x 110 cm © Vikenti Nilin, 1993 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Vikenti Nilin, From the Neighbours Series, 1993-present, Giclée print, 165 x 110 cm, © Vikenti Nilin, 1993, Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

One of the artists that stands out for myself and my accompanying parties is Vikenti Nilin. Nilin’s series of photographs ‘Neighbours’ portrays people who may come from supposedly all walks of life, but they all seemingly share the same moment. They all look to their fates, staring at the abyss below them, perched on the ledge of their apartment building. The images successfully evoke fear and depression in the audience through not only the portrayed men and women, whose fates seem distant at best, but also through the acrophobia-inducing angles which raise those that face them to a heigh that makes you feel both uncomfortable and strangely present, as if in front of you, knocking you off balance. Nilin’s images of the Soviet tower block encompass a palette that is neither welcoming nor off-putting; a greyish glow in every pixel to compliment the uneasy facial expressions. All in all the images cause a melancholia that links the viewer to the time and place in which the images are set. It is when you gaze at the expressions of those that sit within the images that you really begin to wonder what their lives encompassed. The bored and uninterested expressions are more daunting than the fates of those holding them, they seem uninterested in their lives, as if they may smile and turn away at any moment or jump to their deaths, either or, and neither bothering them. This uncomfortable normality overshadows the entire Gaiety exhibition, all installations present a dull and unfortunate existence that leads to the constant reminder that life, in all its unfortunate misery, is not, as we may complain, hapless – as it is for those we view within the works.

Boris Mikhailov Case History 1997-1998 A set of 413 photographs Dimensions variable A selection illustrated © Boris Mikhailov, 1998 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Boris Mikhailov, Case History, 1997-1998, A set of 413 photographs, Dimensions variable, A selection illustrated, © Boris Mikhailov, 1998, Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

As I pondered my existence, uncomfortable and unhappy, gazing at the array of mediums used to complete this exhibition, I ended my tour with the works of Boris Mikhailov. Mikhailov also uses the medium of photography, and as with Nilin, Mikhailov’s work mirrors his subjects’ depression as, though his photography, he documented his perceptions of the social situation during the break up of the Soviet Union. Mikhailov has captured in his photos both the social structures during the break up and the resulting devastation; the poverty, the harsh reality and helplessness of those left on the streets, homeless and dying.

The works in the Gaiety exhibition are urgent and revealing artworks that provoke a need for action, yet the works were all made at least a decade after communism ended. This fact alone illustrates the lasting effects of the Soviet union. Each element of the exhibition, fact and feature, combine to create a portrait of the existential on the edge of existence, the reality of the Soviet impact.

This small portion of the Russian art scene is strong and ever lasting, kudos to the Saatchi for presenting such a provocative and touching exhibition from an area of the art world relatively unexplored and unknown here. Although the Russian art scene is remote and ‘new’ to many, Saatchi’s presentation is sure to thrust it into the British spotlight. If nothing else it is a harsh reminder of life’s frailties, and the fatalities of historical and political power struggles.

Sara Everest

Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union at the Saatchi Gallery is open until 9th June 2013
Click here for more information

Valery Koshlyakov Grand Opera, Paris 1995, Tempera on cardboard, 345 x 487 cm © Valery Koshlyakov, 1995 Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
Valery Koshlyakov
Grand Opera, Paris
1995, Tempera on cardboard, 345 x 487 cm
© Valery Koshlyakov, 1995
Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London