When Gondola Engines Were Taken to Bits

4 Dec 2021—13 Mar 2022

Works by Russian artists that rethink carnival culture.

This exhibition mainly features new works by Russian artists, shown alongside a selection of works from the 1990s and 2000s. The show’s historical part explores how participants in a carnival can change how to present themselves through costumes and staged photographs. In 1990s Russia, these actions meant the previously unthinkable possibility of creating a new identity through a carnivalesque makeover.

When the New Academy interpreted the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, they used fantastical photo illustrations to bring up the liberating potential of ludic culture, addressing both the classic tradition and new technologies. The Golden Ass (1995) is considered to be the manifesto of neo-academism in Russia. This art movement, led by its ideologue Timur Novikov, announced its “path to the classics and beauty”, using novel techniques at the time, such as computer collage, photo processing and digital drawing.

Costumes created by Katya Filippova in the 1990s also have historical allusions, although her postmodern juxtaposition of vastly different elements brings together the aesthetic space of punk and monarchism to express the hopes and aspirations of the early post-Soviet period.

Gluklya and the Factory of Found Clothes (FNO) present images that are no less carnivalesque while being more intellectual and subdued. They are inspired by the romantic conflict between the characters, who seem to have been brought up on classical Russian literature, and the world around them.

Gluklya and the Factory of Found Clothes (FFC), Language of Fragility Party (from the project The Carnival of the Oppressed Feelings), 2017
Courtesy of the artist

Yevgeny Antufyev shows a real fight in the exhibition space in a work that obeys the spectacle-driven rules of wrestling. Abstract concepts enter the arena to speak of contemporary humour and carnival culture, ready to kill each other in the name of justice and to satisfy the spectators' emotions.

In The Light of my Life, Genda Fluid (Antonina Baever) translates into English one of the main songwriters of the 1990s, Arkady Slavorosov, the author of the eponymous hit written for Tatyana Bulanova. She attempts to see the lyrics from a different angle, raising the touching stories to a higher level.

Michael Portnoy’s video work More explores the carnival from the viewpoint of an outsider trying to comprehend it.

Olga Chernysheva. Effigies of Tenuous Shape, 2021

Effigies of Tenuous Shape, a video work by Olga Chernysheva that focuses on what’s left at the end of urban celebrations, is a comment on the global pandemic,  when any gathering of people is perceived as a threat.

Valentina Lutsenko’s dance installation Plyastzy is a tribute to folk culture, in particular to travelling buffoons, or skomorokhi. She interprets their image in new ways, inventing a fairy tale about what a skomorokh might be like today, offering each performer several roles at once.

When talking about the carnival, which always takes place in a public space, we cannot ignore the internet, with its billions of users all present at the same time. The artist Ellina Gennadyevna not only explores the limitations of the digital world but also invites viewers to join a collective session of Esc, a performance staged on the open virtual reality platform VRChat.

In her performance Tamotka, Uliyana Podkorytova turns to the folklore of the Russian North to create her fantastic characters and reflects on the chthonic mythology of the carnival and on the ways it influences our perception of reality.

Ulyana Podkorytova. Támotka, 2021
Photo by Pavel Smirnov

Anna Semenova-Gants draws everyone into her performative voice installation Choirning, in which the culture of positive thinking is abolished and each participant can truly “wallow in their grief” in collective mourning rituals.

Catfish, a musical piece by Natalya Pshenichnikova, examines the false identities typical of carnival culture as well as their life cycles outside it in everyday life. The work is grounded in both verbatim (real-life monologues and dialogues delivered by actors) and mockumentary (pseudo-documentary films using fictional facts) techniques. One of the audience’s tasks is to determine which characters are real and which are not.

When Gondola Engines Were Taken to Bits – A Carnival in Four Acts invites its participants to reflect on the contemporary relevance of the idea of carnival as a universal celebration, one in which familiar rules are turned upside down and everyone can express their individuality in meaningful collective rituals. The four acts of the title are: an exhibition, a street procession, a rave and a series of stand-up performances.