RUINS: YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" reads the inscription on the pedestal of the mythical King Ozymandias in the famous sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The bravura of this phrase has eluded Russian translators. Balmont does without "despair" and provides only the first part of the appeal: "Look on my works ye Mighty!" In Mikushevich, Ozymandias doesn't appeal for anything at all, if were to translate it back into English, merely stating a fact: "There is little room in this world for my country."Meanwhile, the word "despair" is of key importance for Shelley. It unites past and future: Ozymandias boasts before the world and pronounces that all other kings must despair at the sight of his empire's achievements, but the contemporary observer is also plunged into anguish. Before him are only ruins and shards, receding into the sand. Of course, Shelley was inspired not by the deserts of Egypt (Ozymandias is the Greek name for Pharaoh Ramses II), but by a fragment of a statue of the ruler in the British Museum. "Poetic meditations on landscapes and ruins, journeys and recollections... prove rhetorically and ideologically homologous with varied responses in and to the national museum," writes Eric Gidal, a scholar of English Romantic poetry. "Indeed, the work of Romantic poetics, like that of the British Museum, may be understood as the formation of identity through the appropriation and delimitation of objects constituted as foreign by virtue of cultural, historical or ontological displacement.”–1– A new cycle of works by Taisia Korotkova also represents a search for identity, only in the ruins of Soviet science and the Soviet defense industry, rather than in antiquities collected under colonial expeditions. The theme of the post-industrial civilization that gave rise to Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class is a common one in both Western and Eastern Europe. Already in the late 1970s, an end to the industrial revolution began to be ascertained, and in some places such as in the UK at the time of Margaret Thatcher, the working class quit the field. In Russia, the collapse of the USSR accelerated this process on the one hand, perforating several interrelated processes in science and industry. On the other hand, more than a dozen years passed between the Miners' Strike in England in 1984-1985 and their colleagues' demonstration before the Kremlin. In this time, Eastern Europe had experienced a much more comprehensive dismantling of the old industrial economy. Many citizens of countries of the socialist camp felt like a protagonist in the chronicles of the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates, surviving the fall of Constantinople: "The many-legged and many-armed truth, without twitching a finger, stole up upon us with utterly soundless steps and, attacking the city and us, like a tireless castigator, made us the unhappiest of people."–2– The "many-armed truth" of the collapse of the USSR lies in that our ruins consist not only of the man-ufacturing industry, but also of the shriveled-up remnants of the ideological glue that bound the factory and the proletariat to the public, foreign policy and a way of life. Instead of the head of Ozymandias, in the romantic landscape of the outskirts of the post-Soviet empire, one sees monumental sculpture: Lenin, the hammer and sickle, a mosaic of the defenders of the Motherland. And for a new generation of artists whose puberty occurred in the 1990s, these signs are becoming the equivalent of the Scythian women who inspired Russian Futurists to break with the history of Western art. Programmatic approval of aesthetic alternatives are alien to Korotkova, but her works portraying equipment and processes are antithetical to the lines of development and a change in the trends of Western visuality. Before us is something very particular, but still a product of the Soviet school, renouncing Europe through the preservation and transformation of its principles, which were reconsidered and barred after the First World War.
Taisia Korotkova's new exhibition consists of three unequal parts. The paintings "The West", "The East", "The North" and "The South" ("Borders of the Empire") are a set of multi-piece landscapes on the outskirts of the former USSR: the outskirts of the village Teriberk neighborhood in the Murmansk region; the site of the filming of the acclaimed film Leviathan by Andrei Zvy-agintsev, the village Kadzhi-Sai on Lake Issyk-Kul; Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka; and the city of Balkhash in Kazakhstan. Freed from the attention of Soviet civilization, the landscapes are covered with the ruins of strategic defense facilities. People here are tourists, even extras in the spectacle of entropy. "At the moment where the destruction of the building violates the enclosure of the enclosure of the form, nature and the spirit again divide and demonstrate their essential enmity that penetrates the world: It is as if artistic formation has merely been coercion of the spirit to which the material was subjected against its will, as if it is now, gradually, throwing off that yoke and returning to the independent normality of its strengths,"–3– wrote Georg Simmel of the appeal of ruins. The crumbling chain of USSR military power, however, is not only a monument to "the violence of the spirit": these ruins are the subject of intense reflection on socialism as a form control over industry and life. "The modern loses is contours, lacking an ability to be defined as a distinction from the past as the latter is continually present in it."–4– Because the symbolic meaning in socialist ruins is greater than in the gentrification of the Western capitalist city. For some, it is an occasion to mobilize forces to rethink the role of culture: "Following the crisis of socialism in the 1980s and the 1990s, we, as never before, are ready to recognize the central position of literature and art in the public space of Europe."–5– For others, it is an illustration of the logical outcome of the internal contradictions in the state, built upon the principles of class struggle: "Thus: the Communist Party, the self-proclaimed vanguard of history, attempted to sustain power within an economic system that by its own definition repeatedly fell behind industrial development in the West."–6–. There is also an altogether radical point of view: "And both as a metaphor and as a concrete phenomenon of socialism in construction, it decayed or, if you will, it was a 'ruin' from the very beginning of its existence. The most 'non-literary' reason for this was plain poverty–7–. In this sense, any utopia is a ready-made ruin. The character Piranesi in "Russian Nights" (1843) by Vladimir Odoevsky, also the author of "Prison" and "Ruins", cannot die until his projects are constructed: "I know that my weakening eyes won't close until my savior is found and until all of my colossal conceptions aren't on paper. But where is he? Where to find him? And if I find him, then my plans will already have grown old, much within them will have been overtaken by time, and I lack the strength to renew them!"–8– Five years after the writing of "Russian Nights", Marx and Engels met "the specter of communism" in Europe, which means that communism was already dead even before it had been born, but in the form of a disembodied spirit looking for its first body, its first host.
Korotkova contrasts two series of smaller format paintings with her archeology of historical catastrophe. One series is dedicated to the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics, which is in a dilapidated condition. Korotkova first entered the territory of the institute in 2008 and was amazed "by the enthusiasm of those working at the institute — they were few, but they were inspired." Within the interiors of the research institute she looks for dynamically entwined devices and cables. The thoroughness of her obsession does not prevent one from perceiving the devices, mysterious to the uninitiated, as abstract lines of force, almost dripping Jackson Pollock — or, more precisely, a drawing of the circulatory system from an anatomical atlas. For Korotkova, working in the institute is associated with the manifestation of her creative personality and the search within the contradictions for service to a common cause. But in the absence of state support for the technologically sophisticated experiments, one's "I" makes do with little. "Only the theorists have maintained a high level. And it's actually a very high level!" responds one of the ITEP staff to the artist's questions. "And that confirms a rule — there's only enough money for paper and pencils." The new economy, failing to support the individual, again returns to the ideology of perimeter defense, only in a different context — not class struggle, but the nation-state. Its priorities leave "I" alone with paper and pencil or tempera and gesso. In another series, a distinct order is finally asserted in a lattice of bright lines and the monotonous rows of devices and containers. This is the process of burial and recycling of nuclear fuel (SNF) administered by the state corporation Rosatom. The industry, with thirty thousand employees and an average salary of fifty thousand rubles, is one of the most profitable items of the state budget, in particular, due to its technological superiority over foreign counterparts. The images of manipulations with SNF is maximally dissimilar to "Borders of the Empire" and "ITEP": they are what is called a pure work, as beautiful as the industrial genres of Fernand Leger or the acidic abstractions of Peter Halley. However, we are talking again about the deserted cemetery, where the half-life is measured not in generations, but in thousands of years. This inhuman chronology is difficult to acknowledge as a healthy alternative to the ruins and its lessons. But the prospect of many more, as the protago-nist of Alan Moore's comic Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan, who as a result of an experiment with atomic energy becomes invincible and omnipotent. His life, however, is reminiscent of Kharms' "story of the miracle worker who lives in our time, and does not create miracles": to get the Dr. to do something for wretched mortals is extremely difficult. He, like the peaceful atom that created him, is himself both ruins and utopia.