Russian artists shun Biennale in Venice

The war has changed also the perception and exhibtion of art – causing the absence of a promising art duo and the Russian pavilion to stay closed

Russian art is not in high demand since the war in Ukraine unfolded less than month ago. The young Russian artists Kirill Savchenkov and Alexandra Sukhareva who were set to represent Russia in April at the Venice Biennale now canceled their commitment stating that:

“There is no place for art when civilians are dying under the fire of missiles, when citizens of Ukraine are hiding in shelters, when Russian protesters are getting silenced.”

Kirill Savchenkov (Russian: Кирилл Савченков, born May 30, 1987) is a Russian artist based in Moscow. He studied at the Moscow Technical University of Communications and Informatics (2004–2009), and the Rodchenko Art School (2009–2012, Oleg Klimov’ Documentary Photography Studio and Roman Minaev‘s Intermedia Studio). He works with various media including photography, video, text, installation and various performative practices engaging the audience (tours, workshops). 

His colleague Alexandra Sukhareva (Russian Александра Ильинична Сухарева; born May 25, 1983 in Moscow) is a Russian sculptor and installation artist. Alexandra Sukhareva studied at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Moscow until 2008 and then at the Valand Art Academy in Gothenburg. In 2010 she returned to Russia. She is known for her work with corrosive and toxic materials, which she uses in combination with mirrors and images. Sukhareva exhibits internationally, including taking part in dOCUMENTA in Kassel in 2012 and Manifesta10 in Saint Petersburg in 2014.

Kirill Savchenkov at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, 2017 by Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, CC BY-SA 4.0

No art as a political statement? 

Interesting is here the absence or withdrawal of art as a political comment. Sanctions do the same, but in an aggressive way they prohibit exchange or interrupt economic ties. Unwillingly the duo might have used the logic of sanctions to express their protest. They silenced themselves – and may have also safeguarded themselves from being exposed to Western critique, whatever they would have done in Venice.
 
How does an artist portray the absence of a thing, such as the hole left in a heart by some tragic loss or the effects of invisible forces tugging at the physical world surrounding us? Emptiness often has a negative connotation in the West, yet Eastern ideas about meditation portray emptiness of thought or mind as a step toward enlightenment. But it is not that the Russian duo is playing with their absence or “something missing” as a work of art, like in the exhibition “What Absence Is Made Of” by the curator-at-large Gianni Jetzer who selected more than 70 works from the Hirshhorn Museum’s collection in 2017. This conundrum is fascinating, but still about material art being present. For example it showcased German artist Hans Haacke’s “Condensation Cube” (1963), a work that reacts to its environment. It is a large acrylic cube that fills with small rivulets of condensation inside the cube’s walls depending on the temperature and humidity of the room in which it is placed.
 
It reminds a bit of Yves Klein‘s “Empty” room dedicated to the “Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility” from 1961.  In his exhibition at the  (April 1958), Klein chose to show nothing whatsoever, called  ): he removed everything in the gallery space except a large cabinet, painted every surface white, and then staged an elaborate entrance procedure for the opening night: the gallery’s window was painted blue, and a blue curtain was hung in the entrance lobby, accompanied by republican guards and blue cocktails. Thanks to an enormous publicity drive, 3,000 people queued up, waiting to be let into an empty room. But, still there was the room, the blue and the artists decision – a space to visit. 
 

The Russian pavilion will now “remain closed” throughout the Biennale, according to a statement its organisers posted on Instagram.

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Peter Muttcoin
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