EXHIBITION: Saatchi Gallery's 'New Art From Russia'

  12x16" photo prints S4

Sergei Vasiliev Russain Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia

 If you go to the Saatchi gallery you’ll find a really quite remarkable exhibition.

‘Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union’ or ‘New art from Russia’ is a variety of works ranging from photography, collage, paintings and sculpture expressing not only Russian life and ideology but also the outstanding creativity now flooding out of the former Soviet Union.

Throughout the works which are all very individual and exploratory there were stand out artists in particular for me within the entire exhibition.

Walking into the first room you’re faced with Sergei Vasiliev’s series of photographs called ‘Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia’. The collection records prisoners varying in severity of crime who record their exploits and individual histories through tattoos. Every face had a message not only of defiance but of individuality and humanity. Tattooing on the skin was a representation of what they had done but also of standing up against the repressive environment they lived in, rejecting the regime and taking back control by the means of ink and blood.



Sergei Vasiliev Russain Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia

Several of the photographs are wonderfully artistic even though the subjects are in physicality anything but. At this time in the USSR tattooing was illegal as were many artistic forms due to lack of freedoms to be creative without prosecution. The reason tattooing of this kind became so popular after beginning as an underground movement with severe criminals being original participants was its ability to not only create a sense of power for oneself showing the toughness of an individual but also a creative one.

Looking at these images no matter how poised the effect on myself that I took away was the sense of journey each prisoner had gone through, its documentation through violence on the skin. While we consider tattoos are fashion statement more so now than ever, every tattoo for them was made using crude materials and with extreme pain. It is a complex and beautiful series of work.

I really like painting, even though it seems in recent years to be moving further away from being in fashion and this work was a really different experience. Janis Avotins Untitled works are so ghostly and haunting you feel like you’re concentrating so much on every piece that you’re being drawn in. They feel isolating and sad. You catch a brush of an expression or movement in the image and that’s it but due to the blankness of the rest of the canvas to each phantom-like figure it felt really intimate. The works are thought provoking and lonely.



Vikenti Nillin From the Neighbours Series

 As someone with a fear of heights I was both curious and a bit apprehensive about Vikenti Nillin’s photographs ‘From the Neighbours Series’. Men and women sitting at the edge of windows on high rise blocks which are commonplace in Russia. Some look like they’re staring into the abyss in hopelessness, others seem like their almost bored, dressed in a suit, smoking a cigarette and casually watching the world go by without the fear of falling to death. But they all share a sense of the claustrophobic, that there is no change in their air, that everything is static. And this makes it quite a sad piece and representative of the lack of opportunity and freedoms within Russia at the time.



Boris Mikhailov Case History

The rise in art coming out of Russia is so important not only to international art but  also for Russians to gain back that culture of revolution and creativity which is so integral to its history. This exhibition is an important representation of that. There are arts that challenge and question the Soviet Union, that explore its propaganda and regime but also more importantly the people of the country who have suffered intensely whether through the violence of street life or the quiet of their home. It is wonderfully varying exhibition with an extensive exploration of a closed regime now open for our viewing.

This exhibition is free

21st November 2012 – 9th June 2013