Interview to S.Safonov (Kovcheg Gallery), March 2006
  Olga Golubtsova " Soviet-British Romance"
  Project "Hotel Russia"
  Project "Deisis"
   
     
   


Interview to S.Safonov (Kovcheg Gallery), March 2006

 

Similar charges repel, and opposites come together.
At least, such was the conversation between
Sergei Safonov, journalist and curator of the Kovcheg Gallery,
and Konstantin Khudyakov, author of the present exhibition,
artist and one of the founders of M`ARS Center of Modern Art,
before the vernissage

What was the story that nudged you to create “Whirlpool”, the main part of current exposition?

During the Great Patriotic War, convoys with weapons and foodstuffs from Great Britain came to Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Molotovsk. A club was organized for British seamen and members of diplomatic mission, where they could watch movies or dance. Russian girls also went there; so there were some relations, even love. In September 1945 Japan signed capitulation, the mission was closed, and all British citizens left Russia. And our girls were repressed. Some of them were arrested, taken to a barge with all their belongings, and when the barge was drawn along the Northern Dvina, this barge either sank itself or was sinked deliberately. Everyone, who was locked inside, perished. I was shocked by this story, which emerged when British seamen started inquiring about the fates of their girlfriends who stayed in Russia. Some of them even came to Murmansk after all these years, to find out that their story ended in such a way. You may believe this or not, but for me it looks very much like truth – in Russia everything is possible, including such monstrous cruelty. Gradually, this tragedy, our not so distant past and our not so fortunate present, gave birth to digital pictures.

The public is not satisfied with many new movies about the War, because of too sophisticated and modern optics that was used for filming. Does your project present a look at history from today?

Of course, how else can you look at history? I am a grown up man, I was born at the end of the War and, it seems that I even remember it – though, when it ended, I was nine months old. This is a look 60 years ago, with all the skills I have, with my opinions of what is good and what is bad in art and in life itself. Speaking about digital optics and equipment, I can say that they are simply excellent, and they provide great possibilities of self-fulfillment for a clever, educated and talented artist. The movies that they now show in TV, are produced on excellent equipment by assuming and very bad directors, designers, cameramen, lighting men, and actors.

You’ve been using PC since 1997. Does the content of your works depend on its capabilities? To what extent technology limits or determines the choice of subjects?

Personal computer is a very complicated instrument, which was created by millions of serious specialists, which is constantly updated, and which is capable of coping with its tasks brilliantly. What is important, it that these tasks should be really artistic, otherwise it (computer) will suggest inconceivable number and variety of false ways for those assuming and simply inexperienced artists. High technical quality of their products often creates an impression of professional artistic level. Luckily, after some time this impression quickly disintegrates.

To what extent may a digital image be emotional?

Exactly to the extent of an artist’s talent or mediocrity. Every one of us has a favorite instrument, an author’s technology, which enable us to develop and show the images that are born from imagination, feelings, and impressions. Now my instrument, for example, is computer and its capabilities are far from being exhausted. Moreover, Art is now on the verge of real Renaissance in a breathtaking manner indeed. Finally, we have an image media of incredible resolution and sufficient size, which now can combine with all thinkable and unthinkable capabilities of digital movies, computer graphics, interactivity, etc. Now we are able to create a Real Image. Of course, production of such a work will be quite costly, comparable to production of motion pictures. But this shall be done, and then we shall see Golden Age of the Image! But, while it has not come yet, I think that it is very important to use author’s documentary photography, available for ordinary people, in digital synthesis. (Though there are artists who work exclusively within virtual limits, not dealing with digitized reality, and create serious works.) Much depends on what do you photograph, and on your luck during the shooting. The art of photography is, to a certain extent, pure luck: you’ve made ten thousand frames and one mistake, and suddenly this very frame becomes the thing you’ve been looking for. And if you upload it into computer, here, apparently, something interesting could be done.

Computer means a certain level of visual protection of the resulting work. Is there a possibility that a computer work will not succeed? Are there any guarantees of success when an artist is using computer?

Of course, there are no guarantees of artistic success. Computer guarantees flawless operation of programs, which are created not by artists, but by technicians. Of course, the aesthetics of possible actions and transformations is mainly determined by young artists, so you have to follow it in your decisions, but only as new “plastic material”. I don’s think this is bad: the artist’s individuality does not dissolve in limitless digital space, but there is an impression that you’re in a large, perfectly organized workshop, where your soul-mates are working beside you. This is some new quality.

Is it possible to speak about a type of mind that is most inclined towards that meticulosity, which is found in your works?

I like it very much, to dig into small things on end. I make pictures, where, in an enormous panorama of a city 3 to 4 meters large, one can find and examine some amazing insect. In late 1960es I was struck by Antonioni’s Blow Up, a movie about a photographer who processed one of his numerous pictures and, having incidentally enlarged a fragment, could see something suspicious, which led to a puzzling development of a criminal story. The films of Andrei Tarkovsky, whom I like very much, abound in smallest visual details, without which his pictures are impossible. Generally speaking, cinema played the most important role in my formation as an artist.

What is the level of computer skills in Russia compared to the rest of the world?

Technical standards of digital equipment are the same everywhere. Now (and even more in the future) material capabilities play an important role. In the countries where society is more safe and prosperous, there are prerequisites for the flourish of every craft, workmanship, anything. Though it is said that “poverty is crafty”, but the times not are different, even the century is the other, the 21st one.

Do you feel yourself a successor of Russian academic artistic tradition?

To a certain extent, yes. I graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute, the most prominent higher education institution in the USSR.

And now, do you have to use the brush in the same old way?

I am totally short of time, though I work 24 hours a day, computer is always on, because in the night it calculates the data I had produced using 3D programs during the day. Forget about the brush – I have to do one thing at a time.

Was there any reaction in Europe to the “Expectancy” Project, which was recently shown in the Tretyakov Gallery halls on Krymsky Val?

The exhibition “Observing God” was held near Zurich, in the local museum of modern art. Twenty authors from various countries were invited to participate, and I showed three images of Jesus there. A year ago I was awarded the “Portrait of the Year” silver prize in Hamburg (LEADS AWARD); a large jury took this decision. Soon one of my works from this project is going to be offered at the Sotheby’s auction. There are ongoing negotiations about an exhibition in Florence.

“New Russian Font”, together with “Whirlpool”, is included in the Hotel Russia project...

This is rather essential part of this project; I like it very much, because I did it easily, in one go. It was totally unexpected, that a banana skin could be such a rich plastic material, which reflects, quite adequately, current Russian reality – sacked, bewildered, collapsed empire.

It looks like quite different works are united by Russian theme. What do you mean by words Hotel Russia?

As far back as in 1998 I thought that was a very convenient structure, which would enable me to stay within some stylistic and plastic framework, which I was lacking before that time. Moreover, I always hated this Moscow hotel, I was distressed as an architect, I almost cried when they demolished Zaryadye quarter in order to build it. Then it grew high and closed the view from Kotel’niki. And this was a fabulous view, one of the most beautiful views of Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral; and this structure blocked it. And later, it always annoyed me, but I could not even imagine that it might be demolished, it seemed that it would stay there for centuries. And an intention grew, to contrive something virtual instead of it, and at least in this way to revenge on architect Chechulin and Soviet power for this hotel. What is Hotel Russia? A foreigner comes here, he is served, and it seems that he has a certain image of our country. And I decided to make such a hotel in the form of All-Russian Digital Cabinet of Curiosities. Since Russia itself is vast, my “hotel” is also almost dimensionless. We may endlessly “download” our problems to it – everything that troubles me, makes me distressed, makes me happy...

I don’t know much about your career as an architect...

When I was studying at the Moscow Architectural Institute, I was very much fascinated with technical things – various projections, light and sound. We even made a project of lighting for Dmitrov Cathedral in Vladimir. Of course, there were no computers at that time, so we had to invent and make, by our own hands, a programming device, like a telephone switch-board of the 50es. Thousands of wires were connected to dozens of projectors, and we had to input programs manually. I like the night lighting in Moscow now, this is one of the most beautiful night cities – today a very good architect is doing this, the one who took part in that old program; he even keeps that old machine. I even tried to use machines in architectural projects. In 1969, there was a students’ competition of the projects for the new building of Lenin’s Museum, I was in my graduate year then, and I’ve won that competition. This was a giant structural cube made of titanium, built in the place of the stinking “Moscow” swimming pool; the Cathedral of Christ The Savior fitted in this cube. The project was laden with various technical innovations. My diploma paper was about a future town in Siberia (at that time we raved about the works of Yakov Chernikhov, Paolo Soleri, NER and Archigrem groups, etc. I made a special device for a 8-mm movie camera, and holding this camera I crawled over my project, shooting the town from human point of view, and during my defense I showed the film – just what everyone is doing now using 3D programs. I dreamed of staying at the Institute, at the Chair of Painting. But after the defense of my paper I was forced to work, without my consent, at the Central Lenin Museum, where I have not been even once; I always went it by a sidewind. This was a real catastrophe, compared, maybe, only to two unfortunate attempts to enter the Architectural Institute. For ten years I’ve been working as a chief designer there. At first, almost every day I left my workplace, I was sitting by the fountain near the Architectural Institute and breathing the air of freedom. In the Museum I was writing the announcements, I took part in the meetings of the Artistic Board together with Nalbadyan, Tomsky, Rozhdestvensky... On my own initiative I started designing the Museum’s exposition. Technical things were done at Khrunichev’s, Tupolev’s plants, Salyut plant, etc. – such was their tribute to the Cenyral Committe, though they actually were making airplanes and rockets. They even liked to make all these things, clips, turnstiles, stands, showcases, and various unusual mechanical equipment. Then there were branches in Samara, Frunze, a part of the museum in Ulaanbaatar... For some time this work seemed very interesting. And when I came to my senses, it was too late. Too much time was lost, and most precious time. In 1977, I came to the basement of the city committee of graphics in Malaya Gruzinskaya Street. After the Voice of America said that the chief designers from the Lenin Museum and Marx and Engels Museum (Khudyakov and Sharov) were showing their works in non-conformist exhibitions, they started summoning me to the meetings of the Party Committee, I was severely reprimanded. Finally, I quit from the Museum; and now, when it has been closed, Moscow authorities mutilated and threw away everything we had made there.

So, easel art is most enduring?

I suppose...

Was your work in the Museum useful for the “hotel” project?

Once, when I was still working there, one of the keepers asked me to come; then he opened a safe, took a box marked LOMO (Leningrad Optical Factory), which originally was used as a package for Smena photo camera lens, and, without warning, emptied it in my hands – and there was Stalin’s set of false teeth! That’s how I got acquainted with them. Now they are actively working in Hotel Russia: scaring normal people.

How do you feel yourself in the world of Moscow modern art, after such varied career as architect, museum worker, and designer?

My life was such that I was always doing something that was not right. Now a museum, then the Artists’ Union. After that I became fascinated with gallery administration, and I thought that is would not interfere with painting. A tremendous amount of time was spent for this totally public work. Only in late 1990es I engaged in creative work proper, but at the same time I understood that, to a large extent, I was late: everything around was fixed, positions and niches were occupied, brains became stale hard, etc. Frankly speaking, I don’t feel myself comfortable in the present situation of art in Moscow. Something is not right, and as time goes on this feeling is stronger.

March 2006

 


Olga Golubtsova " Soviet-British Romance"

 

The horses’ tread is so slow,
The lanterns’ fire is so scant...
The strangers, I am sure, know,
The place where they are taking me...
              Osip Mandelshtam

Splinters of Fates

Two eternal friends – love and parting, give us truly intricate stories, especially if we have the Great War as the background. They became the subject of my journalistic investigation, which evolved into a documentary story about the fates of the girls from Russian North who made friends with British and American white hats during the Second World War. Later, Russian sweethearts of foreign Navy men had to pay too dearly for their love. They went through prisons, camps, and scorn of the other people. Quite a few perished... Forming a mournful stream, almost all these girls went to Gulag because of their innocent lend-lease love. This was not a wide stream, rather a tiny rivulet, which made that affluent river of Solzhenitsyn’s “Archipelago”. By the way, his requiem includes a whole paragraph devoted to the girls who made friends with foreigners and after that went to camps tragically and for nothing. This subject is like the sharpest splinter, which bleeds in my heart for more than a decade. Sometimes the wound would close; sometimes it starts bleeding again... I’m writing these words on the peak of pain. But I’m happy that I had enough time to get acquainted and to make friends with these lovely ladies when their life was almost spent. I’m grateful to them for the ability to hear optimistic notes even in the saddest tunes. And as long as the heart’s memory is alive, the wartime waltz of love will vibrate in the souls of these girls, whose hair turned gray because of misfortunes and partings. They say that love makes war shorter, and, surely, this is true.

Lend-lease Love

Who are they, these girls who made friends with dashing foreigners during the war? Refined beauties? Milk-and-water girls? Giddy young things? In my office, I’ve heard dozens of phone calls, “Why are you doing this? What are you writing about? We forged the Victory, we operated the machines, and these... they were just singing and dancing. Phooey, what a heroism!” But are they worth disapproval, these girls who passed the sorrowful test of Gulag? In times of their wartime love, the girls thought, “This will last for ever”. And parting, when their lovers returned to the front, just kindled the blaze of love, like the wind kindles the fire. They felt a peril, but for the time being they could not see imminent sufferings. Only later they felt the salty taste of tears, and went through fits of despair. Their passion was directed at not just foreigners; these were our allies in the struggle against Nazi Germany. The girls felt love for Heroes who sailed through the hell of fiery convoys, the caravans of ships loaded with military equipment for the Soviet Union. They, these girls, were not frivolous randies. A student and a salesgirl, a librarian and an actress, a milling machine operator and an accountant – like other people in these hard times, they worked and studied. They earned their bread rations, and they well deserved it. They washed clothes for their families. They held their breath listening to Sovinformbureau broadcasts. They heard the sounds of war: peal of tank guns and machine gun bursts, grenade explosions and firing of anti-aircraft guns, drone of airplanes and chatter of submachine guns. And they felt happy when the fate gave them love as a gift. When Hitler declared the war to the Soviet Union, Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, said, “We will help Russia and Russian people as much as we can”, and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported him. Hundreds of caravans sailed towards Russia following the lend-lease agreement (such was the official name for the operations of delivery and reception of military supplies from the Allies). For many years the truth about the size and importance of this help had been hushed up, the contacts between convoy veterans were not welcome, but eventually the lost friendly ties started to re-establish. And love pages have been also turned.

Saga of the Wartime Love

...This day in May 1995 was cold and inhospitable. The wind was cutting through. The snowflakes, prickly and icy. The journalists in Arkhangelsk Airport were waiting for British veterans, members of the Russian Convoy Club, who came to celebrate, together with their allies, the 50th anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany. Right near the stairway one of them (let’s get acquainted: William Laws, better – simply Sergeant Bill) literally pulled me by the sleeve and puzzled me with the question, if I knew Zina Kuznetsova from Interclub, as if time stopped for him, and wartime forties were still around us. Something shrilly and sad in the eyes of a lean old man (a typical Englishman, only without a walking-stick) made me stop on the run: “Okay, let’s search Zina!” Bill’s heart-pinching appeal made me plunge into that tragic time of British-Soviet romances with War as the background, and step by step I turned little-known pages of history. Thus was the start of my journalistic investigation of the fates of girls who made friends with the foreigners during the War. Later, this investigation resulted in the documentary story, British Military Love. Excerpts from a revised version of the book have been published in the Sovershenno Sekretno (Top Secret) newspaper. My data bank has touching and most interesting stories, and I managed to tie together at least several threads of fate. The witnesses remember that by 1943 Arkhangelsk was literally flooded by foreigners. The allies explored the length and breadth of the town and its surroundings. One could meet them in the street and in the market, on the stadium and in the circus, on the beach in summer, on the skating rink in winter, and not only in town, but also in the suburbs, Isakogorka and Kegostrov. There were no barriers for them, despite some official limitations of freedom of movement. Interclubs in Arkhangelsk, Molotovsk and Murmansk have been opened especially for their entertainment and cultural pastime (but, simply putting it, in order to prevent them from poking into secret holes). Local girls could not miss dashing seamen. They considered themselves happy being invited to dance or to watch the foreign version of Anna Karenina with magnificent Greta Garbo. Forgetting about the war and a scanty slice of bread on the kitchen table, the girls wanted to look good. They styled their hair in fashionable curls, from their moms’ old clothes they made chic dresses in the shape of wineglass. Youth never asks if it is peace or war. The girls of Arkhangelsk liked courteous British gentlemen. They were not impudent. They were well mannered. They had serious intentions. They made presents and were good dancers. In the evenings, again and again the gals were dragged to Interclub, which was a kind of oasis in the middle of dark gloomy town. Bu in these years, one had to pay for making friends with foreigners, let alone marrying them.

Two Fragments

* Bill was eager to find Zina, Russian girlfriend of his wartime youth. Maybe she, his first love, followed hundreds of other girls who were punished for their friendship with foreigners and transported to Siberia? But what then happened to her daughter Rufa (who now should be in her sixties)? Uncertainty troubled him and beckoned him to Arkhangelsk again and again. When, seven years later, I found Zinochka, he wanted very much to spend their last years together. They have not seen each other for 58 years! Unfortunately, Zina did not go to England, so far from her native town on river Dvina. In December last year she passed away. But her daughter Galya, whom Bill remembered as a six-year-old girl, twice visited him in the UK. And he himself spent two or three summer months in Arkhangesk, where his heart’s memory called him. He learned Russian afresh and had pleasure in speaking it. But he did not say the “Last Farewell” to our Motherland (this was the name for the May 2005 anniversary celebration for veterans of Northern convoys). William Laws, His Majesty’s Navy Sergeant in the time of the Second World War, passed away on the eve of the Victory Day. He just dropped of to sleep in the evening, sitting in his favorite armchair before the TV set... * The Gulag memories of Valentina Ievleva, a girl from Arkhangelsk who made friends with Bell Rawhaft and gave birth to their daughter Bella, opened to me another side of prison hopelessness: the music of love – in every line. In prison she has a lyrical meeting, in transit prison – another love affair, while in transit – a new bright passion, while cutting trees in a camp – a breathtaking romance. Valya, who was imprisoned for “dubious relations with foreigners in wartime”, stepped over her grief and misfortune, and even in the camp barrack, surrounded by barbed wire, she fell in love and was loved. Before her, I had never heard such things about Gulag. Indeed, Ievleva showed me an exceptional talent for life, optimistic mood, and extraordinary energy of woman’s spirit. So many sparkles and young fire I could see in her eyes: “A am able to be content with the little – what fate gives me, I’m grateful for that,” Valentina Grigoryevna is frankly opening the secrets of her philosophy. The fate rewarded her with good friends: Mikhail Nozhkin and his wife Larisa, Tatyana Okunevskaya, Waclaw Dworzecki (who wrote her letters until his own death). Every famous person she names has a confirmation: a photograph, a birthday greeting, a signed book, an invitation for an anniversary. Not a single mean word, not about anyone, not about anything. It seems that heart should have been shred to tatters. But this is not about her. Love has been and still remains the essence and form of her life. Love to everybody and to everything. “Today I smile to the sun, and I’m not afraid of tomorrow’s bad weather.” Probably, her British friends still remember Valechka Ievleva as such a permanent optimist. Just think, how much strength one has to possess in order to keep such love of life, after all tragedies! Forgetting about her age, Valentina Grigoryevna continues active social life: she is writing memoirs of her life in the camp.

A Barge

For many years the people in Russian North have been telling a legend about the girls who went to Interclubs and made friends with foreigners. They say that all of them had been embarked to a barge, and sinked in the White Sea. Such legends are born from silence. Now we started to speak... But up till now there is no answer, whether this barge really existed or not. Quite a few of the victims of this wartime love, whom I managed to meet and have a frank conversation, think that the girls, so to say, have been sinked in Gulag...

**************************

Brief Information About the Author

Olga Valentinovna Golubtsova

She was born and grown up in Severodvinsk. Graduated from Saint Petersburg Universty, Faculty of Journalism. Worked in the Severny Rabochiy (Northern Worker), a Severodvinsk newspaper, starting from a reporter to the post of Deputy Director. Worked as the editor of Triumfal’naya Arka (Triumphal Arch) the socio-political magazine of Northwestern Region. At present she is a free-lance writer for a number of Russan and foreign publications. A permanent author of the Professiya – Zhurnalist (Profession is Journalist) magazine. She is a researcher who is preparing a Ph.D. thesis on historical journalistic investigation. Her works on the theory and practice of journalistic investigation have been published in the collections of research papers. Member of the Russian Union of Journalists. Member of the International Association of Authors. Author of the books: Russian Wife of the ‘President’s Killer’, 1993 (about the fate of Marina Oswald, who was born in Severodvinsk. In 1996 the book became the basis for a radio play Time to Keep Silent – Time to Speak, which was broadcasted on Channel 1, Radio of Sweden (produced by Gunilla Bresky); Carrousel of Impressions, 1995, – travelogue, a collection of essays); British Military Love, 2000 (1st ed.), 2001 (2nd ed., enlarged), – about the fates of women who made friends wth the foreigners in time of the Second World War. This journalistic investigation continues; it has been marked by the Diploma of the Golden Gong-2000 All-Russian Competition.


"hotel russia". russia. moscow. XX - XXI c

 

The project is an artwork unlimited in space and time and consisting of boundless quantity of images. Each image is an independent artwork performed in the standards of "non - normative in the architectural lexicon", a certain liberal genry invented by the artist in which the author untiliges pormal methods of architectural and artistic design such as clinographic and orthogonal projections, draughts, sections, scans of walls, constructions, columns, decorated ceilings, furniture, clothes,, etc…The use of orthogonal projections is a certain stylistic method allowing to create the context of the project most adequate to the two-dimensional surface (paper, canvas ) on which the image is put. To some extent the orthogonal projection reduces perception of the three- dimensional object but at the some time creates completely invaluable visual quality to it, its design purity and the beauty determined buy accuracy of constructive characteristics. The process of "designing" is based on digital technologies: digital photography, computer processing in various programs, high quality printing on different surfaces and then if necessary oil painting with airbrush. The project was started under the impression of the latest achievements in cloning of the human cell. The technology of the "non - normative in the architectural lexicon" has various parallels with "stereoscopic", so to say, mode of cloning. The artworks created in the frames of the "Hotel Russia" project are "cloned" from numerous material evidences of events of the past and then as a result of computer processing are used as "bricrs" for larger objects. All elements of the artworks are precise digital analogues of real events. The author has defined the "construction site" for his objects in Zaruadye, Moscow with the notorious building of hotel " Russia ". "Hotel Russia" is a virtual hyperconstruction: 1000 metres high, 1000 metres below zero; the area of each of the bearnigs is 18x18 metres. The area of the whole "construction" is 729x729 metres in coordinates: Moscvoretskay embankment, Ilyinka Street,Staray Ploshchad, Kitaygorodsky Projezd.

 


"deisis".   2001 - 2004

Idea - Victor Bondarenko
Artist - Konstantin Khudiakov
Consultant - Roman Bagdasarov

The Deisis consists of 39 canvases with total area 4,8x14,3 meter. It represents a certain "matrix" composed like a Russian three - row Iconstand. The upper row - The Old Testament The middle row - Holidays The lower row - The New Testament The upper and the lower rows comprise psychological hiperrealistic virtual portraits of specific historical and Biblical persons from Adam to Nickolai II. Each digital image is 350-650 Mb. Creation of 26 portraits took more than 50 000 digital fragments of images of faces of our contemporaries (34 Mb each) mixed in hundreds of thousands of combinations, transformations and "cloning". The middle row of the Iconstand - "Holidays" is composed plastically and conceptually by digital fragments of human "flesh and blood" which, to artist's mind is actual and aesthetically justified and renders spiritual and moral sense of self-sacrifice in the name of saving the mankind and development of Christianity.