Evgenia Buravleva. Versailles, 12.05.2016, 18.28. 2022. Oil on canvas. 85x120 cm. Courtesy of the artist


Landscape in contemporary Russian art

A new exhibition of Evgenia Buravleva and Egor Plotnikov in the French town of Compiègne opens to the public on 14th of January. ‘Such a Place, such a Time’ finds new ways of depicting nature, yet this Moscow-based couple are far from the only ones on the Russian art scene today who are rethinking the traditional genre of landscape painting.

An exhibition of Evgenia Buravleva (b. 1980) and Egor Plotnikov (b. 1980), who appreciate European intellectual polish in their paintings of Russian expanses, opens in the French city of Compiègne as part of an ‘un-cancellation of Russian culture’. ‘Tel endroit, tel moment’ (Such a Place, such a Time), will take place simultaneously in two independent art spaces, the Galerie d’Est and Espace Saint-Pierre de Minimes. Both of these artists make the landscape into an object of exquisite visual charade. Egor intentionally creates obstacles blocking our visual contact with the picture. Stripes sometimes appear in the centre of the image. Small white people appear in front of the canvas. A recognisable mood motif of a field on a dull autumn day can be inscribed in a circle and truncated, so that the other half is just white. The top of the painting might depict clouds with the bottom a white rectangle, like a leaf from a desk calendar. The Russian Avant-Garde and international conceptualism with their destruction of the autonomy of painting for the sake of its analytical dissection and a new recognition of his own cognitive abilities lie behind Egor Plotnikov's approach.

Evgenia Buravleva loves the strange, somnambulistic effect of wandering in a quicksilver haze of elusive visions. For her, space is unfocused and shifting, like a rippling veil. I have previously tried to define the peculiar ‘European’ characteristic of Buravleva's painting: these luminous, misty clouds of mood seem in some ways to derive from British culture, with its eccentricities and paradoxes. Signs of the magical realism of Peter Doig (b. 1959), or of David Hockney's (b. 1937) glitzy Pop-Art excesses are discernible. The artist herself insists that the angular naturalism of eighteenth century British artist-biologist-animalist George Stubbs (1724–1806) has also played a part in the composition of her images of nature.

I am curious about what cultural themes lie at the centre of the experiences of such a vision of landscape, seen through the filters of different styles and systems? There is a poem by nineteenth century poet, publicist and privy counsellor of the Russian empire Fyodor Tyutchev in which he writes: ‘Nature is not what you imagine // Not a mould, not a soulless face...’. Since the Peredvizhniki, a Russian group of Realist painters in the 19th century, nature has stopped being the subject of beautiful views and is something which lies increasingly beyond our understanding and cannot be interpreted exhaustively from the point of view of any stereotypes. Even in the art of Isaak Levitan (1860–1900) nature is understood as an exceptionally complex anatomy of the soul of the beholder. The projection of the most complex moving states of the mind and feelings onto the landscape lie at the heart of what is unique about the Russian psychophysical landscape.

In Russia, centuries later, this tradition is still enormously popular today. The school of realist painting survived both the revolutionary years and Soviet totalitarianism. It is still very much alive today. It is a territory of personal freedom, not verbalised in slogans or manifestoes. A whole galaxy of successful headliners of contemporary art such as Pavel Otdelnov (b. 1979), Evgenia Buravleva, Taisia Korotkova (b. 1980), Egor Plotnikov, and Ivan Novikov (b. 1990) who studied at the Surikov Academy in Moscow, primarily in the studio of Pavel Nikonov (b. 1930), who passed through the school of Russian realistic landscape. The distraught emotion of the Peredvizniki, a response to leaden overcast skies and bumpy roads with slushy mud, becomes a kind of platform for the experimentation of a new culture whose agenda becomes, for example, the ecological disaster, or the Anthropocene in the work of Korotkova and Otdelnov. It is as if this genre, which does not want to find a sort of flippant pleasure in beautiful impressions, is turning to the important theme of object-oriented art today. Human knowledge no longer determines the image of the world. Reality eludes logical understanding. Simulating a situation of communication with this self-contained object (nature), we employ all possible forms of communication, styles and methods.
The wild feeling of nature as a ‘thing in itself’, in which we find ourselves as in an enchanted forest, defines, in my opinion, the work of Vladimir Migachev (b. 1959). This work is akin to Anselm Kiefer's (b. 1945) search for the collective unconscious in ancient myths. Nature as a mediator between the virtual and real dimensions of life turns out to be an important theme in the work of Olga Tobreluts (b. 1970).

Finally, in the art of young intermedial artists close to the TZVETNIK platforms, Slava Nesterov (b. 1989), Anna Tagantseva-Kobzeva (b. 1990), and Ruslan Polanin (b. 1988), the landscape becomes an actor in creating a performative situation of intuitive communication with something disturbing, unexplainable and yet sublime.

Today's prevalent object-oriented philosophy, overcast and bleak as a Peredvizhnik landscape, asserts the priority of speculative realism. Among its representatives are Graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux. Our Russian asset, the landscape genre, has proved to be a good aid in building a complex system of new relationships between us humans and the world.

Evgenia Buravleva, Egor Plotnikov. Such a Place, such a Time

Espace Saint-Pierre de Minimes, Galerie de l’Est

Compiegne, France

January 14 – Feburary 12, 2023

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