Chernysheva’s Ephemera in Slow Motion

Olga Chernysheva. Houseplant is Leaving. Video. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Volker Diehl, Berlin

In her latest solo exhibition, which is now showing at Galerie Volker Diehl in Berlin, Moscow-based artist Olga Chernysheva reframes the art of leaving. 

A compact new solo show at Galerie Volker Diehl of the work of Russian artist Olga Chernysheva (b. 1962) takes its name ‘Houseplant is Leaving’ from one work which comprises seven watercolours. When you first look at them, each watercolour appears exactly the same: a close-up of a plant, perhaps a jade succulent, growing tall out of a mud-coloured pot. Yet in each picture the plant possesses a kind of animal aliveness, straight stems like stick figure spines, and leaves that cluster into something that resembles bodies - arms, perky antennae, heads looking forwards, a kind of tail. In each portrait of the plant, tendrils extend out from the pot in a kind of confident forward march and into the ether, delicate, wispy roots floating towards some new place in which to flourish. Each image bears a number in pencil from one to seven and beside the works, handwritten directly onto the gallery wall, a list: 

Leaving accidentally.

Made the decision. Leaving.

Leaving out of curiosity.

Wanted to go but got scared.

Leaving as an example to others.

Leaving and Not coming back. 

About to leave. Testing the waters.

There is some play here on the words ‘leaving’ and ‘leaves’ (of the plant), the poetics behind the works are those of impermanence. In ‘Leaving Accidentally’ the plant is situated at the edge of the pot, while in ‘Leaving and Not coming back’, and ‘About to leave. Testing the waters’ the plant grows from within the centre of the pot. They are hung together in a group with the exception of ‘Made the decision. Leaving’ which stands apart from the pack.

Originally trained in animation at Moscow’s All-Russian University of Cinematography, Olga Chernysheva describes herself as “an animator by profession and state of mind”. These skills are put to use in both her playful houseplant series and in a similar series at the entrance of the gallery depicting a rust-coloured rectangle with similarly human aspirations – ‘Trying to stand up; Tripped. About to Fall, Lying. Sleeping’.

Departure takes on many forms in the ‘Houseplant is Leaving’ series: there are open doorways and rubbish bags filled with empty popcorn boxes; performers bowing on a theatre stage; sentient plants. “I like to find in any piece of reality the potential of a thinking, feeling being, trying to make decisions,” says Chernysheva. “What we describe as humanity is present everywhere.” On a similar theme of departures, Chernysheva’s ‘Effigies of Tenuous Shape’, a digitized 16mm film she made in 2021, which is the only artwork in the exhibition not created specifically for the show. In ‘Effigies’, a man in an alley behind an apartment building points a leaf blower at a pile of plastic gloves. The blast sends the gloves – symbols of the global pandemic – scattering in the wind. In one scene, the man is sitting, leaning against a wall, the leaf blower beside him, surrounded by gloves strewn everywhere on the ground, an image evoking notions of mortality and loss.

In ‘Effigies’ Chernysheva shows us the ways in which we can only partially control the impermanence that defines every aspect of our lives. The ephemerality of experience here condensed into fleeting memories, light as air and the impressions that remain. The bittersweet duality of that which is actively in a state of ‘leaving’ and that which has been ‘left behind’

Olga Chernysheva. Houseplant is Leaving

Volker Diehl Galerie

Berlin, Germany

April 25 – July 12, 2024

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