In the twentieth century’s first half, Russian artistic giants—Kandinsky, Chagall, Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, et al.—opened roads to modernism in the world of art. Yet Russia’s contemporary art remains little known. Shouldn’t this change?
Elga Wimmer PCC has on display till August 3, 2019, a show called “Summer Love” spotlighting two young Russian artists. Two persons by themselves do not a cohort make. Yet collagist Olga Ozerskaya (she doubles as an interior designer) and photographer Anna Rakhmangulova are technically skillful and possess engaging personal artistic visions. Their impact on you can be mind-shifting because both invent metaphors that generate resonance and reverberation.
Trained academically in art in Moscow and London, Ozerskaya (an Israeli-Russian) produces mixed-media collages that push the genre’s boundaries through multiple techniques, ranging from printed illustration through digital animation to holograms. Mixing pop, fashion, and advertising images with her own iconography referencing Old Master symbolism, she creates striking, surprising effects that detach images from stereotypical contexts. These Old Master allusions juxtaposed with contemporary references generate open metaphors that go on unfolding in the viewer’s mind in a playful, complex manner. You think of the highly original American artist Jess (Jess Collins) describing his collages as efforts “to bring together many story possibilities that will trigger more stories and more possibilities.” He wanted his collages not to stop where his “imagination left off.” Ozerskaya builds a similar universe; it grows and grows.
To see this effect in action look intently at two collages on display at Elga Wimmer PCC: Geisha, and Girls Chaos. Veiled in the first is a vestige of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvius Man; similarly lurking in the second are Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s human portraits that were composed of flora and fauna and other natural elements. In each case, oscillation between the historical reference and today’s realities and concerns spins off a never-ending imaginative process. In the former (Geisha), thoughts about gender justice rise to the fore; in the latter (Girls Chaos), you reflect on the natural ecology in which we humans are intertwined and embedded.
Ozerskaya’s art reminds you of Nikki de St. Phalle, a sculptor, painter, and filmmaker whose work was the product of great inventiveness and social commitment, including a passionate devotion to women’s rights. During her early career, she became well known for her dark, violent assemblages, through which she also embraced the role of chance in art making. Through their playfulness Ozerskaya’s collages convey a different, almost whimsical mood; yet their conjectures and leaps of faith across materials and techniques are not dissimilar to St. Phalle’s.
Another legendary artist, Sonia Delaunay, comes to mind while one views Ozerskaya’s art. Painting, theatrical set design, advertisement design, interior design, fashion and textiles—she could do it all. She was also a great colorist. And she managed shops and a textile design company.
Indeed, both Delaunay and St. Phalle were polymath-artists excelling in multi-disciplinary, lateral thinking, a skill that will gain in importance as art continues to go global, and as societal problems become global and more complex. As Ozerskaya diversifies her professional life—already, as previously noted, an amalgamation of collage and interior design entrepreneurship—the globality and lateral nature of her creative strategies will surely increase.
Moscow-based photographer Anna Rakhmangulova has an academic degree in art photography and photo design and a diploma in critical art theory. Pursuing a practice that embraces both fine art and travel photography, she invites us through her work to look at the natural world with fresh eyes. Her monumental panoramic African views tell stories in which light, a governing protagonist, creates compositions that are lyrical and occasionally disturbing, but are always pervaded by a sense of transcendence akin to the effect of wonder and sublimity that Ansel Adams achieved in his landscapes.
Gazing at Rakhmangulova’s work, you think, too, of Sebastiao Salgado, especially his interest in showing remote areas of the planet and capturing the epic reality of animals. An economist and development worker before becoming a full-time professional photographer, Salgado sees himself as a humanitarian photographer. He twins this aim with another goal; he wants his work to catalyze and invigorate humanity’s rediscovery of itself in nature—a visionary idea that also animates Rakhmangulova.
Let’s look at two of her photographs that are on show at Elga Wimmer PCC: Etude 2, and Etude 22. The first mixes a bit of ominousness with a transcendence that emanates from the sky against which the vultures and tree branches are silhouetted. The same effect is given us on a grander scale in the second picture’s depiction of a vast herd of wildebeests embarked on a migratory voyage through a limitless sea-like African savanna. You feel you are one with an awe-inspiring process that must not be disturbed.
Universally appealing, Rakhmangulova’s images reveal nature as an object of beauty and awe of which we are a part of. At a time of existential danger arising from climate change, she, like Ozerskaya, creates metaphorical impact: in her case an effect that says art can be a force for sustainable good.
—Siba Kumar Das