The Russian Pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia presents Irina Nakhova’s The Green Pavilion. Since the mid-1970s, Nakhova (b. 1955) has made a significant contribution to the development of Moscow Conceptualism, infusing its logocentric model with visual intensity and a critical edge.
In the early 1980s, using one of the rooms in her Moscow apartment, Nakhova embarked on a series of environments entitled “Rooms.” The series anticipated Ilya Kabakov’s iconic Moscow installation The Man Who Flew into the Cosmos from His Room, which he later dubbed a “total installation.” Both artists made the step into three-dimensional space as a revolt against the stagnating conditions of the production and reception of Moscow vanguard art in the pre-perestroika era. Together with the Russian Pavilion curator, Margarita Tupitsyn, an internationally renowned expert on the Russian avant-garde and contemporary art, Nakhova has here realized a series of ambitious environments that revisit the paradigms of the Russian avant-garde, as well as explore and redefine Nakhova’s concepts of spatial relations and viewer interaction.
The Russian Pavilion is painted green, a color deliberately chosen to evoke the original appearance of the building, designed by Aleksei Shchusev in 1914. With the pavilion, Shchusev created a building uniquely suited to accommodate and enhance various artistic practices. Nakhova’s project deliberately fuses the functionality of Shchusev’s structure with her own use of the latest technologies. According to Tupitsyn, the Green Pavilion should also be seen as engaged in a dialogue with Kabakov’s Red Pavilion, executed for the 45th Venice Biennale, of 1993. With The Red Pavilion, Kabakov demonstrated the importance of color discourse for both Russian modernist and postmodernist artists, who shifted the approach to color from one of formalism to “socio-formalism.” Kabakov erected the Red Pavilion on the building’s grounds, leaving the pavilion itself empty—a potent metaphor that embodied the non-institutional status of vanguard artists and their non-participation in the Soviet culture industry. While Kabakov’s Red Pavilion marked the end of the Moscow vanguard’s hermetic phase, Nakhova’s Green Pavilion resumes the debate concerning these artists’ departure from local contexts in favor of more global significance in the post-Soviet era.
Inside the Green Pavilion, Nakhova further underscores the signifying mechanisms of color by painting every room a different hue. Shchusev’s division of the Russian Pavilion into five discrete spaces prompted Nakhova to revisit her 1980s Rooms series, where the viewer was actively involved in an artistic experiment. In the first room on the pavilion’s main floor, Nakhova projects herself onto the futuristic image of a pilot in the form of a head. The oversized head’s impenetrability (achieved by means of a helmet, mask, and goggles), combined with the proposition that the viewer seek to control his perceptions, reveals the duality of the artist’s position in society. On the one hand, he is authoritative, while on the other he is too dependent on the external world from which he aims to escape and simultaneously wishes to control. In the second room of the installation, Nakhova tackles Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square, the most enigmatic canvas in the history of modernism, a work entirely reliant on the viewer’s imagination as it provides neither formal nor iconographic referents. Depending on one’s position in Nakhova’s installation, the square appears opaque, creating the effect of a solar eclipse, or transparent, as if joined to the cosmos, observable through the skylight above.
In the third space, Nakhova’s painterly gifts expand beyond the boundaries of the picture frame, filling up the entire space with an abstract composition executed in two of the most significant colors in the history of Russian art: revolutionary red and perestroika green. The characteristics of these two epochs of Russia’s history are thus communicated exclusively through the use of color and form, reminding the viewer of the social aspirations of abstract art. For the ground floor of the pavilion, Nakhova created a video installation consisting of the grids of digital re-creations of architectural modules drawn from Shchusev’s iconic monuments, such as the Lenin Mausoleum; these modules are filled with private and public archival photographs. Nakhova destabilizes this factographic architectonics by the insertion of images of abjection such as worms, and by a confluence of elements that together allegorize the vulnerability and instability of historical assertions.