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Preview: The Return of Memory

As part of HOME’s ‘A Revolution Betrayed?’ programme, The Return of Memory is a contemporary examination of the Russian Revolution’s legacy

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Curators of The Return of Memory, Anya Harrison, Sarah Perks, and Olya Sova present an exciting combination of textiles, performance, and machinery in a survey of modern answers in reaction to the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.

You’re greeted with the explicitly titled Clothes for Demonstration Against False Election of Vladimir Putin (2011 – 2015) by Russian artist Gluklya — setting the concept of the exhibition. A series of textile sculptures suspended on wooden poles, each is decorated with Russian protest slogans. With English translations below, one reads “Movement for Fair Elections. M.F.F.E.”, another demands “Russia will be free.” A masked sculpture resembles a member of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot.

Nearby is a Communist hammer and sickle wearing a ballerina’s tutu, declaring the unity of art and politics. The pieces mimic banners used during protests, and their elevation is a manifestation of triumph. Every sculpture demands to be seen, and for its rebellious stance to be known.

Continuing the theme of resistance is Victoria Lomasko’s mural The Daughter of an Artist Decorator (2017). Lomasko’s father, a Soviet era artist, earned his income by producing political propaganda, despite his opposition to communism.

On the left, an artist stands on a stool and appears to be a leading figure to a group of marching protesters. This piece comments on the artist’s power to contribute to either propagating or challenging damaging ideologies.

Aza Shadenova’s paintings entitled Mothers and Daughters (2016) refer to the Soviet Union’s repression of Central Asian women through eradicating their tradition and consequently, their identity. Locks of platted hair, without the remainder of the women they belong to, manifest the lack of identity women of Central Asia might have experienced during the Soviet era.

The vibrant, balanced chaos of The Night Sky of the Motherland in 1920’s (2017) may be a reference to the period of change in Kyrgyzstan, where the artist was raised, resulting from the imposition of Soviet rule in 1918. During the preview, in front of her paintings, Shadenova read out Daniil Kharms’ story entitled Father and Daughter to a curious crowd. Aza adapted the story by including a performance of an appropriated version of The Velvet Underground’s song All Tomorrow’s Parties where the artist questions: “What costume shall the poor girl wear to all communist parties?”.

In a series of bleak photographs, Yevgen Nikiforov’s On Republic’s Monuments’ (2017) documents the result of Ukraine’s newly implemented law — banning all symbols related to the Soviet Union. While the photographs demonstrate an act of moving on, they also raise the question of what should be done with such monuments. Should they remain in place as a cautionary reminder? Is demolishing them an attempt to erase the past?

Towards the back of the gallery space is a room illuminated by pink light where Callum Cooper’s Vavilov (2017), focusing on a Soviet geneticist, Nikolai Vavilov. In an ambitious attempt to combat world hunger, Vavilov aimed to develop crops capable of growing under any conditions. Exuding a futuristic aura, a Farmbot is at the focus of the room. The machine tends to the same cabbage seeds that the Vavilov Institute provided during the Leningrad Siege in World War 2, when the food supply to Leningrad was ceased.

The exhibition successfully provides the viewer with a holistic view of the mark that the Soviet Union has left on Russia and beyond. In a balanced blend, the acknowledgement of the people who opposed communist rule in the past also acts as encouragement of resistance in the present political climate.

The Return of Memory is on display at HOME between 21st of October 2017 — 7th of January 2018.