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Inspiration imparted by the Arctic

January 26 marked the launch of “Researcher and Artist: Expedition Art” project in Zaryadye Park. The organizers dedicated it to the research of the Arctic over the last 400 years and timed it to the end of the second year of the Great Scientific Expedition of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The project is being held simultaneously at several venues – in Zaryadye Park, the State Darwin Museum and the Russian State Stroganov University of Industry and Applied Arts. Museums of Krasnoyarsk, Norilsk, Arkhangelsk, Dudinka, the Siberian Branch and the Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences have become participants also.

The project is going to offer an extensive educational program with lectures and master classes to be held by scientists, artists, and art critics. This unique endeavor was made possible thanks to Nornickel, which has been supporting the Great Scientific Expedition for two years.

Vice President of Nornickel for Environment and Industrial Safety

The “science, art and culture” triad is vital to our company. We want the results of our expeditions to be accessible, clear, well articulated, and communicated to as many people as possible. In my experience, I have never seen projects like this before. I am happy that the artworks collected here can show the entire history and all facets of man's attitude to the Arctic.

In glory of pioneers

It was not without reason that the project was launched in Zaryadye Park. This is where the Old English Court, an architectural monument of the 16th century, is located. It was from here that the first scientific and fishing expeditions set off for the Arctic. In small rooms with low vaulted ceilings visitors can see the historical part of the exposition. You can't fit many exhibits in medieval rooms, but each of them is unique.
The Old English Court building in Zaryadye Park
For example, the ancient maps of the Arctic illustrate how perceptions of the Arctic have changed over the centuries. Under Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, exploration was just beginning, so they relied on maps from late antiquity. The ancients believed that the Arctic was a separate continent with the North Pole in the middle. Then there were the expeditions with Barents and Bering – both made discoveries which helped bring about our modern understanding of the Arctic.
With the emergence of the first Russian towns, Mangazei and Pustozersk, a closer acquaintance with the local people began. The exposition presents craftwork produced by indigenous peoples – carvings on mammoth tusk.
The last room of the exposition displays artifacts from the 19th century, when the Arctic became an arena for rivalry between the leading powers. The Russian government continued financing the growing number of new expeditions – the Northern Sea Route was laid, and a railroad was built. The scientists were accompanied by artists in each expedition, as there were no other ways to capture scientific observations at that time. Later, many of them devoted their entire lives to the Arctic.

One of them was Alexander Borisov, a world star whose paintings are exhibited in the Orsay Museum in Paris. The exhibition displays his canvas “Polar Night in the Far North. Sunset”, which the artist painted for Nicholas II.
With overhead electric lighting, the painting looks dark. However, if you direct your smartphone flashlight at it from the side, the flakes of ice will turn bright blue, the sky will turn violet, and the sea will be colored with the purple of sunset. The thing is that in the 19th century the painting was shown under side candlelight, hence the effect.
The XIX century Artists were true obsessives. Only the most passionate are able to paint nature in a minus 40-degree frost.
A French caricaturist painted Borisov, showing him working en plein-air in the Arctic surrounded by polar bears.
The exhibition also presents a work by Nenets artist Tyko Vylka. He was a guide for the expeditions of Vladimir Rusanov and other explorers, where, following other artists, he started to paint. For an indigenous Nenets, the Arctic is not a harsh and inhospitable land, but his own home. That is why the northern lights on his canvas are the edge of the garment of a kind god who helps the locals.
Work by Nenets artist Tyko Vylka
The art and household items of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic inspired the artists of the Russian avant-garde. The exhibition displays Nganasan clothes from Taimyr – now there are only 200 of them left. In the past, fur coats made of pieces of fur, which looked more like spacesuits, were exhibited at the Imperial Ethnographic Museum.
This became a cultural event. The simple red-white-and-black geometric ornament with a black square was repeatedly reproduced in paintings by Kazemir Malevich, Pavel Filonov and Olga Rozanova. The Arctic is becoming trendy – its motifs are reproduced in porcelain, glass and postcards. In the exhibition you can see a bottle of “Severny” eau de cologne. On its lid is a polar bear, based on a Malevich sketch. The artist drew the animal the way it was depicted by the locals of the Arctic.
A bottle of “Severny” eau de cologne.

Art in the name of science

The modern building of the “Protected Embassy” accommodates another exposition of the project, which is known to Moscow residents for its florarium. It is devoted to Science Art – a line of contemporary art at the intersection of artistic perception, science and technology. The exhibitors include both professional artists and scientists who embarked on their art journey through scientific laboratories. Many of them have traveled to the Arctic and brought back ideas for their works, or even materials from there.

For example, Vera Petrova, is a native of Yakutia. Her works include handicraft of living moss and lichen in large glass jars. Inside is a closed biosystem with water with microorganisms that are cleaning it.
Professional artist Dmitry Minaylov “brings life” to a dead material. He experimented with printing techniques – once he was melting plastic and accidentally created an imprint of wood on it. Since then he has been creating unique paintings with plants, leaves, insects and other organics captured in plastic. Dmitry needs a lot of material for his work. He started collecting plastic bottles wherever he could find them and soon became an environmental activist.
Lara Fedotova creates her works using photogram, another striking technique. Images are generated using a photochemical method, without a camera. An object is placed on photo paper and illuminated so that its shadow is cast onto the paper. In the exposition, Lara presented her photos of the water of the Moskva River and two pit lakes by moonlight; so she calls them lunargrams.
The artist feels that in these photos water seems to be talking to us and revealing its secrets, including not very nice ones. So, in the pit lakes, traces of chemical pollution are clearly visible.
However, water in the form of a chemical formula inspires Eva Nikonova. She often goes on expeditions and brings large pieces of jasper, apatite and basalt from there. After processing, Eva gets water molecules in the form of one big ball and two smaller ones.
The purpose of the art objects is to bring harmony to the metropolitan world. It is a pity that the exhibits are encased in glass. There is something almost irresistible about the desire to touch smooth stones.
However, Dmitry Platonov's installations can be both touched and rotated around their own axis. At each turn, blue colored water flows up and down through interconnected tubes. Watching this is a kind of art therapy. Dmitry does not deny this effect, but reckons his works symbolize life. Its flow is continuous, but it can always be stopped. We are responsible for everything that happens on our planet, including the Arctic, which is symbolized by the blue color of the water in the installations.
Mila Vvedenskaya turns her attention to the world of the Arctic and its indigenous peoples. Using the technique of burning fabric with hot needles and painting with markers, she recreates the ornaments and symbolism of the people of the North and its bare landscapes. The artist does not hide her admiration for the people living in the territory with only 20 centimeters of earth under their feet. But they do not just survive, they live full lives under conditions that would seem unbearable to us.

All the artists works presented in the exposition, are filled with love for nature and awareness of its fragility. However, they also portray scientific passion to comprehend nature and discover its secrets. And the Arctic, far from being fully explored, is going to attract Science Artists for a long time to come.

First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Ecology

The Arctic is an integral part of our country and a storehouse of our wealth. It encompasses the culture and traditions of entire regions and indigenous peoples. It is a territory of scientific discoveries. The project that we have seen here today has demonstrated that it is also an inspiration and an object of creativity.

Photos by Nornickel
February, 2024
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