Debris on a Luminous Plain

Garage Museum of Contemporary Art and MUAR, Moscow
2021




Olga Grotova
Fifth Wave, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

Moscow Museum of Architecture, 2021




1937

Enemies of the people were the millions of artists, engineers, professors, affluent peasants, Germans, Poles and other minorities living in the USSR that were thought a threat to the Soviet regime and were executed or forcedly resettled to the Gulag, the system of forced labour camps across the Soviet Union.

The wives and children of men who were charged with treason were treated as their accomplices and sentenced without  trial. At night they were put on the cattle trains and headed south of the border.
 



The journey is long, erasing the memories of the days that came before










Olga Grotova
Debris on a Luminous plain, 2019
Pigments and photograms on linen, 170 x 120 cm







My grandmother didn’t talk much about the Steppe

But once in a while she would remember the Spring

The tiny flowers scattered everywhere









2018


I came across a 1970s herbarium on the Russian online noticeboard.
Driven by an unclear instinct I asked my mother to buy it. Afterwards she reported that the seller was a middle-aged man who came in a car covered in patriotic stickers: ‘To Berlin!’ ‘We’ll do it again’.

His wife was a schoolteacher; she found the old herbariums discarded in the school storage. They wanted to make an easy buck. The car was an old zhigul.




I picked up the artefact next time I came to visit: two massive boxes with hundreds of sheets of dried plants. The herbarium was a study material distributed widely in Soviet schools and was meant to educate the children about USSR’s vast territories: from Siberia to Caucasus. Each plant had a name next to it and a naïve illustration showing the scene from the place where it had been collected: a woman harvesting grapes in Crimea, a man walking the donkey in one of the East Asian respublics. The curious kit turned something as innocent as plants into the colonisation propaganda tool.

One of the herbarium’s chapters was about the Kazakh steppe. It had some weeds whose names I heard from my grandmother: sagebrush, feather brush. The illustration next to the preserved grasses showed a smiling man in a wide-brimmed straw hat with the yolk-yellow desert in the background.




 
Of the Steppe my grandmother would tell of the flowers
and an egg that she got for Easter from a woman
in a makeshift church; this was her first ever gift







A photograph I took on site of the former  Camp for the Wives of the Traitors of the Motherland, Kazakhstan, 2019 



Olga Grotova
Fifth Wave, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art 
Moscow Museum of Architecture, 2021








In the darkroom I began exposing the weeds on the sheets
hand-coated with silver gelatine.

The light from the enlarger illuminated the grasses like the blazing sun or an explosion





In Semipalatinsk, the nuclear testing polygon in Soviet Kazakhstan, the women were told to wear  white headscarves on the days of the tests to protect themselves from the radiation












The small marks on the paintings’ surface are the negative spaces,
the records of the objects’ fleeting presences


Each work consists of numerous printed layers, building up like the stratum: the steppe weeds encounter the debris from my studio, my own records.



Olga Grotova
Fifth Wave, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art 

Moscow Museum of Architecture, 2021






Тhe positives are never reused and instead form the works’ archive




Like other things that can never be left behind nor accessed






Arches and Vessels
2021




Olga Grotova
Photograph of the ‘Fishtown’ sea, 2019



The map of the drowned valley, 2019


‘Arches and Vessels’ is a series of works informed by the journey to my great grandmother’s birthplace ‘Fishtown’ on the Volga River.

The valley surrounding the town was submerged during the construction of the hydroelectric station in the 1930s and became the world’s largest artificial sea; tens of thousands were displaced and the ecology of the region and the harvests have been permanently altered by the cool climate brought on by the large body of water.



Olga Grotova
The Path of Volga, pigments on paper


Olga Grotova
The Path of the Volga (three cups), pigments on linen, 150 x 110 cm



When we moved we looked like the seashells: five of us side by side deposited by the wave on the salty shore. Our forms remained intact but the insides have been filled with water and sand but not the kind of sticky sand that would come out in a shape of the seashell, but the kind that would crumble in pieces



Tree in the Monastery Garden
The tree in the monastery garden



Olga Grotova
The Path of Volga, pigments on paper





One of the sites destroyed during the station’s construction was a Leushin female monastery visited and documented by Prokudin-Gorsky, a historic church complex whose frescoes have been submerged under the reservoir’s waters.





Olga Grotova
Path of Volga (caves), pigments on linen, 150 x 110 cm






When we came to our new home it was full of things that belong to strangers. Someone’s ‘opera’ dress was guarding the chiffonier and a bunch of plastic yellow roses made gravestone out of the bedside table. 

We were taught that yellow flowers mean separation

On the first night I slept under my mother’s fur coat and remembered the old winters: when the last of the snows melted and I turned into an oyster shell that sailed down the stream of Springs






Olga Grotova
The Path of Volga (Shells), pigments on linen, 110 x 90 cm





On the new shores the piles of dust are as high as the junkyards that cover the islands in the faraway seas.  The new bedrooms will continue to smell of others and their hair would stay on the pillow like a kiss. The water will sneak up on us like the fingers that hide under the sheets


The new snow will smell of graphite and would melt in an hour


Like a Dane I’ll wave goodbye from the rock in a sea







Debris on A Luminous Plain (Solo exhibition)

Centrala, Birmingham
2019







Olga Grotova
‘Debris on a Luminous Plain’
Solo exhibition, Centrala, 2019




Olga Grotova and Selina Bonelli
Debris on a Luminous Plain, performance
Centrala,  2019









The Waters of the Volga

Oslo Kunstforening
2019


The project is based on my poem about a trip to the Volga River, my great grandmother’s birthplace. Performed in collaboration with Syowia Kyambi at the Oslo Kunstforening.

The series of drawings is made with river waters, debris and graphite.


Olga Grotova and Syowia Kyambi
The Waters of the Volga
Performance, Oslo Kunstforening, 2019



Olga Grotova
‘The Waters of the Volga’
Pigments and river waters on paper
Oslo Kunstforening, 2019






Olga Grotova
‘The Waters of the Volga’
Installation view
Oslo Kunstforening, 2019



XVII. The Age of Nymphs

Curated by Daria Khan
Mimosa House
2018


XVII. The Age of Nymphs explores human and insect affects and the archaeology of trauma. The exhibition looks to cycles of history and the possibility of reanimating time through repetition and doubling. Confronting the stagnation of the current times, the artists test posthuman gestures and insect behaviours as a challenge to human politics.




Olga Grotova
XVII. The Age of Nymphs
Installation view
Mimosa House, 2017



Olga Grotova
The Ice Rink, 2017
Video, sound
9’ 30’’

DARIA KHAN to OLGA: The two protagonists of ‘The Ice Rink’ remind me both of Chekhov’s ‘Three sisters’ and Bergman’s ‘Persona’. Isolated, stuck and lost thus living in a blissful oblivion, they reflect one another in what they say and do. Their closeness suggests sexual tension (reinforced by phallic figures of the big chocolate key and the potentially injuring icicle).

I am interested in the physical and the transcendental elements of the work. The ritual involving the chocolate key and the protagonists’s attire of catholic nuns references a history of the bodily vs. the spiritual. What does this mean for you in the context of this exhibition?


OLGA: The characters in The Ice Rink are positioned inside the space of the digital video: a disembodied, timeless and transcendent form of representation. Their unnatural and overtly feminine screen makeup echoes old cinematic conventions, an era when film possessed materiality. To make cuts in the celluloid is a different montage process compared to the contemporary video editing, which allows constant rearranging and duplication. In the film one of the characters mentions the surface carved by the blades echoing both the surface of ice and the physical film, which is missing.

The conflict between the physical and the transcendent has long occupied the Christian tradition and has been dealt with through rituals, which use language as means to escape corporal reality. Fasting and celibacy are the means for the expelling of the bodily excess. The body however returns as the body of Christ in the Eucharist. In the film it is acted out with a chocolate key. As Kristeva puts it: “By the very gesture...that corporealizes or incarnates speech, all corporeality is elevated, spiritualized, and sublimated.”




The First Reading 

Performance in collaboration with Luli Perez
Mimosa House, 2018





Performance, discussion and video in which 4 performers or readers enact Le Livre, Stéphane Mallarmé’s unpublished magnum opus over three operations.

The event is split between the two rooms, which are located one on top of the other. The board game takes place in the room upstairs where the viewers are invited to record the players with a camera that produces a live feed on the screen in the room below. The audience can thus observe the Reading either on the screen or in person, but can never access both at the same time.




Blue. Seventeen

Curated by Sasha Burkhanova-Khabadze
Osnova Gallery
2017


Soon there will be doubles of all the decades. In forty-five years, as the human lifespan keeps increasing, one will think of the 60s as of the 2060’s and the 1960s. Thus occurs a doubling of history, déjà vu and ultimately a return to a non-existent point in the past. In 1917 there was a Russian revolution. Thus Russians still refer to it as ‘The revolution of the year seventeen’, but as of next year it will mean both 1917 and 2017. The suspended, circular, state of contemporary gives rise to political myths and an idea of reanimation of time. My work tends to merge political facts and personal experiences, reality and fiction, rehearsal and performance. The viewer is often disoriented when trying to determine fiction ends and reality starts.




Olga Grotova (with Nika Neelova and Yelena Popova)
Blue. Seventeen
Installation view
Osnova, 2017




Olga Grotova
Seventeen
Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 110
2017






Olga Grotova
Blue. Seventeen
Installation view
Osnova, 2017