Alexander Brodsky has been described as the “most important Russian architect alive today”. His work is characterised by a unique ability to translate archetypal traditional forms, using everyday materials and construction techniques. Brodsky, who graduated from the Moscow Institute of Architecture in 1978, first received international acclaim in the ’80s with his utopian and imaginative paper architecture. His training has resulted in a practice that moves comfortably between the worlds of fine art and architecture.
Our Editor Theodora Clarke meets Lina Dzuverovic, Artistic Director at the Calvert 22 Foundation, to discuss their new exhibition of Alexander Brodsky in London.
Theodora Clarke: Why did Calvert 22 choose to present an exhibition devoted to Alexander Brodsky?
Lina Dzuverovic: Brodsky is an artist that Calvert 22 worked with on its first exhibition when it opened three years ago. His practice moves between both art and architecture, making him an intriguing subject for a solo exhibition. This was also an opportunity to branch out from contemporary art and open up debates across disciplines and he is the perfect person to explore that territory with. Ever since then we have talked with him about potentially doing something here at Calvert. It’s the fruit of this on-going and strong friendship. What’s significant about this show is that it is Calvert’s first commission. I think his prior understanding of Calvert 22 has enhanced the creation of the works for this exhibition. Brodsky is an artist that works with space; his work is always site specific and almost indistinguishable from the environment it exists in. This is reflected in the installation White Room / Black Room, which was created as a response to the shape and architecture of the space. I think that the Calvert 22 gallery does have a rather unusual shape and I think he has done something really interesting by transforming this space so radically.
TC: What is the concept behind this exhibition White Room/Black Room?
LD: Brodsky’s work is about emotion and the experience of walking into a space. It’s about feeling the space. There are these extremes and contrasts going on as you move through the work. First, there is this very bright space where you become extremely self-conscious. The conditions make you aware of absolutely everything. You see your own reflection and it’s quite disorientating. You lose your sense of the size of the space because he has played with a mirror effect so you can see yourself but you are also trying to work out the parameters of the space. Then you are plunged into complete darkness. As you go into the second part, the dark room, you begin to form a narrative between the people who are sat around this small fire at the centre of the black room and the beds in the white room. The viewer begins to build a narrative between the two. But, the artist is very particular about not wanting to impose that narrative upon the viewer. It’s very much about the viewer discovering the work for themselves; there’s a sense of discovery and intrigue.
Downstairs is a series of drawings that are connected with the piece that’s at the centre of the space, which is a representation of a factory that the artist used to live in on the outskirts of Moscow. Moscow has often been described as Brodsky’s muse and this is a homage to the space that he used to live in. You’ll also see it appears in some of the drawings.
TC: Why has Brodsky become such an important Russian architect? He has been called the most important contemporary architect alive today. Why is that?
LD: We were interested in the ‘paper architecture’ movement and Brodsky’s work within this context. This movement was important because they were really going against what was happening generally at the time in the Soviet Union. I think what’s interesting is how they returned to new ways of thinking about urban space. It was about creating utopian spaces and about allowing them to dream. It wasn’t so much about the harsh realities of building these heavy industrial spaces, like the kind of spaces used for municipal buildings, it was about allowing for dreams to come true. The notion of paper architecture is that it’s not meant to be built. Instead, it is about the potentiality of what urban space can be and what the built environment can become. I think it really proposed something that was unique and new in an environment that was looking elsewhere.
TC: Who would you say has been the greatest influence on Brodsky’s work?
LD: I think his work is very much about looking backwards as well as forwards. I think there is a certain neoclassical element to it although I wouldn’t be able to say precisely. I wouldn’t want to quote anyone specific but I think his work is about mixing influences. He is interested in everyday materials and he, if anything, is very inspired by decaying materials, by the refuse of everyday life. For example, one of his works is made from repurposed doors and other from old windows from a dilapidated factory. So it is very much about recycling, reusing and reimagining.
TC: What would you say is the status of Brodsky in Russia? Many Russian artists have a different reception in the West from their native country. How would you say he is perceived there?
LD: I’m not Russian myself but, from what I understand, he has a cult status there. He is very well respected in Russia both amongst professional architects and in the art world itself but alongside this he has a strong following of young people and other artists and architects who are very inspired by him.
TC: Could you explain to our readers about the Calvert 22 Foundation?
LD: We are a not for profit foundation that has been running since 2009 and our purpose is to create collections that open up channels between what I like to call the Former East; Russia, CIS countries and Eastern Europe, all of the territory across that region and the UK. It’s the only foundation in the UK that specialises in this region of Europe. It is about not just showing the work but opening up a discursive programme not just through showing but also through education. We do a lot of educational initiatives and events that relate to the exhibitions we show and also explore the regions we represent. It’s also about bringing opportunities for artists and practitioners from that region and connecting them with curators and organisations here. We aim to create a platform and we have a number of different initiatives each year. For example, we are in talks to donate at least one work from this exhibition to a museum in the UK. It’s also about finding ways into the art world internationally beyond just exhibiting so adding to collections and initiatives like that.
TC: What exhibitions do you have planned for after Alexander Brodsky?
LD: We have four exhibitions a year. The next one is a solo exhibition by Croatian artist Sanja Iveković. It opens on the 14 December and runs until the end of February 2013. This is a very ambitious project because it is the first UK solo showing of her work and is in collaboration with South London Gallery, one of the UK’s leading art institutions. As you know she’s a prolific artist; the body of work is just enormous so I felt that we needed to take it outside of the Calvert walls and expand. She really needs a museum sized retrospective so a collaboration with another space enabled us to present a wide range of her works spanning the past four decades. Although the show will take place across the two spaces, this is one exhibition. It will be a selection of works from the 1970’s up until this year including her collages, graphic design and also video and performance work. . It is a very exciting project and I feel privileged to be able to curate the show in the UK. She is such an important artist it is unbelievable that she hasn’t yet had a solo show in this country. The fact she has recently had major retrospectives at MUDAM in Luxemburg and MoMA is a further reflection of how timely this exhibition is. After that we are planning an exhibition that’s rooted in the East End community, reflecting the rich history of immigration in this area from Eastern Europe and Russia. As Calvert 22 is based in East London I felt it was fitting to base an exhibition around this idea.
WHITE ROOM / BLACK ROOM: ALEXANDER BRODSKY
03 October – 25 November 2012
The first UK showing of Russia’s leading avant-garde architect in London at Calvert 22.
White Room / Black Room will see Brodsky transform an entire floor of the gallery into two rooms filled with light and darkness, making for a fully immersive experience. Viewers will enter through a small door and the space will be divided into two contrasting rooms first encountering a seemingly endless corridor of white light and then a more confined darker chamber, hidden from view and filled with blackness.