Nasonov, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Nasonov, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

A highlight of this summer’s brilliant Russian Art Week is the Russian Cosmism exhibition and sale, presented by Maxim Boxer at London’s Erarta Gallery. Whilst the concept of Cosmism is still relatively unknown in the UK, it has been the inspiration for many great works of art and literature for over a century. Combining elements of Eastern and Western philosophical thought, Nikolai Fedorov began the original movement by proposing the idea of space migration and immortality as a solution to Earth’s sell-by-date. For him, the certainty of death was the root cause of all earthly problems, and the only way to side step this would be to redesign ourselves so we can inhabit other planets.   One of the most striking works at the auction is Arkadiy Nasonov’s ‘Here They Are, Round’. This circular piece appears to symbolise the ideas central to Cosmism: Earth stands awkwardly upon someone else’s table, all countries slipping over to one side, the moon on a rope. The paths of the celestial bodies are being re-plotted through star-studded space, with curved lines that will avoid the otherwise inevitable self destruction. Like a theatre within the round, it is a meta-canvas setting up the scene, characters and alternative endings to the story. The audience is ‘alienated’ as it is forced to wonder whose eyes are staring back- that is, if there is anyone out there at all.  
Polissky, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Polissky, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Nikolay Polissky’s Large Hadron Collider sequence plays on our natural curiosity, mapping out this futuristic machine with detailed technical drawings. The scientist is portrayed by the Cosmists as an oracle; hiding the true workings of the world under their hats, leaking the occasional morbid prophecy. Right now, laid under the border of Switzerland and France, are the bottled up secrets of the universe: The dark matter, super clusters, quarks and superstring theory, the microscopic black holes and strangelets. Polissky’s drawings predict a future where we will peer through a manmade tube, stare right into the face of God, and put ourselves back together.     Fedorov believed that it was not enough to simply study the world; that we should use the things we have learned to alter it. We have been given reason and therefore have an ethical responsibility towards not only the future generations but those who have already died. As part of the exhibition, Leonid Tishkov explored this idea by weaving a rocket from the old clothes of relatives so he could be transported back in time to visit his ancestors. Vladislav Efimov’s photographs show a watering can flying like a witch on a broom, no longer caring for plants but bound for the stars; his memento mori loses meaning as it launches into the next life on rocket fuel; a futile Christmas decoration spins through the atmosphere like a Catharine wheel.   Although it can sound a bit bonkers to our modern sensibilities, Fedorov was thinking outside the box 150 years ago about matters that are now becoming very real for us and our planet. Since the way we are ‘progressing’ is resulting in frighteningly depleted resources, this was a warning for us to change our ways. Directed self-evolution would keep us from devolving into sex-obsessed apedom, as we become more spiritually-centred beings. Fedorov predicted that we would be simpler, surviving mostly on air and light like cacti, able to adapt to hostile environments- even other planets.  
Infante, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Infante, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Francisco Infante-Arana’s Artifacts are blindingly pure visions of these new habitats. Silver shards drift over sparkling seas, mirroring blue. They are the clean atmospheres of virgin planets, light years away, unspoilt and eerily quiet. Gor Chahal’s From Afar is a beautiful set of polaroids, like snaps from outer space. The lifeless hulk of Earth looms over the horizon, a shadow of its former glory as we look back at where we once lived. The promised lands are illuminated in gold and red, the skies are patterned with exploding stars, city lights are scattered around like the particles of our ancestors.   Correction Of Mistakes Of Russian Avant-Garde inverses Malevich’s Mystic Suprematism, suggesting that we had everything inside out and upside down all along, and that we should right these wrongs by deciding to turn back. Another significant exhibit is Mikhail Larionov’s Une Promenade/Nature Morte#7. Describing his own work as an inhabitant of the fourth dimension, Larionov sought to describe the invisible by deliberately provoking sensations in the viewer through colour and form. There is an odd sense of weightlessness in looking at this work, as though we become temporarily freed from gravity, the artist is opening the lid so we can see the strings vibrating inside the grand piano.  
Chahal, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Chahal, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Many of the exhibits trigger childhood imagination, particularly in the more familiar works by Tishkov. His Moon In The Arctic light-boxes are shining lunarscapes, borrowing Magritte’s surreal crescent moon and dropping it off in unlikely places. These lyrical waxings bring up long forgotten ambitions about becoming an astronaut or rocket scientist, and Ivan Mikhaylov’s photographs of abandoned playgrounds continue with this theme. His rocket-slides were once the carrier of make-believe journeys, but are now tired, rusted over, paint peeling, resigned to gravity. Strangely eerie light from the closed windows and artificially lit trees suggest space-dreams of icy oceans, astral forces, and magnetic monopoles. The rockets are grounded, burnt out; they are melancholy images of lost hopes and nostalgia for a simpler time. The artist himself writes that during the creation of these pieces, he ‘still gazed at stars and thought of distant planets. But this time they seemed significantly more distant.’   As the precursor to two major exhibitions later this year- Malevich at the Tate in July and Cosmonauts at the Science Museum in November- this show is a fascinating first glance through the dark glass of Russian Cosmism. It reminds us that while we are still half way between the animals and the angels, we can take matters into our own hands. We will know fully, even as we are fully known.   Maxim Boxer at Erarta Gallery: http://www.erartagalleries.com/news Read our interview with Maxim Boxer: http://www.russianartandculture.com/interview-maxim-boxer