Avvakumov is most famous for introducing – together with other young graduates from the Moscow Architectural Institute such as Michael Belov and Alexander Brodsky – the concept of ‘paper architecture’ in 1984. The term describes a genre of conceptual design in the USSR produced only on paper as a way of bypassing political restrictions and criticizing the dehumanizing nature of Russian architecture of the time.
Following this experience, Avvakumov developed , in 1996, the project Russian Utopia, a Depository – an archive for visionary architectural projects created in Russia during the last 300 years that had never been carried out. The artist perceives the project as the embodiment of a collective Russian dream and as a metaphor of a “columbarium for rejected fantasies.” The archive was shown in numerous museums and art institutions, including the Venice Biennale in 1996.
The long-term project La Scala – created by the artist between 1985 and 2005 – consists in an ever expanding series of black and white photographs, sketches and sculptures. Their subject matters are stairways and ladders which the artists has come across, traveling through such different locations as Moscow, Venice, Uçhisar (Turkey), Kaliningrad, Krasnoyarsk, Cannes and Rome. According to Avvakumov stairs are not only the fundamental element of any architectural construction but also a key metaphor which stands for the possible communication between, ‘above’ and ‘below’ and ‘earth’ and ‘cosmos’. Stairways are also an important element of Russian visual culture, famously featuring in Sergei Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin from 1925. One of the most celebrated scenes in the film is the massacre of civilians on the Odessa Steps which stands in as a metaphor of both the upcoming communist revolution and of the bloodshed it will involve.
Since 1986, Avvakumov has worked on a series of drawings and small-scale models called Temporary Monuments devoted to reworking the architectonic and ideological heritage of Constructivism and its protagonists. His approach to the past is at once ironic and sorrowful, elegiac and deeply permeated by disillusion.
Images copyright Yuri Avvakumov. Temporary Monuments. 1989-1996. Silkscreen Prints