Good Weather for Bricklaying
February 5 - 25, 2020
Fitzrovia Gallery, London UK
“It’s warmed up a bit,” Shukhov decided. “Eighteen below, no more. Good weather for bricklaying.”
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Now Curation is excited to present Good Weather for Bricklaying, a solo show featuring Nikita Pozdnyakov in collaboration with Ryba Art.
The title of the exhibition is a quote from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn’s seminal novel offers us a glimpse of life in the Gulag and how the everyday is reordered by the harsh realities of survival. These prisons dot the landscape around Omsk--and though the Gulags are now closed, their presence continues to shape the city and the life of its inhabitants.
Nikita Pozdnyakov was born in 1987 in Omsk, and grew up during the transitional period. His work draws on social realism and Russian literature to witness the surreal and all too tangible aspects of life in Siberia. Deserted Khruscheva and lonely telephone wires recall the mysticism of The Master and Margarita. One can imagine cats flying through the sky above the barren landscapes, just as easily as the rationing of tea bags and bread crusts. Nikita’s work serves as testament to the beauty and the battle of ordinary existence in Omsk. He paints life in a landscape shaped by dramatic reversals of power, that paradoxically remains unchanged and eternal. When absolute power is transient and absurdity is reality, what do you have for dinner?
History of Omsk
Omsk is the capital of Omsk Oblast, a region in southwestern Siberia. The countryside of the district is lush and vast, and changes dramatically with the seasons. The city was first established in 1716, as a military outpost at the far edge of the expanding frontier. It wasn’t intended to be a town, or anyone’s home, but rather a temporary position where imperial soldiers would be deployed. Omsk was dropped down like a pin on a map, defined by people far away.
More than a hundred years later, more pins on a map in St. Petersburg set actions in motion in Omsk. Fearful of revolution, the czar set up labour camps around the growing frontier town. Living in low wooden dormitories, prisoners would serve years of hard labour in factories and construction sites. Dostoevsky was imprisoned in Omsk for four years, where he worked in a brickmaking factory. After his release, he wrote Notes from a Dead House, a semi-autobiographical account of his time there as a prisoner. His reflections often centre on the unrelenting physical and emotional suffering of his living conditions, and the flattening of the inner lives of its inmates. “Here is the world to which I am condemned, in which, despite myself, I must somehow live,” he writes. When life was unbearable inmates “dreamed of something almost impossible. This eternal restlessness, [..] this strange fervour.” Out of that hardship, he learned that dreams, the imagination, and spiritual nourishment were no less necessary to survival of the prisons than food and shelter. For Dostoevsky, as for many other inmates, the city of Omsk became the site of grim experiment in the extremes of human existence. How does one create a home within the walls of a prison, particularly if its members’ inner lives are elsewhere?
In 1918, a new exodus came to Omsk. The White Army, retreating from St Petersburg, set up its provisional headquarters in the Siberian city. When they were defeated, the Soviet leaders shifted the pins again, removing Omsk’s state businesses and regional power to Novosibirsk, perhaps in retribution. Over the next three decades, new labour camps grew up outside the city, camps where inmates lived very like the life described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Unlike Dostoevsky, his account focusses much more on the practicalities of day-to-day life and the dramatic reversal of fortune a single piece of bread can produce. Yet in his own way, he too asks, how can one retain one’s humanity in the face of extreme suffering ?
In the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed, a new set of pins fell in Omsk, as businessmen in Moscow took charge of the country’s economy. Today, the biggest employer in the city is the oil giant, Gazprom. New state prisons still exist around Omsk, and citizens still experience this close relationship with the penal system.
Omsk has long been the destination for others going into exile or looking to pull wealth out of the ground, but for Nikita Pozdnykov, it is his hometown. Home and exile, displacement and belonging, meaning and meaninglessness – the central paradoxes and central questions of Russian art and literature converge again here, in his wintery landscapes.