Pioneering Russian artists Igor Makarevich (b.1943) and Elena Elagina (b.1951) are to hold their first exhibition in the UK at Club Row, Rochelle School from 5th November. In the show they use the hallucinogenic magic mushroom as a metaphor for the irrationality that pervades modern culture in the same way as it pervaded ancient mystical practices. One of the central pieces of the show is a sculpture in which the iconic symbol of modernism, Vladimir Tatlin’s tower, sprouts from the top of a fly-agaric mushroom, representing the visionary and utopian nature of the Russian avant-garde. A series of photomontages of buildings in Moscow emphasise the fungal characteristics of much twentieth century architecture. Such humour suggests that hallucinatory visions are not the sole province of shamans, lunatics or dropouts – they are a facet of modern life.
Makarevich and Elagina, partners both in art and in life, belong to the group of Moscow Conceptualists working alongside the internationally recognised artists Ilya Kabakov, Erik Bulatov and Oleg Vassiliev, that produced a new language for art in Russia when links with the West were still closed. Their performances with the ‘Collective Actions’ group during the 1970s and 1980s remain legendary.
The exhibition will present five objects, twelve new paintings and a ten photo-collages. Though inspired by the Russian avant-garde masters Kasimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin, the theme of hallucination also relates to the politics of memory. When Elagina attended the academy she was taught by the avant-gardist Alisa Poret, student of the visionary painter Pavel Filonov – creator of psychedelic, fractured and hallucinatory images – and a pioneering performance artist in her own right. By then, however, Poret had been reduced to extolling the primacy of Socialist Realism. ‘It was as if the whole avant-garde movement was just a hallucination’, Elagina relates.
Igor Makarevich and Yelena Elagina have been exhibited in museums worldwide including the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg; the Pompidou Centre, Paris; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Ludwig Museum, Cologne; the Akademie der Kunste, Berlin; and the Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Ludwingshafen.
The exhibition is curated by Nana Zhvitiashvili, Co-founder of ARTiculte Art Fund and a curator at the Department of Contemporary Art at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg; and Nadim Julien Samman, an independent curator pursuing doctoral research on the history of Russian post-communist art at the Courtauld Institute.
Makarevich & Elagina: Mushrooms of the Russian Avant-Garde essay