(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.v Berlin
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: Leningrad 80s • No.111 >>
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov • Diaries 1979–1983
by Hannelore Fobo, June 2022
|Chapter 1. Reflections on art and creation|
|Chapter 2. Impulses for art|
|Chapter 3. Leningrad artist groups and exhibitions|
The foundation of the New Artists in 1982
|List of artists, writers, and musicians|
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Diary III, 1982 (p. 3-16)
Between the ages of twenty-four and twenty-eight, (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov kept a diary, more exactly, four successive diaries, spanning the period from September 1979 to August 1983. In March 2022, these diaries, presented in a custom-made box, went to the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Special Collection at Harvard University, as part of a larger donation by Catherine Mannick, in Boston, and (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov and Hannelore Fobo, in Berlin external link >>. Apart from the diaries, the donation includes Mannick’s and Kozlov’s correspondence (1979-1990) more>>, Kozlov’s mail art and other items. All items will be made available for further research at the Fung Library.
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Portrait with Box for my Diaries,
I first published the diaries with images and transcriptions online in 2017, and have since continued adding notes and translations. The website of Fung Library, which will also display images and transcriptions of the diaries, will be provided with links to Kozlov’s website, so that researchers can gather additional information in the notes and follow updates.
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Diary I, pp 28-29, with transcription and translation
The 2017 publication became No 31 of “Leningrad 80s”, a section on Kozlov’s website documenting my large research project dedicated to Leningrad’s prolific art and music scene of the ninety-eighties, mostly illustrated with pictures and original documents from Kozlov’s and some other archives more >>. “Leningrad 80s” consists, to date, of more than one hundred articles, of which some are in fact detailed discussions of diary entries or document specific data from the entries. Kozlov’s own interpretation of his handwriting has been of great help to interpret his abbreviations and correctly transcribe the diary texts, especially those parts he wrote in a hurry, when trying to catch up with the speed of his thoughts. He often crossed out a word or phrase, replacing it by another, better one. Almost always, these old versions can still be read, and I kept them in the transcriptions, where they are also crossed out. They help to follow the artist’s train of thought.
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Those forty years that have passed since Kozlov wrote his diaries have made them a historical source, both with regard to Kozlov’s own work, which has been continuously evolving since that time, and with regard to the period in question – the pre-perestroika years, when the artist was an active member of Leningrad's “non-official” art-scene. With respect to the latter, Kozlov’s large photographic archive has been of great value to contextualise certain entries more >>. The same goes for catalogues and books on this period. Concerning exhibitions of Leningrad's non-official artists, the handbook of The Society for Experimental Visual Art or TEII, which spans the period from 1981 to1991, has been my first choice (short reference: TEII). It was published in 2007 by the Saint Petersburg Museum of Nonconformist Art.
Catherine Mannick, Leningrad, May 1983
It is a well-known fact that contextualising historical documents is an on-going process, especially when, as in the case of the diaries, only some of texts are dated. (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov’s and Catherine Mannick’s correspondence (1979-1990), which I reconstructed in 2021, became another important source of information for the diaries in regard to the period from October 1982 to June 1983, when the young Boston law student studied in Moscow. During these months, Mannick and Kozlov were able to meet a number of times, and these encounters find their echo in the diaries.
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Diary II (approx. July 1980 to the end of 1981)
The four diaries are rather small, each in a format of roughly twelve cms height and eight cms width, containing up to one hundred pages (not counting some empty pages) inside a plastic cover. On the opening pages, the diaries display the respective number in Roman numerals – I, II, II, and IV – whereas the page numbers haven been given Arabic numerals. However, for the purpose of this article, I unified the numerals. Thus “p. 1-34” refers to Diary I, page 34, and “p. 2-10-27” to pages ten to twenty-seven of Diary II.
This is why he used the diaries not only for reflections on art and art-related topics, but also as notebooks for appointments, timetables of trains (p. 4-78), addresses of acquaintances, a shutter release table for his camera (p. 2-09), standard sizes of envelopes accepted by the post office (p. 3-85), or other useful information when being out on the street. Likewise, he would tear off a page or two when he needed blank paper. On the first page of each diary, above the diary number, he wrote his full name and address, so that in case the book was lost, there was a chance that it might be returned to him – unless it fell into the hands of the KGB. Whether any of the entries was particularly risky, is difficult to say today. But the fact that the diaries contain a number of foreign addresses from so-called capitalist countries – France, Germany, USA – might have raised suspicion. Yet another entry could have caused troubles: a long poem written in the slang of Gulag inmates (pp. 3-60-66) Kozlov copied it from the book The Stalin White Sea-Baltic Canal. The History of its Construction, 1931-1934, (Moscow, 1934). After NKVD director Yagoda, who organised the construction, was executed in a show trial in 1936, almost the entire edition was destroyed, but Kozlov got hold of one of the remaining books. The book’s illustrations also inspired some of his works.
Why he started writing a diary in September 1979, Kozlov no longer remembers. Perhaps he was actually looking for a notebook to do away with all those loose papers he needed to note appointments etc., and then found it convenient to write down his thoughts. As a matter of fact, the term “diary” shouldn't be taken literally, since Kozlov didn’t write on a daily basis. After June 1983, the entries practically come to an end, before they stop altogether in August 1983, exactly four years after the first entry. This is not considering an appointment with his dentist on December 20, 1983, as this note might have been written several months earlier. A page with some other undated notes follows, and the remaining twenty-two pages of Diary IV are left empty. Again, Kozlov doesn’t remember why the notes ended at that point, but what can be said for certain is that it was the only time when he kept a diary. What comes closest to the diaries is a texted sketchbook from the second half of the 1980s.
Because of their twofold diary-notebook purpose, the handwritten records are often somewhat fragmentary and not always easily understood. On closer examination, however, they can be grouped into three main categories, all of them related to art in one way or another: 1) reflections on art and creation, 2) impulses for Kozlov’s own art, and 3) exhibitions of Leningrad's non-official artists and discussions of their works. These topics cover the larger part of the texts and are discussed in the next chapters.
Viktor Labutov (with Kozlov's dog "Mars") and Kolya Vlasov at E-E Kozlov's Peterhof flat.
By contrast, there is little reference to Kozlov’s closest friends Viktor and Nikolai (Kolya), who did not belong to the Leningrad art-scene. Generally speaking, their names appear when there is something noteworthy. Thus, we read the name of Viktor in an adventurous story from August 1982, when they both nearly drowned as a violent storm came up while they were fishing on a small boat in the Baltic Sea (p. 3-29). We may say that with his closest friends, Kozlov shared many interests except for art, while he felt connected to his artist friends through art, but without sharing their daily life, as they all did. Living in Petrodvorets, as Peterhof was called between 1944 and 1997, meant going to Leningrad for a reason, and the reason was to partake in art events.
Not surprisingly, Kozlov’s most intimate thoughts went to art and his position in the world as an artist. There is one exception, a deeply moving account of his father’s death from August 1980 (p. 2-10-27). The upper corners of the pages had been glued together. Kozlov opened them for me when the diaries went to an exhibition at the Kiasma, Helsinki, in 2007, and we decided not to close them again.
Kozlov’s position as an artist expresses his general position towards the world – to create, with a painting or drawing, “new relationships and forms” (p. 3-78). Two paintings mark a turning point: “Tuaregs”, later called “Noli Me Tangere”, from the end of 1982, and “The Strike Brigades Had Their Own Musicians” (also “Commissars”), completed at the beginning of 1983. They are discussed a number of times; here are two examples:
23 January 1983 (p. 3-76-77)
Last night I finished “The Strike Brigades Had Their Own Musicians”.
I searched and found new ways of expression.
2 February 1983 (p. 4-03)
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
To search and find new ways of expression is Kozlov’s mission. These days, he frequently refers to it as “my task in this world” (моя задача в этом мире). Yet what he decided for himself at a very early age didn’t meet the approval of his parents. They were sympathetic with his passion for art and even sent him a secondary art school. But in the 1970s, when he failed the entrance examinations to the Fashion Designer study course at Mukhina School, Leningrad's prestigious Higher School of Art and Industry (present-day Stieglitz Academy), they expected him to get a proper job; it would give him time to draw on the weekends. Only after he cut his veins, they decided to no longer insist.
Mukhina Higher School of Art and Industry. Booklet providing information
Nor did his position meet the approval of the Soviet State, although on merely formal grounds. Without holding an art-school diploma, he wasn’t considered a professional artist. It meant that he couldn’t apply for a studio, sell his own works legally or enjoy any of the other privileges granted to official artists. It also meant that he had to get one of these “proper” jobs to prove that he was not a social parasite, since, according to Lenin, “He who does not work shall not eat”. But as a rule, these low-paid jobs lasted for just a couple of months (the shortest lasted for a week), and there were often considerable breaks between one job and the next. On the other hand, the difficulties of being a “non-official” artist never diminished his own responsibly towards art. At the beginning of 1983, he wrote “At 27, I can't waste time on leisure any more, I spent too much time on it when I was younger.” (p. 3-80) Paradoxically, his visits to Leningrad didn’t become less frequent during the following years. But he converted them into his art. In the quietness of Peterhof, at “Galaxy Gallery”, as he called his flat, he developed and printed his pictures of performances, happenings or simply encounters with friends and used them for collages, portraits, and multifigure compositions.
Mukhina Higher School of Art and Industry. Booklet providing information
Besides, Kozlov failed the entrance examinations to Mukhina School twice, despite the fact that he had taken special preparation courses. Given his talent, it is hard to guess what caused his failed attempts. Perhaps he botched the “History of the Soviet Union” exam. Or perhaps his nude drawings and sketches of figures were too sensual and not quite what the school required.
Whatever the case, Kozlov says that in hindsight, he is happy that his application to Mukhina School wasn’t successful, wondering what would have become of his imagination and creativity after five years of classes.
Looking at the years from 1979 to 1983, one may come to the conclusion that on the outside, Kozlov’s life wasn’t much different from that of any other Soviet citizen, and if external circumstances weren’t favourable for his existence as an artist, the same can be said about most of his artist friends, who, like him, were “non-official” artists. Yet art offered him a reality which was fundamentally different from the reality he experienced in his daily life. In an undated entry from early 1982, he noted:
– Completely free with respect to creation,
– Absolutely audacious with respect to forms.
1982 (p. 3-16)
Which of these realities was the real one, the one constituted by art or that of the outside world? It’s a question the artist asked himself two years earlier, while observing Novikov’s hands:
28 March 1980 (p. 1-38)
A few pages later, he gives an answer in favour of art.
12 May 1980
Yet it would be wrong to consider Kozlov’s attitude as an escape from reality, because ultimately, to search and find new ways of expression means to transform the world. Without doubt, Kozlov’s understanding of his task in life was diametrically opposed to the crude principle of Socialist realism, which saw the artist’s role as that of an “engineer or the human soul”. There is nothing mechanical in Kozlov’s approach to carrying out a work of art:
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Diary III , pp 54-55.
The “mystery of the soul” is kept in a place sheltered from one’s social existence. It contradicts a famous communist myth, namely that the social existence of men determines their consciousness, as Karl Marx wrote in his Preface to a Critique of Political Economy (1859). Knowledge of such a place leads to a different form of consciousness.
Admittedly, Marx wasn’t entirely wrong. A large part of Soviet art reflects the social existence of men in one way or another, and besides, the West expected it to do just that. In America, Komar and Melamid’s paintings and objects with Stalin or Lenin became Pop art in the same sense as Andy Warhol’s silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe.
The first part of Marx’s dictum also needs clarification. At first glance, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence” seems to be a truism. After all, we cannot think about our existence before we exist, and therefore, something has determined our present existence before we start reflecting about it. Yet on closer examination, the “present existence”, when defined as an intersection of the past and the future, is fictitious: it is a point without dimension and no more than a question of one’s perspective. The perspective changes from being inside time to being outside time when the boundaries between the creator and the material used for creation disappear:
1982 (p. 3-05)
The diaries show that being able to change one’s perspective is not a question related to living in any particular political system. It is universal to all humans. In Kozlov’s words, it means achieving “a state of performance” where one is completely free.
 От Ленинграда к Санкт-Петербургу
Hannelore Fobo, June 2022
Published 19 June 2022