(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.v Berlin
(Е-Е) Evgenij Kozlov
Throughout the 20th century, the rivalry between Russia and America was a factor in world affairs affecting the spiritual state of the Earth – taking the Earth to be an organism, that is. In the 1980s, Evgenij Kozlov, at the time a leading member of the Leningrad-based group The New Artists, repeatedly turned his attention to this relationship.
These works exhibit the whole stylistic range which Kozlov harnessed and developed in the course of that decade, between the ages of 25 and 34. It all starts with Мертвые Ласки Века, До… / This Century’s Dead Caresses, Up Until… (1980), a composition reminiscent both of Kasimir Malevitch’s interpretation of Russian folk art and of Vladimir Lebedev’s poster art; Вашингтон / Washington (1983) takes the form of a classical drawing; this then leads on to comics and graffiti, with everything then brought to a close with the constructivist Точки соприкосновения / Points of Contact, dating to 1989. The sketches dating to this period above all bear testament to how Evgenij Kozlov dealt with different influences in a systematic fashion, thereby creating his own style. The same may be said in relation to a whole host of Kozlov’s techniques, such as his stencilled patterns and his spraying techniques. An important role is played by the photographs which he himself developed and enlarged and subsequently collaged and overpainted. The following served as Kozlov’s media: canvas, cloth, board, and paper, plus clothing, handbags, plates, and other objects. The format of the smallest work is 9.3 x 9 cm, the largest 150 x 400 cm.
Kozlov did not treat these works as a unit. They can, however, be summarised under the title USA-CCCP, with CCCP being the Russian equivalent of USSR. USA-CCCP provided the title for a number of works from 1986 onwards in that it was actually graphically depicted in these works. Besides this, there exists – rather surprisingly – a 1987 painting entitled КИТАЙ-CCCP, i.e. CHINA-USSR, in which both protagonists are depicted as guitarists. It constitutes the companion piece to the painting PCCC-USA, which depicts an accordion player. China is seen to have joined the concert of the world powers. The question of whether this interaction is harmonic or dissonant is left hanging.
Nevertheless, Evgenij Kozlov in no way saw himself as a political artist seeking to act on behalf of one side or another or as aiming to direct a political message at the observer, as was the case with Vladimir Mayakovski. He did take from Mayakovski, stylistically speaking: this may be seen in a six-part comic strip dating to 1987-88, in which two figures are shown fighting with each other. Yet it would be arbitrary to classify CCCP or the USA as the victor or the loser in this piece. In January 2018, Kozlov expressed himself on this topic thus: “I don’t specify in my pictures who is ‘greater’ and who is ‘lesser’, as such definitions essentially express the conscious or unconscious – undoubtedly compulsive – desire firstly to set oneself against others, and secondly to oppose positions which one does not like, such as communism or capitalism. Surely the historical facts demonstrate that there are indeed differences between them, be they minimal or maximal. Yet in reality, every ruler actually makes their own land a stage for their own personal battle. […] It has never actually been the case that any single individual has had world governance at their fingertips… (– when I say ‘any single individual’, I mean ‘any individual in the material world, Earth’, not in the higher, spiritual sphere).”
Kozlov’s concept of America and Russia as being equivalent is apparent from two of his works dating from 1983: a drawing and a painting. A picture containing elements of pop art which he dedicated to his place of residence, Петродворец. Красный проспект. / Petrodvorets. Red Boulevard, was created from an urban scene entitled Вашингтон / Washington. Petrodvorets (Peterhof) is a romantic suburb of St Petersburg famous for having been the summer residence of Peter the Great.
A similar ‘double aspect’ is likewise present with respect to the two wood-mounted collages dating to 1984 which involved Kozlov combining certain of his own photos with newspaper cuttings. Not long afterwards, he applied the written elements CCCP 671 and 21 USA plus some other letters using white and blue spray paint, thereby completely changing the message of the pictures.
Depending on how narrowly or broadly you define the content-related criteria in relation to USA-CCCP, between 1980 and 1989 you reach a figure of as many as 164 works, including the sketches. Of the roughly 850 works that have been documented from this period – excluding vintage prints – those that fit the USA-CCCP category constitute somewhat less than a fifth. These ‘extended’ criteria encompass those works which are not entitled ‘USA’ or ‘CCCP’ but address Soviet or American issues in a specific, symbolic way (Комиссары / Commissars, (Ст)рах Врагам. Огни Петродворца. / Terror/Peace to the Enemy. The Fires of Petrodvorets., Америка / America, ARMY, and others).
The main focus in this context is unquestionably 1987, when the artist was engaged in reworking Soviet symbols such as the star, the hammer, and the sickle, etc. This entailed a certain degree of ‘rebranding’ the logotypes, so as to make them positive. Immediately upon completion, a number of these works went on show at large exhibitions – in Leningrad (1988), at the first international exhibitions of the New Artists at the Kulturhuset, Stockholm (1988), at the Kunsternes Hus, Aarhus (1988), and at the Bluecoat Gallery and the Tate Gallery, Liverpool (1989). The Star [Звезда] was employed as the logo of both the Aarhus and the Bluecoat (Liverpool) exhibitions, and both Звезда. 6 Фигур / Star. 6 Figures and the large flag entitled CCCP featured in exhibition guides and in the press.
Linking USA-CCCP with the political affairs of the 1980s is stating the obvious; this was the decade which saw a shift from armament to disarmament and from the Cold War to détente. This atmosphere characterises The Outward Appearance of the Relationship Between the Two World Powers [Внешний облик отношений двух держав] – the second title of the painting This Century’s Dead Caresses, Up Until….
This sees the USA and Russia deep in discussion, with each easily identified by their attributes – the USA by the top hat, tailcoat, and striped trousers, and Russia by a huge, balloon-like, red mantle. The fact that they harbour no affection for each other is apparent, but it is only on second glance that the observer sees the angel standing behind them, protecting them – and thereby also the Earth, which is floating above their hands –from mutual destruction. It is only now that the horrifying number of nuclear near catastrophes that occurred during the Cold War has come to light.
When it comes to his motifs, Kozlov has always drawn inspiration from his personal circumstances. For example, the origin of the red mantle can be traced back to a red raincoat which he had been in the habit of wearing, making him very conspicuous. As with this American-made raincoat, Kozlov’s American-made red rucksack formed the antecedent to a painting of the same name. Рюкзак / Rucksack may be considered the counterpart of This Century’s Dead Caresses, Up Until…. The painting shows the American flag above the rucksack, and the flag’s soft texture is reminiscent of Jasper Johns’ iconographic portrayal of the American flag dating to 1954 / 55. At the time, Johns was 24; Kozlov was the same age when he painted Rucksack, in 1980.
There were always rapprochements between the USA and the USSR, and the Apollo-Soyuz test project in 1975 even brought cooperation in space – which Kozlov satirized in Полет в космосе / Flying in the Cosmos (1986). However, it was only during the course of perestroika that the stereotypical enmity gradually petered out. This brought about the first disarmament talks between Gorbachev and Reagan, leading to the signing of the INF treaty in 1987, whereby short and medium range missiles were banned and destroyed. The Soviet Union was no longer portrayed as ‘the evil empire’, and America was no longer set forth as ‘the rotting West’. In 1987, Kozlov created a work on paper in 171 x 354 cm format, entitled CuCsCaP (Сто вопросов и ответов) / CuCsCaP (A Hundred Questions and Answers), with the letters CCCP and USA being interlaced. The paper-based surface is made up of approximately 250 individual photographs containing images of Kozlov’s friends and acquaintances – artists and musicians – who remain partially visible underneath the paint.
1988 saw production of the cycle Art из CCCP / Art для USA (Art from the USSR / Art for the USA) on bus-stop bill boards displaying typical Soviet street names such as Comintern Street and Lenin Boulevard that have been partly overpainted. This was the year some of the New Artists first travelled abroad to visit so-called capitalist countries; Evgenij Kozlov’s first trip abroad took place in 1990. It seemed the opening up of the Soviet Union was irreversible.
In 1989, the artist brought his preoccupation with this theme to an end via a major work, Points of Contact, mentioned above. It is a starkly symbolic composition showing the polarity between the USA and the CCCP – yet it simultaneously portrays this polarity being overcome. The motif is based on a sketch from 1988 which was completed in a felt-lined cutlery tray. The USA and the CCCP are portrayed as a couple, a woman and a man, with the question of who represents who being left to the viewer. Each has a black dot and a red dot on their head and stomach, though in reverse – the man having a black one on his head and a red one of his stomach, the woman having a red dot on her head and a black one on her stomach. The viewer instinctively joins these points together to form two diagonally-crossing lines – a cross of St Andrew – creating an equilibrium in the dynamic force of the two poles.
These dots are actually circles, the circle being the two-dimensional representation of a sphere, or a globe – i.e. the Earth, spectacularly depicted in Kozlov’s series of photographs portraying two pregnant women. Using two signs that cover their faces, the two women introduce themselves as CCCP and USA. The artist first enlarged the photographs, then painted over them. By casting a net over their bodies formed from longitude and latitude, Kozlov fashioned the scene, comprising two women standing back to back, into a globe. The profiles of the two women accurately illustrate the curvature of the Earth’s surface: together, CCCP and USA form the globe. – They are life-bearing.
In his 1991 manifesto entitled Two Cosmic Systems, Evgenij Kozlov described how he uses art to tie together two opposing points of view. This involves differentiating between The First Cosmic System, which envisages a notion and an understanding of art – of how it is admired and enjoyed, its focus and development – from the perspective of earthly laws. Broadly speaking, The Second Cosmic System envisages a cosmos-based perspective vis-à-vis creation, entailing the artist “having been born in space and having gone through his entire journey of development and formation within that realm”.
He continues, “Though it is possible to think in such terms, the only way to follow how it develops is via one’s feelings, whereby desire and inspiration lead to a natural merging of the two systems”.
The laws which operate on Earth are shaped through dichotomies – antagonistic, single-sided phenomena: CCCP on the one hand, USA on the other. The cosmos-based perspective produces a levelling of the dichotomies: what we see is a single Earth. The merging of both systems preserves the earthly reality (the unilateral entities in the form of CCCP and USA), and joins them together – though by means of artistic intuition, i.e. via the cosmos-based perspective.
Art thereby shows us a potential way ahead, which, far from simplifying the reality, actually synthesizes the antagonisms at a higher level. “The future always holds out hope,” as Evgenij Kozlov put it.
That is what differentiates this approach from political art, whose Utopia strives not for synthesis, but for a single-sided position, by appealing for the elimination of any other single-sided positions. Kozlov’s art may be referred to as dialectic, whereas political art can be referred to as non-dialectic.
In seeking to connect the two poles, USA and CCCP, Kozlov had set himself a formidable task. He did not always achieve a result with which he was satisfied. All that remains of one particular picture dating to 1986 is a black-and-white photograph. The portrayal of the two central figures fell short of being unequivocal. Whether the one is rescuing the other – which was Kozlov’s intention – or whether the one has the other in a fatal hold, or whether, indeed, they are in a sexual relationship, is unclear to the observer. Upon its completion, the artist burned the picture at a location on the Gulf of Finland.
This very ambiguity in terms of interpretation would have been very enlightening in this day and age. Thirty years after Points of Contact, it became apparent that the rapprochement between Russia and America was not at all irreversible. In 2018, we detect processes on the part of both powers indicating an increasingly aggressive self-assertiveness.
This is most evident in contexts where stereotypical enmity has been passed down: for America, it is all about ‘the enemy without’ – in the economic sense; when it comes to Russia, it is all about ‘the enemy within’ – exemplified by the repression of independent-minded individuals and organisations.
Evgenij Kozlov refers to these processes as “the closed-space issue”: political systems sealing themselves off from each other, the same as individuals – only in increased measure – in order to assert their own perspective. This delineation actually contradicts their inner nature, resulting in a tendency for them to produce a state of ill health. After all, the desire for power (i.e. money) stands contrary to the desire for intellectual openness and intellectual connection.
To that extent, it may appear that in relation to The Outward Appearance of the Relationship Between the Two World Powers, the definition provided by the original title of this work from 1980 remains valid even in the 21st century: This Century’s Dead Caresses, Up Until….
Be that as it may, China now unquestionably plays a role; how this will impact the Earth as an organism will become apparent in the not-too-distant future.
Hannelore Fobo, 2018
English translation: Kieran Scarffe, www.advocatelanguage.co.uk
|Last updated 8 January 2019