Irina Nakhova

Room no. 2

1984

Artist
Irina Nakhova born 1955
Original title
Komnata no. 2
Medium
Constructed room with vinyl, canvas, 7 photographs, gelatin silver prints on paper and 1 work on paper, graphite, gouache and ink on paper, on board
Dimensions
Displayed: 2600 x 4000 x 4000 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2017
Reference
T14789

Summary

Room No.2 1984 is the second in a series of four installations devised by Irina Nakhova in the sixteen-metre-square studio room of her Moscow apartment between 1983 and 1986. The room installations were ephemeral environments that lasted two weeks each. Room No.2 is recreated for display according to specifications provided by the artist. The dimensions of the recreated installation correspond to the actual size of the artist’s working space stripped of any furnishing or wall decorations. In Room No. 2 Nakhova treated the space of the room as a picture plane, covering its entirety with white paper and grey-scale spray-coloured paper collage elements with broadly illusionistic, black organic shapes outlined by grey shadows. Some are arch-like forms suggestive of an opening or a passageway large enough to pass through, while the majority suggest smaller openings and uneven breaks in the surface. The artist covered all the surfaces of the room equally, including the floor and the ceiling. She has explained her process:

The room was fully covered with white paper; I collated some shapes cut out of grey and black paper on its white surface with the intention of creating an illusion of spatial interplay. So the black shapes viewed from different points could be perceived as emptiness or as flat planes due to the employment of the grey elements, which were giving it its ‘depth’. The same [effect] applies to the white surfaces. Unlike room No.1, where the viewer found himself in an indefinable space, in this room [No.2] they perceived themselves inside the space of a painting.
(Irina Nakhova, ‘Description of the Rooms’, in Biblioteka moskovskogo kontseptualizma, Moscow 2010, p.258.)

After two weeks the walls were stripped and the space reclaimed by the artist’s family. Art historian Margarita Tupitsyn has argued that the appearance of Nakhova’s total room installations was closely associated with her re-evaluation of Russian avant-garde art:

The artist’s abrupt shift to the non-objective and the ‘colorless’ [sic.], I contend, was the result of the artist’s encounter with Kazimir Malevich’s Black square (1915) in the exhibition Moscow–Paris (State Pushkin Museum, 1981). In the eyes of Moscow’s vanguard community, the Black square’s otherness, with respect to Socialist Realism, its immunity to ideological instruction, positioned this seminal modernist canvas as the ‘newfound quiet’, a new beginning for autonomous art … Nakhova broke the Black square’s silence, creating a space for interpretation and discursive accumulation.
(Margarita Tupitsyn, Irina Nakhova. The Green Pavilion, exhibition catalogue, Stella Art Foundation, Moscow 2015, pp.77 and 80.)

Room No. 1 1983, which preceded this work, was the first in which the artist transformed her studio into a different environment. The room was first covered with white paper and then cut-outs from colour magazines were glued to its surface so as to suggest a round space. Room No. 1 was created in the gloomy conditions of the ‘period of stagnation’ of the early 1980s in the Soviet Union, caused by the state’s reactionary resistance to progressive trends in politics. During this period, artists in the Soviet Union felt isolated behind the ‘iron curtain’ and, unable to change social conditions, attempted instead to transform their private environments. First Nakhova’s Rooms and then Ilya Kabakov’s (born 1933) installation The Man Who Flew into Space 1985 (Musée National d'Art Moderne/Centre George Pompodou, Paris) created quasi-environments in which viewers could experience a different dimension. Each of Nakhova’s Rooms differs from the others and all were considered personal spaces as well as artworks. Visited by friends and fellow-artists, the Rooms provided a space for contemplation and artistic debate. The photographic and audio-visual record of the environment, and the debates that took place there, documented the impact they had at the time. Ilya Kabakov, Eduard Gorokhovsky, Dmitri Prigov, Ivan Chuikov and Erik Bulatov, amongst others, visited the Rooms and were interviewed by Joseph Backstein inside Room No. 2 (‘Discussions of Nakhova Rooms’, in Biblioteka moskovskogo kontseptualizma 2010, pp.278–93). The Rooms required the viewer’s interaction and response, making them active contributors to the artwork. Transforming three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional canvas of sorts, and the artist’s studio into the work itself, Nakhova’s installations had a long-lasting impact in the circle of Moscow conceptualists whose practice at that time was mainly painting or performance-based.

Further reading
Irina Nakhova: Works 1973–2004, exhibition catalogue, The Salzburg International Summer Academy, Austria and NCCA, Moscow 2004.
Sborniki MANI. Moskovskii Arkhiv Novogo Iskusstva, Biblioteka moskovskogo kontseptualizma, Moscow 2010, pp.201–308 (in Russian).
Irina Nakhova, Rooms, exhibition catalogue, Moscow Museum of Modern Art 2011.

Natalia Sidlina
February 2016

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