Irina Nakhova

Simultaneous Contrast

1989

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Artist
Irina Nakhova born 1955
Original title
Odnovremennyi kontrast
Medium
2 oil paintings on canvas, photo album containing 34 photographs, gelatin silver prints on paper and 1 work on paper, ink, coloured pencil on paper, on board
Dimensions
Overall display dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisitions Fund for Russian Art, supported by V-A-C Foundation 2017
Reference
T14790

Summary

Simultaneous Contrast 1989 is a diptych of two paintings in oil on canvas each measuring two metres in height. The two canvases are displayed side by side and share a multi-layered structure. They depict the bare interior walls of a devastated building, seen from different angles, rendered in a restricted gray-scale palette to create an austere background. The three-dimensionality of the suggested space is distorted by a number of translucent scarlet and green cloud-like shapes in the foreground, overlaying the architectural structure. The scarlet shape on the left-hand canvas appears to bleed towards the viewer, an angular green-coloured shape in its centre. Its growth is visually restricted by three strands of painted rope crossing the lower part of the canvas that metaphorically bind the composition together. The scarlet translucent cloud in the foreground of the right-hand canvas appears to gravitate towards the small square green opening in its centre, while the three ropes no longer stretch across the image but are tied loosely at the right of the image to the wall of the building in the background.

The work’s title, Simultaneous Contrast, reflects on the complex structure of the diptych, where the suggested three-dimensionality and restricted palette of the background are in direct contrast with the two-dimensional flattened shapes of the foreground. Such spatial ambiguity is linked to the visual effects of the human eye that, upon entry into a darkened space from broad daylight, tends to confuse two- and three-dimensionality.

Simultaneous Contrast was created by Irina Nakhova at her studio space within her Moscow apartment in 1989, the year that marked the collapse of the Eastern bloc. The inspiration for the work was initially provided by the artist’s discovery of a 1930s photographic album from the Stalin era compiled by civil engineers who had been tasked with the demolition of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on the Miusskaya Square in central Moscow. Photographs assembled in a leather-bound album with Vladimir Lenin’s profile on the cover recorded the results of a series of explosions that destroyed the edifice. As is evident from two of the artist’s studies on paper for Simultaneous Contrast, the background of the diptych’s composition is based on two photographs of the cathedral’s partly destroyed eastern wall. The subject matter chosen by Nakhova reflects on the parallels between the collapse of the old Christian system of values in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, marked by the mass demolition of churches, and the more recent collapse of Soviet ideology, culminating in the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In an interview in 2004, the artist commented: ‘Spiral and sequential approach, the use of the same elements in different situations, multiplication, fragmentation, superimposition of different images and spaces, interest in space in general – not just visual but intellectual, mental, psychological and physical space and its ambiguity – are still my fields of exploration.’ (Quoted in Salzburg International Summer Academy and NCCA 2004, p.9.)

The creation of mindscapes has been at the core of Nakhova’s artistic practice since 1983, the year she presented her first ‘environment’ – Room No.1 – within the four walls of her living room, followed by Room No.2 in 1984 (Tate T14789). Her series of Rooms, dating from between 1983 and 1986, anticipated Ilya Kabakov’s (born 1933) iconic installations of the mid-1980s dubbed ‘total installations’, that is environments ‘constructed in such a way as to include [the] spectator within it’ (quoted in http://www.conceptualism-moscow.org/page?id=198&lang=en, accessed 20 February 2016). Nakhova’s interest in architecture and interior spaces reflected on the general situation in the former Soviet Union with its restricted personal freedom and total absence of public exhibition spaces for non-official art display. The creation of ‘inner spaces’, both in her paintings and her total installations, was the main driving force behind Nakhova’s artistic practice of the 1980s and she continues to combine painting, sculpture and new media into interactive installations and environments. Her recent project The Green Pavilion 2015 (shown at the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015) draws on the disturbing nature of contrasting green and scarlet shapes in a three-dimensional environment, first explored in the Simultaneous Contrast diptych of 1989.

Further reading
Irina Nakhova: Works 1973–2004, exhibition catalogue, The Salzburg International Summer Academy, Austria and NCCA, Moscow 2004.
Irina Nakhova, Rooms, exhibition catalogue, Moscow Museum of Modern Art 2011.
Margarita Tupitsyn, Irina Nakhova. The Green Pavilion, exhibition catalogue, Stella Art Foundation 2015.

Natalia Sidlina
February 2016

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Our Collective History: Legacies of Soviet visual culture

Natalia Sidlina , Juliet Bingham , Emilia Kabakov , Andrei Monastyrski , Irina Nakhova and Arseny Zhilyaev

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