03.09.2014

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  • contemporary architecture

Anna Bronovitskaya about the exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" that was designed by Eugene and Kirill Aces and Nadezhda Korbut.

On August 28, Moscow's "New Manezh" opened the exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War” - Russia in World War I in documentaries, photos, and records. The authors of its design, or, rather the authors of the space arrangement solution that articulates its exposition, are Eugene Ace, Kirill Ace, and Nadezhda Korbut. Otherwise, the curator lineup is complex and sophisticated: besides the leader of the project (Zelphira Tregulova), the scientific supervisor (Sergey Mironenko), scientific curators (Olga Barkovets, Aleksey Litvin), designers (Alexander Vasin and Julia Kondratyeva), there are also an executive director (Pavel Lungin) and just a director (Elena Yakovich). The high-quality lighting was provided by Alexander Starovoitov's "Special Montage Service". Without the insider information, making sense of each participant's input would have been next to impossible, but one sure could appreciate the result: the exhibition of historic materials is presented as a striking show in which architecture plays one of the key parts. Actually, it is architecture that creates the visuality - because, in spite of the presence of a few large pictures, most of the exhibits are but old black-and-white photographs, written records, and documentary footage that also needed to be turned into the material component of the exposition. 


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace

The territory of the "New Manezh", the two long halls running out from the lobby, is completely transformed and looks nothing like the typical white box. The first part that is dedicated to the pre-war years and its very beginning, is designed in the spirit of Adolf Loos. In fact, the space of the hall "houses" a home interior with wooden floors and walls painted white, blue, and terra cotta colors. This house is cozy and barely perceptibly "Viennese-style", putting one simultaneously in the mind of Haus Steiner, Secession House, and the Museum of Applied Arts. The Austrian association is quite appropriate here: at the entrance, we are at once reminded that World War I broke out from the incident that happened in the Gabbsburg Empire, preceded by a local war in the South-Eastern Europe. And as for the "home" atmosphere, it conveys the relaxed state in which the future enemies had all been up to the beginning of the all-European catastrophe. The large hall looks like a dining-room thanks to the fact that its middle is occupied by a table of quite a regular kind, though covered, instead of dish-ware, with impeccably lighted showcases with documents and photos. Encased into neat frames, old prints hang on the walls in a quite "homely" manner. One of them is dedicated to the family gatherings of the cousins Nicolas, Wilhelm, and George; one also sees here the inevitable in such cases portrait of Queen Victoria, their grandmother. The peaceful tranquility by inertia carries on even after the war is declared. It permeates even the photos of the three sons of the Great Prince Konstantin clad in uniform, and the simple soldiers who had their photo taken before they were sent to the frontline. Only the artists with the sensitivity inherent to them describe the events in the terms of Apocalypse: these are the "Mystical Images of War" by Natalia Goncharova, and the collages by Olga Rosanova that illustrate Aleksey Kruchenykh book "Universal War". 


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya

The next section that explores the topic of war nurses and the role that women played in that war is by contrast abstract and detached. Here, instead of the clear wooden walls with openings, white curtains are waving, sometimes dividing the sections with "table" showcases and sometimes serving as screens on which the documentary footage is projected. The solution is very simple and at the same time very effective: we are either in a medical tent or in a hospital ward, meaning - in the world ruled by women, or maybe even on our way to heaven up above. The transcendental note is reminiscent of the white curtains of the installation "Cistern", made in 2011 by Alexander Brodsky. Probably, not by chance - Nadezhda Korbut and Kirill Ace have been working in Brodsky's studio for years. 


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya

As for the third part of the exposition that occupies the entire second hall, it is not only far from being minimalist - it is baroque-expressive, and for a good reason, too: it shows the battles, the heroism, the killings in action, the patriotic calls, and the inglorious withdrawal from the war by the country that was never to be the same again. By the contrast with the first light half, it is dark here. From the darkness, spots of light stand out: light boxes with the pictures of military men, battle maps, backlit showcases, screens with documentaries, and the rectangles of paintings. The dramatic contrast of light and shade is enhanced by the opposition of order and chaos. The rectangular grid of the walls gets broken up by slanted strokes - the showcases and the screens look as if they are moving. The vertigo is still enhanced by the fact that the floor is covered with crumpled metal sheets. They glitter like the surface of a sea in which the ships are slowly sinking, and ominously rattle under the visitors' feet. The chaos brings death and destruction: dissected into fields, the wall with the portraits of Saint George's Cross Chevaliers looks like the wall of a cinerarium; the black podiums of the showcases - like coffins. The largest architectural element here is the "headquarters building", upon ascending to which one can cast his eye over space of the hall that is prolonged by a mirror sidewall and... feel all the helplessness of the commanders. Surprising though it is, the exposition in the "headquarters" is dedicated not to the High Command but to General Brusilov who was the first to claim that he "puts his loyalty to Russia on top of his loyalty to the Emperor". The logic of the exposition leads the visitor from the beginning of the hall where the main topic is the battle glory and patriotic calls to the last exhibit - the electronic copy of Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Looking back, the visitor sees that the textile screens that used to look like holy banners have now turned into the soviet red flags. 


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya

Basically, one does not even have to turn around - all he needs to do is look up to see the perspective of the hall reflected in the mirror, together with himself. This is an unexpected and even a shocking sensation: the light is adjusted in such a way that until the last moment one does not realize that it is a mirror in front of him or her - and then finds himself or herself amidst coffins floating over the sea. This is the most powerful but not the only stylistic device used by the authors of the exposition to warp the historical time and to actualize the message of the exhibition that consists of three dates: 1914/1918/2014. The first "homely" part has two such tricks in it. One of them is a peculiar automatic "monarchical altar". On the wall, there is quite a kitsch kerchief with the portraits of Nicolas the Emperor and Alexandra the Empress, while beneath them there is a rather low showcase with a page from Russia's first population census with their names ("Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov, the master of the land of Russia Alexandra Fedorovna Romaniva, the mistress of the land of Russia"). To get a better look of the records, the visitor bends over - and involuntary makes a deep bow to the monarchical couple. The second trick is purely visual. The sheets of "Universal War" by Kruchenykh and Rosanova are grouped in eights in a black passé partout, looking like a window sash: this way, the architects hint that the events that are reflected here have not quite remained in the past, separated from today by a safe century-long distance. And, as far as the "hospital" part is concerned, it creates a fully realistic impression of merging with the afterworld. The curtains are semi-transparent, and the figures of the visitors that show through them look just as immaterial as the moving shadows of people that lived and died a hundred years ago. 


Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya

The exhibition projects with a large budget and an international participation take a long time to prepare, and in the very beginning nobody could even think that "Look into the Eyes of War" would open against the background of headlines about a full-scale war and fruitless attempts of the top public officials to grope for a diplomatic solution; that the exhibition would be much more vital than anybody expected it to be. The choice of the hall, the huge amount of the members of the royal family, and the very fact that at the inauguration an address was made by Dmitry Medvedev - make one suppose that the exhibition was meant to be a state-and-patriotic one. The resulting artistic statement, however, bears a totally different meaning. Go and watch.

Translated by Anton Mizonov
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Anna Bronovitskaya
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace
Exhibition "Look into the Eyes of War" . Photo courtesy by Eugene Ace

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