Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art presented an exhibition by Victoria Ivanova whose paintings and digital illustrations assert that darkness cannot exist without light
Nearly 40 artworks echoing the spirit of Romanticism
Grimms’ fairy tales translated into the language of modern-day mass culture in which monsters can be simultaneously frightening and cute
Oil-on-canvas paintings revealing the lethargic dream of nature
The exhibition at Erarta features a series of Victoria Ivanova’s digital illustrations of a number of Grimm brothers’ fairy tales that a modern reader would find the most macabre and gory. Historically the emergence of the Grimms’ collection was spurred by the revived interest in German popular culture and the call for national identity in the time of Napoleonic wars. Facing the horrors of war, proponents of the Romantic movement who used to idolise major historical figures now eagerly searched for new heroes in folk songs and tales. Around the same time philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte voiced out his ideas of the spirit of nation. Coming across the accounts of eyes being poked out with thorns or scenes of cannibalism in the Grimms’ tales, one can’t help wondering whether these can be attributed to the same national spirit. In her artistic practice, Victoria Ivanova investigates exactly this aspect of the folk tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – the subconscious ‘spirit of the nation’ later suppressed by literary tradition. Far from demonising her characters, the artist translates fairy tales into the language of modern-day mass culture in which monsters can be simultaneously frightening and cute. Take, for instance, Rumpelstiltskin, who would be rather amusing had it not been for the outrageous contract he had forced on his ‘client,’ claiming the latter’s firstborn child in return for a magical service. Folk tradition, however, has its own ideas of justice, inevitably causing the downfall of evil, as in this tale which sees the abominable dwarf tear himself in two in his rage – a vision both ridiculous and terrifying.
The echo of the Romantic tradition in Victoria Ivanova’s art is also evident in the Forest painting series. Romantic landscapes are essentially metaphysical, manifesting the close encounter between the person’s inner spirit and the outer spirit permeating all creation. Rather than depictions of reality, these are landscapes of the artist’s soul. The discovery of such subjects as ancient ruins and snow-covered bare branches should also be credited to the Romantics. Victoria Ivanova’s pictures are not landscapes from the formal point of view. Her trees look broken and barren, like elements of some allegorical still life. With this series, the artist asserts that darkness cannot exist without light. As if by sunbeams, the impenetrable gloom of being is pierced by tree trunks which seem to exude a magical light of their own. These dry stumps transcend the very idea of death: inside their rotten trunks, under the scraps of bark, they teem with the invisible life of beetles and lichens. Victoria Ivanova’s paintings present a vision of the lethargic dream of nature – not the ‘nature morte’ of the Romance languages, but a ‘still life’ per se.