11th Gwangju Biennale
2. 9. – 6. 11. 2016



Arseny Zhilyaev

Long tapestries showing images of a dark, ethereally cosmic background that were taken by the Hubble Telescope are lined up on a wall. They share some features; for example, a morphed triangle and Russian phrases written in vivid colors framing the edges. There are other characters too, like numbers and the acronym for the Russian Cosmic Federation written in mixed Chinese, Cyrillic, and Latin letters, alluding to the Empire in outer space. On their own, the tapestries seem mystifying, but when placed next to other works from the Cradle of Humankind series—for instance, the disproportionately large golden globe whose surface is marked by similar triangles—the space begins to feel much like the imaginary museum which Arseny Zhilyaev (b. 1984, Voronezh/Moscow) had intended.

In this hypothetical future the museum portrays, humans have spread into outer space, abandoning Earth. However, humans occasionally return to visit museums, where the historical archives of humanity’s past are preserved. Drawing incentive from research on museological motifs of the Russian artistic avant-garde of the turn of the last century, Zhilyaev parodies the institution of the future while combining it with his interest in Russian cosmism, proposed by the orthodox Christian philosopher Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov (1829–1903).

Cosmism is the theory of universal emancipation translated into eternal life for all human beings who have ever been alive. Like energy, human life should be indestructible and will always evolve, but will need more space and new living conditions for the vast amounts of individuals who have ever and will have ever been alive. In this way, Christian mysticism is blended with Transcendental materialism and Soviet futurism.

The golden sphere, a prehistoric spaceship said to have brought life to Earth from outer space, borrows the motif of the geodesic sphere from Buckminster Fuller’s pavilion built for the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. His concept of “Spaceship Earth” was an independent development of Fyodorov’s idea formed in the late nineteenth century. Variously shaped paintings, titled “Voskhod-Amaravella,” were made by a fictional painting brigade of the resurrected artists. The title refers to Voskhod-2, the spacecraft of Alexey Leonov, who became the first human to exit the capsule and conduct extravehicular activities in space. He also practiced as an artist, and was recognized for his paintings of outer space. One of his landscape works is quoted in a portrait of Laika (the first dog to orbit the Earth) and in two abstract pieces that refer to a little-known Soviet avant-garde group from the 1920 and 1930s. JV+AM


I have found my basic medium, museum or exhibition intuitively. I believe they are the limiting forms of artistic expression that give the artist the largest possible freedom. From my first installations onwards, I utilized “a time loop” by placing my projects into an imaginary future, from where it was possible to cast a critical eye on the present. Some of my projects address the issue of Marxist museology. The latest ones are dominated by the idea of Russian cosmists that the museum has played a significant role in human development. Thus, a fragment of The Cradle of Humanity installation that will be exhibited in Gwangju focuses on the dystopian museum of the future, where people will have left the Earth and turned it into a huge nature reserve, dedicated to the birth of life. In terms of visual representation this project derives from the Soviet museum display of the 1970s and late Soviet modernism, which blended futuristic and cosmists intuitions with pre-modernistic media (tapestry) and colours (gold).