Pains and Pleasure of Social Life 2.0 (a letter to Pietro Gaglianò)
I have reread what you sent me. It’s a theme which I have been reflecting on for some time. These reflections coincide very much with my most recent journeys towards the Global South and Fragmentary North, along with a regret and a thought about the fact that, for example, Russian artists are not recognised in the West because, although theirs looks like a “Western” culture, the thought developed tends to come across and very locally-focused and thus uninteresting. I should confess that I have also had to try and fit in and seek out my own path: not belonging fully to European culture, my archetypes are still profoundly Russian, Pagan, “Eastern”. Yet at the same time, today we have the advantage of being able to research on levels that are specific, mental and anarchic (also in the true sense of not belonging to a nation or state), on supranational levels, such as that of science. In fact, scientific communities overstep geographical, national and racial borders with great ease (not always, but still it’s a very elastic and meritocratic community). Scientific development, especially the discoveries in the quantum world and in that of neurobiology, have made it possible to uncover the physiological mechanisms that – in the depths of our societies – manipulate the behaviours of the community, of individual and group reactions in the face of injustice or the altruistic behaviour of individuals etc. As an artist, and as the daughter of scientists, I have always been fascinated by infinite possibilities, by unexpected explanations, by scientific paradigms and above all, by the poetry of the concept of the absence of impossibility.
Perhaps an important element was also my Soviet education, in which scientific values often prevailed over intellectual or cultural ones. If we speak of geography, hence of intensely developed areas or remote untouched corners, I am reminded of how in the Soviet Union there was the phenomenon of the “public lessons of popular science”. During these genuine tours, the scientists of the most famous Universities would travel across the country (even more immense at that time than Russia is now) in order to give public lessons, to offer an accessible explanation to farmers, students, factory workers and housewives throughout the land of the advances made by science. It may seem bizarre, and it might sound like a waste of time, but these lessons were very much loved and they actually worked. My own father, an electrophysicist, also did a great number of them, even in the most far-flung places.
And so today, my obsession with the evolution of science is translated into the attempt to bring it into the sphere of intimacy, of humanity and of the primordial, measuring the differences and the possible convergences between apparently incomparable dimensions.
This is where my works originate, representing the transformation of our habits, along with our malleability with regard to the continuous “intrusions” of science in everyday life. My drawings are mostly abstract, but they often have a thread of “hardline realism” running through them. They form the crossroads between the language of propaganda posters, the science lessons and the hand-drawn illustrations of neurobiological sci-fi literature. In the drawings, I try to synthesize and bring together the senses so as to eliminate any superfluous elements; adhering openly to reality (or the incongruous contents of reality, of life); giving a concrete image to a notion, a theory, even if it borders on the impossible or on outright abstraction.
The drawings speak of unforeseeable changes to the landscape and of sentiments rooted in the ruins of an almost distant past, and try to show something which has to do with the future, vaguely conjugating the contemporary scenario with visions of a harsh and primitive world; the characteristics of a particular disposition towards a kind of concreteness / realism, one at times very crude and carnal, yet which so much Russian literature has dealt with since the 19th century.
All the images:
Mixed media on paper, 67 x 88 cm 2011-2012. Courtesy the artist
Elèna Nemkova is a visual artist. She lives and works in Milan and St. Petersburg.