| RUSSIAN PAVILION “VICTORY OVER THE FUTURE”
53rd INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA 2009
Alexei Kallima was born in Chechnya, but left Grozny as a refugee in 1994 and came to Moscow. He is well-known as perhaps the only contemporary Russian artist whose work reflects the Chechen theme that is now such a bête noire. The heroes of his monumental graffiti-frescoes scrawled across gallery and exhibition hall walls are young Chechens – maybe terrorists, or maybe just illegal immigrants. Unshaven, endowed with a wild feral grace and arrayed in Adidas tracksuits, dark glasses and woolly hats, their striking, tough-guy appearance calls to mind characters in Dark Future war game fantasies, or gangsta-rap heroes – the representatives of a new subculture, even 'style icons' of street fashion. For some of his graffiti Kallima uses fluorescent paint only visible in the rays of 'black light' – the artwork materialises in a darkened room but when ordinary lights are switched on the picture vanishes. As befits characters who are outside the law (or human fears), Kallima's heroes only inhabit the dark. Another nocturnal scene, the monumental fresco 'Chelsea-Terek' recording an imaginary match between the English and Chechen football clubs, earned Kallima the Innovation State Prize for a contemporary artwork.
Perhaps the artist clothes his heroes in Adidas and shows them in a stadium not only because sport and tracksuits are real constituents of everyday life among marginal sectors of the population. In the aesthetics of Alexei Kallima's frescoes there are visible references not only to graffiti and comic strips, but also to the sports heroics glorified by sublime socialist realism and the photographs of Rodchenko and Deineka. Herded into a gang, a clan or pack and charged with frenzied, primitive energy, Kallima's marginal characters represent a mirror image of the 'collective body' of Soviet utopia united in exultation – or the celebrated and dangerously explosive 'revolutionary masses'.
Kallima's 'Rain Theorem' fresco for the Russian Pavilion also depicts a mass of people torn apart by inner conflict, yet locked together in one united impulse. Although he is depicting sports fans crowded in a stadium, the title of the work refers to Pavel Filonov's classic paintings 'Formula of Spring' and 'Formula of the October Proletariat'. The united crowd feel pride for 'our boys' but hatred for 'the other lot'. Kallima our contemporary seeks to examine the mass macro-processes that transcend the scale of man as an individual, all the while with a fondness for his football fans – in the same way as the Russian avant-garde painter tried to understand a similar phenomenon in a country stricken by the historical cataclysm that marked the first third of the twentieth century.
'Rain Theorem', like Kallima's works from the 'Chechens' series, can only be discerned in 'black light'. At some point the spectator must witness the disappearance of the painted crowd – left alone, maybe he will understand that the fans' cries were actually addressed to him. Just as in his 2002 happening 'You Are Where You Are Absent' at the Gallery France Kallima founded, where each astonished visitor was greeted with thunderous applause as he entered the exhibition space.