How does the mechanism of art residencies work? The local context is superimposed on the experience and practice of the artist, refracted through the prism of a gaze that preserves the author's steadiness but adapts to the local modulations of light and colour. The outcome of Alexandra Nesterkina's stay in Nizhny Arkhyz, in close proximity to the Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences, demonstrates the perfect synthesis of location and artistic practice. The artist says that the two months spent in the residency contributed a third element to the dichotomy of man and nature she contemplates in her works, one that has been well-known to ancient civilisations – space. Since Nizhny Arkhyz is a place of the remarkable intertwining of the remains of early Christian culture and architecture, Soviet and post-Soviet science and supposedly timeless mountain nature, it works almost like a time machine that keeps skipping through time and space.
In a metropolitan city like Moscow, the time machine is more likely to be tuned to the future, so the opportunity to display Nesterkina’s works in the ZIL Culture Center was a great stroke of luck. This place has certain temporal turbulence about it, which is further intensified by the Nesterkina’s works. It also has a small observatory, with the project ending abruptly on the way towards it.
Just a few comments that are important for solving this puzzle will suffice: the works can be divided into two large categories – small plastic objects and assemblage sculptures. In the artist’s practice, their functions vary significantly, both in terms of process and internal goal setting. The small plastic objects, the little clay sculptures allude to the millennia-long tradition of women's arts and crafts on one hand, while on the other hand, they pose an ironic challenge to archaeology and to our idea of a coherent and unshakable system of knowledge about the past. This meditative practice is, essentially, an anthropological study of what our culture has borrowed from the experiences of our ancestors, and what is inherent to human nature, the artist’s experiment to create artefacts of her own civilisation. Nesterkina has dubbed her assemblages ‘ruins’, as these are objects that are inextricably linked with human civilisation but manifest a new form of nature that invades human space and uses our civilisation as a resource. ‘Ruins’ start to symbolise protest against the blatantly destructive yet routine system of interaction between man and nature. The artist sees a ‘sad allure of life’s frailty’ in them, a combination of hope and hopelessness, the feeling all too familiar to anyone in this particular moment of history. The artist offers the viewer to take a walk around the exhibition, engaging them in a natural bodily activity that is known for its capacity to help clear the mind and bring about inner spiritual order. The walk echoes the mental journey Nesterkina takes to each of the ‘ruins’ the viewer discovers.
Anna Zhurba, curator