Alexander Brodsky is considered one of Russia’s most important and famous contemporary
architects. However his career has been unconventional from the very beginning. He graduated
from Virginia Tech University in 1978 while he was already starting to build a reputation
with his ‘paper architecture’ projects. Paper architecture is another term for fictional architecture
that can never be built. It is almost a crossover to pure art that tends to point out the political and
philosophical repercussions of architecture. Brodsky’s work is so unique and haunting that during
the 80′s along with his ‘partner in crime’ Ilya Utkin he produced drawings which were
defining for the Post Modern era.(see the post on Post-Modern exhibition here)
When asked the reason for not getting into architectural practice by the end of his studies Brodsky
has said that the only option in Russia at the time would have been to participate in state-sponsored low-quality housing projects. Not willing to do this, he retrieved into a fantasy world that according to him was not a straightforward political attack on the system, however was inspired by the
general situation and evoked a dystopian feeling that reflected it.
Walking into the Calvert22 gallery I actually did not know that much about Brodsky which at times I
consider a good thing in order to have a less biased opinion of someone’s work. I was familiar with his work with Ilya Utkin and I liked it a lot but I was not aware of the magnitude of his success in his home country.
The first room one enters is the White room that has an odd elongated shape. The short sides
have mirrors on them which create an illusion that perpetuates the space infinitely. The long walls
are covered with white curtains and all lights are concealed behind the them
There is a row of small wooden beds with tiny pillows on them next to one of the curtained walls. Their size is confusing approximately 1/10 which is an awkward scale anyway. It looks like a dormitory of some sort but the tiny people implied to live there are absent. The space evokes a subtly unsettling feeling and reminded me of David Lynch films where little people unexpectedly appear from doors hidden behind curtains. There is also a strong sense of abandonment and isolation.
The entrance to the Black room is not immediately noticed but walking along the row of beds one
sees there is an opening on the opposite side towards the far end. The black room is actually pitch
dark and the eyes take a couple of seconds to adjust. Around the corner there is a construction
similar to an octagonal amphitheatre. Its roof and walls are only implied by the octagon’s edges
and in it are sited a number of male figures around a hearth. They are identical which each other
and they have weirdly shaped heads. They all sit in the same position holding their chins as if they
are contemplating something.
Most of Brodsky’s work is described as site specific architectural installation art and looking at previous examples it is an accurate definition. Although I have not physically visited them, in the
photographs they look very powerful. The White room/Black room installation seems much more cryptic. Both rooms,especially the dark one is very mystical in an latent religious way. Still it is not obvious what the creator is attempting to achieve, nor the connection with architecture is revealed. Maybe since Brodsky has been producing actual buildings the last decade, having finally established his architectural practice in Moscow, he is able to dive deeper into the production of pure art when he gets the chance to do so. It seems that the line between architecture and art is not as much blurred as it used to be in his older projects. Nevertheless he is known for his inspired work and I admire his experimentations and fluctuations between the two domains. Somehow it feels that his involvement in both helps him to develop them further. After all architecture is most definitely an art and since most architects have no choice but to be pragmatic it is refreshing to encounter one who is truly imaginative.
The exhibition is open Wednesday to Sunday and will be on until the 25th of November
Find the Calvert22 exhibition website here