Going Rural

Vladimir Chernyshev travels all over Russia and uses decaying architecture to create art installations.

Vladimir waiting for a nighttime shoot in Karelia, 2016.

Vladimir Chernyshev makes his way from the streets of Nizhniy Novgorod to desolate villages of Russian wilderness. Here, he talks about rediscovering long forgotten rural sites and meditating on the fleeting nature of myth.

It all began on the streets. I’ve been working in urban environments for quite some time. Eventually, I noticed street art becoming more popular and turning into pretty pictures on buildings, often indistinguishable from billboards. So I've grown interested in working with no audience, and looking for other ways to define my work's aim and framework. First of all, I've concerned myself with the context of rural environment – traditional culture, mythology, and disappearing wooden architecture. Desolation itself became a central theme of my project.

Myth was the foremost thing with which I concerned myself. I wanted to create an abstract visual language that would appeal to long gone sacred rituals and beliefs, without attributing itself to a specific culture. Things, I applied on the walls of derelict houses – dots, archways, stars, constellations, butterflies, shadows – these became the principal elements of that language. The idea itself was captivating; the paintings, however, were inferior to the architecture and environment.

Vladimir applying a constellation picture to a house wall in the Vologda region, 2014.

Death and attitudes toward it became the next point of interest for me. Culture develops around life and death, but nowadays this theme is inappropriate and considered taboo. Death doesn't go well with daily life, and sometimes it seems as if nobody dies in cities at all. At the same time, rituals and folklore – such as fairy tales – are filled with images of the other world. In almost every desolate village there's a certain feeling of death’s relevancy – not because they're gloomy, but because death is an integral part of rural culture.

Hence, I realized I have to consider objects on the whole, and I developed the idea of night shoots using natural torch lighting. I wanted to highlight the vacuum surrounding the objects. I would spend the day preparing the space, marking spots to hold night shoots. Shooting an object can take no more than an hour, but working at night depends on weather conditions, as fog and humidity affect the final image. Once I spent a week stuck in Berezovo Village in Arkhangelsk Oblast, because it rained daily and at night the fog was too thick. I was lucky to find a rural guest house with a stove, poker, and table, where I spent a week, waiting for the weather to improve.

Memory and oblivion is the third level of my work. When we appeal to the artifacts of the past, memory inevitably turns the things we try to remember into phantoms. I've planned several installations in deserted villages, where I used such materials as tar oil and sackcloth to change objects' appearances.

Torch intervention in Berezovo village in the morning, 2016.

This summer I tried to fill a village house with tar oil. Conceptually it was quite simple – tar oil is a product of fossil fuels which are the basis of the modern Russian economy. At the same time, tar oil, being antiseptic, preserves the wood from decay. However, I needed twice the amount of tar oil that I managed to bring with me. I’m now considering making the installation in my hometown of Nizhny Novgorod.

I'm not particularly interested in deserted villages as such – but during my travels through Russia I've been running into the same problems, whether it was a village, a provincial town, or the city in which I live. Many aspects – ranging from the economy to wood architecture, collapsing naturally or thanks to a real-estate developer – are in a state of decay.

Vladimir applying tar oil to a house roof in Berezovo Village of the Arkhangelsk region, 2016.

Apart from working with houses, I took an interest in creating installations with things I find during my expeditions: household objects, clothes, various contraptions. Every village features a culture code of its own, as well as unique contexts to work with.

For one installation, I visited the deserted village of Kuchepalda (which translates from a Finno-Ugric dialect as “rotten field”) in Arkhangelsk Oblast several times. The village was built around a lake which has since been filled in, but gulls still fly around the formed field. I used this field for a large installation made of old clothes I had found in abandoned houses.

Fragments of a local installation in Kuchepalda Village of the Arkhangelsk region, 2016.

In almost every village, I have found fragments of spinning wheels – complex mechanisms, consisting of numerous parts and auxiliary instruments. During an expedition, I decided to make a gallery installation with those parts and have started collecting them. The final result, will most likely not be a fully restored spinning wheel, but a sampling from all spinning wheels, a display designed to clash with industrial stuff.

For a long while my work existed only on the internet. I had planned to publish a book but decided to postpone the idea. I realized that, for now, it's important to display the objects of my research in a gallery space to see them for myself and show the results to others. In 2017 I intend to make a multimedia exhibition with photos, videos, installation, and sculpture. In the end, I see it as a "total" installation, bringing together all the stories and contexts that interest me.

Vladimir's expedition to Arkhangelsk region and Karelia would not be possible without the help of Arctic Art Forum, Ekaterina Sharova and Kristina Dryagina.