Critics’ Picks

Piotr Diyakov, Ball, 2017, acrylic, filler, pigment, 5 x 5".

Piotr Diyakov, Ball, 2017, acrylic, filler, pigment, 5 x 5".

Saint Petersburg


2, Bolshaya Konyushennaya st. 3rd floor
June 15–July 29, 2017

Sever-7, an artist collective named after the 1955 Soviet expedition to the Arctic, consists of both alumni of and educators at Saint Petersburg’s academies who came together four years ago to sidestep institutional parameters. Though earlier projects by the group include ephemeral actions in forests and basements, this show of recent work reads as more conventional. Its title, “One Seventh of the World,” refers to the Soviet Union’s loss of territory—present-day Russia now covers a mere one-seventh of the earth—and to Dziga Vertov’s 1926 film One Sixth of the World. But the attempt to find roots in Russia’s avant-garde feels like a shortcut to cohesion. Instead, each participant has forged an individual way of contending with language, mortality, and history.

In Toilet, 2017, Nestor Engelke has assembled incised wooden boards into an outhouse, which he occupied throughout the opening. The scratches hint at violence, as if the sole way to produce a surface were by partly eradicating it. In Leonid Tskhe’s drawings, such as The Girl’s Head No. 2, 2016, the human figure both throbs with colors and dissolves into smears. A series of small canvases by Nestor Kharchenko, “Horizons,” 2017, cloaks contemporary Russia in darkness via mashed up wooden bits and black paint spattered over photographs of the country’s famed vistas, historical landmarks, and political and cultural figures. Piotr Diyakov’s palm-size sculpture, Ball, 2017, has a more austere physicality. Fingers protrude from a sphere and bend toward one another without touching—a gesture with tragic force in the current political climate.

If Sever-7’s output can handily evoke the 1990s, an era of squatters and spontaneous art actions in this city, their exhibition here demonstrates that gaining a platform while maintaining a provocative stride is much harder.