Irina Korina

One of the few Russian words Walter Benjamin used in the diaries he kept while in Moscow in the 1920s was remont. Apparently he found the German term for renovations too weak to convey the scope and urgency of efforts to undo the chaos wrought by revolution and civil war. For Benjamin, remont was a phenomenon specific to the Soviet Union at that time. He could not have suspected that in Russia, remont never stops. In the 1990s it spawned the mutant euroremont: The new advertising class began tacking on the prefix to lend bourgeois glamour to synthetic furnishings made in Turkey or China. Euroremont equals remont in magnitude, but it also implies a vulgarly exaggerated eager- ness to efface the past.

Euroremont, or the study of it, is Irina Korina’s specialty. The nine works in “Installations,” her first solo museum exhibition, incorporate wallpaper, carpeting, and other home improvement materials bought at Moscow’s bazaars; they evince a revulsion with the old that is the dark side of the desire to start fresh. Each of Korina’s installations stages a kind of surrealist drama, where new, tacky surfaces confront spatial or sculptural suggestions of the ghosts they suppress. In 29 Transformations, 2000, the earliest work in the show, photographs of supermarket displays hang amid bulges in the wall. Real sausages and fake fruit mingle on beds of plastic grass, but a bluish tint to the pictures makes it hard to distinguish the edible from the artificial. In a corner of the installation, faintly glowing lightbulbs clustered like polyps mediate between photographed grapes and swelling tumors beneath the walls’ white paint. For :)), 2007, Korina built irregular shapes from sheets of MDF printed with imitation wood grain and marbling, decorating them with fixtures like vents and doorknobs to hint at clownish faces. Smiling emoticons, like the one Korina took as the title for the installation, are usually used to remove ambiguity—they assure the reader that the writer is “just kidding”—but the unfinished, inanimate faces with trailing wires and other loose parts have the opposite effect, producing a setting as disconcerting as it is silly.

Korina actively manipulates her audience’s experience of space. Back to the Future, 2004, sends viewers down a curving corridor to a small chamber. There, above the rim of a varnished plywood wall, they can glimpse the top of a mosaic made of painted squares of foam, depicting triumphant cosmonauts. The mural mimics public art of the 1960s, when space travel was one of many manifestations of the Soviet obsession with the bright future. Recently, the social stability accompanying that period’s economic stagnation has become the object of popular nostalgia. But from the perspective of the optimistic ’60s, Russia’s present is the wrong future. Back to the Future traces that crooked loop of history. Its cosmonauts are the exception to Korina’s avoidance of explicit references to the Soviet period. The other works in “Installations” invoke it abstractly, with disorienting environments that simulate the alienating effect of socialism’s aggressively monumental architecture. But in Back to the Future, as elsewhere, Korina makes surfaces from textures that just recently entered her country’s material vernacular. Her work shows the leftovers of a difficult past being swallowed up by a present that may be even worse.

Brian Droitcour