GARDEN ZONE, photo project and media installation, 2009
Courtesy: Moscow Museum of Modern Art
For her new project Nadya Anfalova came up with a lucky title, which has an inner dramatic meaning, i.e. “Garden Zone”. This instantly refers us to high and reverent spheres, both Biblical and those of St. Petersburg itself, historical and cultural ones: the culture of orchards and parks, the poetry of gardens etc. This is what you have in mind until the sight proper presents itself. Then you realize that here “zone” is not just a handy neutral term, which rather generally and unobtrusively defines some spatial locality. No, this concept is updated by the artist, and contains the whole diversity of Soviet experiences as to restrictions of freedom, bans, Gulag isolation and exclusion from normal flow of life. Anfalova finds very real material, some forlorn municipal plot, enclosed with a temporary fence (in Russia, what can be more permanent than temporary things?!), made of bits of sheet metal, boards, bundles of rusty wire, old doors and such like. These are the refuse of urbanism, but a specifically Soviet one, pre-industrial and reminiscent of semi-rural origins of the suburbs. My childhood memory also retains something similar, when I used to sally out towards the Moscow highway. Surely, there are still places where such fences exist up to know, complete and entire. In her photo sequences Anfalova slowly and gropingly traces these endless fences. There is nothing derisive here, in the way of Socialist Art. Of course, there is a touch of urbanistic archaeology, but mocking at poverty is a sin, and nostalgia is ridiculous. Doubtless, Anfalova’s perception has an aesthetic basis: she does not neglect the specific beauty of decline and devastation, marking the hues of brown, the colour of rusty iron, and then not failing to use a patch of white, for a kitchen door turns up all of a sudden as a chromatic reference point… The artist has also found precise format in repeated snapshots, which constitute a belt panel. There is a hint of archival conceptuality (of the Bernd and Hilla Becher type), and readiness to exist as documentary material. But there is also a typically Russian dissatisfaction with the obvious, a striving shared by onlookers to solve the enigma: what is it that lies beyond this painfully familiar fence? The back side of some defunct factory? Dilapidated garages of senior citizens, or their kailyards? Another Gulag zone? Or, after all, a garden, albeit a mythological one?