Irina Nakhova’s three-part installation The Green Pavilion, which represented Russia at the Venice Biennale (2015) is a thought-provoking, but disjointed look at our relationship with history and the future.
The first part of the installation, a giant head of a helmeted man whose features subtly change, is visually stunning, but it is not immediately clear how it is related to the installation as a whole. The artist explains her concept in the following video:
“When you walk into the first room, all the sizes are different, and who greets you there is the pilot. The pilot is your navigator through time. So when you are here, there is dark. The skies are closed, but you are in the cockpit of the flight. When you come closer to the pilot, his eyes open, he looks at you and he also looks at the sky, and you can see that the sky are opening [via a skylight]. Then you really see what’s going on, but it’s also like in a dream because there is no verbal communication.”
The second part of the installation occupies two rooms. In the lower room, images and videos from the old USSR are projected onto the walls. Blue ‘X’s and red circles start to appear on some of the people shown in the photographs; then the photos and videos fade and are replaced by new images. As the people in the photo are crossed out and their images fade, it seems like they are being ‘disappeared’ from history, a fate suffered by many victims of totalitarian regimes over the years.
This visual representation of the practice of ‘disappearing’ people is a little obvious, but what makes the installation work is the way the viewers become part of the work. Above the room of disappearing photos is an empty grey room. In this observation room, visitors can look down through a transparent plastic window on the floor and see the people observing the fading photographs and videos.
Light pours down through a skylight in the ceiling, through the plastic panel on the floor and into the room below. If the people in that room look up, they will see they are being observed by the people in the room above.
From time to time, the skylight closes and the room of images goes dark. When the skylight opens and the light returns, some of the people below will have moved on—they will have disappeared. Similarly, sometimes the observation room goes dark and when the light returns, some of the observers will have disappeared as well.
Living under an oppressive authoritarian regime, innocent bystanders can end up as observers—silent witnesses to the turmoil around them. This creates a horrible dilemma. By remaining silent and not doing anything, are these silent witnesses complicit in the horrors that are perpetrated? However, if the silent witnesses speak up or take action, won’t they become the next victims? In such a cruel environment, anyone can be ‘crossed out’ and made to disappear.
In the above video, when Irina Nakhova describes this second zone in the Green Pavilion, the artist does not mention the people being crossed out of the photos, but instead focuses on the effect when the room goes dark:
“It’s the place where you can really come to yourself and see what’s going on around you with acute awareness. When it’s all dark, you have just the sky and the past. For me it’s soothing because it was before us, it will be after us and we are a part of the history, so there is no fear, there is no joy, but it is the nature taking over us and going through us.”
The third part of the installation is an empty room painted with an abstract green and red pattern. Describing this, the artist states
“It’s a foreboding dream; it’s a nightmare that should not happen. It’s a warning for (from?) me; it’s a foreboding dream of the apocalypses”.
You can see see this room in the photos and videos in this article about Ukrainian activists staging a protest in the pavilion: Ukrainian Activists Occupy Russia’s Venice Biennale Pavilion.
I am not sure how well the three part of the installation worked together. At the time, I thought they were three separate works by different artists. Based on the artist’s statements and my own interpretation, what I get out of the whole installation can be summed up as:
We exist as a part of history. We may be buffeted by forces beyond our control and our observable contributions may fade away. History is what it is and the future is uncertain and foreboding, but we were and we are a part of the whole story.
Find Out More
The Green Pavilion: This PDF booklet includes preliminary designs and sketches, a statement by the artist and various essays on her work
~by Stephen Richards (longzijun)
Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists