Curator: Elena Romanova
Artist: Vitas Stasiunas
Valentin Katayev’s novella “The Two Captains” is based on the following story: In a river two boys find letters that never reached their destination and this event determines their entire life. “Census” was inspired by a similar story: a discovery was made of an archive of photos made way back in the Soviet era by an anonymous photographer who worked in the Red Square. Having one’s picture taken in this sacred place is still considered an important procedure by most of the visitors to the capital. It is not merely important, but almost inevitable, which may be compared to participating in elections or a population census. This ritual might be called the first (unofficial) collection of the citizens’ biometrical data.
Just like in Katayev, the story of photographs is laden with mysteries: Who are these people? Can they be found at their old addresses that the archive has preserved? Are they alive in the first place and why is it that the photographer did not send the snapshots to his clients? The author of the show has sent the photos to their addressees, but there is no guarantee that these messages from the past will reach their destination. That is why he reconstructs history using his own method, namely, collecting his friends’ and acquaintances’ personal belongings, each of which is transformed into an object at once reminding a cosmic planet and an earthly pouch, an attribute of forced freedom or, in fact, the Russian karma. In the artist’s view, just as planets interact by means of gravitational fields, people, even strangers, are mystically interconnected.
Genealogy experts claim that the easiest thing to do is to reconstruct the history of peasant families who were tied to the place of their residence until the abolishment of serfdom in 1861. In 2011 we commemorated the 150th anniversary of this significant event after which thousands of “free” persons began to roam the immense expanses of the empire with bags behind their backs. And it is the census alone that allows to get a glimpse of this Brownian movement. The Red Square has been one of the most sacred places of mass pilgrimage from times immemorial. Arriving at this Russian Mecca was not unlike a flight to outer space (2011 is the anniversary of this event as well) or the discovery of unknown territories and expanses.