OUR TIME ACCORDING TO OLGA CHERNYSHEVA
Olga Chernysheva called her exhibition at the Russian Museum The Happiness Zone. It includes video-films The Unknown Ones, Self-sufficient Activities, Steamboat Dionysius and Train as well as drawings and watercolours based on the images from the video / photo series. All the material is united by time and place: Central Russia, 2003 - 2004. The films show people absorbed by some activity (by sweeping a road, by moving along a street, by riding a scooter in Red Square or by collecting items for recycling in a park). They show a man and a woman submerged in the summer sunshine somewhere in the sub- urbs. Or a city crowd going up and down the river on a ship. Or passengers of long distance trains edited by the artist into one meta-train. So, The Happiness Zone starts with observation of male and female nature. Then, gradually, all manner of characters slip into this world, each absorbed, as befits human creatures, by their, at times understandable and at times mysterious, body movements. Then, in the Train installation this human kaleidoscope transforms: the camera moves along the circuited space inside the carriages, along the passage from nowhere into nowhere, along the mechanical 'riverbed' which goes through rows of faces and bodies as though through a mass of water or earth which remains the same and changes every minute.
Chernysheva 's first exhibition at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg coincided with the retrospective of Ilya Repin whose genre painting went way beyond the professional framework and turned into a live picture of Russia during the reforms, a phenomenon defined today as blockbuster. Chernysheva is prompted by a desire to grasp, to preserve the spectacle of new Russia of the 1990s: of that middle-Russian life unfolding in markets and railway stations, near kiosks, on the pavements of big cities and squares of provincial capitals. However, the genre originates here not in the pathos of a nation or a social group looking for their identity as was the case in the middle of the 19th century. It comes from the desire to record unknown people unselfconsciously going about their lives. People who are like everything else around - like nature or, to be precise, biosphere which includes megalopolises with their ever decaying and self-regenerating world. There are no clearly defined borders in the art of Chernysheva between individual objects or between bodies or between urban and non-urban spaces. When, in the second episode of The Unknown Ones, the camera suddenly pulls out, the man under a tree amidst the shiny, sunny dense bushes turns out to be standing on a concrete base which in turn, with further zooming out, 'grows' into a railway platform.
In the video-installation Train it is especially obvious that the artist is not only interested in the passengers' ability to take over the carriage like a form of mycosis but also in the entrepreneurial ability of human nature which, in its highest manifes- tation, is called creativity. It is this that makes anthropology the subject of Chernysheva 's work. And it is at this point that Chernysheva 's oeuvres comes close to those genres of Dutch painting of the 17th century, in which one simultaneously perceives, in the unifying act of creation, both the whole of Creation and the immersion of anonymous individuals in the flesh of totally absorbing insignificant activities: skating, catching flees or contemplating the sky over sanddunes. Chernyshe- va , with all her sympathy, demonstrates the absurdity, and at the same time the strong inner need impelling her characters to settle in the zone of their present existence - from a cramped railway carriage to the slopy paving near the Kremlin wall.
Chernysheva 's attention is firmly fixed on the total self-absorption which might come upon those who, by chance, entered the field of our vision. We know and admire those moments of self-absorption, marked by virtuosity, of an artist or a sports- man, when everybody understands, with all lucidity, that it has began, has fluttered, has kicked off. That some ecstatic chan- nel of Universal connection has opened, that real life has begun to flow and that the intensity of experience at that moment redeems long years of emptiness, oblivion and weakness. But the artist, in the Unknown Ones and The Self-sufficient Activi- ties chooses precisely the kind of people and situations directly connected to weakness and oblivion: an elderly woman in a park in the evening; a girl skating on a pond just about cleared of snow; a disabled man walking along a deserted street using a box instead of a crutch. The miraculous quality of this experience opens to the viewer at the moment of realisation of their own presence in this footage of reality beyond 'normality'.
Unlike documentary camera operators, Chernysheva has a very soft touch. As though out of air, she creates, in each of her shot-story-biography of the character an unseen but palpable presence of a guardian looking on. This miraculous guardian's presence is sometimes materialised as a cover over a person or a plant (as in the winter series about fishermen wrapped up in transparent film or the young trees protected from the cold by canvas). But most often, induced by the artist, it is born out of our own emotional experience of what we see. It is the viewers who, following the image on the screen with their souls