Space. People’s Stories

KGallery, Saint Petersburg

25 May 2018 - 26 August 2018

Curated by Irina Kogan, Krisitina Berezovskaya

Artists: Alexander Djikia, Arseny Zhilyaev, Sergey Shutov, Alexander Povzner, MishMash

Alexander Povzner. “Model of the world”. 2014. Sergey Shutov “Yuri Gagarin”. 2005.
Photo: Artemy Fahrutdinov

The time of the Soviet romance with space has passed never to return and the organizers of the exhibition at the KGallery are not seeking to revive it. Nor are they attempting to retell once again the well-known biographies of the chief designers of the space ships or famous cosmonauts. The exhibition’s aim is to reveal to the wider public the names of engineers, constructors, medics, biologists, artists and designers – the people who for many decades have remained “behind the scenes” in the grand Soviet space epic. And also to show how outer space, even stripped of the romance, continues to stir the imagination of artists and is becoming a cultural myth.

That is why the display includes not only documents from the Moscow and Saint Petersburg museums of space exploration and the North-Western Interregional Public Organization as well as Russia’s Federation of Space Exploration, but also works of art from the galleries of Marina Gisich, Gennady Pliskin and Ekaterina Andreeva and the Anna Nova Gallery, as well as works by Arseny Zhilyaev, Alexander Djikia, Sergey Shutov, Alexander Povzner and the group MishMash from the Gazprombank corporate collection.

“Actually, it was Gazprombank that inspired us to include artworks so broadly in the display,” the curator Irina Kogan explained. “And they do work very well alongside the unique documentary materials.”

The historical-documentary part of the exhibition tells about people and fields of work that are little known, but very significant for the Soviet space effort: about the activities of the constructor Boris Chertok, about the test pilots Lev Vorobyov or Valery Yazdovsky. It includes some unique clips from films of the first four-legged “cosmonauts” that were made for internal use and shot under the guidance of the eminent Russian physiologist Oleg Gazenko. Next to photos of the dogs Belka and Strelka is Denis Prasolov’s work First Crew. Fruit Fly, which forms a bridge to an account of the space project of Leningrad’s famed “Mukha” (literally “Fly” – the humorous colloquial name for the Leningrad Higher School of Art and Industry named after Vera Mukhina, now the Saint Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design). Here too are the designs of the architect Galina Balashova, who designed the interiors of many rockets and spaceships.  

The works of designers link the historical-documentary part of the exhibition with the artistic one located on the upper floor of the gallery. Already on the landing of the stairs, visitors encounter Arseny Zhilyaev’s Rocket and Alexander Djikia’s red pencil Portrait of Yuri Gagarin. The central place upstairs is allotted to Sergei Shutov’s Yuri Gagarin. The cosmonaut’s face is surrounded by bright flickering petals reminiscent of the rays of stars; the speech bubble containing his famous launch-time exclamation “Poyekhali!” (“Let’s go!”) in the portrait is reflected as an echo on the opposite wall. The image of the cosmonaut, but now cold, no longer alive, features in the work Monument to Gagarin by the group MishMash. Meanwhile Alexander Povzner’s Model of the World ironically presents our extra-terrestrial future – a banana like a satellite in orbit, and our pre-space-era past – as the club of a primitive savage. Humanity has no way back.