On the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, artist Uldus Bakhtiozina offers a surrealistic rebuke of the consequences of revolution.
This year marks the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, a pivotal event that dismantled an empire, gave rise to the Soviet Union, impacted millions of lives and reshaped the world. Russian artist and photographer Uldus Bakhtiozina is marking the occasion with characteristic beauty and irony with THE CIRCUS 17. This exhibition, up at Anna Nova Art Gallery in St Petersburg, offers a surreal, alternative take on what happened in the Russian Empire in 1917 during the February and the October Revolutions — as well as on the dynamics of politics in general.
With video installations and photographic works that reimagine the major themes and players of the Bolshevik Revolution as early-20th century circus performers, Bakhtiozina alerts the audience to the possibility that revolution may be mere spectacle, a kind of power-play theatrics wired into human nature so that it comes around again automatically periodically in history, regardless of the ideology or cause underpinning it.
Uldus uses a color scheme to represent various players in her political circus. “There are four powers,” Bakhtiozina says. “Red represents the Bolshevik revolutionaries, white personifies the anti-Bolshevik White movement, gold stands for religion, and beige — almost colorless — the indifference of most of society. Each color takes up its faith and truth, and none of the shades can be removed from this palette.”
“I want the audience to experience that the boundary between the past and present is gradually wearing away,” says Bakhtiozina. “History is a recurring spiral, and with every new revolution, the common denominator when it comes back around again is us—the audience is the foundation of the political performance. The actors come and go, leaving incredible damage in their wake. It is up to us, the spectators, to ask questions, resist propaganda and agitation, and retain our will to truth.”
“Whoever watched this performance and could have stopped it didn’t do it. During the culmination they applauded to destruction of their own avatars, they smiled and laughed, cried and got scared. Champagne bottles were being opened, indifference filling the crystal glasses to this sound.”