Humble Architecture and a Moveable Bestiary
Alexander Florensky began his career in the early 1980s as a painter, draughtsman and book illustrator, mainly working on traditional subjects such as landscapes and still-life. In the early 1990s, however, he turned to conceptual art, and began producing installations and objects. By the mid 1990s, he began collaborating with his wife and fellow Mit’ki member, Olga Florenskaya. Their works are humorous and often explore urban life in Russia, nature, ecology, history and Russian mentality.
Born in 1960, Alexander Florensky is a member of Mitki, the infamous underground art group in St Petersburg, Russia, which upset the establishment during the years leading up to Perestroika by challenging the then Soviet system and becoming celebrities in the process. Today, the group runs a publishing house and produces a regular publication, the Mit’ki Gazette. Its members have curated over three hundred exhibitions since its inception in 1985.
Common to the work of Mit’ki members is the evocation of the ethos of the ‘common man’ and a marked clarity in artistic language. They have been particularly influential in St Petersburg, no doubt because of the strongly urban focus of their works, which speak directly to city dweller about the experiences of metropolitan life.
Like other Mit’ki artists, Florensky began his career in the early 1980s as a painter, a draughtsman and a book illustrator. His subject matter was traditional, comprising, for example, landscapes, or in his Dutch-influenced still-lifes, a few objects: shells, a cup and a lemon. These paintings displayed a love of the pictorial genre and the strong influence of previous generations of artists, from The Thirteen Group to the Arefievians.
In the early 1990s, however, Florensky’s work underwent a radical shift as he turned to conceptual art, producing installations and objects. During this period, he became the curator of The Mit’ki-VKhUTEMAS Gallery, where he organised several conceptual performances of young artists such as Sergei Denisov and Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya.
In his transition to conceptualism, Florensky was aided by his preferred pictorial medium, creating a portfolio of drawings and a series of pictures entitled ‘The Russian Album’. Russian masterpieces such as ‘The Solitary Guitarist’, ‘Old Parents at Their Son’s Grave’, ‘Arrival of a Governess at a Merchant’s’ and other similar pictures were re-presented.
In the mid 1990s Florensky began collaborating with his wife and fellow Mit’ki member, Olga Florenskaya. Together they embarked on an exploration of Russian mentality and its reflection in handicrafts in a year-long project entitled ‘The Russian Design’, a humorous comment on the ability of Russians to put to good use what many others would consider rubbish.
For his contribution, Florensky exhibited his ‘Humble Architecture’, which consisted of objects or small architectural constructions such as mines, light-houses, buoys and radio towers, composed from planks, weights, chains, household items and debris. Collections of photographs of the constructions he had gathered previously were also on show. The work has been exhibited in Germany and Finland as well as in The Marble Palace in St Petersburg.
One of Florensky’s more recent collaborative projects with his wife is ‘A Moveable Bestiary’ which was first exhibited in 1998 in the Summer Garden of Peter the Great in St Petersburg. Armed with historical accounts of a type of menagerie that existed in the garden in the eighteenth century, the artists created one of their own by constructing enormous animal figures, including a bull, a bear, a fish and a kangaroo. Each resonated with mythologies deeply engrained in mass consciousness, and their presence injected a new and playful atmosphere into an otherwise austere stately garden.
In 2002, the work toured to London as a result of the Russian Arts Management Placement Programme organised by Visiting Arts. A previous participant of the programme, Nana Zhvitiashvili had collaborated with Anya Stonelake from the White Space Gallery to plan a number of Russian exhibitions and events. The first was an exhibition of the works of Olga and Alexander Florensky at the Architectural Association, London.
The exhibition consisted of three parts, ´Taxidermy´ (by Olga Florenskaya), ‘Humble Architecture´ (by Alexander Florensky) and their joint work ´A Moveable Bestiary´. The project was interdisciplinary, utilising photography, fine art, architecture and design.
Sources include text on www.russkialbum.ru/e
Alexander Florensky was born in Leningrad (now St Petersburg), Russia in 1960. He was a student at Leningrad Mukhina Art College between 1977 and 1982. In 1985, he co-founded the artists’ group Mit’ki and has since participated in all of Mit’ki’s exhibitions. He is also one of the founders of Mit’ki newspaper and the publishing house Mit’kiLibris, and in 1996, was one of the institutors of the Mit’ki-VKhUTEMAS Creative Center. Since 1988 he has also been a member of The Leningrad Branch of the Union of Artists (LOSKh) and since 1990 a member of IFA. As well as painting and object and installation art, Florensky has also created animated films and has taken part in many film festivals both in Russia and abroad. He has recently produced work in collaboration with his wife, Olga Florenskaya. He has participated in exhibitions throughout Europe and in the USA.
Exhibition / Installation,
2002 ‘Snegurochka’, Zaheta National Gallery , Warsaw
2002 ‘Moveable Bestiary’ and other objects, Architectural Association, London
2002 ‘Russian Trophy’, Hand Print Workshop International, Washington DC
2001 ‘Nordic Postmodernism’, Kiasma Museum, Helsinki
2001 ‘Moveable Bestiary’, Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw
2000 ‘Moveable Bestiary’, The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg
1999 ‘Fauna’, CCA Moscow, CCA Nizhniy Novgorod, Zaheta National Gallery, Warsaw
1999 ‘Local Time (Chronometry in Russia)’, The History Museum, St Petersburg
1999 ‘Humble Architecture, ‘A Movable Bestiary’, The Marble Palace, The Russian Museum
1998 ‘Moveable Bestiary in the Summer Garden’, St Petersburg
1998 Selected materials from the project ‘A Moveable Bestiary in the Summer Garden’, Josif Bakshtein Institute of Modern Art, Moscow
1996 ‘Weimar-Book’, George Soros Art Center, St Petersburg
1996 ‘Biennale Balticum ’96’, Rauma, Finland
1996 ‘Movement toward’, "L-Gallery", Moscow
1995 ‘Movement toward’, The Boreas Gallery, St Petersburg
1994 ‘The Russian Album’, The Boreas Gallery, St Petersburg
2002 Fellowship from Hand Print Workshop International, Washington DC
2000 Grant from PROARTE for the project ´Anatomical Person´
1999 Grant from Kultur-Kontakt for the project ´Taxidermy´ and ´Model Architecture´
1999 Grant from the Finnish Institute for the project ´Local Time´
Moveable Bestiary project at the Architectural Association, including video clip
Article and biographical information on Alexander Florensky