Miracles and a Moveable Bestiary
Olga Florenskaya began her career as a potter but has since turned to conceptual art, creating object installations. She is the only female member of the notorious underground art group Mit’ki. Florenskaya works in a range of media and employs a variety of techniques to create humorous works that explore, among other themes, urban life in Russia, nature, ecology, history and Russian mentality. Since the mid 1990s, she has worked in collaboration with her husband and fellow Mit’ki member, Alexander Florenskaya.
Olga Florenskaya initially trained as a potter in the ceramics department of the V. Mukhina Leningrad Higher Art and Industrial Academy. After graduating in 1982, she co-founded the underground art group Mit’ki, which has since become an important creative hub in Russia today.
During the years leading up to Perestroika, the infamous Mit’ki group upset the establishment by challenging the then Soviet system (and becoming celebrities in the process). While government-approved Socialist Realist painters were busy depicting a rose-tinted view of life under Communism, the non-conforming Mitki group chose instead to paint ordinary people and their everyday troubles. The group now also runs a publishing house and produces a regular publication, the Mit’ki Gazette. To date, it has curated over three hundred exhibitions.
The work of the Mit’ki members is admired not only for evoking the ethos of the ‘common man’ but also for their marked clarity of 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.
As the only woman in the Mit’ki group, Florenskaya is a maverick character, who has developed her own unique techniques by drawing upon and combining traditionally ‘female’ and ‘male’ skills. In her practice, sewing and mending meet hammering and sawing. Such an open approach extends also to her medium, which ranges from painting to fabric collages and, more recently from animated films (‘Story of the Miracle of Miracles’ (1994)) to art objects and installations, such as her year-long project ‘The Russian Design’, which was produced in collaboration with her husband and fellow Mit’ki member, Alexander Florensky. The work was a humorous comment on the ability of Russians to make use of what many others would consign to a rubbish bin.
The art critic Nadya Bukreeva has suggested that Florenskaya’s works, despite their contemporary feel, are rooted in the traditions of Larionov and Goncharova and that the Mit’ki group was strongly influenced by the Arefev school. This means, she says, that the Mit’ki members ‘relate to each other first as just people’. Explaining the impact of this socially oriented ethos, she suggests, ‘There is no doubt that this comradery and fellowship that exists between them in their everyday lives has had a significant effect on their creative endeavours. Their work has a pathos of profound humanism and genuine altruism.’ It is largely thanks to the Mit’ki group, then, Bukreeva ventures, that the ‘personages of the loafer and the "man from the street" have become an integral part of the St Petersburg art scene’.
One of Olga Florenskaya’s recent collaborative projects with her husband 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 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 by the art critic Nadya Bukreeva on www.russkialbum.ru/e
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts
Olga Florenskaya was born in 1960 in Leningrad (now St Petersburg), Russia. She studied at the V. Mukhina Leningrad Higher Art and Industrial Academy between 1977 and 1982 and held an internship at the Institute of Plastic Arts in 1990. She is one of the founders of the underground art group Mit’ki, which was set up in 1985, and has since participated in all of Mit’ki’s exhibitions. Since 1992, she has been involved in the publication of the Mit’ki Gazette and has been part of the publishing house Mitkilibris. She has had solo shows in Russia and the UK and has participated in group exhibitions throughout Europe and in the USA. She has also created animated films and has taken part in many film festivals both in Russia and abroad. She has recently produced work in collaboration with her husband Alexander Florensky. Her works are held in collections across Europe. She is a member of the Russian Artists’ Union.
Exhibition / Installation,
The State Russian Museum
State Tretyakovsky Gallery
The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
The Yaroslav Art Museum
The Nizhny Novgorod Art Museum
Kanal Collection, France
Private collections in England, Germany, Belgium, Italy and elsewhere
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 Marble Palace, The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg
1999 ‘Fauna’, CCA Moscow, CCA Nizhniy Novgorod, Zaheta National Gallery, Warsaw
1998 Selected materials from the project ‘A Moveable Bestiary in the Summer Garden’, Josif Bakshtein Institute of Modern Art, Moscow
1998 ‘Moveable Bestiary in the Summer Garden’, St Petersburg
1996 ‘Weimar-Book’, George Soros Art Center, St Petersburg
1996 ‘Russian Patent’, M. Gelman Gallery, Moscow
1996 ‘Russian Patent’, Borey Art Center, St Petersburg
1996 ‘Russian Design’, Designers Guild, St Petersburg
1996 ‘Movement Towards Iye’, L-Gallery, Moscow
1995 ‘The Best Night for Fish and Chips’, Cheyne Court, London
1995 ‘Movement towards Iye’, Borey Gallery
1994 ‘Russian Design’, Borey 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´
Architectural Association, UK
Information about the ´Moveable Bestiary at the Architectural Association, including video clip
Article and biographical information