"Silent Voices"-exhibition study project( contemporary art about Blockade of Leningrad)



Northwest branch of the State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO,with support jf the ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation,State History Museum of St.Petersburg with the support of CYLAND media laboratory and PROARTE Foundation

8 September-17 November 2017. Peter and Paul Fortress, "Nevskaya Kurtina" exhibition hall,State History Museum of St.Petersburg

Curator-Lyudmila Belova

the study project "Silent voices" aims to discover new visual images in the discussion of the Siege and Blockade of Leningrad, new ways to talk about a controversial and complex topic, by using modern trchnology and revealing little-known sources.


Lyudmila Belova

Silent Voices


The ideological control during Soviet times created certain clichйs in covering the Siege of Leningrad, including the way it was depicted visually. Purposefully designed memory was based on selection and exclusion: appropriate memories were carefully separated from inappropriate ones, significant chosen over peripheral. All unwanted, uncomfortable, “non-important” accounts were swept away; emphasis would be laid on valor and heroic war victories.


Perestroika brought to light a lot of new material: archives were opened, audio and video interviews recorded, diaries, memoirs and photobooks published, including “The Unknown Blockade” project by Vladimir Nikitin. Nikita Lomagin in his book with the same title provides access to previously classified archival documents. Sergei Loznitsa offers a new approach to the topic in his “Blockade” film; Polina Barskova has been long developing the subject in her literary works. One may also mention novels: “Leningrad” by Igor Vishnevsky, “To Sleep and Believe” by Andrei Turgenev (Vyacheslav Kuritsyn) and other works.


Contemporary art, however, has not yet reflected on the Siege of Leningrad on a large scale – several artists and institutions did give it a try, like the Krasnoyarsk Museum Center with its major 2010 “AfterDisaster” exhibition about WWII. In 2015 the Goethe-Insitut launched a two-year project “900 and 26,000 More Days”. An exhibition under the same title was opened in Hamburg in 2015 and in St. Petersburg in 2017.


The “Quiet Voices” exhibition in the Nevskaya Kurtina of the Peter and Paul Fortress explores the ways of transforming memory into new visual images. Diaries kept during the Siege served as main sources of information and basis for the art-works presented at the exhibition, since they provide the most reliable accounts of the city’s everyday life.


Earth” – an object by Alexandr Androsov and Vadim Zaitsev, displayed in the square facing the Naryshkin Bastion looks like a memorial. This was exactly the idea behind it: as part of the “900 and 26,000 More Days” project the artists planned to design a monument dedicated to the Siege to be later installed in Hamburg. However, it turned out to be more of a counter-monument of a rather ephemeral nature, meant to affect its audience directly: here and now. Public-art objects – such as this “counter-monument” – are normally placed in the public urban environment, not in an area specially designated for a monument.
Sugar earth or sweet earth – this is how authors of the diaries kept during the Siege would refer to the precious substance left after the fire at the Badayevsky food depot. A pile of black soil is encapsulated in a clear-cut cube. Memories, diary accounts are being transformed into a powerful image showing the tragedy through an abstract form, non-figuratively.


Geometry of Memory”, an installation by Pyotr Bely, – is located in the very heart of the Peter and Paul Fortress. It is another counter-monument – a composition of three sculptures. The objects are see-through, their delicate graphic ornament reminds one of the anti-tank (Czech) hedgehogs deployed on the outskirts of the city, of the duct-taped windows, of the night sky illuminated by the searchlights. The key image here is a cross that evokes numerous connotations.

To see memory coming back to life one may try Anastasiya Kizilova’s Hunger Cuisine installation. A huge table features food ration for Ivan Zhilinsky’s family day by day. By visualizing diary entries, the artist enables today’s visitor to see and “try out” the menu of the Siege.


In her Physical Evidence installation Vita Buivid interweaves her own memories of the stories the artist’s mother told her about the war into the collective memory, and does in a touching and moving way. As if proving that youth, love and desire to look beautiful were present during that horrible time of the Siege, the artist presents physical evidence: a crepe de Chine dress from 1940s turned into a gypsum bas-relief.

Shimmering, through painted layers, a bowl of soup is like a dream, a jewel, and at the same time, a symbol of a ring and a nimbus, contained in an unfinished frame - the installation "Soup" by Olesya Gonserovskaya.


The video “Million” by Natalya Tikhonova was part of the “900 and 26,000 More Days” project launched by Goethe-Institut. We see the artist’s hand calculating how many deaths occurred per day, per hour… Arithmetic is used to help us understand the magnitude of the tragedy. As a result, one feels unable to perceive the monstrous figure of one million deaths.

Natalya Tikhonova’s second project at the exhibition is titled “Verbatim,” i.e. “literally” in Latin. In this video Natalya tries to close the gap between herself and the author of a diary written during the Siege. One day from the artist’s life is intertwined with the excerpts from Lyubov Shaporina’s notes read aloud.


Sound installation The Queue by Elena Gubanova and Ivan Govorkov is filled with the hum of voices coming from the hanging string bags (called avos’ka in Russian). If you listen to them carefully, you’d realize you’re listening to people queuing for bread in the besieged city. The avos’ka bag is a perfect symbol of the period. It’s very name deriving from the Russian adverb avos’ – “hopefully”, “just in case” hints to positive expectations, ‘Hope, I’ll bring something back in this bag.’
However, in the besieged city one wouldn’t make the food they’ve acquired visible to other people’s eyes. A string bag filled with air and void in the installation “The Line” is an image of all-encompassing hunger. Mundane conversations about “nothing” hiding the main message: how to stay alive, add to the feeling of despair and, at the same time, hope.


A tiny book with a velvet cover - diary of artist and photographer Boris Smirnov is part of the “Camouflage-Free” installation by Alexandr Terebenin. The book has only three entries. Smirnov also kept a photographic diary. His film found in the family archive has been printed out and the prints placed in a long rectangular lightbox. Double exposure applied deliberately of randomly creates a feeling of emptiness, other-worldliness, something unreal. Terebenin reflects on scrutinizing the imperceptible, the unimportant, that can sometimes tell you more than any event-related photo.


In the installation “Blind Spot”, Anna Frants builds up some intangible memorial. Live broadcasting from the web-cameras located in Nevsky prospect merges with family photos hung on the wall. A blind spot is a term drivers use for the part of the road they cannot see. In this work, the blind spot is the millions of people who suffered during the Siege. The turn of the rearview window in Anna Frants’s project is an address towards the private, memory of a single family, story of the common tragedy told by means of a family archive.


The “Black Light” installation by Vadim Leukhin tells of a lesser-known way people used to travel through the total darkness of the besieged city. Fluorescent badges were invented to help Leningraders find their way in the dark. The badges would be charged in the daylight, and later would give back their “black light”. Three objects of the installation are paintings on glass lit by blue light. Vague figures, silhouettes of the houses, glowing dots of the badges… To this dark city-scape Leukhin adds a sound that comes from earphones.


Alexandr Nikitin, an amateur-photographer and his tragic story became the starting point for Maxim Sher’s project titled “Image Ban”. In March, 1942 Nikitin was arrested by the NKVD and sentenced to 5 years in prison for taking photos in the street without permission. Nikitin died in a labor camp and was rehabilitated after the war. Maxim Sher recreates the situation and tries on Nikitin’s role. He finds and photographs present-day cityscapes that look similar to Nikitin’s photos, and creates his own portrait in a form of a prison-file. The artist tries not only to tell a story, but to experience pain of the innocent victims wrongfully convicted. How we create, transform, interpret images and doubt their veracity – these are the topics covered in the sound installation by Sher: the artist invites a visitor to enter a booth, sit down facing a mirror and listen to excerpts from the NKVD reports on the public sentiments in the besieged city.




Information manipulation, selective use of information is among the topics touched upon in Lyudmila Belova’s installation “The Room”. Once we enter this room we find ourselves in an environment where renovation is in process: a ladder-stand in the corner, painter’s tools laid out, wall paint samples. The walls are papered with newspapers. The texts we see on the walls are NKVD reports and excerpts from diaries written under the Siege. Renovating the room is like talking about the Siege. What do we choose? What is there to be preserved, and what is to be painted over – and what color should we choose?


A critical look at the modern human’s unwillingness to address complex topics, and, simultaneously, a chance to pause and relax are offered by Vyacheslav Kuritsyn in his sound installation “Comfortable Reading”. A designer armchair symbolizes comfort and pleasant leisure time before going to bed. The author deliberately recorded his novel “To Sleep and Believe” as an audiobook to enable visitors only to listen to the book, not to read it. Comfort provided, the text we’re offered does not allow for relaxation. It is a novel about the Siege.


According to the German historian and culture studies scholar Aleida Assmann, “Cultural memory possesses an inherent ability to constantly change, innovate, transform and reconfigure.” The “memory boom” we have witnessing recently all over the world reflects people’s wish to reclaim the past as an integral part of their present. One of these methods is possessed by artists, who transform memory using a new visual language that is in tune with their time.


Translated Simon Patterson




Silent Voices Exhibition Participants and Their Projects:


Alexandr Androsov, Vadim Zaitsev: The Earth, art object


Lyudmila Belova: The Room, installation


Pyotr Belyi: Geometry of Memory, installation


Vita Buivid: Physical Evidence, installation


Elena Gubanova, Ivan Govorkov: The Queue, sound installation


Olesya Gonserovskaya: Soup, installation


Anastasiya Kizilova: Hunger Quisine, installation


Vyacheslav Kuritsyn: Comfy Reading, sound installation


Vadim Leukhin: Black Light, installation


Alexandr Terebenin: Camouflage-Free, installation


Natalya Tikhonova: Million, Verbatim ,video


Anna Frants: Blind View Area, video installation


Maxim Sher: Image Ban, installation