The Thaw — Diary of friendship between a Russian and an American

Artist, co-founder of Partizaning Igor Ponosov and american artist Brad Downey had working 4 years together in Russia, US, Europe and Crimea. Few weeks ago they showed results of that collaboration and friendship. Below you can find photos and text from the duo show, which happened in CCA Fabrika, Moscow. Also there is documentation of some collaborative projects, which was presented in the show.

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The Khrushchev thaw was the first chance for the Americans and the Soviet people to get a glimpse behind the Iron Curtain. In July 1959, the American National Exhibition brought jazz records, Coca Cola bottles and Jackson Pollock’s paintings to Moscow, and models of the low-cost Soviet 'khrushchovka' apartment buildings and socialist realism masterpieces went on display at the Soviet National Exhibition in New York. However, even during the Khrushchev thaw, the ongoing Cold War kept the two nations from truly understanding each other.

 

One of the first 'cadavre exquis' drawing. А5, pen. Saint-Petersburg, 2013.

One of the first 'cadavre exquis' drawing. А5, pen. Saint-Petersburg, 2013.

Now, a half-century later in 2013, an American Brad Downey and a Russian Igor Ponosov met, when recent political events led to a new crisis in U.S.-Russia relations. In order to mock superficial stereotypes about their countries, they created a number of fun surrealistic images — 'cadavre exquis'. Later, inspired by mixing vodka bottles with famous 'I heart NY' logos, and combining Mickey Mouse, SpongeBob and Popeye characters with matryoshka dolls, the artists explored the unity of the opposites regarding their two countries. Four years later, their artworks form this exhibition. 'The Thaw' is a diary, born out of friendship and filled with personal memories and private jokes.

The illustrations, collages, art objects and banner installations showed in the show were created in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Bishkek, Berlin, Crimea and in two U.S. states — Georgia and North Carolina. All of these projects were conceived and realized by the authors during their brief meetings in different parts of the world, and via long telephone calls, e-mails and parcel exchange.

Ponosov and Downey are carrying out their experiments, synthesizing American land art and graffiti traditions with homages to the Soviet avant-garde, Sots Art, and Moscow conceptualism. Their artworks whimsically blend Russian and American flags and coats of arms, and wittily interpret their cultures and everyday lives. In 2014, the artists go camping in the Crimean Mountains with a handmade tent, sewn from street banners, carved in different cities around the world ('The Tent', 2014). And during the winter of 2013–2014 they exchange symbolic parcels with objects found in the streets, such as bricks, road signs and commercial banners ('Switchie Switchie', 2013—2014). In the context of the current political situation their controversial hooligan actions become a provocation and meet a mixed reaction from accidental witnesses. These waggish pieces grow more suspicious, fragile and vulnerable, just like the 'long-distance friendship' between a Russian and an American.

 

Switchie / Switchie

2013―2015, Moscow―Marietta (USA).

December 7, 2013 Moscow-based artist Igor Ponosov folded into a large blue pack various objects he found on the streets of Moscow:

  • an anti-parking delineator
  • a brick
  • a fire extinguisher
  • a 'Coca-Cola' brand banner
  • a banner with graffiti
  • two house signs
  • a bus schedule
  • a mesh from a phone booth
  • ornaments from a street Christmas tree

and went to the post office. The post-office employee refused to accept the fire extinguisher and forced the artist to take it out. Then he weighed the parcel, handed Ponosov a bill for 5120 roubles and finally sent the package to its destination.

Twenty days later, on the other side of a planet in the residential area of the city of Marietta, Georgia, USA, American artist Brad Downey received an old bag, wrapped in tape with 'souvenirs' from Russia and unpacked it in the lobby of his parent’s house (where he travels for Christmas every year from Berlin). A few days later he went to inspect the neighbourhood in search of the US analogs for received objects, with an eye to replace them.

Soon, snow-covered Russian glass balls appeared on the porch of his house in place of the traditional red and green Christmas decorations. Traffic sign 'Stop' on the side of the road was replaced with the Moscow city bus schedule. And the yellow house sign from the Moscow apartment block was installed on the fence instead of the rusty 'Private property' sign.

 

 

Brad's parents soon moved to the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, so he had to continue his project there. Seized from the American landscape items were brought home, carefully wrapped in paper and sent back to Russia on January 25, where they were meant to take the place of their 'doppelgangers'. For the shipping Downey paid 149.45 dollars.

As Ponosov says, his choice of the original items for the project was guided only by the visual factors: first, he wanted to send to America some objects with Cyrillic inscription; secondly, some universal sign (like graffiti or an international brand logo), which can be found in any city of the world. And finally ― something unobtrusive and absurd, like a brick. Downey set himself the task of finding the closest American analogues.

The delivery from North Carolina reached Moscow on January 30 with an unexplained weight loss and a small present for Ponosov ― an American beer bottle cap, which apparently had been keeping Downey company, while he was packing the parcel.

During these two months the 'habitats' of some Russian objects have changed: the net with the graffiti on the fence was replaced with a white canvas, anti-parking delineators and Christmas trees were removed, and the mountain of bricks disappeared. Thus their replacement required some improvisation from Ponosov. On the other hand, the hole from a 'Coca-Cola' brand banner, which was located by the local grocery store, remained untouched and had been waiting patiently for its US replacement.

 

The Tent

2014, Russian and Europian cities, mountains of Crimea.

Instead, the artists decided to send parcels with street objects to each other ('Switchie/Switchie') and organise a camping journey with a handmade tent, sewn from street banners, carved in different cities around the world. Picturesque Crimean Mountains were chosen as a destination point ― back then no one could imagine that this territory would soon be attached to Russia.

 

 

'The Tent' project was initially conceived as a peculiar dialogue between nature and the city. But the fact that it was done during the autumn of 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, had transformed it into a symbolic political statement: representatives of Russia and the United States meet on the land, torn by the political conflict, and spend a weekend together as friends, despite the external circumstances.

 

Double Yippie Hollow Super Power

2016, Moscow, Saint-Petersburg.
Photos of the show from CCA Fabrika (Moscow).

Double Yippie Hollow Super Power is a joint project between artists Brad Downey from the USA and Igor Ponosov from Russia. Taking inspiration from the parlor game “cadavre exquis” or “exquisite corpse” (a method by which a collection of words or images is collaboratively assembled), the pair have sought to combine the varying national symbols of their home nations into a new, exquisite set of iconic forms. The “unity of the opposites” that they have created – utilizing objects such as flags, coins, and anthems – plays with the sacrality of these national symbols, the almost divine status that they contain. Moreover, it alludes to the strangely intimate relationship that the two countries are entwined in. Whilst apparent opposites, common enemies, both locations create their identity through their connection with the other: the objects Downey and Ponosov have thus created contain both a critical and playful edge. They ridicule the stereotypes of both themselves and each other in the same moment.

 

 

'The Thaw' duo show, CCA Fabrika (Moscow): 16.11—15.12.2016.
Curated by Nica Komarova.
 
Web-sites of artists:
Igor Ponosov: www.igor-ponosov.ru
Brad Downey: www.braddowney.com