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My Kandinsky

 

 

Since the first education that I received was the diploma in history in the Moscow State University, I always had interest towards stories and analysis why certain things happen, what led to what and how the life is or was outside where we live now. The only thing that bothered me in studying history and eventually prevented me from becoming a historian was the necessity, given by the nature of this discipline, to stick to facts. Yes, I agree, that the factual basis creates the soil where the seed of any conclusion starts its development. Though sitting in the silence of the library I was always driven by the temptation to add the “what if” element, to imagine things that could happen and to fly over from the world of facts to the world of imagination in order to link those two and diffuse them one into another. Which is nothing else but the interest to be in “spontaneous religious experience, which brings the individual's faith into immediate relation with God” (Carl Jung “The Undiscovered Self”).

 

Therefore with this work, I am not attempting to produce a monograph. On the contrary, I am going to write a story. In my art practice I frequently use the genre of short stories but normally it is a very short story accompanied by a visual piece – installation, performance or painting and/or a sound piece. This is my first attempt to write a short story with no visual support but with some analysis of the work of a Russian painter and art theorist Vasily Kandinsky.

 

___________________________

 

 

PART 1

 

This was my first conscious epiphany in getting in contact with art. Here it’s necessary to give a little background about what was considered to be art in the Soviet Union. Though there despite the Soviet regime Russia gave brilliant filmmakers, poets and writers to the world, visual arts inside the Soviet borders served ultimately for the propaganda of the regime, meaning that anything that was not depicting the ideal communist life was neglected. Naturally, the name of Kandinsky was forbidden and erased. And then came the 80s, perestroika and the winds of change. The late 80s were literally the years when the fresh air entered the musty room of the Soviet society. And there was the first retrospective of Kandinsky in one of the biggest art centers in Moscow, numerous halls with the best paintings of the artist brought from all over the world. I was 15.

 

I came to see it with a friend. I knew nothing about the artist. We had to queue for more than an hour before entering the exhibition. I remember it was a lovely spring afternoon when northern day becomes incredibly long, the air smells of blossoming lilac and the air itself seems lilac.

 

“In this painting ['Moscow'], I was in fact on a quest for a certain hour, which was and which remains always the most beautiful hour of the day in Moscow. The sun is already low and has reached its highest force, which it has searched all the day, to which it has aspired all the day. The sun dissolves all Moscow in a spot, which as a frenzied tuba makes entered into vibration all the inner being, the whole soul... Rendering this hour seemed the biggest, the most impossible of the happiness for an artist. These impressions renewed every sunny day. They brought me a joy which shattered me until the bottom of the soul, and which reached until ecstasy.

“Looks on the past”, Vasily Kandinsky, in Der Sturm, Berlin 1913

 

Before entering the museum I never saw an abstract painting. And the first one I saw got me entirely. I can only compare this moment with the moment when one falls in love. One minute before you were talking careless about some nonsense, then you look into the eyes of your opponent and you encounter in the deepness of these eyes something that changes you forever and suddenly this is the moment that you would remember for the rest of your life. I guess this is the glimpse of discovering the external permission to be oneself, the hint that you are not alone. (as said in the discussion between Svetlana Boym and Boris Groys On Freedom: “Today’s hero is a person who is constantly looking for another person to obtain permission and support from” ).

 

Anyway here I am, aged 15, surrounded by the abstract paintings of Kandinsky, totally unaware of any kind concept that lies behind abstractionism and suddenly realizing that not only I totally understand the paintings, but I am driven inside of them. I think the first one was Composition VIII (1923) that had such an effect. I was so surprised that I sat down on the floor in front of the painting (it was forbidden to sit on the floor in the Soviet museums, and the fact that security didn’t come after me is another proof that I was temporarily shifted to another reality).

 

“Color directly influences the soul.

The color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposely, to cause vibrations in the soul.” —Vasily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1911

 

 

Thus my soul was taken by the power of art and since then I was convinced that the purpose of art is to change the reality, to get the viewer into another world and the contact with the power of creating magic is the main purpose of producing art.

 

 

Interesting fact

 

“Kandinsky is believed to have had synaesthesia, a harmless condition that allows a person to appreciate sounds, colors or words with two or more senses simultaneously. In his case, colors and painted marks triggered particular sounds or musical notes and vice versa. The involuntary ability to hear color, see music or even taste words results from an accidental cross-wiring in the brain that is found in one in 2,000 people, and in many more women than men.” Ossian Ward

The Telegraph 16/12/2014

 

The fact is not proven, as Kandinsky had never been medically tested. It’s curious that I myself had a similar experience of seeing music (that was embodied in Katerina Ashche’s  “Hotel “Louvre” piece (2015).

But does it mean that this deep effect that art can make is available to the limited number of audience with the special abilities to receive the signal that art is transmitting?

 

“The spirit, like the body, can be strengthened and developed by frequent exercise. Just as the body, if neglected, grows weaker and finally impotent, so the spirit perishes if untended.” Vasily Kandinsky “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” 1911

 

 

 

PART 2

 

 

“The spirit, like the body, can be strengthened and developed by frequent exercise. Just as the body, if neglected, grows weaker and finally impotent, so the spirit perishes if untended.” Vasily Kandinsky “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” 1911

This part of the story begins when I am already an adult. I still live in Moscow, but now I have a successful career in advertising, a husband, and a baby. Adding to this classical image from a cornflakes advertisement the fact that we were purchasing an apartment. The only unusual fact was about the house where our future flat had to be. The house was build in the 1903 and situated in the very center of Moscow. It was noticeable because of red geraniums in the windows (Moscow climate is 9 months with no sun plus it’s a big city with faceless dusty high-rise buildings so having flowers in the windows is very unusual).  But that what made me want to buy the flat particularly in this house. When we moved in I heard rumors from the neighbors about an elderly couple living one floor below us. They were a nice couple, had no children when we saw each other we said hello and talked about the weather. People said he was a famous painter with, well known in the 60s (time of relative freedom in the USSR) for his abstract paintings, then during the reaction, he managed to cooperate with the government and avoided repressions. His wife being a mere art critic was said to have an incredible power in the higher society. Basically she could with one word make someone famous or on the contrary, drive him to nonexistence. At the time I am describing they were in their 80s. Also, it was said (and eventually proved) that the couple owned an art collection that included works by Rubens, Caravaggio, Jan van Eyck and other masterpieces (well, no one had seen the expertise that would have proved that they were not counterfeits). My friend who as an antic dealer told me that when asked where this collection comes from my neighbor answered that they have found the paintings hidden underneath the parquet floor during the reconstruction works in their apartment. Of course, no one believed him. The version that the paintings were stolen during some post second world war hidden agreement or some other conspiracy theory sounded more realistic.

At that time I had a cat, an orange and very smart cat called Misha. And he was very noisy, so once he disappeared, so we were looking for him everywhere until we discovered a hall on the floor, quite small but big enough for a cat to climb in. I was worried that something could happen to the cat so we decided to open up the hole, taking off the parquet and then I hung my head inside and held out my hand and felt for it, pulled it and discovered a canvas, a small one, covered in fabric. I unfolded the fabric. It was a small abstract painting, white with blue, turquoise and yellow geometrical shapes. One glance on it made me tremble inside and feel like I was drawn inside it. I quickly covered it back in fabric and them the cat from the underfloor.

As the protagonist Donna Tart’s Goldfinch I felt how incredibly powerful it feels to have a masterpiece in my own possession, to look at it close and whenever I want. And as well in a book this possession played a strange effect on my life. But unlike him I didn’t want to hide it, I wanted to show my treasure to as many as a possible number of people. But here I faced an unexpected problem. Apparently, it’s not common to just get out on the street and say “hey, I got Kandinsky’s painting, wanna see it?” First, none will take it seriously, then after taking it seriously it needs numerous expertise to prove to attribute the painting, and then what shall I do next – how do I prove where it comes from, or how do I deal with my mysterious neighbors, so the questions were countless and I asked for advice of my friend – antic dealer. With his help I managed to pass through all the procedures of attributing the painting, setting up a private fund and letting it be exhibited. The painting was attributed to be one of the later works of Kandinsky, produced by the artist in Paris between 1942-1944. That brought me to Paris, where I met a man who was not from the artistic world at all. He was a sportsman and a builder. He took me in his car through the yellow fields of Britany. We spend together three days in April and never saw each other again. Somewhere between Rennes and Saint-Onen-la-Chapelle, he asked what do I do. At that moment I stopped working in advertising and was trying very unconfidently and timidly on a little bit of drawing and writing and designing objects. “So you are an artist”, he said with a broad smile. That was the second moment of epiphany. I put the painting into a lease and decided to use the money to study and practice art.

 

 

“The artist has a triple responsibility to the non-artists: (1) He must repay the talent which he has; (2) his deeds, feelings, and thoughts, like those of every man, create a spiritual atmosphere which is either pure or poisonous. (3) These deeds and thoughts are materials for his creations, which themselves exercise influence on the spiritual atmosphere.” Vasily Kandinsky “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” 1911 a.