“Orwell of our time”: how Vladimir Sorokin’s exhibition in London turned out to be

03.07.2024Daria Kizenkova

Vladimir Sorokin's exhibition "Day of the Oprichnik", supported by the Tsukanov Family Foundation, opened at the Shtager&Shch Gallery in London. "ZIMA" tells how the project about Russia's past reflects the reality of the present and why it will be of interest not only to history buffs.

“The Day of the Oprichnik,” presented at Shtager&Shch, is based on the novel of the same name by Vladimir Sorokin. In its time, the writer’s loudly voiced dystopia was highly praised by both critics and the general public: nomination for the Booker Prize, theatrical productions, including Mark Zakharov’s play in Lenkom. Just under twenty years after the work was created, Sorokin’s “oprichnik” returns again, but on canvases in London.

“Day of the Oprichnik” is not the first joint work of art curator and gallery owner Marat Gelman and writer Vladimir Sorokin. In 2023, the exhibition “Blue Lard” has already been shown in London, as well as in Berlin and New York, from which this project largely “grew”. According to Gelman, together with Sorokin they managed to create an educational narrative through which the artist tells a chapter of Russian history to the British public.

Photo: Sergey Novikov

As Igor Tsukanov , founder of the Tsukanov Family Foundation , admits, the exhibition has become “an extremely personal and deeply personal project” for him. As Tsukanov himself notes, the oprichnina has long since transcended the time frame of Russian history, becoming a phenomenon that describes the state system within the country not only centuries ago, but also today. “Sorokin is the Orwell of our time for Russia.”

“All the images Sorokin chooses for his works may not be so clear to the London viewer, but they are transparent and clear to the Russian average person. It was obvious to me that Russia was mired in oprichnina decades ago – long before Volodya’s (Sorokin’s) story came out – and has finally drowned in totalitarianism and its desire to eradicate any dissent today.”

In his works Sorokin deliberately combines the era of Ivan the Terrible with the present. “Tsar’s Guard” as if successfully evolved: instead of broom and whip in the hands of the servants of the sovereign are firearms, to track down enemies inside the country they help modern technology, and part of the oprichniki today went to war. “Times have changed, but the essence remains the same: every job represents a caste of ‘slaves’ who are loyal only to their master and ready to obey orders without question,” Tsukanov adds.

Sorokin created most of his work with the help of artificial intelligence. According to Gelman, the use of technology in painting marks “a new era in art.” “Before the development of AI, there were two main methods of narrative: analytical – through the word, and creative – through the image. When an artist gives the computer a desired description of the work, and the machine reproduces the visual component based on the author’s “script,” there is a synthesis of these two methods. In this way, the paradigm of art as such is completely changed,” explains the gallerist.

Photo: Sergey Novikov

Among the works Sorokin presented, “The Business Meal” stands out particularly strongly. “Unlike other series, here Sorokin resorts to the technique of ‘rich painting’, so in the end, even after the use of artificial intelligence, the canvas looks as if the author hand-painted each stroke, creating a sense of the ‘trembling hand’ of the painter,” says Gelman.

Despite the “plot” and excessive literary nature of the works, as it may seem at first glance, behind the expressive characters and everyday sketches from the life of the oprichnina there is an acute ethical problematic. With a facade of colorful costumes and colorful interiors, Sorokin, through a prism of exaggeration, immerses the viewer extremely quickly into an artistic world that has become a reflection of reality after the passage of time.

You can visit the exhibition until July 13 at the Shtager&Shch Gallery.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: