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Rinat Voligamsi: The Conditions of Winter

The award-winning Russian artist offers a comical yet subversive view on army life in a bygone era

Acclaimed Russian painter Rinat Voligamsi presents his latest show, 'The Conditions of Winter', at the Erarta Gallery in London. Taking found images of Russian military life, Voligamsi turns the relatively mundane and run of the mill depictions of army life and gives them a funny, surreal twist. Legs loose their torsos and repeated images seek to disrupt the status quo for the viewer, the glitch in the matrix is ever real in the world Voligamsi paints. The humorous yet thought provoking approach to his artistic endeavours is nothing new for the artist. 

Originally gaining praise and notoriety for his provocative collection, entitled 'unofficial album', which constructs a whole new history of Lenin’s life as a faithful Muslim, via original photographs reinvented with the aid of Photoshop. It is possible if you look a little deeper at the artist's work he is all too ready to reveal and question the notions of power and authority of a nation state. Well they say much truth is said in jest and Voligamsi's darkly strange and comical art might make you smile, but perhaps more importantly it will surely make you think.

Dazed Digital: How has growing up in Russia shaped your work as an artist?
Rinat Voligamsi:
Obviously, regardless of whether you are an artist or you have any other occupation, you will always be fundamentally influenced by the country in which you live. As expected, USSR and Russia have had a fundamental influence upon my work, not just stylistically but also in terms of subject matter as well. The real question is whether this has been positive or negative! For this, I leave my viewer to engage with the work and decide for themselves.

DD: What attracted you to the photographs that inspired ‘The Conditions of Winter’?
Rinat Voligamsi: Funnily enough, in terms of the mood displayed through the paintings I was inspired by British punk of all things! I have always been a huge fan of the movement and I think that the delicate equilibrium between the aggression of the music and the stripped-down instrumentalism can also be seen in my works with the overall form vs. the technical detail of the work, such as brushstrokes. Further, let us not forget that punk lyrics are usually anti-establishment and politically based, which is also a running theme with my works.

DD: The tone of the entire collection is very dark and mysterious with an element of humour-why did you choose to show the works in that way?
Rinat Voligamsi: Humor is definitely something, which I consistently aim to achieve in my works. However, I think that it is important to consider that it completely depends on the individual whether this humor is considered as being dark or not. Perhaps it does have some dark undertones, which consequently leads one to ponder over its mysterious presence, which is what my mission is in the first place.

DD: The transformation and distortion of each image acts as a sort of subversion from the norms and the expected for the viewer, was this always your intention? If so, why?
Rinat Voligamsi: In terms of the actual imagery within the paintings, they have certainly been stimulated by my recruitment into the army. If anything, the transformation and distortion themes are purposively built into the artworks to signify the fragile balance between rationality and utter insanity, something that army life forces you to uncover for yourself.

DD: Could you please give us a brief overview of your path towards photorealism and how you stumbled upon your current project
Rinat Voligamsi: I have been loyal to photorealism for a long time. Prior to a wider recognition of my works I experimented with other types and movements, but was never as drawn to them. My initial attraction to photorealism stemmed from a nostalgia for my childhood in Ufa, where soviet photographs were commonplace.

DD: What other projects are you working on?
Rinat Voligamsi: At the moment I am extremely satisfied with investigating photorealism further. It is a style that I have found to be very suitable for the kind of art that I want to pursue and I am hoping that I will be able to continue working with it. As any artist will honestly tell you, they would like to see their works being exhibited in as many places as possible, but personally for me I would be very honored to be shown in Moscow. I am exceptionally pleased that my art is in London, although I completely understand that it can be arduous to relate to some my works for a non-Russian, despite the fact that I strive to be as universal as possible.

Rinat Voligamsi: The Conditions of Winter at the Erarta Galleries in London, 12 October - 19 November, 2011