Svetlana Kuznetsova: Reflections on Life in the USSR

Wandering around the Other Art Fair in early October, I am drawn to the macabre sculptures of Svetlana Kuznetsova. Delicate gems and jewellery adorn the orifices of sheep’s skulls surrounded by the dead bodies of insects. This mysterious juxtaposition of riches and harrowing images of death seems fitting in light of the artist’s experience growing up in the USSR.

Svelana Kuznetsova, Solid Reminder of the Void, 2017 (Photo: Courtesy of Svetlana Kuznetsova)

Warm and welcoming, Kuznetsova presents each detail under the sarcophagus-shaped glass in the Savage World of Powers. Three skulls wear crowns representative of their wearer’s high profession: one head is crowned by the golden Monomakh Cap of the tsars, representative of the supreme powers that govern Russia, another wears the Patriarch’s klopuk portraying the influence of Christianity, and the last has a Papakha, the karakul hat of Islam. The choice of using the skulls of sheep, common farmyard animals, for all three leaders mocks their claims to divinity among other men by reducing them to mortal primitive creatures – ‘while this is us’, she says as she points to the scatterings of dead insects. Humans often have little respect for insects, denouncing them as ‘pests’ and killing them without reservation. The Russian authorities treat the anonymous crowd likewise. With a comprehensive set of visual symbols, Kuznetsova captures the cold heart of the USSR’s monumental mechanism of power that she ultimately seeks to condemn.