Essays and Texts

At the Back of the North Wind

by Anton Ginzburg

For the catalog At the Back of the North Wind (published by Hatje Cantz, 2012) on the occasion
of the solo exhibition at the 54th Venice Biennale.

In the exhibition At the Back of the North Wind, I explore the presence of mythological patterns in the fabric of everyday reality, particularly the tension between the actual and the potential. By combining new technologies with traditional forms of art, media and cultural artifacts, the installation conveys a currently relevant approach to these universal themes in visual terms.

I was drawn to the theme of Hyperborea, a region thought to be far north, “beyond the Boreas” (the North Wind), through recent sensationalistic exposés claiming the discovery of a mythical land on the White Sea around the Kem’ and Solovki Islands (site of the Gulag camps).

I am intrigued by these attempts to locate Hyperborea and to confirm its specific location, rather than considering it as a mythological country or a state of mind. I think of these endeavors in a Jungian context, as signifying a confrontation between consciousness and the unconscious. The past—or rather our subjective interpretation of its remnants—becomes the sculpting material, the metaphorical clay we build up and embellish to communicate our experience of reality.

In this project, I take Hyperborea as a starting point and create a dreamscape that articulates connections between the actual and potential inherent in our experience of the phenomenal world.

Growing up in Saint Petersburg, the idea of a northern expedition held romantic appeal for me, inspiring ideas of heroism, discovery and an enigmatic representation of the “other.” The Zoological Museum and the Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic showcased findings from northern expeditions. Housed in neoclassical buildings, the museum’s collections included grotesque taxidermy mammoths with their impressive tusks, as well as costumes, tools and other objects used by the northern dwellers. From a 19th-century Rational European perspective, the museums themselves appear as relics and elaborate installations.

Walking through their rooms, I remember looking at glass vitrines showcasing the black-and-white photos of the expeditions and mysterious rituals of the Arctic natives, carved wooden maps and journals with drawings of exotic facial tattoos. These representations seemed to exist outside of reality and a familiar sense of time.

The frozen void of the tundra, replete with prehistoric topographical and animal remains, could be thought of as the materialization of ancient beliefs in a geographic underworld. It has a disposition of its own and the power to alter reality for those who encounter its formidable terrain. It’s a blank canvas for the projection of our collective unconscious.

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