Leonid Tishkov
Steppenläufer (Tumbleweed), 2018
Installation: archive photographs, textile, vinyl, fans
Courtesy of the artist
The motif of the sphere that Leonid Tishkov has placed as the foundation of his work, has a long history, during which culture ascribed to it a wide variety of different symbolic meanings. In his attempt to bring these to some kind of general synthesis, the contemporary German thinker Peter Sloterdijk concluded that the sphere is a universal symbol of human existence: living, building spheres and thinking all being essentially one and the same thing. This is because "people are beings that construct spheres". These notions are in many ways consonant with the meanings Tishkov put into the main motif of his installation. Indeed, in his work the sphere is intended to embody a real human life story – the fate of the artist's stepfather, Alexander Davidovich Gilgenberg. Then again, there is room here for clarification: for the artist (as is made clear in the title of the work), this motif – a rotating ball, suspended in the air – is associated with a tumbleweed, an uprooted shrub driven across the steppe by the wind. Alexander Gilgenberg, as Tishkov explains, was a Volga German, deported in 1941 along with his large family and a million of his compatriots, to Kazakhstan. He would never subsequently be able to return to his homeland and, moving from place to place, finished his days in the Urals. Therefore, for Gilgenberg, forcibly torn from his roots and deprived of his homeland and family home, the personal sphere he created was, in fact, his only place. And the sphere, as Sloterdijk understands it, is actually the anthropological envelope surrounding each person. Spiritually inspired and filled with meaning, it gives us our position in the world while simultaneously protecting us from this world.

Look, however, at the images on the ball. They are all taken from the personal archives of Volga Germans, with only three of them belonging to Alexander Gilgenberg himself. Moreover, all of them are group pictures – photographs of families which, taken together, recreate the formerly existing community of the Germans of the Volga region. And all these people shared the fate of Gilgenberg. All of them, forcibly deprived of their roots, found their place in their personal spherical shell. The human destiny of one thus recognises itself in the fate of a million. By this, Tishkov's work, devoted to the personal lot in life of somebody close to him, acquires an epic sense.

At the same time, Tishkov's use of family albums can be seen as yet another possible semantic turn. Let us ask ourselves: how is the shell filled with spirit and meaning? Like a vessel, Sloterdijk assures us, it can only be filled from outside. The archetype here could be the relationship between mother and the child, before birth, connected by a common breathing and circulation. But even after birth, not only do people tend to search for the original shelter, they also to try to go beyond it. Creating your own sphere and finding a place within it therefore means connecting it with the spheres of others, to share your personal place with others. As Tishkov tells us, "after the death of his wife, [Alexander Gilgenberg] was left alone, and so my mother, having by that time lost my father, became his support. ... He died at home, in the Urals, and is buried beside my parents. His life story is my story too." So the loss of a loved one, on the one hand, causes irreparable damage to the personal sphere, but, on the other, leads to a strengthening of the shell. The personal sphere is filled with spirit and meaning by the removal and inclusion of the dead. This is why Leonid Tishkov devoted his work to the memory of Alexander Davidovich Gilgenberg. That is why his work constantly refers to his family and kin. The lives lived by his family and loved ones become part of his own sphere, and their life stories are his place.

Viktor Misiano
artistic director of the project: Viktor Misiano
National Center for Contemporary Arts
Moscow Museum of Modern Art
Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
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