Nadja Kuznetsova "Italian dust"

3 March - 30 April 2016

Italian dust. Nadja Kuznetsova

The series of prints “Italian dust” that St.Petersburg based artist Nadja Kuznetsova started in spring 2014 tells about the memory as a particular space in time. About a delicate ever young haze that makes the light over the Lombardia fields at the bottom of the blue Alps or over the Venetian Lagoon specific, about an old dust that soak the air of palazzo and rests on the stones of the squares. Naturally, the dust here is meant as a metaphor. It is perhaps Brodsky that gives an absolute definition of its essence:

As the dust is a flesh

of time; flesh and blood.

It has different forms and it is gracefully mimicking: haze, powder, sand.  Even “Images of Italy” by Muratov starts from it: “with his fingers he felt the light dust that covered the heavy grapes and vineyards of Poggibonsi or Asciano”.

Italy that is full of light is the place of a special inspiration for the painter, graphic artist and photographer. Though, both the painter and the spectator soon realizes here the need to hide from the direct sunlight to the shade. The scattering of the light with the tent of a coarse texture (almost an alchemic deed that is known to every photographer) produces the famous Leonardo`s sfumato.

Much later Rembrandt and Fellini would come to the different more strong cinematic dramaturgy of relationship between the light and the darkness. Oculus of The Pantheon would turn into the baroque Caravaggio`s “Oeil-de-boeuf”, then into the lens of camera obscura, photo camera and movie camera, and as a result will become the lens of an old magic lantern. In the ray of its light that was breaking the darkness of the auditorium, on the white wall the projections of Tsvetayeva`s windows with the views on Rome, Florence or Ravenna or the dance of the academic dust corpuscles would mysteriously appear. Perforce comes to mind the famous Brodsky lines:

“…and a star blinks from all the smoke in the frosty heaven.

And no bride in chintz at the window, but dust's gray craft, plus the emptiness where once we loved.”

Think for a moment: doesn`t a tracing paper in the ancient illustrated books or atlases produce the same tent effect? Almost forgotten in the age of the gadgets the sensation of touching a book cover, dusty book edge, invisibly-textured marbled paper of the endpaper, and among the coarse pages suddenly appears the haze covering hand-painted etching or glued-in paintings or photo reproduction…

When you see the artworks from this series not hanging on the walls, but as an  illustrated deluxe edition album with the separate pages accompanied by the explanatory texts (such deluxe editions appear in Europe during the Renaissance period, once prints, copperplate prints and then etching become more wide-spread, but they become the most sound and popular during XVII-XIX time)- you understand that “Italian dust” creates chamber tonality common for the art of XVII century. On some pages you recognize the small courtyards of Guardi with its slow pedestrians, laundries and the staircases with the contrast rhythm of the stairs, quiet dialog between the light and the shadow.  And here is the stairs of Goldoni`s memorial house in Venice with the sharp razor of light on the stone banisters and on the edge of the well – is it the reality or the theatrical scenery? In any case Blok`s allusions are appropriate here:

There was a house on the street,

And stairs steep went to the dusk,

The door would open with the sound of glass,

The light would come and dusk would walk around.


Despite the use of high technologies, these prints are perceived as the traditional etchings or albumin photos-sepias of XIX century. Sepia is a traditionally Italian Mediterranean paint. It was extracted from the ink bag of seashells and used not only by painters and graphic artists, but also photographers that while mixing the dyes with the chemicals were developing the particular softness and depth of the tint. The print would get the distinctive brown haze and at the same time special durability.

Sepia, umber, burnt sienna, ochre – all the tints of the brown soils that are so diverse in Italy turning the paper surface into the stonework of Bergamasque houses, the cracks of plastering and threads of the wooden beams that are cutting the brick Venetian facades. Finally, they emerge into the invisible in a cloudy day whirlwind of dust dancing in the stream of light in the interiors of   Palazzo del Te in Mantua…

Although it could be also a colour of the Lethe waters, Mandelstam’s colour of the eternity:

Herds of horses whinny and graze.

This valley turns, like Rome, to rust.

Time’s clear torrents wash away

a Classic Spring’s dry gilded dust.

And as for Muratov: “So these are the waters that reflect the golden clouds! And we suddenly understand the slow rhythm of Bellini`s illusions. We understand the deep meditative thoughts that his saints are lost into, and the ethereal delicacy of infant`s games with the golden apples of dark leaves mystical tree.” And suddenly local colours burst into this unfading world: piercing blue sky, or a bright green grass patch in the yard of Ferraro `s palazzo, miraculously not burned by sun, or Venetian water.

Of the same nature – red tents in neo-Gothic arches of Pescara fish market (incidentally, you pay attention that it should be more than 1 p.m on the clock as the market is already closed).  And “sheets” or “nizioleti”- white frames with the black antiqua type that are applied with the paint directly on the coarse greenish-gray or terracotta pink house facades, which indicate calle and campo names. They would immediately attract attention hiding behind the different essence of the city that is not at once detected:  waving long reflections of the facades in the waters of Canal Grande or those red muscles of the brick and crumbling in ashes lines of the plaster on Fondamenta degli incurabili.

“Put on the dark sunglasses and take care. Venice can be fatal. In the very center the level of esthetical radioactivity is very high. Every angle emits the beauty that might not seem too prominent at first glance, but deep inside is insidious and relentless” – warns Tiziano Scarpa, and continues – “Tourists are lucky – they neutralize the radioactivity of the glorious architectural monuments absorbing it with the photo camera…  But what about the locals”?

There is a phenomenon connected with having a distress from witnessing the beauty of classical art that is the most vivid in Italy. The separate project of Nadja Kuznetsova that she curated in Mayak gallery in 2016 was dedicated to that very phenomenon, called “Stendhal syndrome”.  Aren`t these prints sort of a “true antidote”? After all, the reality caught by the camera lens and imprinted on the eye retina of an artist repeatedly bend, when back home to St. Petersburg,  which admittedly has too much of Italian hints. And only later in the studio the long and meticulous work of transforming the shot into a print is happening, and then work on the different conditions of the print, which reminds the working process with etching.

The pages of the “Italian dust” series covered with the precious patina, the traces of time are not easily distinguished from aquatint with the first glance even by the practiced eye.  They are born from the travelling experiences of the artist. There are ages and just a few steps from “Ideal city” of Piero della Francesca through the phantasmagorias of Piranesi and ruins of Hubert Robert to Rotonda di San Lorenzo in Mantaua of Nadja Kuznetsova. However, these few steps are not easy to walk for a modern day man, same as for Andrei Gorchakov, the protagonist of Tarkovsky`s “Nostalghia”. The whisper of the stones at the bottom of the pool, splash of water, clouds of steam attempting at the thin light of a candle. Try, it is not as difficult as you might think! But in few steps the light of the candle dies away irretrievably chocking with the smoke of the vapors, in the morning Milan`s fog or thick Venetian nebbia, the way in which can truly be brake trough by your own body on some campo. The fog is also the dust, but of water…

Denis Diderot once said to the master of pastel Maurice Quentin de La Tour: “Just think about it, friend - all your works are just the dust!” Modern arts haven`t gone that far from its early predecessors, if you think about it, and time is cruel both to marble grave-stone on Isola di San Michele and to pixels on electronic devise …

Ephemeral incarnation of allegory vanitas vanitatum, the thinnest web of lines, put not by the squeaking as the feather etching needle, but indistinctly tapping electronic  stylus on the digital photo. It is the traces of time, as distinctive scratches at the old negative that you don`t need to use the retouch for.  On the thick coarse paper appear and stays the haze, rise powder, dust.

Interlinear for the series “Italian dust” develops quietly and suddenly as a traditional photo. It emerges from the known texts of Pavel Muratov and John Ruskin, Osip Mandelstam and Joseph Brodsky, Tiziano Scarpa and Arkadiy Ippolitov, from the texture of melodies of Pergolesi, Haydn and Bach.

Here the eye listens, the hand feels, the heart thinks and the soul lives.


February 2016                                                                                                                                            Elizaveta Sheveleva