Is Utopia Gone Forever? Anton Ginzburg on the Lessons of the Soviet Art School VKhUTEMAS, and the Future of the Universalist Project

Andrew M. Goldstein, Artspace, February 4, 2017

For the past several years, the Russian-born, New York-based artist Anton Ginzburg has been working on a trilogy of films exploring post-Soviet geographies, searching for insights into the historical, intellectual, and cultural forces that have forged our contemporary reality.


His first cinematic journey, Hyperborea (2011), took him from the Pacific Northwest—where the American writer Washington Irving fancifully located the mythical land of Hyperborea—to Ginzburg’s birthplace of St. Petersburg to the northern gulags, where Russian archeologists claimed to have found evidence of the fabled domain. The second, Walking the Sea (2014), found the artist trekking by foot across the Aral Sea, an enormous former water body between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that was entirely drained during Soviet times when the water was rerouted to irrigate cotton farms, creating one of the 20th century’s worst ecological tragedies.


Now, the third and final film has made its debut along with an accompanying exhibition at Canada’s Southern Alberta Art Gallery , and it shows the artist venturing further into his own biography, as a child of the Soviet cultural system. The show also happens to raise one of the most consequent questions of our time: what has happened to the utopian dream of a universalist world?


To delve into the concepts behind the exhibition, titled “The Blue Flame: Constructions and Initiatives,” Artspace’s Andrew M. Goldstein spoke to Ginzburg about how he created the fascinating body of work, and what it has to do with the little-known Soviet art school—a cousin of the Bauhaus—known as VKhUTEMAS.