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Paradise Lost

I met Aleksandr Tishkov in 2018 when he presented the installation 'The Ruins of Tomorrow' in the graduate exhibition 'Show One: Art' at Central Saint Martins in London. Just recently, I had the chance to interview him on his practice and to talk extensively about the fragility of the subjects he is dealing with and how the forms resemble that.


A disorienting feeling or a sense of escapism? For sure, the objects indicate precision and fragility, and any trace of ambiguity is consciously supplied. I wish I could stand by the installations, ponder on the artefacts, and figure out the narratives Aleksandr Tishkov stages. After all, if I could step on the stages that Tishkov creates for his installation pieces, then I would discover or become a part of a world and narrative that balances between subtleness and force, as well as decay and hope.


( View of the installation 'The Ruins of Tomorrow', 2018 in the degree show 'Show One: Art' at Central Saint Martins, London)


In "The Ruins of Tomorrow" two vertical wooden constructions are rising, making it impossible for the audience to miss it. Smaller objects are placed around the tall structures, directing the viewer to look lower and at the floor. The gaze moves from high to low and vice versa, like watching parts of choreography and calling that events took place or that they are just about to happen. As the title suggests, there is a misfortunate state that will haunt the near future life, but the course of this springs from an earlier condition. For "The Ruins of Tomorrow", the event of decomposition and break down is already in operation.


(Image of the casts of artichokes, red peppers and Romanesco broccoli )


At first sight, one cannot recognise what the sculptures on the ground represent. Instead, what is apparent is the unpolished textures and the measured tactility. Going closer, it becomes evident that the sculptures are reminiscents of vegetations. Tishkov made moulds of artichokes, red peppers and Romanesco broccoli and reproduced the casts numerous times, till the details from the models vanished. Interestingly enough, some sculptures are displayed in their mould. A string is holding together "negative and positive spaces of the same elements", suggesting that the casts can quickly fall apart.


( Images of the casts and the moulds of vegetables )


Moving to the top, a replica of a palm tree stands like a guard that overlooks the area beneath. It consists of thin and long slices of wood that Tishkov assembled. Pieces of cardboard crown the palm tree, substituting the tree's long feathered leaves. I wonder about the lightness of the wood and the impermanence of the cardboard. Knowing that the extensive plantation of palm trees leads to deforestation and severe loss of life (Tullis, 2019), Tishkov invented this palm tree to commend on the conditions that hinder ecological sustainability.


( Details of the palm tree and the installation)


While bringing forth the ecological hazard, the artist also talks for the vitality of regeneration. The nearly amorphous surfaces and using the yarn to prevent the 'bodies' from breaking down, as organic forms do when they decay, encompass unsteadiness and fragility. In the artist's own words the casts of vegetables on the floor are symbols for "the circle of life, whereby decomposition gives essential nutrition to the soil, (and) in turn giving new life" (Lloyd, 2018).


Hovering over the construction and its designs, I recall the symbolic meaning that the palm tree holds for the Christian Church. Psalm 91:13 indicates that "The just shall flourish like the palm" (Palm Tree, Christian Symbolism of, n.d). Christ, resurrection, martyrdom and virtue as instances of victory over death and mortality, are some of the associations. From a symbol of virtue and hence ascension to paradise, the palm trees, today, have become a warning for exploitation and environmental catastrophe.


Tishkov's measured tactility, the symbolism registering over the objects, which he camouflages by creating the illusion that their placement is haphazard, imbue the thoughts of the viewers. It is no coincidence how Aleksandr Tishkov coherently brings together forms, which altogether create an immersive experience and a passage of emerging; rising up to falling and being vulnerable. While working on the restoration of the Church of Our Lady of Kazan in Tallin, he observed that the architectural plans, the interior designs and sensory stimulus, enhanced narratives.


Bearing the religious symbols, the second upright construction represents a stairway to heaven. The steps of the wooden ladder are curved, transforming it into a slippery surface that is impossible to climb. This might indicate that the artist renounces the possibility to access paradise. Perhaps, he is deeply concerned with the "environmental catastrophe we are facing today" (Bidshahri, 2019), and for him, any alleviation from the harm that is caused to the environment would be unfair. As humans, we shall long for what we have lost, to rediscover the essence of virtue and lead with this a good life for all living beings. Before we reach that, paradise is a utopia, a vision we cannot perceive, and we are banned from entering it.


Another point the artist makes through 'The Ruins of Tomorrow' is that humans have proved to be equally insensitive towards cultural heritage. Despite tangible heritage, such as monuments and artefacts, cultural heritage consists of natural sites too. Tishkov stressed that both need protection, otherwise if destroyed, they are irreplaceable. In case they are destroyed, any attempt to recreate them by replicating them will not resolve the loss.


(Slideshow with images of the Installations 'Hypothetical Paradise', 'Paradise is Here', 'We Didn't Pay to Be Here')


In the installation pieces 'Hypothetical Paradise', (2018), 'Paradise is Here' (2019) and 'We Didn't Pay to Be Here', (2020), which followed after 'The Ruins of Tomorrow', Tishkov expands on the environmental exploitation, meanwhile, he brings in visions of dystopian societies and the colonisation of far distant places, such as the planet Mars. On the one hand, Tiskov initiates that humans are not the only living beings in the ecosystem and on the other, he has become a mediator among distanced places [6].


At last, the disorienting feeling I grasped when I first looked at the 'The Ruins of Tomorrow' connects to the effort of Aleksandr Tishkov to stage pieces that when entered, they instigate curiosity and surprise. The openness and the permeability allow me to 'wander' and to explore the textures that the forms unravel and which resist any confinement. Operating beyond the frame and the rigidness that the latter would provide if adopted, I can trace the fragility; the precariousness the forms speak of, and despite the damage they represent, feel the grace of nature in the ruins of tomorrow.

For the installation 'The Ruins of Tomorrow', the artist used timber, plywood, plaster, cardboard, upcycled IKEA wood, yarn, silicone, MDF, carbon paper.


In the slideshow, the images depict:

'Hypothetical Paradise', (2018), installation with timber, plywood, tiles, water, hazelnuts, styrofoam, black paint, plaster, soil, clay, cardboard, yarn, silicone, Tartu / 'Paradise is Here', 2019, installation with timber, plywood, moss, upcycled IKEA timber, rose thorns, MDF, dado rails, sand, plaster, clay, soil, paraffin wax, oil on canvas, sound recording (Kauaʻi ʻōʻō singing, 12:03 mins, FLAC file) / 'We Didn't Pay to Be Here', 2020, installation with upcycled timber and plywood, coconut and soy wax, glazed and unfired tiles, dyed linen (cochineal and turmeric), terracotta, tree weldmesh, tree bark, London.


List of references, as mentioned in the text:

Aleksandr Tishkov (personal communication, November 15, 2020)

Tullis, Paul. (, 2019). How the world got hooked up on palm oil. The Guardian. https://bit.ly/3fXepcW

Lloyd, Kathryn. (2018). Take Five: Aleksandr Tishkov. https://www.arts.ac.uk/colleges/central-saint-martins/stories/take-five-aleksandr-tishkov

Palm-Tree, Christian Symbolism Of. (n.d). The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Retrieved 11/20/2020. https://www.biblicalcyclopedia.com/P/palm-tree-christian-symbolism-of.html

Bidshahri, Yalda. (2019). Paradise is Here. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uimVcCOa-SeFJ8pq4yKWZa31Uw-h-wly/view

Bourriaud, Nicolas. (2019). Amplified Humanism: Nicolas Bourriaud on the artist's role as a translator between worlds. Frieze. 200. 33.


For more information about the Aleksandr Tshkov visit http://www.aleksandrtishkov.com/index.html and follow https://www.instagram.com/aleksandr.tishkov/.

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