Alexandra Sukhareva: Comb in the Grass (small descriptive models that have turned into action)
The Field Reserch project suggested by Alexandra Sukhareva (b. 1983) focuses on an intriguing and little studied episode in Russian cultural history. The Siege of Leningrad (September 8, 1941, to January 27, 1944) was among the most tragic episodes of World War Two. The 872 days of the blockade have traumatized an entire generation, and many events of the time have been repressed in collective memory. With memory and memory construction among the central themes of her art practice, Alexandra Sukhareva's research project focuses on secret societies and alternative spiritual practices that started emerging in the besieged city from the first days of the blockade and reflected its inhabitants' need of a new spiritual framework that would define what was normal in a world beyond good and evil, a world where people no longer believed in god, communism or humanity. Most information and documents relating to such practices are still classified or continue to exist as secret. Collecting tiny bits of evidence in public and private archives, as well as in interviews, Sukhareva aims to reconstruct the picture of the spiritual upheaval of the period that brought about a number of mystical movements and even occultist groups. She is also interested in the lives of particular participants of those events, such as Sofya Ostrovskaya—one of the important figures of the Leningrad cultural scene who later turned out to have been a KGB agent.
An important aspect of Alexandra Sukhareva's project is her analysis of the besieged city as a specific media zone with new channels of information distribution. The lack of reliable news from the front line created new patterns of information exchange and redefined the very value of information. Information became largely a matter guesswork and predictions, which the artist believes was similar to the phenomena we can witness today: production of opinions based on hearsay and incomplete or unverified reports and ultimately, production of mass obscurantism.
Alexandra Sukhareva's project includes archive research in The State Museum of the History of Religion, Tsarskoye Selo, The Museum of the Defense and Blockade of Leningrad, the Saint Petersburg Roerich Family Museum and Institute and the Central State Archive of Political and Historic Documents of Saint Petersburg. The sources studied include Tatyana Gnedich, Stranitsy plena i stranitsy slavy [Pages of Captivity and Pages of Glory], Saint Petersburg: Genio Loci 2008; Sofya Ostrovskaya, Dnevnik [Diary], Moscow: New Literary Observer, 2013; Maria Malikova, ed., Konets institutsiy kultury dvadstatykh godov v Leningrade. Po arkhivnym materialam [The End of the 1920s' Cultural Institutions in Leningrad. Based on Archived Documents], Moscow: New Literary Observer, 2014; Sergey Svistun, ed., Sankt-Pererburgskaya psikhiatricheskaya bolnitsa sv. Nikolaya-Chudotvortsa. K 140-letiyu [Saint Nikholas the Wonderworker Psychiatric Asylum in Saint Petersburg. 140th Anniversary], Saint Petersburg: Kosta, 2012; Alexander Etkind. Eros nevozmozhnogo. Istoriya psykhoanaliza v Rossii [Impossible Eros. The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia], Moscow: Klass, 2016; Mikhail Shakhnovich. Peterburgskiye mistiki [The Mystics of Saint Petersburg], Saint Petersburg: Nevskiy Glashatay, 1996; and Sabina Shpilrein. Psikhoanaliticheskiye Trudy [Writings in Psychoanalysis], Izhevsk: Ergo, 2008.