The 54th Venice Biennale opens today, and with it Anton Ginzburg‘s ambitious project At the Back of the North Wind. Curated by Matthew J.W. Drutt and housed at the Palazzo Bollani, Ginzburg’s installation features large-scale sculpture, bass reliefs, photography, painting, and video. Throughout the artist explores the mythical concept of Hyperborea – a place described as “the Golden Age” – traveling from the Northwest Coast of the United States to St. Petersburg, Russia and on to the White Sea. On the whole, the exhibition is about the dimensions of discovery. Ginzburg follows a journey and also creates the inhabitants of Hyperborea making the exhibition a complex web of interactions with ideas and objects.

At the Back of the North Wind runs through November 27, 2011. To celebrate the opening, I chatted with Ginzburg about the project and working with Mr. Drutt.

Still images of the film (the unifying narrative of the exhibition) and the sculpture Ashnest (2011) for At the Back of the North Wind by Anton Ginzburg. Courtesy of the artist, compliment our Q&A, which comes after the jump.

CR: How did you become interested in General Semantics? At what point did it become a theoretical background for your own work?

AG: I have always been interested in the tension between perceived reality and its representation. General Semantics is one of my many influences and interests, but I am not a follower of any one particular doctrine.  Rather, I find systems on how knowledge is organized to be extremely fascinating. This search for a perfect system was really characteristic to the beginning of the 20th century, it was a time of major experiment for European and American civilizations. Theories are highly reflective of the time period from which they were born, so I tend to believe that General Semantics organically became an underlying theme of Hyperborea.

CR: Why Northern Russia? What drew you to the region – aside from personal connection – as a place of exploration… both physically and theoretically?

AG: Like the American North West, Northern Russia (and other territories) were all referenced in ancient literature, maps, mythology and sensationalist articles that described Hyperborea, which was a mythological land, described by Herodotus. I chose several of the most prominent locations to create my route. This journey and the process of mapping out of each location became the premise for my film. Hyperborea.

In the beginning of the 20th century, many nations claimed to be the descendants of Hyperboreans which I find it to be more of a metaphor of the utopian state rather than a physical place, meaning that there was futility to this expedition from the beginning. The journey itself becomes the destination, which frames the void of landscape and collective memory.

Washington Irving identified Hyperborea in Astoria, Oregon. Acmeists in Saint Petersburg who later wrote about it connected Hyperborea to their city. From my own personally childhood, I remember a haunted zoological museum that showcased Northern Russia and the mammoth skeletons that were found there.

And since the northern territories of the Soviet Gulag prisons near the White Sea have become accessible, there have been claims of discoveries there as well. There has been a particular focus on an archipelago of islands near Kem’ and Solovki that supposedly contained archeological sites and sculptural artifacts.

CR: Matthew Drutt is curating the exhibition. Tell me a little about your relationship and how the dynamic works in context of this particular project?

AG: I find Matthew’s curatorial approach and views on art inspiring and poetic. He has a great sense of art history, which is also important for my practice. From the very beginning of the project we established an ongoing dialog and regular studio visits to discuss the progress of the project both conceptually and formally. This process has been a very engaging and invaluable experience for me.

On the first floor there will be a series of photographs and works on paper that presents the process of developing the project and will showcase the artifacts from the travels.

The first floor installation will have elements of my travel journal, revealing the process of the development of the project. In addition to photos and works on paper, there will be objects that appear in the film including a historical surveyor, and custom-made bronze glasses that reduce snow glare. I felt it was important to include these elements as part of the project, as an introduction to the rest of the exhibition.

CR: Medium is important here as well – you work in sculpture, on paper, and with video. How do the pieces interact? And, what degree is each working to explore the underlying theory of the exhibition in different ways?

AG: The film is a unifying narrative that connects all of the elements within the exhibition. It documents the travels and reveals the context for each of the other components, from marble sculptures, to works on paper, to the mammoth tusk installation. Each medium helps express and reinforce the main idea of the exhibition, but from different angles and with different means. For example, adapting a scientific method that is often used for fossil reconstruction, I used a micro CT scan of human bone to establish the form for polyurethane elements, which contrast with and serve as extensions of real mammoth tusks, within a larger 12-foot sculptural installation.

What To Read Next