1917: Weighed, Up-Measured, Divided
Alkovi gallery, Helsinki, Finland
The work comprised a robust red cord, stretched and tightened across the gallery space from the upper left to the lower right corner. On the upper right side of the gallery wall, I positioned a small caption reading ‘1917’.
The idea for this piece came while I was perusing newspaper reports from 1917, covering the funeral of the victims of the February revolution in Petrograd on the 23rd of March 1917 – a colossal demonstration involving more than one million participants, described by contemporaries as an entirely unprecedented “parade and review of all the revolutionary forces.” Considering the vast array of flags and banners involved in the demonstration, it seemed it was not by chance that three of the major newspapers described in detail the same large piece they noticed among the revolutionary crowds. This banner, referred to as a ‘gonfalon’ in some contexts, “bore an image symbolically depicting the year of 1917 divided by the revolution into two parts: the Past with all its horrors – suppression, inequality, tyranny, and the Future, full of hope and happiness; the caption on it read: ‘1917: Weighed, Up-Measured, Divided’.
I investigated the issue in the historical museums in St. Petersburg, but failed: there was even no photo-documentation of the banner remained. All I had was the 1917 newspapers reports. On the other hand, I had no illusions about the artistic quality of the banner: the visual culture of that time (between the February and October revolutions of 1917) was quite conservative – a neo-classicist and symbolist imagery combined with the Jugendstil fonts was the dominated visual morphology, even for the revolutionary banners of the period.
It was a time of a maelstrom of economic crisis and instability, a dire situation at the front, a universal euphoria over revolutionary liberation, an absolute uncertainty about the future, and a looming social fissure. One might ponder: which artist of that era could encapsulate all these multifaceted political tensions and contradictions, this revolutionary “rupture of time”, this bifurcation of time into two distinct parts? It seems plausible that it was the avant-garde artists, whose works were not acknowledged by the contemporaneous public. A paradigmatic example that springs to mind is Vladimir Tatlin’s Corner Relief (1915), with its ropes tautly stretched between two walls, and the enigmatic form that hangs in the corner. It is conceivable that in March 1917, Tatlin could have adhered to the same artistic trajectory. In light of these reflections, I resolved to synthesise two approaches – to resurrect the lost banner slogan ‘1917: Weighed, Up-Measured, Divided’ in a manner that echoes Tatlin’s approach.
Text: Ilya Orlov
Image: Arttu Merimaa