Natalia Abalakova


1941. I was born in Gorky, in hour «between wolf and dog» – twilight – APRIL 16. Until age of six I was brought up by grandparents, who were country doctors, and by Annushka, a deaf and dumb nanny. Learnt French, English and German, and made first acquaintance with the plastic arts – through the work of Khokhloma craftsmen and the wooden sculpture my grandfather made in his spare time.

1947-1961. Studied at various educational institutions. Receaved diploma to qualify as a teacher of French. Sacked after a few months as a school teacher and embarked on my first archaeological expedition to Central Asia. First professional work as an artist-copyist. Got to know the Moscow arts underground and Anatoly Zhigalov, a poet and an artist.

First graphic works given in exchange for books on art, philosophy and literature to French tourists, whom I accompanied as a guide-interpreter on trips around the Soviet Union. Many works of this period are now in France.

1968-69. First move towards «avant-guardism». As part of re-appraisal of applied aesthetics, I sawed off the spouts of copper vessels in private collection of Oriental applied art. This act involved both a search for minimalism as an aesthetic idea, and a protest against the ‘non-functional’ utilization by museums of objects of everyday use. The collection was damaged, but I became aware of the problems of the aesthetics of functionalism and idea of the «new thing».

1969-70. My development in the search for avant-guard ideas found no support even within my closest circle of friends, and passionate enthusiasm began for designing and making clothes in model form, clothes which combined elements of archaic and «modernistic» forms with the expressiveness of applied folk art.

1974. Participated with A.Zhigalov in the officially-sanctioned non-conformist exhibitions held in the V.Korolenko Library, Moscow, which resulted in the dismissal of the organizers and the banning of similar experiments from the Library in future.

1975. Participated with A.Zhigalov in the officially-sanctioned exhibition of non-conformist Moscow artists held in the Palace of Culture at the Exhibition of Economic Achievements. For some of the participants this ended in emigration, but for the remainder the result was the founding of a painting section in MOGKKh (Moscow Trade Union of Graphic Artists), and their continuing support for alternative culture.

1976-81. Participated with A.Zhigalov in the Spring and Autumn exhibitions of the Graphic Artists’ Union which, in 1981, resulted in the expulsion of both of us from this organization.

1980. Visited Czechoslovakia, and established a personal acquaintance with many prominent representatives of Czech alternative culture and took part in an underground festival of performance art and established creative and friendly contacts with Czech and Slovakian artists.

1981. The new spiral of the ‘Cold War’ and the ‘apogee of stagnation’ in the sphere of culture and in all branches of the humanities made professional contacts with foreign colleagues difficult. Intensive work with A.Zhigalov on many kinds of art which did not require either an officially-sanctioned ‘cultural’ space or a studio as well as expensive and unobtainable materials.

1981. The transformation of the TKhD/TAA (Total Artistic Activity – the original name of our artistic organization) «Concrete Bunker» (our home) into a continuously active centre of alternative culture, where happenings, seminars and artists’ meetings took place. This resulted in a joint exhibition of Moscow APTART artists held in 1982 in N.Alekseev’s apartment.

1982. APTART exhibition, at which one third of the exhibits were objects, photo documentation, and visual productions by TKhD/TAA). Reported on in the journal A-Ya, #5 (Paris, 1983).

1982-84. Participated in collective and individual art events, happenings, performances and festivals of alternative culture and (via Mail-Art) in many exhibitions abroad. Displays in Tallinn, Moscow and Leningrad of documents about happenings, performances and lectures. Participated in events organized by representatives of the Moscow musical avant-garde and collaboration with musicians. Worked with the Aleinikov brothers on the making of the films of experimental or «parallel» cinema. This period, outwardly extremely unfavorable due to the conservative attitude to problems of experimental art on the part of the «bosses and bureaucrats», turned to be extremely fruitful for TOTART (the name adopted by our organization in 1983), both in terms of internal development and in terms of the establishment of serious professional contacts with foreign colleagues.

1985. The year «perestroika» and «new thinking» were proclaimed. TOTART, in accordance with its aims (Explorations into the Essence of Art as Applied to Life and Art) was in a state of continual renewal, but unable to borrow new ideas. Repairs were carried at the Concrete Bunker, and what was left of the furniture was thrown out in order to enlarge «cultural space» of the flat for future activities and monumental projects, TOTART-objects and paintings.

1986. Participated with A.Zhigalov in the exhibition Retrospection, which presented the history of Moscow’s alternative culture, including the Moscow Conceptualism, from the perspective of its diversity.

1987. Participated with A.Zhigalov in the exhibition Object-1, which aimed for the first time to acquaint the public with a particular branch of alternative culture – Object Art.

1988. Participated with A.Zhigalov in the exhibition Labyrinth at the Moscow Palace of Youth, which attempted to organize a display of works by the various Moscow visual arts associations.

In the same year, on the order of the director of one of Moscow’s exhibition halls (4 Peresvetov Lane) my exhibition of paintings and TOTART-objects (a joint exhibition with A.Zhigalov) was banned because its dates coincided with the work of the 19th Party Conference.

1989. Participated with A.Zhigalov in the exhibition Dear Art, organized by the «Avant-Guardists’ Club» in the Moscow Palace of Youth.

Both A.Zhigalov and I came to collaborate on the TOTART PROJECT after number years of separate creative activity. I am interested in working in collaboration with others. I am interested on «global» cultural projects, which include the work of large collectives, among them international ones. For me the language of art is the language of constructive dialogue between various cultures. I am interested in work that makes use of the most up-to-date technical resources, resources which extend the possibilities of contemporary art both in terms of fuller realization of artistic ideas and in terms of a fuller contact with the exhibition-going public. Many of our works engage problems of mutual contact, understanding and exchange between cultures in a broad sense. The question of East-West dialogue is an important part of our Project. I do not consider myself part of any artistic school or trend; by participating in the realization of the TOTART-PROJECT, A.Zhigalov and I are implementing what we think is topical, promising and interesting at the present stage of the Project. I am interested in the pioneers and explorers of the «Heavenly Path», as I metaphorically call my series of monumental triptychs; this is an attempt to formulate the essence of twentieth-century avant-garde art, in which the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s occupies an important place. I feel close to the spirit, and philosophy of this phenomenon, rather than to its direct artistic output. In the end, I can say that for me there is no divergence between the personality of the artist and the «image», for the global TOTART-PROJECT makes possible the harmony realization of both, one and the other, like some artistic and personal super-task.


July 1989

(«Natalia Abalakova and Anatoly Zhigalov Zhigalov. Works 1961-1989». New Beginnings. Soviet Art in Glasgow 1989. Third Eye Gallery and E.V.Vuchetich Artistic Production Association )

TOTART: Actions, performances. Installations