ОRGANIC WAY. POWER OF THE POINT – Solo exhibition 2022

by Alexei Kostroma

Alexei Kostroma (b. 1962) is a German-Russian artist, theorist, researcher.
Graduated from the Faculty of Painting at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (1989).
Since 2003, he has been living and working in Berlin.

Since the early 1990s, Alexei Kostroma has been developing the concept of the ORGANIC WAY, coming from the organic direction in the Russian avant-garde of the early twentieth century. This concept has an ideological character, in which the artist analyzes the identity and regularity of the development of natural and social processes. During many years of research, the artist comes to understand the POINT as a fundamental sign of an organic worldview that determines the end and beginning of all phenomena and all events.

«The Point is the End and Beginning of Everything»

(Alexei Kostroma, Black Book #9, 2017).


The power of a POINT is obvious. The starting point of military operations is conducted from the first shot. Current political decisions show us that we have all reached the point of no return.
Each of us has formed our own point of view, which has divided society. We are all waiting for the final point of contact in the peace agreements. The hotspot of the world, the pain point, the fulcrum, and so on, the list of values of the points can last indefinitely.

The exhibition presents works from three new series made during the pandemic 2020 – 2022:

1. White Series – FEATHERED PAINTING – fragile uncertainty.
2. Black Series – BLACK BILLS – life reflected in the bills.
3. Silver Series – CHAMELEON POINT – thirst for emotions during restrictions.

The exhibition is presented by STUDIO KOSTROMA, Berlin 2022


TAKING FLIGHT/ Birds & Bicycles Berlin – Group exhibition 2021

by Rachel Rits-Volloch

The works selected for this exhibition embody Alexei Kostroma’s concept of the Organic Way – the artist’s dedication to the study of interrelations between natural and social laws. Working throughout his practice with eggshells, white feathers, figures (numbers), and lemon yellow pigment, Kostroma identifies these four strands in his work as his ‘signs’ or ‘brands’. In his ongoing examinations of the unity of meanings in society and nature alike, and his use of four distinct media as metaphors for these meanings, Kostroma’s work exemplifies the very idea of the Birds & Bicycles initiative to create a factory of metaphors with which to reflect back on our societies.

Shown here are two works from two new series the artist began during the COVID-19 lockdown. Ongoing to this day, these series of works are a portrait of the artists’ experience of the world in pandemic. ELEVEN [Stability] (2020) and BLACK BILL 10,16 (2021) were both created while Alexei Kostroma was in isolation in his studio. BLACK BILL 10,16 forms one entry in Kostroma’s lengthy diary of consumption. Embedding into his works quotations from supermarket receipts for the food he consumes, the original bill is attached to the back of each painting; as much a proof of life as it is a reflection upon the monotony of long months of lockdown. ELEVEN [Stability] uses Kostroma’s idea of the eggshell as an image of the genome, of coding and storage of information, to present us with a single eggshell enumerated with the number 11, signifying stability. In these unstable times when we seem little closer to solving the ongoing global problems of poverty, disease, war, and climate catastrophe, we need all the talismans of stability we can get. An older work, NANO 163, also uses the egg as symbolic of the basis of life, arranging eggshells in a geometric structure, numbered with ink visible only under UV light, to reveal the invisible mathematical harmony of numbers. Yet in the disharmonious realities of our times, by embedding a secret code into his vision of the universe, Kostroma seems to be searching for a formula within nature to solve the many woes we inflict upon it.

Alexei Kostroma (b. 1962 in Russia. Lives and works in Berlin, Germany)

Alexei Kostroma is an artist, theorist, and researcher living and working in Berlin since 2003. Alexei Kostroma was born in 1962, and in 1989 graduated in painting from the Repin Institute, Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. Two years later he founded the “TUT-I-TAM” (ТУТ-И-ТАМ, meaning Here and There) group and began working with an inventory concept, associating natural objects with a theory of numbers. Soon after, he developed the Introspective Actions series of projects engaging social environment wherein he created actions and installations in which he enveloped objects, people, animals, or entire spaces in feathers. Since the early 1990’s, Alexei Kostroma has been working with his Organic Way concept as a study of interrelations between natural and social laws. His practice focuses around series of works using primarily feathers, eggshells, numbers and color theory.

“FEATHERS: For Kostroma the structure of the feather represents the unity of chaos (fluff at the base of the feather), order (the precise structure of the main part) and spirit (ethereal weightlessness). The white feather was the iconic material that first made a name for Kostroma in the 1990s. He became famous for the high-profile project ‘Feathering Names and Symbols’, and for installations where he covered various urban objects in white goose feathers: for example, a cannon on the bastion of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg (‘Feathered Aggression’, 1994), the ‘Feathered Purse’ in Germany that gained admission to the Badischer Kunstverein in Karlsruhe, 1996 (role of money in art), etc. In the mass media, feather installations and actions became a pacifist symbol for the smothering of aggression.

EGGSHELL: an image of the genome, of coding and storage of information. Eggshell objects reveal the theme of micro-macro worlds ruled by the invisible mathematical harmony of numbers. The artist uses natural white eggshells to create geometric structures. Applied in invisible ink to the inner surface of the shell are numbers from 1 to 9, the sum of which presents an information code. Rows of eggshells form an image of the atomic microcosm; circles form an image of the macrocosm. Study of the world of atoms has been actively developed in the age of nanotechnology, hence the series is entitled ‘NANO’. These invisible numbers are only visible under UV light.

NUMBERS: universal coding characters. The artist uses digits from 1 to 9. Zero is an abstract mathematical number and therefore excluded from the concept. There is no stopping in nature. Everything is incessantly evolving and in constant motion. Since 1991 Kostroma has been producing large-scale projects for his ‘Inventory’, covering stone waterfronts and urban buildings with figures. While working on the theory of colour he created a spectral-digital scale and published the FNP concept: Figurative Numerical Painting. Since 1999 he has been painting in numbers. In Berlin these numerals take an acutely social character in the series ‘CODES’ and ‘BILLS & DEBTS’, under the slogan WE ALL REVOLVE AROUND TIME, MONEY AND FIGURES.” (From the Kostroma’s statement).





by Kim Berg

Why international artists are attracted to Germany and how they live and work there. We profile two prominent artists:


Alexei Kostroma, German-Russian artist.

Alexei Kostroma was born in the Russian city of Kostroma in 1962. As an artist, however, he was attracted to Germany in 2003. “The country gives me opportunities for self-realisation and for integration into the global artistic process,” says Kostroma. The artist is regarded as the inventor of the so-called “organic way”. He explains that its “central concept is a study of interrelations between natural and social laws”. In his works of art Kostroma reflects the interrelationship between humankind and nature. In the process he focuses on problems of human existence that have remained relevant even after many years. “During the global financial crisis, in 2009, under the burden of debts I began a series of BILLS & DEBTS; my canvasses were covered in long columns of unpaid bills,” says Kostroma. Among other places, his social-critical paintings and installations have been displayed in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow and the Saatchi Gallery in London.

In 2009 he opened Studio Kostroma in Berlin, where he has also been able to continue working during the pandemic. “Thanks to the Federal Government’s emergency assistance programme for artists we have been able to carry on the projects we had started.”






by Constanze Musterer

Alexei Kostroma analysiert ironisch, kritisch und philosophisch die Analogien von Kreisläufen, wie sie im menschlichen Handeln, in Gesellschaftsstrukturen, der Welt als Ganzes und der Natur in Erscheinung treten. In der Ausstellung Time of Piggy schafft er mit Malerei, Objekten und Zeichnungen in Manier eines Gesamtkunstwerks unterschiedliche Zugänge und gegenseitige Bezüge zu den globalen Begriffen von Zeit und Geld sowie deren Rückwirkungen auf das Individuum. Seine künstlerischen Arbeiten basieren auf seiner Philosophie von komplexen Systemen und einer organischen Weltanschauung, in denen Zeit, Logik und Chaos die tragenden Säulen bilden. Resultierend hieraus verwendet er besondere natürliche Materialien wie Federn, Eierschalen und das Zitronengelb-Pigment sowie eigene Ziffernsysteme in seinen künstlerischen Arbeiten.

Zeit und Geld sind systematisierte Kreisläufe. Die Zeit ist dabei ein Konstrukt, die Gesetze der Natur für den Menschen handhabbar zu machen, während Geld die Gesetze für ein gesellschaftliches Miteinander konstruiert. Die Simplizität des Ausspruchs “Time is money“ beschreibt das komplexe System von Gewinn, Verlust und Effizienz des Geldes in Relation zur Zeit und impliziert genauso selbstverständlich die differenzierte Messbarkeit von festgelegten Maßeinheiten. Diese Konstrukte und ihre Relationen zeugen von einer anhaltenden weltweiten Übereinstimmung und Übernahme in alle Kulturen. Schon im 14. Jahrhundert galt die Zeitverschwendung als Sünde.

Zahlen und Summen sind wiederkehrende Motive in der Kunst von Alexei Kostroma, mit denen er die Beziehung des Individuums zum geltenden finanziellen Kreislauf untersucht. So formieren sich etwa dicke Farbwürste zu Rechnungsbeträgen in den Bildern der Serie „Bills and Debts“. Übermaß oder notdürftiges Limit, die Additionen führen unweigerlich zu der Frage, was aus der piggybank für das Leben im kommenden Monat übrigbleibt. In der großformatigen Malerei „Membrane“ hingegen konkurrieren lange Zahlenkolonnen mit gegenstandslosen Farbverläufen auf geometrischen Strukturen. Emotionen und Fakten, Individuelle Belange und universelle Systeme stehen hier im Kontrast und schließen sich doch zu einer Einheit zusammen. Je nach Licht verändert sich der Inhalt des Bildes, wodurch Tag- und Nachtleben, Licht und Schattenseiten evoziert werden – Gegensätze, die doch immer in Wechselwirkung miteinander sind und ohne die kein Leben, kein Kreislauf existieren würde. Mit diesen scheinbaren Kontrasten spielt auch das gelbe Quadrat auf schwarzem Chaosgrund „Yellow in Black#1“, das zudem ironisch auf Festschreibungen in der Kunstgeschichte verweist. Der Kreislauf individuellen künstlerischen Schaffens endet schließlich in der immanenten Ambivalenz der Kunst, zum einen Kulturgut, zum anderen Marktprodukt zu sein. Eine Reductio ad absurdum für jegliche Berechnung und doch die Zeitrechnung eines drohenden Zerfalls ist das Bild „Luxury“. Das Wort ist gleich den Zahlenkolonnen angeordnet und in das zitronengelbe Pigment, geschrieben, das jedoch trotz der geballten Energie unter den Buchstaben wie ausgetrocknete Erde aufbricht.

Edel und schön wirken hierzu die Objekte aus angeordneten Eierschalen „Nano 547“ und „Nano 100“, deren perlmutternen Innenflächen die fluoreszierenden Ziffern eins bis neun erkennen lassen. Innere Codes, die keinen Stillstand zulassen, denn die Null, der Stillstand also, fehlt. Das Ei als Symbol für den Kreislauf und Schutz des Lebens, verweist in dieser seriellen Anordnung der Schalen zudem auf die Individualität in der Masse. Faszinierende Ästhetik als Blendwerk für eine Laudatio des Unterschieds im immer wieder gleichen System. Eleganz vermittelt sich zunächst ebenso in den mit Federn umrahmten Gemälde-Collagen „Thirteen“ und „Eggo“. Sie scheinen eine persönliche Inventarisierung, ein Tagebuch der Formen zu sein. Federn und das dominante Weiß schaffen eine geistige Aura, die jedoch durch grob herunterlaufende Farbe aus dem Bildinnern durchbrochen wird und klar den Gegenwartsbezug wieder herstellt. Der Kontrast eines scheinbar chaotischen Äußeren und wohl strukturierten Inneren löst sich in der Betrachtung der einzelnen Feder auf, denn sie trägt bereits beide Strukturen in sich: Aus den wild wirbelnden Daunen entwickelt sich nach oben am Schaft die strukturierte Federfahne.

Einen Zirkelschluss bildet die Ziffernmalerei von Alexei Kostroma, für die er ein eigenes Farbschema entwickelt hat, d.h. Farben des Farbspektrums werden die Ziffern eins bis neun zugeordnet. Insekten, die als Kleinstlebewesen kaum wahrgenommen werden, setzt er immens groß auf die Wand. Die Ästhetik bunt schillernder Farben von Käfern und Schmetterlingen dient der Verständigung der Insekten untereinander. Dieses Faszinosum überträgt Alexei Kostroma in seine eigene Ziffernsprache und sucht es zu entschlüsseln. Was von weitem wie samtene Oberflächen wirkt ist in Wirklichkeit ein durchstrukturiertes, komplexes System.


©Constanze Musterer



by Gudrun Wurlitzer

Yellow is the color that speaks to Alexei Kostroma. But, of course, this is only one of the aspects that makes Kostroma so unique; eggshells, and feathers are also strong elements threaded through his work.


In his early days as an artist, Kostroma provided a spectacular public installations. He ‘feathered’ the historic canon which stands in front of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St.Petersburg. It used to make the windows of the Hermitage Museum opposite from it tremble when fired on certain occasions.

“Canons were the first weapons of mass destruction” Kostroma explains, “and my act of ‘feathering’ which took place at the beginning of the Tchetchenian war, was my pacifistic statement to bring art not war into the world.” This is how feathering started and the canon has been standing ever since then in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Kostroma works only with organic materials, “nature works like society and that´s the theme for my whole life”.

Amongst Kostroma’s collection stand an array of striking yellow paintings, which are made of organic lemon yellow pigment, hardened with a special glue. “They are like stone,” Kostroma remarks as he encourages me to touch them, and although they appear to live in 3D life they lay completely flat.

“Lemon yellow is the most active and powerful of all colors,” Kostroma states, “and so I developed the idea about a lemon yellow earth, it’s like the inside of my personality.”

Kostroma has been working on a theory of color for many years, having thick handwritten folios which are artworks in themselves. “It´s all about time and numbers, and each number has its own color. Numbers structure the world and that´s why they are part of my philosophy.”

Sometimes Kostroma hides these numbers within his art, like in the ‘eggshell flower’. For viewers who come to admire such creativity and thoughtfulness the numbers can only be viewed if you shine an ultraviolet lamp upon them.

The eggshells and their numbers form a logical system, in this case the true formula of the egg form. Why eggshells? “Calcium is an eternal material. Just consider the dinosaurs!”

Kostroma explains his theory as, “numbers are like atoms or pixels. I built my own world, starting from insects.” In fact, his insect paintings consist completely of numbers, which you only start recognizing when you look closely, which Kostroma calls ‘Figurative-Numerical Painting’.

Just as we prepare to leave, Kostroma grants us a big surprise. He starts to show us some of his very early paintings, which he began completing from the age of thirteen at Lyceum. His first landscape was an impressionistic painting. When he was sixteen years old, he did a portrait of Lenin along to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. A whole gallery of ‘old-masterly’ looking paintings followed, and finally Kostroma positioned them between his recent works. What a documentation of how fundamental training in early days can lead to mastery.






by Victoria Trunova

Visual artist Alexei Kostroma can by no means be accused of being a bore. In his work he explores both the material and theory of art from a range of perspectives. Kostroma left Russia over 10 years ago to continue his work in Berlin. ARTPRESS talked with him about light, material, and his artistic and theoretical approach to making art.


You have a very interesting way of working with light. What role does light play in your work?
I have discovered for myself the new philosophical meaning of color, time, and numbers through sunlight. This has become the basis of my paradigm for the world. The Spiral-Driven Development of Color, my color theory, is one of the pivotal projects in my artistic practice that I started in 1997, and I have been working on it ever since. I often proceed as follows: gazing at the sun, I close my eyes and then observe and analyze how color develops on my retina. Over the course of such experiments, I came to the conclusion that a spectrum has a cycled or spiral-driven development over time. Time plays a central role in our perception of color on physiological level. Then I divided up the colors according to their light wavelength and assigned them numbers. Violet has the shortest wave, and I labeled it with number 1. Dark red (purple) has the longest wave, and I labeled it with number 9. This enables me to describe the whole color spectrum using row of numbers from 1 to 9. In 1999 I started to develop the concept of figurative-numerical painting, and I began to paint using colors according to numbers. Sunlight therefore opened up a new painting system for me.


left: © Alexei Kostroma, Yellow Earth. ICON. 2010, Yellow lemon organic pigment, 200×150 cm, Private Collection, Courtesy by the artist/ right: © Alexei Kostroma, Figurative-Numerical Painting. 2000, Sketch of FNP System, Sketch Book, Courtesy by the artist


The materials you use in your installation are often at odds with your subject matter. Do you have a semiotic approach to your work?
Each artist uses a code system of some kind in trying to express his attitude to the outside world. I also developed my own consistent system of signs and codes, which people now recognize. Working with numbers, I code my attitude to the world and to the social system. For instance in the series Debts and Bills I study and analyze the dependence of an individual on the financial system through numbers and debts. In the series of figurative-numerical painting (FNP) I code information on wildlife and nature. For instance, wings of butterflies are not just a beautiful ornament within organic life but also a secret communication language of insects that I transcribe using numerical language.
In my objects and installations I commonly use organic materials, which have became signs of my individual style, i.e. feathers, eggshells, and organic yellow pigment. The lightness of the white feather is associated with Spirit, a shell that protects life is linked with organic matter, whereas the lemon yellow pigment is a manifestation of energy.


© Alexei Kostroma, Feathered Aggression. 2008, Interactive installation, feathers, Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, USA, Courtesy by the artist


You are a Russian artist living in Berlin. What interests you the most in the Berlin art scene? Does this influence your work?
I’m a Russian-German artist living in Berlin. I enjoy the Berlin art scene a lot. It’s very international and a real multicultural mix. It has a unique cultural milieu, sometimes even a bit crazy.  Berlin is a very vibrant city; its free atmosphere inspires me, and this is exactly the reason why I live and work here.

What projects are you working on within the next months?
For more than twenty years I have been propagating the idea of the ORGANIC WAY and ORGANIC IDEOLOGY. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries a Russian philosophical school viewed the world not as a fragmented system but as a unified universe.
In all of my works I am trying to speak about the interconnection of the small fragments with a gigantic system of global interrelations. Developing this notion, I have been working on two projects planned for 2015. One of them is an interactive installation, NANO 539, which encompasses 2,900 square meters and will be displayed in the Central Exhibition Hall “Manege.” The installation will represent the visualization of a microcosm enlarged to a gigantic size. My solo exhibition will take place at the National Museum of Kazakhstan in Astana. The work will put the theme of a New Silk Route connecting Europe and Asia into the actual context. I would like to have my other “UNO” installation project exhibited first in Berlin and then at other venues across Europe. It addresses the theme of the relationship between a human being and the universe.




by Sarah Tanguy

Alexei Kostroma seeks to place his work in an organic, all-encompassing context: “Nature and creative work have a common function of reproduction based on birth and death, self-organization and self-development. Thus creative development, so apparently similar to organic development, was what forced me to examine the interaction of organic and artistic processes.” – from the Kostroma’s diary, 1995


Ducking to avoid water-filled yellow balloons, the viewer enters one of the many rooms at Gallery Navicula Artis, a labyrinthine alternative space on old St. Petersburg. The occasion is Alexei Kostroma’s installation, Inventorying Yellow Rain. Instantly, the eye spies, in the center, a large, glowing, open cube made of yellow balloons, then takes in the paintings speckled with yellow powder pigment on the walls. What could possibly explain such a seemingly odd grouping of works?

Since 1990, Kostroma has dreamt of inventorying rain: “Millions of falling drops cut the city air space with thin strings and spellbind me.”1 It wasn’t until the summer of 1998, when St. Petersburg experienced especially heavy rainfall, that he achieved his goal. With obsessive persistence, he sought to capture rain, to measure it, to understand its trajectory and its retention of shape (which he subsequently learned was due to its magnetic charge). He chose the color yellow, not for its association with pollution but as an optimistic cure for the grayness of rain. A year later, his research culminated in Inventorying Yellow Rain.

An abiding tenet of Kostroma’s practice, “inventorying is an artistic action in which an object with a clear structure is covered with a sequence of numbers from 1 to 9. The resulting number is the inventory number of this object.”2

The artist got the idea in 1990 after a chance encounter at the Museum of Local History and Economy in a small village in northern Germany. He noticed a petrified little mound that was inscribed with an inventory number. A nearby label identified it as a 14th-century sample of cow dung, which proved the existence of agriculture and wealth in Germany at that time. After this incident, Kostroma became fascinated by inventory numbers. Some of his early projects in 1992 involved inventorying various configurations of stones and trash.

Kostroma wanted to see how rain fits into more inclusive systems and interacts with gravitational and magnetic forces. Not being a scientist himself and only remembering bits of information he had learned in school, he approached Tamara Alexandrovna Pershina, a physicist at the Main Geophysical Observatory in St. Petersburg, who has studied and photographed micro drops of rain for the last several decades. With the help of her work, Kostroma noted a similarity between rain patterns and those formed by the Milky Way and reached certain understandings. Rain is essential for life. Linking heaven and earth, it bears cosmic data and offers a key to understanding the structure of the universe: “Rain is omnipresent. Cows are covered by rain… City is covered by rain… Passions are covered by rain. Dreams are covered by rain…’ In particular, he was drawn to the spiral movement of rain streams. ‘Drops are distributed on the plane along arches, in layers, and form segments of circles with a radius from 15 to 50 mm”.4

How to measure rain volumetrically proved to be a great challenge. Scientists have used buckets. Kostroma’s solution was to create a one-meter cube of yellow children’s balloons and to fill the balloons with a ton of water. The effect of this giant ‘raindrop’ box was mesmerizing. The animal and cartoon faces stenciled on the balloons lent a festive quality, recalling water bombs that the artist admits throwing at innocent passerby in his childhood. The balloons themselves appeared weightless, even buoyant. Their overlapping transparency created a kaleidoscope of reflections and optical distortions. Air bubbles and blemish-like, darker yellow spots around the balloons’ mouthpieces acted as complicating variables whose formations indicated their being changing microcosms.

The ingenious painting technique Kostroma developed to inventory rain loosely combines aspects of pointillism, Abstract Expressionism, and process art. First, he placed a white gessoed canvas outside his studio window for seven seconds. Once the canvas was inside again, he applied yellow pigment powder to its surface and inverted it. When he turned it back, the pigment remained only where the canvas was wet and created shapes which reflected the intensity (ranging from mists to typhoon) and the pattern of a particular rainfall. The final stage involved gluing the pigment in place with a syringe and numbering the drops in fuchsia ink. With this approach, he created abstract paintings as well as pictographic works. While a precedent exists in Yves Klein’s rain paintings, Klein was more interested in texture, while Kostroma wants to unravel underlying physical processes.

This interest in systems characterizes Kostroma’s 10-year career, as he seeks to place his work in an organic, all-encompassing context: “Nature and creative work have a common function of reproduction based on birth and death, self-organization and self-development. Thus creative development, so apparently similar to organic development, was what forced me to examine the interaction of organic and artistic processes.”5

While organic ideology in Russia shaped much of late 19-th century philosophy and religion and informed select artistic practice at the start of the 20th century, it gained currency in the 1990s.6 Many artists, including Kostroma, regard this belief system as a vital and dynamic replacement for postindustrial and post-Soviet rhetoric.


Kostroma studied painting at the Repin Institute of Painting and Architecture in St. Petersburg. After graduating in 1989, he increasingly felt the need for more relief in his works. He began making sculptures and installations, which often included collaboration and performances. In 1991, along with his partner Nadja Bukreeva, he founded TUT-I-TAM (‘Here and There’). The mission of this loose and ideologically independent artist group was and continues to be producing exhibitions and urban projects in St. Petersburg. For many of these, Kostroma uses aspects of his home city as inspiration, from its monuments and holidays to its weather. He prefers minimal shapes and ephemeral or fragile materials, including eggshells, feathers, and balloons. The idea of play and games tempers Kostroma’s goal of bringing art to public.

Early on Kostroma adopted the egg and the feather as personal hieroglyphs for his projects – only white feathers, as he is quick to point out, which he gets in bulk from local chicken farms. He sees the feather as an ancient sign, not as decoration. It represents the ideal way of life and stands out for its softness and its lack of aggression. In Russia, as in many other parts of the world, the word itself is associated with numerous expressions and states. A feather bed, Alexander Borovsky notes, is linked to “laziness, a feature of national character,” and as a verb, it means “to be fledged.”7

In addition to inventorying, “introspective action” represents another cornerstone of Kostroma’s practice. “Introspective action demands self-analysis, self-observation during any prepared action. This is the thought-out illustration of an idea including moments of improvisation where the spectator is clearly provoked to think.”8

An early manifestation was Free Russia, in 1991. That was the first year that November 7 was celebrated not as the Day of the Great October Revolution but as the “Day of Pluralism.” With the support of the St. Petersburg Commodity and Stock Exchange and local authorities, Tut-I-Tam erected Alexander’s Column II the following day on the Palace Square. Made out of 2,500 children’s balloons of different colors, the colossal sculpture broke free from its tether and rose to the heavens with the crowds cheering on.

In X-Rays of the Black Square (1992), Kostroma takes on one of the great icons of 20-th century art. Certainly Malevich’s work is an ongoing source of inspiration and a foil for Russian artists. Kostroma created a five-meter square of 900 condoms, filled with water and lit from the inside, to represent the negative of Malevich’s square as well as its molecular structure. A plastic sheath, in the form of a cube and emitting the sound of the artist’s breathing, encapsulated the condoms. An X-ray was then taken of the giant incubation. Two days later, the condoms burst from light exposure, leaving a large black pool. As writer Mikhail Kuzmin commented: “At some point in the future when an objective history of art will be written, the birth of Malevich’s Black Square and its “death” at the hands of Alexei Kostroma will be considered as integral parts of the same process.”9

Another landmark project is Communicational Information Egg and the Fat Hen (1992-93). An eight-meter-high hen, made from lightweight fabric and activated by two internal ventilators, greeted curious visitors to the Central Exhibition Hall of St. Petersburg’s Manezh. Side windows revealed a large egg on the inside, which bore a video screen and, unbeknownst to the audience, held the artist. During the performance, the hen gave birth to the egg. Sprouting red legs, the egg immediately began running about and emitting the voices of three TV channels. The piece’s subject matter, which combined the cosmic egg of life with a contemporary form of communication, suggested a model of universal harmony. A year later, Evolution of Egg addressed the process of absorption wherein substitutions of images flowed freely from the egg as the perfect shape, to a rooster, to the head of Christ inscribed in a circle from the Novgorod Mandylion, a 12-th century icon that reproduces a miraculous impression of Christ’s features on a cloth.

Like Christo’s wrapping, Kostroma’s feathering is essentially a transformative act performed on a static object. In Kostroma’s case, feathering reestablishes the bond between culture and nature: “It immediately masters the space in which it ends up by chance – either due to fate or due to the artist’s will… The FEATHERING PROCESS does not demand from the artist that titanic effort connected with the implementation of each mad project, but rather turns the surrounding events into an object for silent contemplation.”10

Since the early ‘90s, Kostroma has feathered various objects, including a black cube, an image of the Mona Lisa, and a cannon from the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. In the latter, the feathered cannon fired a ball whose egg-like shape became a bird in flight. This pacifist metamorphosis even made it into Guinness Book of World Records. Feathering the Volga (the Volga was the luxury car of Soviet party elite) was another instance of exchanging the existing aura of a cultural artifact for a new, nontraditional one.

Kostroma also “intuitively gravitated” toward the spiral, to use his own words. Its coil shape implies progression. It manifests how macro and microcosmic relationships reflect each other. It protects and preserves life, both in nature and society. Over the years, he has explored its occurrence in hair braids, in ferns and other plants, in the protein spirals of the egg white which anchors the yolk, in sea and snail shells, in DNA, in the Milky Way, and most recently, in rain. In contemporary art, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty comes to mind as a landmark example, and in science, Professor E.N.Sinskaya conceived the law of spiral evolution in 1948.11

Kostroma’s interest in spirals and feathers come together in Penguin Spiral. First shown in 1998 in Kirchheim, Germany, the large-scale installation was on view at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg in the spring of 1999. The project’s genesis stemmed from an article in a science magazine about the living double helix that groups of 200 to 300 penguins (feathered organisms, the artist notes) maintain to stay alive in critical conditions. Inside the helix temperatures hover at plus 10 degrees centigrade, in contrast to outside readings of minus 50. Kostroma re-created such a pathway, forcing viewers to form a queue and join the spiral of “social heating.”12

The installation featured a giant spiral, which was lit internally and composed of some 50 kilos of feathers. An inverted, truncated pyramid occupied the center. Its feathered cupola became a symbol of the womb, with the phrase “Mysterium Magnum” emerging from the glow of black light. A side wall displayed a series of feathered panels, with such themes as life/ death, entrance/exit, and egg/eye. At the far end of the space, a video projection, using new age music, combined images Kostroma made of various spirals such as smoke and water with some of royal penguins taken from a documentary. Although his interest in animals relates him to contemporaries like Damien Hirst, Kostroma’s work is both a social critique and a positive discourse on the ecosystem.

Restless in his studio, Kostroma himself seems to operate in a spiral, as he details his ambitious plans to reach larger audiences. Spirals, feathers, and other reminders of previous works contrast with giant, primary-colored and primary-shaped sculptures earmarked for an upcoming performance in Cologne titled Organic Presentation: Subjectless World of Nature in Russian Avant-Garde. From the room’s organized chaos, one notes a strong bond between his early performances and objects, which recall Claes Oldenburg’s Happenings, and this new performance work. The point of departure for this performance, he explains, is Play with no Subject, written and performed by Russian avant-garde artist Mikhail Matyushin in 1922-23. While in general Kostroma’s works tend to be festive, he points out that “What I do is an artistic project, not a party meeting or ‘happiness propaganda.’ ”13 Beyond their grounding in the everyday and their broad appeal, his works seek to uncover underlying patterns and suggest a manifesto for a new world order.


© Sarah Tanguy is a writer and curator based in Washington, DC.

SCULPTURE, July/August 2000, Vol. 19 No. 6, Washington, DC , USA

1 Diary entry, August 27, 1999.2 Catalog of Exhibitions and Projects of Tut-I-Tam, 1991-1996 (St. Petersburg, 1997), p.31.

3 Diary entry, September 15, 1998.

4 Inventorying Yellow Rain (St. Petersburg, 1999), exhibition catalog, p.13.

5 Diary entry, December 24, 1995.

6 N.O. Lossky, World as Organic Whole, pp.350-51, cited in Inventorying Yellow Rain, op.cit., p.13.

7 Alexander Borovsky, “Kostroma’s Penguin Caravan Goes Through Hummocks” in Penguin Spiral (St. Petersburg, 1999), exhibition catalogue, p.22.

8 Catalog of Exhibitions and Projects of Tut-I-Tam, op. cit., p.36.

9 Ibid., p.37.

10 Diary entry, June 29, 1994.