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).