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The Russia Season: Part One; The Tower

27 September 2017

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For visitors to the Sainsbury Centre recently, you might recognise the spectacle of Tatlin’s Tower.

Title image credit: Andy Crouch

For those of you who haven’t been, let me paint the picture for you. From the lake, in the shadow of the monumental brutalist spectacle of the Ziggurats, beyond undulating grey-green tufts of wiry grass and settled beside the equally impressive Sainsbury Centre, there is now a 10m high metal structure, angled accusingly at the sky. A dark red double helix wraps itself around to end in a telescopic point, and its spine leans crane-like away from the Gallery, as if the two structures are in some long standing - almost comical - industrial feud. The day I saw it, the sky was the heavy grey of a summer day threatening to rain, and the red metal was cutting into it starkly. The whole thing looked utterly brilliant, and if you haven’t taken a walk around the University of East Anglia grounds since the replica of Tatlin’s Tower was erected, I absolutely recommend that you do. Take a camera (and a raincoat).

The permanent instillation of Tatlin’s tower is part of the Sainsbury’s Centre for Visual Arts Russia Season, which launches on the 14th of October and runs until the 11th of February. The sculpture is a replica of Russian architect Vladmir Tatlin’s doomed masterpiece: The Monument to the Third International, and is a significantly scaled down version of the intended 400m structure (100m higher than the Eiffel tower, fact fans). The plans for the original tower were drawn up in the grip of the Russian Civil war, as a monument to the revolution, although the complexity and scale of the structure meant that it was impossible to build. The proposed tower was to be built of iron, glass and steel, and within the double helix were four suspended glass structures which would house the headquarters of the Revolution, and rotate at different speeds. The tower would even project messages across the clouds on overcast days. It was a tribute to Russian Constructivism’s fascination with the beauty of the machine, and – if it had been built – the tower would still have straddled the Neva river in St Petersburg today. The replica outside the Sainsbury’s Centre is not quite as ambitious as the original plan, but nonetheless very impressive.

Inside the gallery, there is more Russian History to be unearthed. The Russia Season – which marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution – will stage a major two part exhibition in the country contrasting art, life and culture in Russia before and after the revolution. More on that in 'Part Two; Fabergé & Revolution'.

 

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