Yuri Avvakumov is most famous for introducing – together with other young graduates from the Moscow Architectural Institute such as Michael Belov and Alexander Brodsky – the concept of ‘paper architecture’ in 1984. The term describes a genre of conceptual design in the USSR produced only on paper as a way of bypassing political restrictions and criticizing the dehumanizing nature of Russian architecture of the time. The group, which exhibited collectively under the title Paper Architects in 1984, chose not to take part in a system where buildings had to be erected cheaply and quickly with little care for users, where skilled labor was shunned, creativity stifled and architecture was part of a large-scale bureaucratic machinery. Following this experience, Avvakumov developed , in 1996, the project Russian Utopia, a Depository– an archive for visionary architectural projects created in Russia during the last 300 years that had never been carried out. The artist perceives the project as the embodiment of a collective Russian dream and as a metaphor of a “columbarium for rejected fantasies.” The archive was shown in numerous museums and art institutions, including the Venice Biennale in 1996.
The long-term project La Scala – created by the artist between 1985 and 2005 – consists in an ever expanding series of black and white photographs, sketches and sculptures. Their subject matters are stairways and ladders which the artists has come across, traveling through such different locations as Moscow, Venice, Uçhisar (Turkey), Kaliningrad, Krasnoyarsk, Cannes and Rome. According to Avvakumov stairs are not only the fundamental element of any architectural construction but also a key metaphor which stands for the possible communication between, ‘above’ and ‘below’ and ‘earth’ and ‘cosmos’. Stairways are also an important element of Russian visual culture, famously featuring in Sergei Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin from 1925. One of the most celebrated scenes in the film is the massacre of civilians on the Odessa Steps which stands in as a metaphor of both the upcoming communist revolution and of the bloodshed it will involve. Since 1986, Avvakumov has worked on a series of drawings and small-scale models called Temporary Monuments devoted to reworking the architectonic and ideological heritage of Constructivism and its protagonists. His approach to the past is at once ironic and sorrowful, elegiac and deeply permeated by disillusion. Those dichotomies are perhaps best embodied in the drawing Flying Proletarian (1989-1994) which refers to a utopian science fiction poem by Russian Soviet poet, playwriter and actor Vladimir Mayakovsky from 1925. The poem is set in the year 2125 and features a giant air battle between the Soviet proletarian and the American bourgeois air forces. Mayakovsky’s utopian vision of the future portrays a world of comfort and automatized labor which allow the communist workers to devote their lives to pleasure, sports and entertainment. In Avvakumov’s work, this futuristic vision is transformed into a drawing of a monumental swing for open-air exercises. Two teams of workers compete how high they can swing on it as if they were children playing on an immense playground. Although the sober aesthetic of the work refers to Constructivism, the drawing’s meaning seems to verge on the ironic: has Mayakovsky’s utopean vision of the future conflated nowadays into pure entertainment and forced naivety.
Yuri Avvakumov is an architect, curator and artist living and working in Moscow. In the early 1980s, he was involved as an exhibition designer in a series of exhibition of Lyubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Konstantin Melnikov and Vladimir Tatlin. His artistic practice is mostly focuses on the Russian avant-garde legacy and its later revaluation. Since 1986, he has worked on a series called Temporary Monuments, devoted to 1920s Constructivism and its protagonists, which he has shown at the Russian Museum in Petersburg (1992), the State Museum Architecture in Moscow (1993), at the 6th Venice Biennale of Architecture (1996), and in the exhibition Berlin-Moscowat Martin-Gropius Bau in Berlin (2003), among other venues. In 2002, he reconstructed one of Kazimir Malevich’s Architectons. Avvakumov took part in the Venice Biennale in 1996 (Sensing the future. Architect as seismograph) and in 2003 (Utopia station).
His works are in collections of e.g. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg / State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow / State Museum of Architecture, Moscow / Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow House of Photography, Centre George Pompidou in Paris, MOMA in NY, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Victoria & Albert Museum, ZKM Museum for New Art, Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana, National Center for Contemporary Arts, Moscow, Duke Museum of Art, North Carolina.