The Field of Experiments

Pavel Otdelnov

25/05 - 28/08 2022

This series of intimate water colours by Pavel Otdelnov were made in Sweden in March and April 2022, as a reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the atrocities committed there. Showing a deserted, grey and cold landscape, with only a few elements like a concrete wall, a ruined housing estate, and a TV set in the snow, they are studies for larger paintings. Made in Otdelnov’s typical realistic style, the water colours are nevertheless dreamy, as if taken from a nightmare. With this series, having decided to leave Russia at the outbreak of the war, and unable to return in the near future because of his public stance against the war, Otdelnov has made a powerful and yet personal artistic “witness report” on the catastrophe which has been unleashed on Ukraine, Russia and the rest of the world.

The title of this series is a reference to a famous song by the Soviet/Russian rock band GrOb (Civil Defense), titled “Russian Fields of Experiments.” The absurdist and terrifying lyrics of the song were authored by the lead-singer Egor Letov in late 1988. The central image in it is the Russian field, which is as a metaphor for death. The field is a testing ground for terrifying and absurd experiments. The country (the Soviet Union at the time of the song) is viewed as a laboratory for large-scale historical experiments. The images in the song emerge against the backdrop of the field, which itself “exhales snow.” Letov quotes a samurai in the lyrics who vows to “destroy the whole world!” in his suicide note.


Pavel Otdelnov writes about The Field of Experiments:

“Every morning upon waking up, I experience, for a few seconds between sleep and awareness, a state of happiness. Then it comes back to me that there is an ongoing gruesome war, and this is not a dream. Observing the devastating warfare in Ukraine, I have not been able still to fully comprehend the reality of it: the scale of this catastrophe is impossible to imagine or feel. A catastrophe that brings death and severe injury to tens of thousands of people, both peaceful civilians and soldiers. A catastrophe that displaces hundreds of thousands of people. Millions of people have to leave their homes and flee their country. For me, this is also a humanitarian catastrophe which is linked to the memory of my ancestors and the history of my country, to my nationality, the sense of affiliation and responsibility. A catastrophe that dismantles the institutions of civil society and marks a victory of madness over rationality. A catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Such that your mind refuses to believe it.

My series The Field of Experiments comprises watercolors that I conceive as sketches for larger canvases. These are the few metaphorical images that I see as instrumental in comprehending the events. How to address the deprivation of an entire generation of their future, how to represent the idea of geopolitical dominance in a metaphor? How to express the feeling of loneliness and of unwanted isolation from homeland? Can the sense of the vast expanse coexist as one with claustrophobia?

The works in this series are like dreams. The current events feel closer to a horrible nightmare than nightmares themselves. You want desperately to wake up from this, but fail.

Although no one can ever bring back the lost lives, I believe this terrible nightmare is not forever.”