Lidya Blinova: The Learned Pussycat

LIDYA BLINOVA (1948–1996)
The Learned Pussycat

Prologue
The wind whipped the atmosphere.
Clouds coursed without fear.
The moon in its seething frills
Ascended over the hills.
The earth poured towards it:
Villages, fields, and hamlets.
A dark forest nodded from vast plains
To heaven’s chatelaine.
And everything sublunar under the moon
Rose higher and aloft:
The waves and the land,
A cat on a roof and its thoughts,
And, deep below the waves, the sand.

After buzzing out the day like combs,
The ancient city slumbered: the moon’s
Mead trickled towards the mountain’s foot.
Parades, promenades, and fêtes
Raged here a century ago,
But now the ruins slept in rows.

The overgrown gardens were bothered
Only by the water’s patter.
The stream’s angelic tone
Resounded where the water’s flow
Was dammed by fallen leaves.
What emptiness and peace!

But what did we see?
In a window a candle was burning,
And the candle revealed
A pussycat purring.

A tizzy swept over the old garden.
Doors were slammed, footsteps cascaded.
And, quite as black as a roach,
Into the light’s triangle crept a coach.

1.
The learned pussycat, dismayed and aggrieved,
Leapt into the carriage, shouting “To the sea!”
A dog dolefully howled in the park.
A sinister coachman emerged from the dark,
An amulet glinting and melting under his cape.
The moon went pale, giving chase.
Raving, the steeds thundered, frothing at the mouth.
The uneven pursuit made the moon catch its breath.
Over rooftops, twixt chimneys, through poplar fleece,
It rushed to the place beyond the fields
Where the sea stood like a living wall.

And the pussycat in the coach?
She was crazed, she was ill.
What thought could she give to the coachman?
What matter to her was the moon’s will?

For every piece of iron in the womblike contraption
The patter of hooves smashed into fractions.
The pussycat imagined that, through flint and dirt,
Alongside her, Achilles roared, and the turtle crept.

Oh, the running in place, the maundering
Of things moving motionlessly toward their mark!

2.
Oh, the trellised mirrors of old aporias!
And the sea came ever closer, the cherished sea!
Every jolt and pothole on the highway
Sent the pussycat higher into the sky,
As if yeast were stirred into things at creation
By someone quite batty about expansion.

3.
Madness’s abyss beckoned to the pussycat.
Panting, the moon whispered, “Drat!
All we needed was for the pussycat to flip!”
It was so angry it slipped,
And, suddenly, it dropped into the coach
Out of the empyrean like ice hurtling off a roof.

The straps and traces were lost in a blink,
The horses speeding off down the stony brink.
The driver melted into thin air,
And his passengers missed dying by a hair,
As his chariot fell to pieces.
The pussycat and the moon sat on the beach.

4.
It is a pity their important chat
Has come down to us in bits and scraps.
“There is a gazillion . . .
Issues of logic.”
“But there is a gamut.”
“Then what is it?
Philosophizing like Hamlet?
No, Buridan . . .”
“I’ve been harping on that for ages.
We’re again walking on bodies . . .”
“The unthinkable . . .” “ . . . cat sausage
turned into the coveted puss in booties.”
“Uniqueness seduces you.”
“And what is your métier?”
“Everyone needs a milieu:
Water is my cup of tea.”

5.
Then the breeze blew in our direction,
Making audible their conversation.

“Listen, I’ve seen your face before.
I remember: it was on the roof next door.
You often peered through the dusty lunette
Into chambers I no longer rent.

“With a gaze now joyful, now sad, you kept watch
Over all the ups and downs in the masterwork
That consumed me then from paws to ears.
But it seems as if years,
No, as if centuries have passed since that time,
And suddenly I peer so closely into your eyes.
Oh, what happened? Where we were rushing?
We are mixed up in a terrible muddle!”

“Take courage, take courage, you have friends,
And I dare to rank myself among them.
Let it be known that for a long time
A gilded palace to you has been assigned.
The best pencils have been carefully whetted,
Shelves stacked with books, and lantern lighted.
And out the window what expanses you shall see.”

The pussycat cried, “Where is it? Who did this for me?”

Then the moon, which burned like copper,
Ebbed and faded with a mutter.
It waned so fast, in a thrice,
Its shape resembled a melon slice.
Masts and rigging went up in a jig.
What was left of the thing—
A barely visible ashy oblong—
Burrowed into storm clouds and was gone.
Everyone was forced to feign
It was the face of the moon.

6.
The moon summoned a wave to its side.
The wave lifted the moon up high.
And so between heaven and earth
The little ship hung in mid-air,
As on a tinted postal card.
Grabbing her things from the strand,
The pussycat boarded the bark,
Whispering “Adieu” to the sixth part.

7.
Wisps of phosphoric foam sputtered.
Selene’s new horns glittered,
And with his burning saucers Argus scowled
At the enraptured striped pussycat’s tail.
The first opera’s chimera was born in the pussycat.
There was applause in the stalls, noises in the pit.
The storm clouds rose, opening an entrance
In which the sea sighed like an audience.
Her body filled with an invisible force,
The universe subsided, and the pussycat held forth.
Song’s primordial magical vigor
Reawakened in the fish their ardor.
The starry sky got goosebumps,
And the bowels of the earth rumbled.
…………………………………………..…………………..
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8.
By morning, the sea tour was over.
The elements were entrusted with new roles.
The one who came for the cat in the darkness
Had to go looking for the overheated horses.

9.
The tide rolled out, and towards the sea
The grass bent sadly in the estuary.
In the fog, the sandbanks and islands
Altered their outlines.

And then a prickly eyelid opened a bit
Over a gloomy ridge of distant foothills.
Here man and stone conspired ever harder,
Establishing their power over the water.
Battlements and bends were sharper than the shore,
And the sand gave way to the granite.
Farther down, the fog hardened into boulders.
Like crystals, the light they beamed cut.

The golden bark hastened to take
Сover in a tangle of dark channels.
And the passenger? She dreamt of taking
A bath and setting foot on dry land.

10.
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…………………………………….………………….. But

The incident was settled with sanity
By the guard, who saluted the cat,
And the porter, who grabbed her tote,
sac de voyage, and the case with her vanity.

The heavy door cut off, like a tail,
The mutters and shouts of the crowd,
The stone bridge, ready to fail,
And the sinister hugger-mugger of the town.

She climbed a steep cascade,
Then walked down the hall to her rooms.
If you such a voyage had made
You’d be glad of an old cozy home.

The End

Courtesy of the estate of Lidya Blinova and Focus Kazakhstan, National Museum of Kazakhstan. Translated by the Russian Reader

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“The Learned Pussycat” and other works by Lidya Blinova will be featured in Focus Kazakhstan: Bread and Roses, an exhibition of four generations of Kazakh women artists organized by MOMENTUM in partnership with the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan that will run from September 25 to October 20, 2018, at Studio 1 in the Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin.

The show comprises work in a wide-range of media by twenty artists created from 1945 to the present. Emerging Kazakh women artists are prefaced in the show by a group of eminent forerunners who have remained more or less invisible within the history of Soviet, Kazakh, and world art. Against the tumult of Stalinist repression and its aftermath, the work of these women has forged a bridge between traditional Kazakh arts, crafts and ways of living, the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s, socialist realism, and a completely new approach to art making that emerged in the early the 1980s. The works that these great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters of contemporary Kazakh art have produced reflect the melting pot of ideas and influences between east and west arising from Kazakhstan’s history of tumultuous political and social change. Bread and Rosestakes place in parallel with the Focus Kazakhstan Artist Residency Exhibition at the MOMENTUM Gallery, also in the Kunstquartier Bethanien.

Poster_Version 3_web

Lidya Blinova’s parents both worked as architects, her grandfather was a priest and mystic. She graduated from the Architecture and Construction Institute in Alma-Ata, and her subsequent work encompassed architecture, art, poetry, sculpture, jewelry, book design, acting, and cinema. By inclination she was a radical. She jointly developed ideas with her husband, Rustam Khalfin, who described her as his “alter ego,” and whom she first met in 1962, at the age of fourteen, in the graphic art studio at Alma-Ata’s Palace of Pioneers. Khalfin’s idea of the pulota, a keyhole into a fragmented world of space, time, and image, originated with Blinova. Formed by the simple gesture of folding a fist and looking through the hole in its middle, it created what she described as the “ultimate plastic object,” replete, at the same time, with fullness and emptiness.

Blinova first began to make wooden sculpture in the studio of Isaak Itkind, a primitivist and friend of Marc Chagall who had been imprisoned in Kazakhstan. and also worked for film director Sergei Bodrov on The Stunned Apostle, for which Pavel Zaltsman, a close associate of Pavel Filonov who had also been interned in Kazakhstan, was production designer. For Bodrov’s second film The Unprofessionals (1985), Blinova worked as costume designer. A polymath, she also made puppet shows for children and experimented on small sculptural forms for jewelry.

During the 1970s, she both organized and was a participant in the private apartment art exhibitions in Alma-Ata that showed autonomous works by pupils of Vladimir Sterligov. Almost the whole group, including Khalfin, had been previously educated as architects. In 1995, she designed a series of catalogues on contemporary Kazakh artists for the Soros Foundation in Almaty and presented her installation Poem for a Cat at the Kokserek Gallery, which also published the eponymous book. In 2011, her work was posthumously represented in the exhibition Between the Past and the Future: Minus 20. The Archeology of Relevance, at the Kasteyev Art Museum in Almaty.

Source: MOMENTUM

Solomon Yudovin at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center

The Three Yudovins and Yet Another One
Valery Dymshits
lechaim.ru
December 17, 2017

An artist is defined by the context in which people find him interesting and appreciate his work. This is not a new idea, but it is no less true for all that.

A native of the Belarusian shtetl Beshenkovichi, Leningrad graphic artist Solomon Yudovin (1892–1954) has not been forgotten, exactly, but nor is he widely known, and all because his oeure occupies several nonoverlapping contexts.


Solomon Yudovin, Beshenkovichi, 1933. Courtesy of Boris Faizullin

One of the most successful Soviet graphic artists, an acknowledged master of woodcuts and linocuts, and illustrator of editions of works by numerous Jewish writers, Yudovin showed his work nearly annually and was the subject of two monographs during his lifetime. After he died, he was exhibited and mentioned, but less often. The last major show of Yudovin’s work took place in 1956 in Leningrad.

Then he was remembered anew.

He was primarily recalled in Israel and, later, in Russia, in connection with his relative and mentor S. An-sky (Shloyme Rappoport), a writer and the father of Jewish ethnography. Yudovin was involved, as a photographer and artist, in An-sky’s renowned Jewish folk ethnography expeditions of 1912–1914, and they defined his artistic career over the next quarter century. Yudov’s engravings turned up again in various periodicals and books dealing with Eastern European Jews.  Yudovin was rightly seen as one of the principal artists of the old shetls, as an artist who had depicted their synagogues, old people, artisans, and, most important, the lush decorations on carved tombstones in their cemeteries. Yudovin was essentially the neoacademic alternative to the non-realist expressionist Marc Chagall, regarded as post-Soviet Russia’s primary Jewish artist. Yudovin and Chagall, who had been at loggerheads in Vitebsk during their lifetimes, were once again competitors, so to speak. Yudovin has even stole the limelight from Chagall (a seemingly impossible task) in terms of reproductions and collages on the covers of Jewish-themed books.

From the series Jewish Popular Ornamental Design, 1940. Courtesy of the Petersburg Judaica Center

Regardless of the so-called Jewish revival, Yudovin is remembered by those who write about the Nazi Siege of Leningrad or curate show dealing with the subject. Thanks to the series of linocuts Leningrad during the Great Fatherland War, Yudovin has come to be regarded as one of the most important Siege artists. His black-and-white, intolerably contrasty works from the war years and first postwar years produce a fascinating image of the dead city, whose horrifying beauty was so often described in diaries by people who witnessed the Siege firsthand. Yudovin’s self-portrait—of an artist doggedly laboring in an unheated studio—has become a primary visual symbol of the Siege.

Those who remember the Jewish Yudovin rarely remember the Siege Yudovin, and vice versa, despite the fact they had a lot in common. We could argue that Yudovin, with his skill in producing moribund, balanced compositions, and his powers of concentration, which was at odds with the empirical commotion of impressionism, was best equipped to deal with the topic of death. His famous engraving Burial in a Shtetl anticipated his images of Leningraders, carrying their dead on sledges.

In recent years, yet another, previously unknown aspect of Yudovin’s talent has been discovered. Due to the efforts of the Petersburg Judaica Center (where I have the honor to work), hundreds of photographs taken by Yudovin during the An-sky expeditions have been unearthed and published. These photographs have proven not only highly informative works, but also and primarily works of high art. Solomon Yudovin the pictoriailist has taken an honorary place alongside Alter Kacyzne and Roman Vishnyak, the principal photo portraitists of the vanished world of Eastern European Jewry.  Our only regret is that Yudovin, who produced brilliant photographs in his youth, never again took up a camera. Perhaps he deemed his work as a graphic artist superior to the craft of the photographer. Maybe Yudovin was brought up short by the fact that pictorialism, so attractive to him in his youth, had gone out of fashion and, moreover, was persecuted in the 1920s. Whatever the case, photography was a brief albeit vivid episode in his artistic career. Now, however, the photographs have also occupied a prominent place in numerous Jewish publications of recent years.

Having become a graphic artist, Yudovin ceased being a photographer. However, the photographs he took in the early twentieth century were to play a hidden but significant role in the history of Jewish art. They were a source of motifs and compositions for the graphic works of Yudovin himself (until he gave up Jewish subjects), and then were the basis of illustrations of the works of Sholom Aleichem by the much more famous artist Nathan Altman.

Solomon Yudovin is remembered in his guises as Jewish artist, Siege artist, and art photographer. It turns out, however, that Yudovin had a fourth guise, a most unexpected on.

One of the last Jewish institutions in prewar Leningrad was the Yakov Sverdlov Jewish House of Education (Yevdomprosvet), which survived until 1938 along with similar institutions for other ethnic minorities in the building at 10 Nekrasov Street, the current home of the city’s Bolshoi Puppet Theater. The Yevdomprosvet operated a theater studio in which amateur actors, guided by professional director Lev Mursky, staged plays in Yiddish. Yudovin was the stage and costume designer for two productions by this group: Draftees (1934) and The Call-Up (1936), based on the play by Mendele Mocher Sforim. Mursky’s papers, stored in the archives of the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center, yielded a set of costume and scenery sketches done by Yudovin. This new, seemingly unrecognizable Yudovin is cheerful, quite lively and, most surprisingly, polychromatic, and there is a touch of the grotesque and satirical in his work. In a word, this is a fourth, hitherto unknown Yudovin.

Tailor, Costume Sketch for Staging of the Play “Draftees,” 1934. Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center

These four incarnations of Solomon Yudovin are on diplay at the exhibition From Beshenkovichi to Leningrad, which opened on the 125th anniversary of the artist’s birth at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center at 3 Rubinstein Street. The Petersburg Judaica Center loaned photographs from the An-sky expeditions and woodcuts from the series Jewish Popular Ornamental Design. Petersburg collector Boris Faizullin supplied drawings and engravings from different periods, including the Siege, while the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center has exhibited the works for the theater. The show has necessarily taken the shape of a sketch of sorts, but at the same time it is representative. All four Yudovins have finally met. Perhaps someday the Russian Museum, the Tretyakov Gallery or one of Moscow’s Jewish museums will remember the work of the classic Soviet graphic artist, but until that happens, hurry over to Rubinstein Street. From Beshenkovichi to Leningrad runs until mid January.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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