At Rencontres d’Arles 2017, I saw an interesting exhibition of images by Niels Ackermann and Sébastien Gobert titled Looking for Lenin. The associated book is available on Amazon (see here).
The work consists of looking at the legacy of Lenin in a very practical way: examining what has happened to the many monuments of him especially in the Ukraine (the books quotes 5500 statues). The book actually provides a map of the locations, so if you’re inspired and happen to be spending time in the Ukraine you can construct your own pilgrimage, or perhaps the word should be “anti-pilgramage”.
The introduction states:
“The Ukraine is engaged in a vast process of decommunisation: within this scope, the country is cleaning up all its monuments of Lenin. The photographer Niels Ackermann and the journalist Sébastien Gobert have travelled the country in search of these discarded idols.”
In the 2017 BBC video of the same name, Gobert comments that “every Lenin has a different story to tell and every Lenin has a different fate”. He goes on to say that through these statues, it’s possible to understand a great deal about the modern Ukraine and that while plainly many (not all) people reject the past, “one of the things that this decommunisation process has not solved is what Ukraine wants to do next with its history”.
The book contains many toppled, disfigured and discarded sculptures of Lenin connoting the changed circumstances which allow the expressions of feelings which were probably always there. The book provides a great deal of background information which gives the feeling that there is a lot of conflict between those who look forward and those who look back on what was at least familiar. In many cases the statues are in pieces and put in storerooms, under stairs, in backyards with lots of other junk, indicating that the statues and the memories of Lenin and very much part in the background – almost forgotten.
There is a strong element of amusement in the collection: very often the statues have been re-located into a completely different context. Some statues have been re-purposed in an amusing way such as this one which was made by the Ukrainian artist Oleksandr Milov, titled Dark Vador in the suburbs of Odessa.
In these cases, it’s almost as if ordinary people are re-claiming Lenin’s legacy and re-writing it to suit the changed world.
The photographs are in colour, typically in landscape format and taken in a classic documentary style with the statue front-and-center. There is no attempt to “pretty up” the situation. The photos show the statue (or sometimes part of it) in context and it is the context which has greatly changed. In many cases, literally Lenin has fallen off his plinth with the obvious connection of falling from grace. The new circumstances of the statues, sometimes obviously cared-for, sometimes not, tell us a great deal about the conflicting emotions of the people. There is a strong message that Lenin isn’t around in the same way, but he’s still there in a sense, and it will take the decommunisation process some decades yet before a proper historical context will be found.
Ackermann, N. and Gobert, S. (2017) Looking for Lenin. Lausanne: Les Éditions Noir sur Blanc
Looking for Lenin (2017) [television programme online] BBC iplayer. At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p057v7sy/player (Accessed 04 Mar 2018)