Bogdan Mamonov’s great-grandfather, Gregory Speer, found himself at the time of the Bolshevik revolution a German bridge engineer hired by the government of the last czar in Kolomna, a city approximately 100 miles outside of Moscow. The revolution gave his bridge design expertise a renewed sense of purpose in a country set to build a new world, and also simply needing rebuilding itself after World War I and the ensuing civil war.
By 1932, at the height of Stalin’s purges, however, Speer’s luck had run out and he was arrested in a so-called “engineer’s case”. According to the official version, Speer hanged himself in prison. Virtually all of his possessions were confiscated. Speer’s youngest daughter Lidia could not bear the death of her father and died soon after, having suffered a psychiatric break-down.
Speer’s fate forever cast a shadow over the lives of his family. Bogdan Mamonov’s childhood was steeped in his family’s contempt for the Soviet regime. Mamonov’s father (himself an artist) was a staunch anti-Communist throughout Bogdan’s childhood. At one point, he threw out the family’s TV set so as to avoid having his family subjected to Soviet propaganda.
One of the few possessions of Speer’s that was not confiscated after his arrest was his collection of glass plates of stereo photographs capturing the idyll of his family’s life and leisure. Although Speer did not consider himself an artist and captured his family purely as a record of happy times, he possessed an innate sense of composition. The collection of stereo photographs that survived through three generations of Speer’s descendants and twentieth century turmoil became the most tangible, most intimate link for Mamonov to his ancestor whose life and death so directed his upbringing.
Now, Bogdan Mamonov, a mature man and a well recognized artist (who among other things represented Russia at the 51st Venice Biennale), is still deeply affected by the influence of totalitarianism on humanity. The Intimate Life of Gregory Speer is Mamonov’s long-nursed look at the tension between liberty and oppression. The common thread of all works in The Intimate Life is a number of Mamonov’s favorite images from his great-grandfather’s collection, each examined, interpreted and reinterpreted by Mamonov the artist and Mamonov the great-grandson.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is Sapojok (Little Boot), a piece of video produced by Mamonov for the Kandinsky Prize London 2009 and appearing for the first time in a commercial gallery. Sapojok juxtaposes idyllic scenes captured by Speer with a recitation from Tranquillus’s Twelve Caesars of the deeds of Caligula, the Roman emperor who rained between 37 and 41 AD and is best known for using his absolute power for absolute depravity.
In addition to Sapojok, the exhibit will present large-format photography, transparencies, paintings and the original glass plates.