Sea Stories, is the first UK solo exhibition by highly regarded Russian artist Alexander Ponomarev (b. 1957). Sea Stories will unveil a series of new and recent works by the artist, most of which have never been exhibited before in the UK.
Drawing upon a background in nautical engineering and an early career as a submariner, Ponomarev uses his Sea voyages as a starting point to explore relationships between illusion and reality, technology and art, mythology and documentary as a way of understanding the shifting tides of personal and cultural history which are particularly relevant to a contemporary Russian experience.
His work often takes the form of epic aquatic installations which display a performative engagement with remote seas and Arctic terrain but he also produces smaller more intimate pieces, often placing himself within the frame so that the scale and context of the ocean is magnified. What comes across in all of Ponomarev’s work is a sense of playfulness underlined by his deep respect for the sea and the strange underwater world he has chosen to spend so much of his life engaging with.
The works in Sea Stories arise from some of the many oceanic journeys undertaken by the artist including expeditions to the North Pole, deep sea submarining and the tracking of the 60th latitude of the Atlantic whilst onboard a scientific research ship.
A centrepiece of this exhibition is the UK debut of the impressive installation piece Base (2003). Originally created during a residency at the studio of sculptor Alexander Calder, a nine-metres-long horizontal tube filled with water forms a tunnel for the movement of a black submarine. Rising above the water on propellers, the submarine performs a chameleon – like transformation, revealing brightly coloured markings that are a far cry from the camouflage usually associated with such naval vessels.
In this work the artist reprises the recurring metaphor of the submarine that populates his practice. For Ponomarev, the submarine is employed as a symbol that links art to war, while also signalling the issue of surface and hidden depths, and the fraught relationship between appearance and disappearance.
Sea Stories also features moving image works, drawings and photographs documenting further artistic adventures from far flung corners of the ocean. Films presented include Heliotropism (2009), created onboard a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic and Maya: A Lost Island (2000), which documents a strange but wonderful collaboration with the 5th fleet of the Russian Navy, who were persuaded to lay a smokescreen in front of the island of Sedioyatyl, thus causing its entire landmass gradually to disappear and become momentarily invisible. The exhibition also unveils a new series of self-portraits by the artist. Deep Water Graphics (2010) was created in the arctic and the images were gradually distorted by subjection to water-pressure at depths of up to 4km below sea-level.