contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the month / April 2019

Voronezh (series 1971)
Tamara Stoffers

110 cm x 87 cm, Edition of 3
80 cm x 63 cm, Edition of 4
50 cm x 40 cm, Edition of 5


For her collage “Voronezh” from 2018, Tamara Stoffers applied a coloured photo for the background. It shows huge prefabricated apartment buildings under a blue sky with some white clouds. In the foreground, she pasted black and white images of five persons. There are two construction workers sitting at the lower left image corner, recognisable by their helmets. In the lower right angle appears a bust of another man, perhaps a house painter. All three are looking up to the dominating couple of a journalist and a welder, who is apparently giving an interview to the reporter. She assembled the elements in a balanced composition: the two workers and the journalist dominate the left half of the image; the head of the welder is situated at the central vertical line, but his body is located in the right half of the image; as horizontal compensation there is the painter, who appears rightmost and another apartment building. Due to the clouds in the background photo, the arrangement is also vertically well adjusted.

Whereas the workers and the painter fit almost realistically into the photo, the journalist and the welder are oversized and floating more or less in the air. It seems that the welder leans on the top of the building and the journalist is holding his hand. Their leg position implies that their feet are anchored somewhere, but there is no supporting surface. Although, their position is physically impossible, both take up a comfortable pose.

Tamara assembled this collage from photos of the book “Soviet Union” by the Swiss photographer Emil Schulthess, published in 1971. It is a photobook, where the author presents pictures from different regions and events to draw a realistic image of the USSR. The prefabricated apartment buildings in the background of the oeuvre could have been shot in Moscow or another major city. As the title indicates, it might be the town Voronezh. However, this type of buildings were constructed after Nikita Khrushchev became First Secretary of the Communist Party. Due to the housing shortage in the metropoles, Khrushchev initiated a homebuilding campaign with precast concrete slabs. In consequence, 132 million people found a new apartment between 1955 and 1970. The soviet media welcomed the new constructions as future-orientated. Correspondingly, the workers on site were the builders of the new society and omnipresent. Therefore, it is not surprisingly that Schulthess photographed them as well.

In the collage, Tamara united the elements, which promised social progress and a better life for the population. In doing so, she created a picture that reminds paintings from socialist realism of depicted labourers, often represented during their work or also in the work break. This was the consequence of the will of the former Communist party that the arts should present the reality in its revolutionary development. Reading the collage based on this assumption, the new constructed buildings in the background stand for advancement. Comparable would be the role of the workers who might be in their break. This enables them, to follow the airy interview and underline the importance of the oversized welder. In addition, the prominent tape recorder of the journalist and the microphone in the welder’s left hand are symbolising technical progress.

Nevertheless, Tamara does not simply reproduce the style of socialist realism. Based on the starting material, she tries to understand the atmosphere of the bygone era. In doing so, she creates a new curious moment in the past. Even though, the single elements promote the impression of a scene in a socialist realistic painting, the result is far from it. The photographic cutouts are assembled in a surreal manner; the floating persons could recall Chagall, even though they are not lost in reverie like in the paintings. Whereas a glance to another Russian avant-gardist – Alexander Rodchenko – could be interesting. His works in photography are showing partly breath-taking views to new constructed towers and workers at a dizzy height. Moreover, he was the first artist in the USSR who worked with the technique of collage and also used it in photography. “Working in a Lock” for the magazine “USSR in Construction”, dedicated to the buildings of the White Sea-Baltic Canal from 1933 plays also with the relation between a defined background and an oversized worker. However, the labourer is chiselling and his face is quasi invisible.

Although Tamara stands in the tradition of collage with similar elements, her workers are relaxed. They have archived their part of building the new society. This might be explained by the period, when Emil Schulthess shot the photos. Nevertheless, it was her choice to bring them together in this way. Whereas Rodchenko leaves the gaze out into the distance, perhaps into the future, Tamara shows the finished constructions of the “present” times. Playfully, she arranges the protagonists in front of it. So she shows the atmosphere of a for her unknown past, which might have never existed.


Tamara Stoffers

Born in 1996 in Zwolle, Netherlands, Tamara Stoffers studied fine art at the Academy Minerva in Groningen, Netherlands. Additionally, she frequented courses at the Klassieke Academie. Since her graduation in 2017, she participated in several group exhibitions in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but also abroad in Brussels (Belgium), London (England) and Stockholm (Sweden). Currently, she has her first solo exhibition “The New Past” at The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography in Moscow (until 30 June 2019).

On view are collages composed of photos found in old books about the Soviet Union. The oeuvres are grouped in series named after the publishing year of the initial book. One of them is our artwork of the month April 2019 “Voronezh”. Tamara’s creative process is strictly analogue in its basis. She literally cuts the single elements out of their context and composes them to a new oeuvre. Only afterwards, she scans the completed collage to print it in different sizes and limited editions. Thereby the work enters into the age of technical reproduction.

Even though born after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Tamara is fascinated by this disappeared culture, with its typical visual language. At the age of 18, she started to collect objects connected to the era of the USSR. Later, in 2015/16, she visited the exhibition “Soviet Design 1950 – 1980” in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Here she saw furniture, textiles, domestic appliances and utensils, toys, posters and extensive archive material. Inspired by the atmosphere and shapes of the objects, she started to incorporate it into her artistic practice. Examples are the above-mentioned collages, where she playfully creates new, often surrealistic situations. In doing so, she approaches a for her incomprehensible past, which becomes more accessible to her by this process. Other rapprochements are sculptural cachepots in form of a Lenin bust.

However, Tamara’s artistic work is not limited to her personal reappraisal of the Soviet Union. Besides collage and sculpture, she paints also and often combines different techniques. Her still-lifes are naturalistic with traditional compositions. Nevertheless, they have satirical elements and refer partly to our present. Sometimes there is embroidery added to highlight parts of the painting. Moreover, she works on an exceptional portrait series, where she doesn’t show the traditional bust. On hand-shaped concave canvasses, she depicts one breast. In consequence, the portrait person can’t be recognized by everyone, but only by themselves, an intimate partner and the artist.

Tamara lives and works in Deventer, Netherlands.