"Oprichnaya Book"

In 2007, an artist living in Germany – Yaroslav Schwarzstein – showed me a few drawings on the theme “The New Oprichniks (State Police)”, about which I wrote a story “A Day of Oprichnik”. The said book described Moscow of year 2028, where within the country isolated from the outside world by the Great Russian Wall, an Orthodox Monarchy and new technologies created a bizarre symbiosis, stylistically something of a “Russian Cyberpunk”.     

Magnificent graphics of the artist, created in the style of the Russian Modern of the beginning of the XX century, intended to be a bit more than mere illustrations for the story. Yaroslav and me came up with the idea for the graphical works on the said theme, where his drawings should merge with my calligraphy, which I enjoyed to do at one time. I also decided not to use any texts from the book I already wrote, but to come up with the new ones. Actually, I wished to create something of an unusual genre, artistically elite, to challenge the Gutenberg’s era devoured by the digital technologies. But, ambitiousness of the idea created questions:  Technology of making? Sizes? Image? Unable to answer the said, we just collected the materials. And we didn’t really feel like publishing a traditional album, printed in the modern printing house.  

Maybe, the object would have remained at the level of sketches and ideas, if we have not shared our vision with the collector, producer and photographer Leonid Ogarev. He immediately offered to make a book – a decent-sized art object with the set of the graphical sheets. Together, we started to look for the shape of the object. We wished that to be some unidentifiable artwork, like a meteorite, flown from the macabre, fancy, feudal-high-tech Moscow of 2028. So that an obvious question would arise for its contemplators: Well, what would this be?

In order to ensure the existence of the product in the library space, on the shelf, in the gallery, spread over the walls as the pictures, and finally – an object of the pure art over the base, we defined the sizes of the sheets (50cm X 65cm) and the technology (Manual overprint). It was decided to print 20 copies of the “Oprichnik’s book”. This cumbersome process took almost two years. Concurrently, we were looking for the shapes for folders and stand. Finally, the first book-object was printed manually, packed and placed on the stand, and shown to the limited circle of the amateurs of the pure art. Vigorous reaction of the audience made it clear: we have created a beautiful and horrible thing, a self-sufficient Thing-in-itself, essentially something like Salvador Dali’s “Premonition of Civil War”.
Within this fragment of the high-tech new middle age, that arrived from the possible future, there is a hunch of something that gushes through the air of today. The “Oprichnik’s Book” visualizes the nature of the Russian authorities, hidden behind the beauty of the painted splint and severe luxury of the Kremlin, behind the ruddy smiles of the matrioshkas, palace brocade of the courtiers and rustling silk of the lackeys and dancers.  

Our “Oprichnik” baby made its first exhibition steps in the area of the Moscow Multimedia Art Museum (MMAM), where at the auction, the first and the last pages of the book were sold quite successfully. The parents were happy with such a start. But, it was particularly encouraging to realize, that all the success won’t replace a fateful question of the audience standing in front of our art-object and pensively leafing through the pages: So, what is this anyway? 

Vladimir Sorokin