Artist Yelena Popova grew up in the closed city of Ozyorsk in Russia – the birthplace of the Soviet nuclear weapons programme and one of the largest producers of weapons-grade plutonium for the USSR during the Cold War. In 1957, an explosion at its Mayak plant released more radioactive contamination than Chernobyl and the region is reported to be one of the most polluted places on Earth today.
Though Popova moved to the UK in 2011, her practice remains deeply influenced by the story of her hometown and reflects an ongoing fascination with nuclear history more broadly. Her upcoming solo exhibition – ‘The Scholar Stones Project’ at The Holden Gallery in Manchester – will feature new work developed in response to a series of visits she made to decommissioned nuclear sites around Britain over the course of 2019, including first-generation Magnox reactors that currently cannot be dismantled and will have to remain on the coastline until at least the end of the century.
A number of the paintings in the show include pigments created from soil that Popova gathered during her research and will be displayed alongside stones she collected at each location, re-presented in this new context as objects of contemplation in the same manner as the celebrated scholar stones of Tang dynasty China (618-907 AD). The combined effect will invite viewers to reflect upon the impact of industrialism, capitalism and the passage of time on the landscape, and lend visibility to the issue of nuclear activity.
Popova was shortlisted for the Max Mara Art Prize for Women in 2015 and included in Thames and Hudson’s ‘100 Painters for Tomorrow’. Her style is heavily influenced by Russian Constructivism and presents an entrancing world of colour and form in addition to the conceptual themes out of which her work is born. Following Sof’ya Shpurova: Low Human Activity, The Scholar Stones Project represents the second consecutive exhibition at The Holden Gallery to highlight the work of an exciting Russian female painter. We’re excited to see what will come next.
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