Museum of the History of St. Petersburg

'Historical sensation'
Is it possible to feel history? Can we experience the past as if it were real? Could images, paintings, photographs, drawings evoke in us a feeling of direct contact with the past? Yes, was the definite answer of the most important professor in cultural history of the Netherlands Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) when answering these questions in a famous essay in 1920. Huizinga invented the term 'historical sensation' for this experience of immediate access to the past. He meant an ecstatic, overwhelming sensation of insight into a historical moment, situation or sphere. This sensation could be caused by looking at a painting, by seeing a photograph, by listening to a piece of music, by smelling a specific fragrance.
Huizinga's notion of 'historical sensation' has been subject to a lot of speculation. Maybe his idea is understood best as expressing our human being's longing for contact with the past, whether this contact is possible or not. It is precisely this longing that is expressed in the artworks of Russian artist Kerim Ragimov and Dutch artist Irene Janze.

City scapes of Irene Janze
Irene Janze starts from the experience of the city as a cartography of abundance and chaos. For making her large drawings of 'cityscapes' she zooms in and out of the city's geography. On the one hand she zooms out, using photographic imagery derived from satellite observations. On the other hand she zooms in on the city's daily details, for instance of rubbish on the streets. She even uses real-size monoprints of cobbles of pavement. These small-scale imageries are combined with large-scale satellite overviews, all in one drawing, and these differences in scale produce an overwhelming effect. Even more fascinating is that in these drawings historical events are documented. She incorporates history in the image by drawing material which gives evidence of a specific historical event which took place there and then.
For instance, in her large cityscape 'DAM' (the main square in the city centre of Amsterdam) we can see the left-overs of the Royal Wedding of prince Willem Alexander with princess Maxima: flags, confetti, festivity leaflets, etc. Janze carefully collected these left-overs and documented them in the drawing. In her large drawing 'New York' she incorporated drawings of debris of the destroyed World Trade Center, which is stored on Staten Island. Currently she is working on 'ROME', focussing on St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. In this drawing we will see evidence of the historical artefacts used by the public during the burial of the late pope.
The spectator of Janze's drawings doesn't have to know exactly what was going on during a specific historical event, but the sensation of 'something real has happened here' is evident.

Metro series of Kerim Ragimov
In his 'Metro series' Kerim Ragimov focusses on St. Petersburg's metro stations. Ragimov took photographs of all the metro buildings and subsequently made a painting of each of them. The series, started in 1993, up till now comprises of 50 paintings. Most of them are painted in a photo-realistic manner, in a documentary way. As such, as a documentation of St. Petersburg's metro stations this series is already a valuable historical document in itself.
There is however more to this series: next to differences in atmosphere, weather conditions and perspective, there are differences in historical 'atmosphere' too. Some paintings seem to floate through time and art history: the painting of metro Frunzenskaja reminds one of a 1950's Edward Hopper painting, the painting of Gorgovskaja evokes the imagery of contemporary computer games. Some paintings bring the spectator into a 1960's atmosphere of Soviet stagnation. In all paintings individual people seem to move unconsciously, as if knowing their presence won't make any difference to the unmovable, stern and seemingly eternal metro buildings.

Works of Irene Janze

· ROME samplemap (2006). Drawing on half transparant paper, 3 metres wide - 1metre high
· Rome visitors (2006) Drawing on chalkpaper (80cm- 60cm)
· Sounds Rome environs

Thu/Fri 18.00-21.00 hours workshops at the Pro Arte Institute: Cartography of the public space