The art project Observation Journal is a symbolic reconstruction of seventy-year-old events. It is based on the research of the seed collection of Nikolai I. Vavilov and the experts of the All-Union Plant Research Institute (USSR). The seeds, which were captured by the Nazis in the occupied Eastern territories, served as the founding collection for the sowings of the SS-Institute of Plant Genetics situated in Schloss Lannach by Graz in Austria at that time.
Observation Journal is a perception process of modernity based on empirical experiences of historical reconstruction. It is also the artistic response to the historical subjectivity and the hypersubjectivity of modern media reality.
In 1941 the employees of the All-Union Plant Research Institute in encircled Leningrad rescued at the expense of their lives the collection assembled by Academy Professor Nikolai I.Vavilov, who was arrested on false charges and sentenced to death by firing squad in 1941. The sentence was later changed to twenty years in jail, but Vavilov – a great scientist of his generation – died of hunger in prison in 1943. He was posthumously cleared of charges in 1955.
The remarkable botanist, geneticist and geographer, Nikolai I.Vavilov fell victim to the purges of the Stalin time.
The ideology of fascism was based on the search for exclusivity proof of German identity, and the scope of scientific interests of the Ahnenerbe – the institution created to ideologically support the state functionality of the Third Reich – was wide and included all humanities as well as several natural sciences, ranging from heraldry, philology, history, and ethnography to spine-chilling experiments on concentration camp prisoners.
The Ahnenerbe supervised more than fifty research institutions and scientific centers including the SS-Institut für Pflanzengenetik (The SS-Institute of Plant Genetics), founded in 1943 in Schloss Lannach. The Institute performed studies on freezing tolerance of plants and actively used seeds from the Soviet Union. Beginning in June 1943 its researchers travelled occupied territories in the East and collected genetic material. Pursuing these activities they exploited the seed collections of Nikolai I.Vavilov and his colleagues from the All-Union Plant Research Institute (USSR), which had not been evacuated.
As early as in the autumn of 1943 the following seeds from Russia were planted on the fields of the SS-Institute of Plant Genetics for experiments:
– winter wheat (Triticum)
– rye (Secale Cereale)
– barley (Hordeum Vulgare)
– bulbous barley (Hordeum Bulbosum)
– oat (Avena)
– goatgrass (Aegilops)
Pavlovsk Experiment Station
The Station was organized in 1926 near St. Petersburg. Being one of the major stations of VIR, it studies perennial grasses and cruciferous tubers cultivated in the Non-Black-Soil area. There are over 3000 accessions of fruit and berry plants maintained in vivo in its gardens. More than 40 of these fruit samples have been commercialized. This station operates an experiment farm, a quarantine nursery and greenhouses.
There are 12 Experiment Stations located all over Russian Federation are included into the VIR structure. For the Observation Journal project artists worked together with the specialists from Pavlovsk Experimental Station.
Field (April, May, June, July, August)
Elisabeth Fiedler (The Head of Department of Art in Public Space / Styria Universalmuseum Joanneum)
What is public space, how is it used, who uses it and what for? These are some of the questions relevant not just for the Institute for Art in Public Space, but for every human being.
Of great importance within this context are the reappraisal of historical conditions, references to the present and the projecting of future scenarios. Examining and considering urban and rural, central and peripheral or real and virtual spaces form important parameters in this.
Warring states, nutritional problems or seed manipulation are always current issues, as are survival strategies, collaborations or peace efforts. As an integral part of life, art never stands apart in this
respect – instead, it constantly raises questions on neuralgic issues.
Observation Journal Experiment
The “Observation Journal” team is a self-organized group consisting of artists, scientists and multidisciplinary specialists – all of them being in an ongoing dialogue. We do believe that art is an area of science and that the entire value of an art piece may be measured by the amount of cultural, social, historical and scientific connections. Against this background we aim to understand how science and artists collaboration may be the term of simultaneous scientific and artistic research. We show how scientists participate in the process of art creation which could lead to mutual gaining of new experiences and knowledge for future inventions in science, art and society.
Repatriation of the Austrian pre war old local (landraces) grain crops. After the collections of the AGES and Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry (VIR) were compared we found out that some old local Austrian sorts exist only at the collection of VIR. Those samples were collected by specialists of Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry during the expeditions before World War II and within the scientific exchange after. In the framework of the Observation Journal project some reproductions of these crops were produced to fulfill the collection of the Austrian genetic bank.
Study and supervision of the special aspects of the evolution of the same grains allocated into the different regions (Austria, Italy, France, Russia) /work in progress/. For this experiment the Nurnberg 1 seeds were taken. The displacement of the plants that were couched under the same conditions into the different climate zones (Austria, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, and Russia). Scientists and artists study its on-goings to make the comparative study in future.
Sergey Kishchenko (artist) on the Observation Journal
In my opinion, the value of Observation Journal is in its conceptualization as one element of
the global communication network, as well as in the area of history, art history, art theory, philosophy, etc. It is an attempt to introduce a touch of new knowledge into the global network. Moreover, we are engaged with ideas of empirical approach to understanding of history because of its subjectivity.
In a recent Ogoniok interview, the movie director Alexander Sokurov says that it is not the
issue of death and disaster that interests him when he explores the topic of war, and he is not making films about people dying. He is rather interested in life and life stories of fight against death and victory over death. It seems to me that this is also what our project is about.
Observation Journal is a project about the future without ideology, totalitarianism and death. Our sowing field is the exploring site for new meanings, exchange, discoveries and communications, it is the
ground to foster mutual understanding and tolerance.
This is a tiny extract from Sergey Kishchenko’s extraordinarily detailed and wide-ranging project, Observation Journal, which began in 2014 and continues to this day. In 2015 – 2016, the project continued in close partnership with the Austrian group RESANITA (Anita Fuchs, Resa Pernthaller). Scientific consultants (at different times) include Professor Igor Loskutov (VIR, Russia), Dr Olga Kovaleva (VIR, Russia), Heinrich Grausgruber, Ao.Univ.Prof. DI Dr. (Boku, Austria), and Dr. Paul Freudenthaler (AGES, Austria). If you are interested in discovering more, there is a 3D tour around the exhibition at N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Genetic Resources (VIR), St Petersburg; a short video here; and you can download the complete 2016 Observation Journal catalogue here.
Image credits (from top):
1. Sergey Kishchenko, from the series “Field Painting”, 2016, photograph, dimensions vary
2,3,4,5. Sergey Kishchenko, from the series “Daily Bread”, 2014-2015, photograph, mixed media, (100х70cm, each part)
6,7,8,9. Sergey Kishchenko, Pavlovsk Experiment Station (VIR), 2016, documentation, photograph, dimensions vary
10. Sergey Kishchenko, from the series “Seeding”, 2015, photograph, dimensions vary, (In the photo: Anita Fuchs, Sergey Kishchenko, Resa Pernthaller)
11,12,13,14. RESANITA, from the series “Field”, 2015, photograph, dimensions vary
15. Sergey Kishchenko, from the series “Displacement”, 2016, photograph, dimensions vary
16. RESANITA (Anita Fuchs, Resa Pernthaller), from the series “Displacement”, 2016, photograph, dimensions vary
17,18,19,20. Sergey Kishchenko, from the series “Repatriation”, 2016, photograph, dimensions vary
21,22. Sergey Kishchenko, from the series “Field Painting”, 2016, photograph, dimensions vary
This is part of FIELDS, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring fields as natural and (agri)cultural, invisible and visible, poor and productive, created and creators. FIELDS is conceived and edited by Marloe Mens.