Watch, Listen, Achieve

Sergei Orlov

Magazine issue: 
#1 2016 (50)

“Seeing” means not just looking, but contemplating and comprehending the world around us. “Hearing sounds” means not just listening, but joining in with the rhythms, the very soundings of the Universe. That is close to how the legendary Lao Tzu defined the true nature of sight and hearing in his poetic treatise Tao Te Ching (“A Book about Way and Power”).

The sage believed meditation allows a man to relieve his mind of everyday thoughts and troubles, to go beyond the material world in his consciousness, achieving the boundaries of the immense world of natural phenomena.

Viktor Korneev
Viktor Korneev. Photograph

The sculptor Viktor Korneev has a very personal vision, a very special perception of the world. His works represent a fusion of drama and philosophy. Korneev is committed to a terse, receptive lexicon of granite forms. The very materials he uses - granite, basalt, diabase, marble, as well as wood - inspire images that are scaled to nature. The artist perceives the rock matter as compressed time, nature's aeonic memory. You have to face this TIME with calm and dignity. The artist is immersed in an imaginary aura of universal formulae that determine natural phenomena, human relations, and the psychological world of the individual.

Korneev's artistic world is dominated not by narratives, but by concepts: "In Search of Light", "Full Moon", "Balance", "A Touch", "Anticipation", "Imagination", "Memories", "Communication", "Magnanimity". Sculptures with such epic names create a heroic "landscape" that is open to everyone.

Korneev lives both in Moscow and in Sweden. When in Sweden, he is committed to working outdoors with timeless materials, in the natural environment of majestic northern landscapes. His monumental granite statues are installed in local city parks.

Over the years, Korneev's work has been constantly featured in various Moscow, Russian and international exhibitions. Every year, the artist organizes a solo exhibition in Russia or Sweden. One of his most recent was held in the summer of 2015 in the city of Trollhättan, Sweden. In October of the same year, a joint exhibition of sculptures by Korneev and Mikhail Dronov opened at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

Viktor Korneev in Sweden. 2006. Photograph
Viktor Korneev in Sweden. 2006. Photograph

In accordance with the major concept of the Trollhättan exhibition, Korneev created a whole series of new works especially for that show, significantly expanding his creative palette: "Europa" (2014), "Watch, Listen, Achieve", "Memory", "Cactus", "Birdcatcher ", "Spring", "Rain", "Letter" and the surreal "Still-life with a Ball" (all 2015).

The Trollhättan exhibition was housed in a 19th century former factory building where train locomotives used to be built, which two years ago was reconstructed into a city exhibition hall. Like all of Korneev's previous personal exhibitions, the project in Trollhättan had a very thoughtful design, a single concept and an elegant philosophy. The space between the sculptures - like a pause, or a caesura - was of great importance, creating an atmosphere of emotional concentration, meditation. Each sculpture evokes a different polyphony of associations and naturally complements the unified art project.

The main idea behind the exhibition was conveyed in its title - "Silent Sound of Human Nature". Silence as an external form of stillness. The sculptor talks about stillness (meditation) as a form of spiritual life, about the growth of man and nature and their interrelationship, about the internal sounding of all nature's elements.

The Swedish composers Patrik Wingaardh and Sebastian Ring wrote music for brass, string and electronic instruments, specifically for the exhibition opening. The uniqueness of this dialogue between art forms is that the sculptural works were the major inspiration for the composers. This particular genre can be called "contemplation music". The architecture of these musical themes (following the legacy of the Chinese sage Lao Tzu) is built with smooth transition from sound to soundlessness. Similar to a beam of light being consumed by the depths of the night sky, the sound wave occurs in the depths of silence. And then everything goes back to the beginning, to attaining peace and silence.

Images of vision, sight, sound and soundlessness are particularly significant to Korneev. One of the main works of the Trollhättan exhibition was the granite piece "Watch, Listen, Achieve" (2015). The stone pedestal is engraved with a quote from the Tao Te Ching treatise on the true nature of vision and hearing.

"Watch, Listen, Achieve" is a monumental fragment - that's what makes it acute, significant and powerful. The monumental head of the prophet, holding a finger to his lips as a sign of silence, is cut above the eye line. Just like in the famous film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, the face is divided in half above the eyes. The absent block of stone accentuates the edge, the division, the link between the visible and invisible. Korneev has materialized the idea of the dual nature of man, flesh and spirit. The visible is what has been achieved - the invisible is something to be discovered, the individual's intuitive involvement with the infinite scope of natural phenomena.

The head of the "looking one" is mounted on a high granite column, with the overall rising direction of the sculpture expressing an ascent towards some mysterious goal to be achieved. A small faraway milestone on the way - a house of white marble - is attached to the granite column.

The "looking one" is a type which evokes a wide range of associations. There is a dramatic narrative of a barrier to vision, the anxiety of being shielded from the world. In the sculpture "The Look into Self" (wood, 2011) a man's face is obscured behind a wooden plaquette, a mask. It causes concern and anxiety, the man's figure reminding viewers of a crucifixion. Yet there is hope, the possibility of release. The hero is internally focused, close to finding a strong point of breakthrough.

The hero of the sculpture "The Lookout" (bronze, 2014) is an African man. Half of his face is obscured by a vertical diabase plate with a keyhole. The paradox emerges - the right eye can look freely and openly, while the left eye's field of view is limited to a keyhole. The world does not always unfold in its entirety; ideas, plans and hopes are not always realized. The half-look is a truncation of life's opportunities.

The main object of Korneev's art is the anthropomorphic figure. Bodies made of granite and bronze, marble and wood are often fragmented, truncated and composed of two large dimensions, with cubic cut-through windows. The human being is permeated by space, light and sound, anxiety and confidence, premonitions and memories.

Henry Moore's classic theme is a series of landscape figures composed of monumental fragments. Korneev continues with this established concept in his own distinctive fashion.

The monumental bronze statue "Europa" (2014) - a reclining figure, four meters long and two meters high - was the visual centre of the Trollhättan show. Made up of two large fragments with outer contours forming a rectangle, the sculpture looks as if it is cut by an invisible rectangular frame. An anthropomorphic figure truncated by a geometric form. Plasticity is interlaced with architectural graphics, with a higher clarity and expressiveness of perception increasing proportionately.

Leonardo's "Vitruvian Man" is inscribed in a circle and a square, his entire body fitting perfectly within two geometric shapes. It represents an ideal centric alignment of anthropomorphic image and geometry. European modernism has discovered another kind of geometry with deeper space cuts, truncations, tears, fragmenting and repetitive forms. The architectonic of new volumes has most spectacularly manifested itself in sculpture.

The vertical cut-off of a granite torso in Korneev's "Alive" (2006) is associated with an unbreakable support, a protective wall. The torso symbolically combines the pulse of a living body and the immortality of a granite monument, the breath of a sculptural form and the architectural canon.

The artist often uses rectangular incisions and grooves in the sculptural volumes, conveying additional meanings through his works. In the sculpture "The Lover" (granite, 2006) there is a square cut-out in a man's chest and a miniature marble head of a girl. A small detail becomes an emotional centre of the composition.

Korneev believes that innuendo, a blank and breathing space in sculpture, can be as eloquent and significant as the most thoroughly elaborated forms. The heroes of his works are often accompanied by objects or things that can reinforce the sharpness of character, adding density to it.

In the sculptural composition "Memory" (wood, 2015), the figure and the object are united. An old lady is sitting on a transparent glass cube. Inside the cube are weightless, shrunk dry leaves, grasses and flowers. Both happy and sad memories are fused into the structure of each leaf. Events from years past - spring and autumn, rebirth and extinction, the waxing and waning hours of daytime and daylight. The transparent cube with flowers inside is a metaphor for memories, the SECRET treasure of the heroine. Her face is turned to the sky; her whole posture filled with anticipation and prayer in an appeal to the unknown Higher Power. Psychological actuality is combined with the actuality of the ensemble objects.

Korneev keenly feels his characters' nature, emphasized through the contrast between portrait and object. The comparison is often sharp, almost parodic. In the sculptural composition "Cactus" (wood, 2015) a full-size figure of a naked woman stands next to some everyday objects - a carved wooden chair and a decorative cactus in a tub. The cactus is the allegorical attribute of the new goddess, Flora. The true nature of the prickly, independent-minded model is very artistically conveyed, complemented by her spectacular hair, modelled from coloured prickly sawdust.

The sculpture "Infanta" (bronze, 2014) was initially made of wood and later cast in bronze, but the new material has retained the texture of wood with amazing authenticity. "Infanta" is a complex pattern of associations related to children's games, a red string, cares and freedom. A girl holds a bird in her hands, tied with a red string. Big strong hands support and guide the little princess. From an early age Her Royal Highness has been a prisoner of court rules, statutes and regulations. Such constant care, patronage and concerns may over time change traits that have been received from nature.

People have been entrusted with the natural world and are deeply involved in it. The "Birdcatcher" (2015), made of marble and bronze, does not catch birds. He speaks the birds' language and they sit freely on his shoulders - in a world free of the red string of dependence. Just as in fairy tales and legends, the little creatures are able to help the man through his troubles. The composition has an architectural quality to it and visual accents. The quick and weightless little birds are in contrast with the large seated figure of the man.

The image "Spring" (wood, granite, 2015) brings associations with the expansion of the horizon, the buoyant mood of vivid premonitions.

A sunny cloud, stormy space, blessed rain - Korneev transmits these ephemeral, elusive, divine substances artfully and with ease. The contrast of black granite and white marble creates an effect of weightless, airy matter. The sculpture "Rain" (granite, marble, 2015) is a hand touching a white cloud, inside which the contours of a female figure appear. The black granite column gives a sense of vertical rising to the sculpture. The column is traced with bright strokes, the "arrows" of rain. As in many of his other works, Korneev has masterfully conveyed a miraculous sense of touch.

Korneev's granite still-lifes embody the earthly and the cosmic, play and mystery, like a series of dramatic novellas. In fact, the still-lifes are intended as symbolic compositions, reflecting the brinks of the conflicts of life. Such is the sculpture "Letter" (2015) made from "imperial" diabase. It's a union of significant objects: a light speckled envelope, a hand clutching a torch-like burning red cloth. A thick, dark, oil-like substance is pouring from an overturned vase, covering the envelope. It brings bad news, but also a sublime experience of a dramatic event. A capacious image of neo-classical sculpture.

The still-lifes in stone look like reduced copies of landscape monuments. They convey a strong sense of instability, vulnerability, the sense of self-sacrifice of the world, evoking associations both distant and close: "Still-life with Cup" (granite, 2001), "Still-life with Watermelon" (granite, 2001), "Still-life with Pears" (granite, 2010).

The polished, rough, tinted surfaces of rocks are perfect in conveying the qualities of other textures, fabrics and materials.

"Surreal Still-life with a Ball" (2015) is a unique example of a "false" sculpture, a surrealist paradox, a game of scales. It features an unusual collection of objects - a weightless toy-astronaut made of white marble, a typical bedside table with an open door made of granite. The bedside table has a massive table top that accommodates a vast mountainous landscape with an alien sphere. The BALL exceeds the height of the mountain peaks. Set in motion, it would deform the structure of the landscape. The artist has combined still-life and landscape, gravity and weightlessness, actuality, fiction and hoax.

Korneev is among those sculptors who find significance not only in every individual piece of art, but also in the sculptural ensemble that unfolds in space, its union of contrasting objects. Creating works in stone involves a great deal of labour, but each exhibition develops as a free experiment.


Viktor Korneev. In Search of Light. 2001
In Search of Light. 2001
Granite. 185 × 110 × 55 cm. Сity of Trollhättan, Sweden
Viktor Korneev. Silence. 2014
Silence. 2014
Granite, marble. 220 × 60 × 60 cm
Viktor Korneev. Grapes. 2010
Grapes. 2010
Marble. 50 × 25 × 25 cm
Viktor Korneev. Happy. 2010
Happy. 2010
Wood. 145 × 65 × 45 cm
Viktor Korneev. Europa. 2014
Europa. 2014
Bronze. 200 × 400 × 140 cm
Viktor Korneev. Memory. 2015
Memory. 2015
Wood, plastic. 130 × 50 × 55 cm
Viktor Korneev. Cactus. 2015
Cactus. 2015
Wood. 200 × 140 × 180 cm
Viktor Korneev. Nirvana. 2000
Nirvana. 2000
Wood. 95 × 46 × 50 cm
Viktor Korneev. A Thought. 2003
A Thought. 2003
Stone. 200 × 120 × 60 cm Island of Brac. Croatia
Viktor Korneev. Flowers. 2006
Flowers. 2006
Marble. 70 × 70 × 40 cm
Viktor Korneev. Infanta. 2014
Infanta. 2014
Bronze, granite. 160 × 50 × 40 cm
Viktor Korneev. Birdcatcher. 2015
Birdcatcher. 2015
Marble, bronze. 90 × 120 × 60 cm
Viktor Korneev. The Lookout. 2014
The Lookout. 2014
Bronze, granite. 75 × 40 × 35 cm
Viktor Korneev. The Old Man and the Sea. 2002
The Old Man and the Sea. 2002
Bronze, stone. 60 × 40 × 47 cm
Viktor Korneev. Dialogue. 2005
Dialogue. 2005
Bronze. 35 × 25 × 20 cm
Viktor Korneev. Quiet. 2010
Quiet. 2010
Marble, granite. 70 × 40 × 50 cm
Viktor Korneev. Philosopher. 2000
Philosopher. 2000
Bronze. 65 × 25 × 25 cm
Viktor Korneev. Still-life with a Letter. 2015
Still-life with a Letter. 2015
Granite. 40 × 50 × 60 cm
Viktor Korneev. A Couple. 2002
A Couple. 2002
Wood, granite. 300 × 140 × 175 cm. Private collection. Skien. Norway
Viktor Korneev. Autumn. 2003
Autumn. 2003
Granite. 160 × 330 × 50 cm
Viktor Korneev. Surreal Still-life (with a Cosmonaut). 2015
Surreal Still-life (with a Cosmonaut). 2015
Granite, marble. 160 × 50 × 40 cm
Viktor Korneev. Full Moon. 1997
Full Moon. 1997
Wood. 145 × 200 × 35 cm
Viktor Korneev. A Lady Wearing a Stocking. 1999
A Lady Wearing a Stocking. 1999
Wood. 75 × 50 × 38 cm
Viktor Korneev. Golden Room. 2002
Golden Room. 2002
Wood, granite. 220 × 65 × 50 cm



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