Looking for Lenin in Newcastle

Updated: Apr 16, 2018

Niels Ackermann's work on display at the Amber Collective's Side Gallery in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

Today I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with a friend up to Newcastle to briefly see Niels Ackermann's Looking for Lenin project at the Side Gallery run by the Amber collective. The gallery described the exhibition and Ackermann's work as the following:

‘Lenin lives! Lenin is with you!’ Since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, this hymn has been more than an ever-present slogan. Throughout the C20th, the figure of the revolutionary leader was omnipresent. As Russia prepared to celebrate the centennial of the October Revolution, however, Ukraine, the other pillar of the Soviet Empire, would have none of him. The Be-all and End-all of Decommunisation: by late 2016, none of the 5,500 statues that formerly dotted the territory was still standing.

Lenin has left the square. His face no longer overlooks the metro station. His name has disappeared from the topography of the city. This sudden eclipse evokes more questions than answers. What is the meaning of this decommunisation? How does it relate to the war in the east of the country? How should we look at Lenin and the history he shaped?

To visualize these questions, the photographer Niels Ackermann and the journalist Sébastien Gobert went in search of Lenin. In the summer of 2015, they set off, traveling through Ukraine in search of crumbled stone and fragments of metal. What began as a simple journey of curious friends became a fascinating investigation, an astonishing adventure through Ukraine in upheaval.

Every statue, whether found in a garbage dump, in the locker room of a nuclear plant, in a private collection or transformed into Darth Vader, tells a story. Through a collection of photographs, halfway between documentary and symbolism, the authors create a catalogue and typology of this decommunisation, capturing the issues of memory for this country that is seeking its own identity. Lenin is dead; Lenin is no longer with the Ukrainians. But his name still weighs heavily on the present and future of Ukraine.

For me this work was of personal interest as it arguably follows similar ideas to my own documentary work, finding a story we think we know then exposing something we didn't to tell a completely different story. The exhibition wasn't technically anything spectacular, white walls, framed prints and some multimedia interviews displayed on TV's but for this kind of work I think that worked well. This work is a study, almost like artifacts in a museum, so the simple and clean display reflects this notion well. Having a hugely complex layout may have distracted from the story each of these images tell. I wish I could have spent more time in the gallery but as I was only stopping by it was a quick in and out, but a very interesting project which I believe is still developing.

The exhibition closes on March 25th having run since January 13th.

Exhibition link: https://www.amber-online.com/event/side-gallery/niels-ackermann-looking-lenin/

Ackermann's website: https://www.nack.ch/


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