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Wooden Churches - Photographs by Richard Davies
Start Date 03/11/2007
End Date 30/11/2007
Location Moscow 
Country Russia 
Description Travelling in the Russian North 100 years after Bilibin

Private View Friday 2nd November 6pm

Schusev State Museum of Architecture
Moscow, Vozdvizhenka St., 5
Metro Biblioteka Imeni Lenina

Richard Davies is a professional photographer specialising in architecture and design. He works with many high profile practices, such as Foster & Partners, David Chipperfield Architects, John Pawson and Future Systems.

Richard has collaborated on several projects with the artist Tim Head and worked with Bridget Rielly, Anthony Caro and Anish Kapoor. His photographs have been published extensively in magazines, exhibition catalogues and books around the world and are regularly displayed in the Architectural section of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in London. His work is currently on show at The National Art Center, Tokyo in the exhibition Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture, previously shown at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Richard has travelled extensively in China, Japan, the USA, Europe, Africa and Russia. He made four trips to Tibet, Afghanistan and Pakistan with the author Charles Allen for the book ‘The Search for Shangri-La: A Journey into Tibetan History’.

‘Wooden Churches’ is his first solo exhibition; after Moscow it will travel to Milan and London.

Introduction to the exhibition:
In the summer of 1902 Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1876 – 1942) the well known artist, stage designer and illustrator of Russian Folk Tales travelled to the Vologda Province in the North of Russia. As well as collecting and studying the local folk art he drew and photographed the wooden architecture. During the summers of 1903 and 1904 he was sent by the Russian Museum in St Petersburg to the Vologda, Archangel and Olonets Provinces to collect works of folk art, which subsequently formed the basis of the museum’s Ethnographic Department. Many of the photographs taken on these trips were used as illustrations in Bilibin’s article of 1904 in the World of Art Magazine entitled Folk Art of the Russian North. The article drew attention to the condition of the wooden churches: “the state of the churches is most lamentable. In the hands of uncivilized people, they are being vandalised to the point of destruction or are ruined with ‘restoration’ to the point of being unrecognisable”. His photographs were also used in the section on Wooden Architecture of the Russian North, in Igor Grabar’s monumental History of Russian Architecture published in 1909. In 1911 The Society of the St Eugenia Community published ten of Bilibin’s photographs of the churches as a set of postcards sold to raise money to support its charitable work.

Seeing these beautiful postcards inspired Richard to travel to the Russian North in 2002 to find out which churches had survived. Further trips have followed every year. Many churches have been lost: some have been left to rot; some have been destroyed by lightning; countless others by ignorance, spite and neglect. Last year, one church that was hit by a reversing tractor – it tumbled like a pack of cards. There is however much to celebrate. The integrity between the landscape and the architecture of this wooden world is as striking to us today as it was to Bilibin. The basic simplicity of the log cabin construction and the extravagant fantasies superimposed on it are just as startling. Although the churches that remain are in varying states of decay and despite their neglect and the wrecking of their interiors, these extraordinary structures have a spiritual presence which commands respect even in the absence of their gilded icons. Many churches have been saved by dedicated specialists and enthusiasts, whose untiring work goes on. As Elena Opolovnikova, leading expert in the restoration of wooden churches, will explain, Bilibin’s words ring true today. We hope that the photographs in this exhibition will help raise public awareness of the plight of these wonderful buildings and that more restoration projects will attract the funding they deserve.

During our travels, the story of the hardships of the last century has been unavoidably felt – a story of Revolution, War, Communism and severe Northern winters. The photographs also tell of the lives of resilient people who have lived through extreme times in extreme places – a story of the Russian North. - text by Matilda Moreton, Richard Davies, August 2007

For further information on the exhibition and pictures to download for publication, please click on the link below:


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