The Night of Capricorn


An exhibition by Misha Gudwin at the Vyksa AiR new residency building
The Night of Capricorn installation by Misha Gudwin is dedicated to the mythological connections between Vyksa and ancient esoteric and astrological practices.

Misha Gudwin started his career as a street artist. In his art, he often employs objects and materials found in the urban space, which reflect the industrial image of the cities or the historical context of the place.

Gudwin’s work is based on creating a deep and harmonious visual art language that he uses to write his original mythology, manipulating images of time and mass culture clichés. He creates fake artefacts of ancient civilisations by engraving digital symbols of the recent past, such as Microsoft Word titles or Clippit (Microsoft Paperclip Assistant), on a marble surface or creating infographics that imitate a conspiracy theory, and using Sailor Moon’s magical objects in a digital collage (Cicada 3301).

Juggling different media and creating collages with various kitsch elements, Gudwin manages to maintain harmonious, minimalistic, and thoroughly organised aesthetics in his artworks.

For his project for the Vyksa Artist-in-Residence, the artist has created a speculative installation dedicated to the mythological connection of the town with ancient esoteric and astrological practices.

'When you look at Vyksa’s coat of arms with a unicorn on it, you immediately get the sense that the town must have a strange connection with something mythical or even occult. This coat of arms is a recently updated rendition (2017) of the ancient one that used to belong to the Batashev brothers, the town’s founders. Their coat of arms featured two unicorns as well. But where did they get the idea to use this mythological creature? In fact, despite its seemingly western origin, a unicorn is also featured on the paraphernalia of Russian tsars, for example on Ivan IV’s personal seal. It is suggested that a unicorn is a modification of the Capricorn astrological sign. This was recorded in Sviatoslav’s Izbornik (1073), which features images of almost all the Zodiac signs, with Capricorn depicted as a unicorn,' says Gudwin.

An image of the unicorn is employed throughout different contexts. It is a Masonic symbol of monotheism, a symbol of purity, bravery and pride in heraldry, and Christianity sees it as an emblem of beauty and virtue.

In his installation imitating reсreated ruins of an ancient altar, a pagan temple, or a cult object that reveals the unicorn’s connection with occult practices, Misha Gudwin used found objects — plaster fragments of architectural decor.

Restored in the form of a speculative installation, the ancient altar of Vyksa is set to prove the town’s connection with astrological, occult, and other practices of ancient secret societies.

Curatorial statement by Alisa Bagdonaite
Nightfall is a wonderful reason to look up at the stars. Misha Gudwin was the first to tackle the subject of the cosmos in the Vyksa Artist-in-Residence. Russian cosmism has become a unique trend on the worldwide art scene, with artists, scientists, and philosophers still analysing and looking for new interpretations of the ideas of Nikolai Fyodorov, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and Vladimir Vernadsky. Gudwin’s The Night of Capricorn speaks about extraterrestrial space while remaining on Earth, in a very particular place — Vyksa. Thus the cosmos enters our here and now, eternity is embodied in the moment, and space — in a particular location.

In difficult and troubled times people tend to turn to borderline and esoteric practices. Political and existential crises and economic stagnation have always been associated with an increased demand for mysticism, magic rituals, fortune-tellers, tarot readers, astrologists, and hypnotists. This happened at the beginning of the 20th century in the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire as well as in the newly reestablished Russia of the 1990s. It seems that when people can no longer rely on their inner resources and when common sense fails to justify everything happening around them, they seek hope by appealing to mystical and supernatural forces.

The Night of Capricorn audaciously brings together what could not have been brought together before — the starry Capricorn with the unicorn from the Vyksa’s coat of arms, Soviet Empire style’s wavy ornaments with megalithic shrines, the historical Vyksa with the metaphysical Vyksa, and the cosmic narrative with the esoteric one.
Stars are another matter entirely. Stars have always been a part of the romantic tradition, a metaphor, and a symbol system. In the past, people used them to tell time or navigate. The way we look at stars determines the milestones of cultural, scientific, and technological progress, becomes a measure of civilisation development, a platform for utopias, and a linear progress chart. At the same time, outer space remains an uncharted, untamed and perilous territory that humankind cannot yet harness. Being constantly drawn to this border with reality, earthlings bump into it, and sometimes such stories turn out to be truly terrifying.

In 1967, in the run-up to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, the Communist Party launched a hurriedly prepared Soyuz 1 space mission piloted by cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. Sadly, despite being fully aware of the spacecraft’s technical issues, he could not deny the mission and requested to be buried in an open coffin in case of death. He died. The official image pictures his fellow cosmonauts standing over a decorated coffin containing his charred remains (Komarov was cremated and his ashes were interred in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis). It feels like by expressing his last will, as if in a grave and quiet protest, Komarov wished to inform us about the mission’s impending failure. He silently disagreed with the ineffective system that prioritised politically important dates and the space race over people’s lives. This horrible story, which had been classified for a long time, signifies the dangers and limits of exploiting 'the cosmic', and the border that one might be smashed against.

Art is different. It seems to have no boundaries for the work of the mind and imagination, for hopes and travels through time and space. Misha Gudwin’s installation represents a cosmogram with the 'ruins' of an ancient cult scattered across it. Slightly reminiscent of Stonehenge, they look quite genuine but demonstrate not a pagan or an astronomical cult but a communist one. Misha Gudwin’s method is based on the 'welcoming of ideas', a possibility to collate and imitate various artistic techniques, pop culture symbols, archaeological discoveries, and other elements from any discipline, style, and period. Gudwin possesses a unique ability to grasp, mix, process, and rewire all things similar and different, and rearrange elements into a new reality. The Night of Capricorn audaciously brings together what could not have been brought together before — the starry Capricorn with the unicorn from the Vyksa’s coat of arms, Soviet Empire style’s wavy ornaments with megalithic shrines, the historical Vyksa with the metaphysical Vyksa, and the cosmic narrative with the esoteric one.

On the one hand, Gudwin’s project seems to be a well-designed visual composition, based on the contrasts of textures and aesthetics, well-chosen quotations and romanticised clichés. But on the other hand, his installation can be viewed as a complex system with its elements conflicting and resonating with each other while remaining strained and balanced by the artist’s will. That said, Gudwin’s chaos appears to be his cosmos, and encompassing the unencompassable — the integrity principle of his aesthetics.

Now, let us imagine that we are looking at Misha’s installation from space, that we can see the whole world and Vyksa with inhuman eyes — from above. Being observed from that perspective, anyone might feel very small, related to their surroundings, while Gudwin’s system of incongruent parts, ideas, and objects transforms into a monolithic artefact of modern human culture.
Misha Gudwin
Misha is a contemporary artist, street art artist and curator. In his works he tries to capture modernity, where the world around him combines signs of material and virtual spaces.

Mikhail began his career in 2010 as a graffiti artist, and later became a contemporary art and street art artist. He is a graduate of the Voronezh Central Art Center educational program and the Baza Institute of Contemporary Art.

Co-founder and curator of self-organized exhibition space and cultural center "Give Five" in Voronezh and "IP Vinogradov" in Moscow. Resident of the Sphere Foundation and the Open Studios of the Winzavod Contemporary Art Center. Finalist of the competition for young artists Nova art 2019. Participant of the special project "Create a new layer" of the 6th Ural Industrial Biennale.