Moscow: Between the Grey and the Green

Alexander Gronsky, Dzerzhinskiy, Suburbs of Moscow, Russia, 2009Courtesy of the artist and The Wapping Project Bankside

A new series by Alexander Gronsky captures the poetic coexistence of man and nature in Russia's capital city

Who? Celebrated Estonian photographer Alexander Gronsky is an artist whose images impart their message with the subtle murmur of the Russian mother tongue. His new series Pastoral, now showing at the Wapping Project Bankside, is a series of large photographs that observe the effect human life has on the environment. Here gross industrialism is as tenderly observed as the gentle presence of nature, stirring the two into a single fact of modern life. This particular pastoral is not about a contrast it seems, but an indefinite transition, and these layered images reveal much of the adaptable Russian spirit – where one foot remains planted in the soil, while the other wears a Reebok classic.

What? Gronsky’s pictures deftly capture the belle-laide quality of suburban Moscow – that liminal space where the city meets and merges with the surrounding countryside. Using just a portable, inconspicuous Mamiya 7 camera that allowed him to get close to his subjects, he explored various districts before returning to those he liked best in order to shoot the series. This subtle approach allows the viewer a rare glimpse into Russian life. Totally at ease in their surroundings, bodies recline on mountains of building sand, bathe between the legs of looming concrete bridges or sunbathe in a riot of green at the foot of a tower block. But this is not gritty realism, rather a document of the inhabitants' calm, almost fatalistic, acceptance of the status quo – brought to bear in the serene quality of Gronsky’s measured compositions.

Why? Critic Paul O’Hagan describes Gronsky’s Pastoral as essentially being about how people "use – and abuse – the precious green spaces available to them". In a city like Moscow whose contours sprawl outwards in wave upon wave of high-rise blocks, there is an acceptance of what we might call the pollution of nature. In the edge-lands of the urban environment, so often relegated by European city-dwellers, our Russian counterparts put their faces to the sun. After all, they seem to shrug, city and country have to meet somewhere, so why not swim, barbecue and enjoy the sun where you can.

Alexander Gronsky: Pastoral is at the Wapping Project Bankside until May 29.

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