Deep Sea Divers - Vodolazy

They're inserting his brain so that he can submerge

At night little girl set off for water but she came back with
a couple of Vodolazes

The dry season has arrived and the Vodolazes which haven't
managed to leave the desert turn into potatoes

A demostration of how to make mincemeat - a lesson
for young Vodolazes

They came to warm themselves up

We never guessed that he had a whole world inside his head

The suffocating lead the unseeing

Keep your head on a short tube

Mom's bought a beautiful bow for her little girl

You'll always find a fisherman sitting over a sleeping Vodolaz

This is some kind of treatment - transfusing miniature
Vodolazes into the real thing

Look pop it turns out he was an egg-head

When you're not at home Vodolazes bathe in your bathroom

The grain test: this one has pecked out but those ones didn't

This is what the Vodolazes' sun is like

With one ear to the ground the other ear begins to sprout

When he's grown-up he still carries around his guardian Vodolaz

Fall comes - the Vodolazes turn yellow
break away from the trees and fall to the ground

He's lost his little window and now he'll never find it

The long and winding road leads to yourself

Pop, what's that prickly and scary thing?

A Vodolaz in the snow - a sure sign that spring is on its way

Waking Dreams (to the "Deep Sea Divers" project)
Sarah Tanguy, Curator of exhibition VODOLAZES (NW Washington,
DC) February 2004.

"As Vishnu created the world in his sleep, I imagined my world
of divers, creatures without faces, their hearts kept deep
within diving suits, when I immersed myself in sleep, in the
depths of subconscious, where underwater fish surrounded their
loneliness with Christmas trees."
Leonid Tishkov

Since 1989, Leonid Tishkov has been creating a growing family
of Deep Sea Divers. Produced from the artist's own
subconscious, these mysterious characters thrive in an
unpredictable world full of surrealist imagery and absurdist
text. Beyond their cartoonish appearance, they present a black
and white mirror of our own life, where distorted reflections
of our fears and fantasies embody our existential alienation
and acute self-awareness.

Tishkov grew up in a lakeshore village surrounded by the woods
and mountains of the Urals. Steeped in folklore and rooted in
the earth, the picturesque Nizhnie Sergi verges on the
symbolic border with Asia. After almost drowning at age six,
the artist acquired a fear of water and never learned to swim.

Considered strange and unsociable, he engrossed himself in
observing nature and devouring books. In the early seventies
at the height of the Cold War, he moved to Moscow to study
medicine. It was only a matter of time before he realized his
poetic temperament was better suited for the arts. Years
later, his work, whether it is painting, sculpture, drawing,
prints, writing, performance, or video, still bears the
formative influence of his village experience and medical

A Vodolaz (voh-doe-laz) or DSD is a creature first and
foremost of the unconscious, protected by a diving suit and
kept alive by an oxygen line. Its exact nature changes
constantly. It is only in the shedding of its black exterior,
its social skin, that its inside reveals itself, and a DSD
attains freedom and understanding. This lifeline bears an
immediate and strange analogy to the human umbilicus: the DSD
carries a phantom cord that is pulled at death, when it
returns to a state prior to birth. On a meta-level, the artist
considers the underwater world of the DSDs to be a fitting
model for Russia itself: not yet fully engaged, its people
still slumber and move slowly.

Tishkov's works on paper weave enigmatic narratives onto
abstract compositions of shapes and words." What joy a new
dress can bring!" features a young DSD arms wide open and
facing a kneeling, sympathetic mother. Another domestic scene
presents a Vodalazes objects from velvet. 1995 mother and
father DSD taking their trusting daughter for a dip. Other
drawings reference art history, including The Potato Sitters.
This forlorn image of DSDs in a field alludes to Van Gogh's
Potato Eaters, while underscoring the importance of potatoes
in the Russian diet. "The Suffocating lead the unseeing,"
re-interprets Bruegel the Elder's haunting portrayal of the
plague into a gripping vision offailed leadership.

By contrast, many show a single DSD, such as one who has lost
his helmet's little window or another who wanders aimlessly
with his helmet constrained in a fish tank. Several others use
metamorphosis to make their point. In one scene, the helmet of
a standing DSD has transmuted into an onion dome radiating
light. It reads simply: "One turned into a church, while the
other one got down on his knees." Another shows a birch tree
sprouting from the torso of a DSD, and serves as a metaphor
for the nationalist agenda currently being cultivated by
Russia's leaders. In a sad indictment of American infiltration
into traditional culture, still another depicts the head of a
DSD as a Big Mac.

Both psychoanalyst and patient, Tishkov plunges underwater to
explore his own unconscious, resurfacing with frenzied
fragments of knowledge that he recycles into fantastical
tales. While his repetition of a central image and his playing
with language reflect a conceptual bent, his work is
essentially surrealist, privileging the dream and the
emotions. In his fervent and ongoing battle against
conventional logic, he reconciles the banal and the absurd
into koans of haunting beauty and allusive meaning.