Talking with the Heavens

Leonid Tishkov
Talking with the Heavens


Leonid Tishkov’s studio, set up on the roof of a 24-story building in southern Moscow, provides the location and natural scenery for a lot of creative art performances, staged both by the artist himself and by his fellow artists, photographers, and musicians. The project “Talking with Heavens” displays pieces created on the roof of the artist’s studio throughout the past decade. The show consists not only of documentation of performances by Leonid Tishkov from 1998 to 2008 (often in collaboration with artists such as Andrey Suzdalev and Olga Khan, Konstantin Skotnikov, the photographers Boris Bendikov and Valery Sylaev, and the musicians Mikhail Khodarevsky, Dmitry Shumkov, and Yury Yaremchuk), but also of works by Tishkov that were inspired by being so close to the sky, in such a wide-open space.

Parts of this show were included in the exhibit “Multimedia and the Artist’s Book,” produced by the independent presses “Dablus” and “Alcool,” that was shown in the non-commercial sector of the book fair “Nonfiction” held in the Central House of the Artist, Moscow’s largest exhibition hall. The films in this show have also been aired on Russian television (“Pictures of the Wind” was shown on the Moscow Culture Channel) and shown at several film festivals: “Pictures of the Wind” at the Tenth Rossiya Documentary Film Festival in 1999 and “Aircreatures” at the 2001 Hamburg Film Festival (both films are in the Anthology Film Archives of Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center in New York); these were also shown in 2004 at the EM Art Show in Naples, and at the NWFF (North West Film Forum) in Seattle in 2008; and “Watermelon Deep-Sea Divers” was in the 2008 Avanto Media Art Festival of the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. The photographic performances and installations “Private Moon” and “A Star’s Visit” have also been exhibited in many museums in Russia and the rest of the world.

In Russian, the words for ‘sky’ and ‘heaven’ are the same: небо (“nyeh-buh”). Thus two spheres that are clearly separated in English (the stylistically neutral, everyday term 'sky' and the stylistically elevated, sacral term 'heaven') overlap in Russian, giving Tishkov entire project a dual resonance that is largely lost in English translation. Thus, although the exhibition is titled “Talking with Heaven,” and comprises works that engage the theme of the sky, one might as well call the exhibit “Talking with the Sky,” and think of its works as engaging the theme of heaven. Tishkov combines the mundane (rain, snow, the sky) and the magical and spiritual (angels, heaven) to create a space shaped by two equally valuable ways of coming to the truth, fact and fantasy. In this space, the ways of knowing of both science and intuition unite to give us, literally, the best of both worlds.

“The actual space of the artist’s studio – the last, twenty-fourth floor of the building and the roof above it, where Leonid Tishkov and other artists stage their artistic performaces – extends beyond the boundaries of its square metric footage and assumes a new visual and conceptual dimension, where the fundamental axes are “sky” and “air.” In this system of coordinates, the rooftop space of Leonid Tishkov’s studio manifests itself in all its mythopoetic glory and is able to model the world as an image of the harmonic ideal, of harmonic perfection. Every individual point on this model of the ideal indicates its own corresponding mode of expression: the roof of “Under the Heavens,” “Aircreatures,” “Pictures of the Wind,” “The Bottom of the Sky,” “The Moon,” “The Stars,” “Angels,” and, finally, “Nikodim,” who is none other than the artist himself.
Leonid Tishkov’s artistic experience encompasses the entire layered spatial structure of the “place” he inhabits, from its lowest and most completely concrete, empirical sense (the external surface of the roof is “the bottom of the sky”) to a sense of its conceptual, metaphysical characteristics (“aircreatures”). As he explores and investigates the immediately surrounding space, Leonid Tishkov gradually realizes that he himself was born out of the space in which he exists, a space where “under the heavens” creates a state of perfect equilibrium between a person and his or her place ‘under the sun,’ and maintains the balance by means of these elements’ mutual dissolution into each other.
The use of four video projectors further concentrates the unity and cyclical nature of Leonid Tishkov’s spatial strategies. They recreate the real, three-dimensional, harmonic world of “Under the Heavens,” while integrating a fourth axis, time. Video technologies materialize the myths of a personal and artistic existence rendered tangible by the ordinary roof of an ordinary building in the south-west district of the City of Moscow.”
- Vitaly Patsiukov, Moscow Art Magazine, Issue 42, 2002.

The exhibit is an all-encompassing installation that recreates the space “under the heavens” of the roof of the studio as a world apart, a separate world that towers high above the megalopolis. Video projection screens seem to extend the exhibit’s physical boundaries and open up windows in the walls of the exhibition hall, which itself houses glowing objects (the moon, a star, the sky) as well as artifacts that testify to art performances. By means of these fantastical combinations, a new poetic reality is created, which we engage in order to “talk with the heavens.”


The Aircreatures
Performance: Moscow, September 2000.
Reconstruction of Aircreatures: Olga Khan and Andery Suzdalev.
Video: Leonid and Sergey Tishkov.
Music: Pablo's Eye.
DVD, 6 minutes 30 seconds.


the Ocean of Heaven, once full of Creatures, will come to life once more
the season of summer chores to do out in the high field of the sun is coming

the creation of heavenly creatures is one of our chores here in the Kingdom under Heaven
we need to create them in the image of clouds or rainbow-colored spots swimming in your eyes

the artists remind you of retired meteorologists, while
the light Creatures inside the wind and air remind you of the sky’s alveola

now we can see them – there they are, the half-transparent life-forms of the air
just like they were in olden times when there were still no people or trash

the noise of the thin membrane we created sounds like the singing of heavenly cicadas
some people, don’t believe them, will say it’s the continuing din of the evening traffic on the Moscow Ring Road out beyond the buildings

they move easily and noiselessly, the joints of light over our heads
the Aircreatures, they disappear slowly and permanently behind the clouds

-Leonid Tishkov

Aircreatures Book and DVD, edition of 50.
Published by the independent presses Аlcool and Dablus, 2001, Moscow.


Pictures of the Wind
Performance: Moscow, May 1998.
Andrey Suzdalev, Olga Khan, Leonid Tishkov.
Video: Leonid and Sergey Tishkov.
VHS, 6 minutes 40 seconds.

Pictures of the Wind (Картины ветра).
VHS cassette, silkscreen, edition of 15.

The book’s story has its origins on the roof of Leonid Tishkov’s studio. The surface of the roof is a theatre of living art. Pictures of the Wind consists of video documentation of an event that took place in this theatre, on the roof of a 24-story building, and copies of original wind paintings.

the population of the Kingdom Under the Sky goes out to start its seasonal field work
in the spring, it’s the wind that’s stronger than anything else on earth or in heaven
a field of brushes rustles on the roof of the twenty-fourth floor
these artists won’t ever draw anything again
they’re walking around under the sky with their heads uncovered
with weather logbooks and wind socks
they’re foot soldiers carrying out their service in an open space
where the wind is the only commander, impulsive and strong
you can observe the wind without any special instruments
scientists still haven’t learned how to control nature
artists are learning about freedom and beauty from the wind
and also how to toss around big tree branches
how to make waves, to make it hard for pedestrians to walk
this kind of wind is called fresh, strong, and fierce
from seven to fifteen meters a second
and it can also create pictures
we’ll call them pictures by the South-West Movement
of Graphic Art of the Open Space
of the Mountainous Land of Continuous Wind

-Leonid Tishkov, Pictures of the Wind, 1998


The Bottom of the Sky
Performance: Moscow, June 1999.
Konstantin Skotnikov and Leonid Tishkov.
Video: Leonid Tishkov.
VHS, 4 minutes 00 seconds.

The Bottom of the Sky
One-of-a-kind Artist’s Book: Alcool, Moscow, 1999.
Set of original frottage drawings (graphite on paper), black and white photographs of traces of long-gone aircreatures, video of the sky.
Artists: Konstantin Skotnikov, Leonid Tishkov, Valery Silaev (photos).

This piece includes approximately 100 square meters of frottage drawings of the roof of “Under the Heavens” and a video of the sky. The roof is conceived of as the bottom of the sky, and, like the bed of an ancient lake, it still shows traces of the fantastic aircreatures who lived in the ocean of the sky before the industrial catastrophe.

The Bottom of the Sky
Archeological Research Investigating the Remains of Immaterial Aircreatures

Sinking all the way to the bottom of the Heavenly Ocean, we discover traces of the inhabitants of heaven there, inhabitants who once lived, and still do live, in the space that surrounds us. A cast of the bottom’s surface takes shape as an enormous matrix composed of the remains of heavenly creatures, and other objects of unknown origin, that fell from the sky. A rigorous inspection of the Heavenly Land reflected there gave us reason to conclude that it is an enormous engraved plate that hasn’t yet been used to make a print. To give expression to what we can barely see, to what eludes the casual gaze, that is, to render intelligible the as-yet-unrendered, we are using the technique of sky off-print. This consists of laying paper on the surface of the Bottom of the Sky and then rubbing it with graphite. This technique of frottage, used by surrealists and archeologists, is the one that most adequately serves our purposes. The pictures that arise in this case are not only expressions of the real, existing skeletons of the inhabitants of the Sky who once lived there, they’re also creatures of our subconscious, as yet unacknowledged by us, who are rising up from the depths of the slimy Sea-bottom, waiting to be rendered and fixed in an intelligible form. Here, on the roof of “Under the Heavens,” is precisely where the union of the aetherial, elevated, and airy with the dark, bottom-dwelling, and mysterious occurs, while the paper, like a thin layer of foil, records the occurrence silently and monotonously, taking the frottage-maker’s breath away with the diversity and beauty of this parallel world.
-Leonid Tishkov


Video: Moscow, September 2001.
Concept and cinematography: Leonid Tishkov.
Music: Mikhail Khodarevsky, Dmitry Shumkov.
6 minutes, 00 seconds.

Nikodim is a small rag creature made out of old bits of cloth. He's the artist's alter-ego, in a way: he's gone on several trips with him, to Japan, India, and the Urals, and he's ascended Fujiyama, Annapurna, and Kukan, a mountain Leonid grew up with in the Urals. Once the artist discovered a lake of rainwater on the roof ot his studio and sent his Nikodim off to sea on a journey... Nikodim, permeated with the color of the sky that's been turned upside down in the water, sails in search of wonder, until the drain opens and the whole world suddenly disappears along with the water, leaving Nikodim all by himself on the wet, black roof.


Performance: Moscow, February 1999.
Leonid Tishkov.
VHS, 1 minute 30 seconds.

The rooftop of Leonid Tishkov's studio is blanketed with snow all winter, while below, in the city, the snow doesn't last very long. It quickly gets dirty, from all the cars, and melts. The artist goes out skiing far above the city, the way he used to go skiing in the snowy Ural Mountains when he was a child.


Watermelon Deep-Sea Divers
Performance: Moscow, 2006.
Leonid Tishkov, in collaboration with Dmitry Samsankov.
DVD: 6 minutes.

The film is based on Leonid Tishkov’s graphic stories about the mystical creatures known as Deep-Sea Divers.


Private Moon
Performance: Moscow and elsewhere, 2003-2005.
Photographs by Leonid Tishkov & Boris Bendikov.
12 color photos.

From 2003 artist Leonid Tishkov to create mobile installation "Private Moon" and series of images of the journey of the moon. This involved taking what looks like an oversized night-light to various places around Russia and another places of the Earth. "Private Moon" is a visual poem that tells a story about a man who found the Moon and stayed with her for the rest of his life.In the upper world, in the attic of his house, he saw the Moon, who had fallen from the sky. At first she had been hiding from the Sun in a dark, damp tunnel and was constantly frightened by the passing trains. Then she came to the man’s house, where he found her.Wrapping the Moon in a thick blanket, he gives her autumn apples and drinks tea with her. When she finally recovers he puts her on a boat and carries her across a dark river to a high bank, where moon-lit pine-trees grow.He descends to the lower world wearing his deceased father’s clothes and then returns, illuminating the way with his own private moon.When he transcends the borders between worlds via narrow bridges, sinking into sleep, or taking care of a heavenly body, man turns into a mythological being living in the real world like in a fantastic fairy-tale.
- Leonid Tishkov

A few words about the project “Private Moon”

The project began with an installation at the art festival Klyazma-2003, when I hung a glowing box in the shape of the moon on a pine tree. The installation was called “Day and Night,” and was dedicated to René Magritte. A dark tree with the moon in the background and a not-quite-nighttime sky. So somewhere around eight or nine at night we got the right effect, and it looked basically the same as the famous surrealist picture. When it was dusk, but the sky was still light blue, and at the same time there was the pine tree with the moon in the background in a kind of black aureole.
My project was an attempt to prove whether or not we can take something wonderful from the flat surface of a picture and turn it into something with volume, something real… it turns out that a regular old box that glows and hangs on a tree can suddenly be very poetic, and there’s something in it that you have a deep emotional reaction to. That’s the exact moment when poetry takes the upper hand over irony, defeats it, in a way, when irony becomes meaningless and powerless because it’s not the main component in the image’s construction. The moon is one of the most ancient of the archetypes that live in our archaic memory, at the genetic level. We observed the heavenly lights, the Moon and the Sun, not only when we were people, or amphibians, but even when we were just cells, when our lives were only just beginning. It was the flickering of these two lights, these two powers, that created life on earth. So the strength of this image isn’t even in how we physically manifested it, but in what really exists, and in what we think of when we think about it.
Every subject for me is the manifestation of a poem, the manifestation of a poetic metaphor. Time passes, and you realize that you can’t understand the true value of this world, or even break it down into its component elements or explain it, all you can do is merge with it in living ecstasy, see that it exists and how beautiful it is, and then all irony disappears. That’s why the Moon takes complete control over us when we look at it. The same thing happens to us that happened to Japanese poets 500 years ago, when they looked at the Moon and composed haikus, or that happened to Gogol, when he wrote “Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka”[a cycle of stories set in a half-idyllic, half-mysterious Ukrainian countryside]. We all end up turning into eternal creatures whenever we’re interacting with this heavenly body.
And we understand that the Moon isn’t just a piece of some lifeless thing, a piece of rock or something that flies in circles around us. We are attracted by the Moon’s fairy-tale quality, its metaphoric nature, its mythological essence. And we are all participants in this myth, that has both the Moon and humanity in it.
Chesterton once said that a man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon [G. K. Chesterton, “Introduction to the Book of Job”]. But these days, it’s the exact opposite: yes he can, there is such a thing as that. We are left alone face-to-face with existence, and we’re left all by ourselves with the problem of time, that is, with the problem of life and death, with the problem of loss and gain, with the moon, with the sun, with everything by which and with which we live. Of course, we can turn to someone for support. But still, we’re alone… But we shouldn’t be sad and suffer. That kind of loneliness is just a sign that we exist, that we’re here, that we’re at the center of the world, and that we’re the same size as the Moon, the same size as heavenly bodies.

- Leonid Tishkov


A Star’s Visit
Performance: Moscow and elsewhere, 2005-2006.
Photographs by Leonid Tishkov & Boris Bendikov.
13 color photographs.

Unannounced, a single star appeared to us, shining alone, cut off from her fellows;
Like an eagle beating the air with its wings,
That’s how the star’s rays moved around it.
When you hear about the star, don’t think that it was one of the ones visible to our eyes;
No, this one was a divine, angelic power, appearing to us in the form of a star.
Can a person, just one of the meek of the earth,
Really touch it without feeling any anxiety?
Your body and soul consist of a starry substance;
If we accept a star into our lives, then our own light starts to burn even brighter,
Uniting with the eternal Light of the Morning Star.
The disintegrated world, sunk in shadow, is gathered back together and made whole by the Light,
The House that was destroyed, once upon a time, on Earth, will be rebuilt as a new, heavenly Home.

- Leonid Tishkov

Translated by Anne O. Fisher