Academy of Lagado (Sheet 3 from the graphic cycle “Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity”)

Alexander Aksinin

  • Academy of Lagado (Sheet 3 from the graphic cycle “Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity”)  2
  • Academy of Lagado (Sheet 3 from the graphic cycle “Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity”)  3
Basic information
Alexander Aksinin
Academy of Lagado (Sheet 3 from the graphic cycle “Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity”)
Date of creation
imprint on paper
Dimensions (height x width, cm)
29.5 x 29
Information about author
Alexander Aksinin
Artist's lifetime
Alexander Aksinin was a graphic artist and one of the brightest representatives of Lviv nonconformist culture. He was born on October 2, 1949 in Lviv in the family of a military cartographer and railroad official of the Lviv railway. Between 1963 and 1966, he received his art education at the evening art school in Lviv. Between 1967 and 1972, the artist continued his studies at the Ivan Fedorov Ukrainian Polygraphic Institute, where he specialized in Graphic Art. After graduation, Aksinin served in the Soviet Army, where he participated in the design of the exposition of the Military History Museum. Between 1974 and 1977, he worked as an art designer in an industrial design office. In 1977, he left the official service and began to work exclusively as a freelance artist. The apartment of Aksinin and his wife, the writer and artist Engelina (Gelya) Buriakovska (1944–1982), became one of the Lviv centers of informal art; first home exhibitions were held here. Alexander and Gelya were well acquainted with the representatives of the cultural underground of Moscow and Leningrad, in particular, with Dmitri Prigov, Viktor Krivulin, Ilya Kabakov, and others. They also had friendly relations with Baltic artists, first of all, with Tonis Vint, with whom Alexander developed a close rapport, and Polish ones. Since 1974, Aksinin participated in group exhibitions; in 1979, his first personal exhibition was organized in Tallinn with the assistance of the artist Tonis Vint. In the early 1980s, the poet Viktor Krivulin helped to arrange several of Aksinin's "kvartirnik" exhibitions in Leningrad and Moscow. On May 3, 1985, on his way back from Tallinn, Alexander Aksinin died in a plane crash over Zolochiv near Lviv. During his lifetime, the artist created 343 etchings, about 200 sheets of unique drawn graphics (drawings in watercolor, Indian ink, and gouache, including prints), as well as five paintings. 27 volumes of the artist's diaries for the period from 1965 to 1985 contain more than 200 sketches and a large number of drawings-ideas; they are partially publicly available on the artist's personal website. In 2015, Alexander Aksinin's etching series "Boskhiana" was included in the permanent exposition of the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center in Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands. The works are stored in the Lviv National Art Gallery, the Estonian Art Museum, and the National Art Museum of Ukraine. In 1981, Alexander Aksinin wrote his laconic autobiography for an article by Viktor Krivulin, in which he consciously contrasted his inner world with external events, combining the facts of his biography with his own artistic and metaphysical experience: “In 1949, a seemingly Russian man was born in the seemingly European city of Lviv. Orthodox Christian. In 1972 – received a diploma from the Polygraphic Institute in the field of Graphic Art. In 1977 – the first revelation with a concomitant sense of time. In 1981 – the second revelation with a concomitant sense of eternity. In 1979 – the first solo exhibition in Tallinn. In 1981 – the second one in Poland. That is all.”
Object description
Alexander Aksinin's legacy of graphic works contains a series of etchings based on some literary works, one of which is Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" (1977–1978). In this series (as in others, such as Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland"), Aksinin often turned the texts into part of an image. The creative world of the artist is characterized by a condensed intellectual atmosphere, which is full of "codes of aesthetic information". The art critic Mykhailo Sokolov noted that the artist introduced into his works a subject line, which was to symbolically reproduce not a separate part of the text, but to give the image of the text as a whole, as well as to serve as a sign and matrix of an illustrated verbal work.
This is the third sheet of 11 etchings from the graphic cycle "Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity" and one of the earliest works by the artist. The third chapter of the book "Gulliver's Travels" written by Jonathan Swift, the Anglo-Irish satirist of the 17th–18th centuries, became the object of the author's allusion. Lemuel Gulliver, the hero of "Gulliver's Travels", was landed by pirates on the island of Balnibarbi, which was ruled by the king of the flying island of Laputa. In Lagado, the capital of Balnibarbi, the king had invested a great fortune on building an Academy of Projectors so that it shall contribute to the nation's development through research; however, the projectors’ experiments and bizarre inventions are pointless, and ambitious "researchers" just dwell in their unreal world. Alexander Aksinin's composition is arranged in a circle-sphere, which looks like a pumpkin in this engraving. At the top, the rind of the fruit is presented as an ocean space in which three sailboats were lost, referring to the fact that the hero came to the island on a ship. The peduncle resembles the curved Leaning Tower of Pisa topped with a hat (an allusion to poorly built houses in Lagado). In the middle of the pumpkin there is a vertically cut slice with its cavity forming the compositional emphasis in the work. A miniature character, sitting on the edge of the ocean surface, lowers down a fishing rod with a bucket filled with some substance into the cavity; the shadow of the bucket reflects in the form of an oval on the surface of a cut out slice. Empty bowls fly down diagonally below. This mass of bowls falls down, starting from the left side of the sphere, where the dishes are depicted against the background of a cross-section of the pumpkin. In the cross-sections on the left, bizarre processes related to cooking take place, as evidenced by the meat-minced spiral-type serpentines (distillation of human excretion), coming out from the taps at the top. However, they bear little resemblance to edible substances. Empty pots, knives, and forks scattered on shelves in cross-sections, as well as mice consuming food from the feeder below also testify to some cooking processes. In the far left cross-section, one can see a figure of a man dressed as a nobleman; it is none other than Gulliver, the hero of the novel. It is possible that the author associates Gulliver with himself, for there is the artist’s signature A. AKSININ–77 depicted at the bottom, in the cavity of the cut out slice, next to the sharp-pointed spikes of the pumpkin rind. The phantasmagoric process continues in the cross-section of the pumpkin that is shown to the right of the cut out slice.  That’s where the mass of bowls is flying towards, eventually interspersing with masks and fragments of figures, generally reminiscent of human images, who are seriously engaged in their "research".
The artist "projects" the novel by Jonathan Swift onto the realities of his time, disguising certain nuances in the abyss of intellectual satire of the Anglo-Irish novelist. In this work, the artist imitates the compositional completeness and symbolic basic principles of Hieronymus Bosch, the Dutch artist of the 15th–16th centuries.
At the bottom right under the imprint there is an author's inscription "A. Aksinin – 78"