Sheet 6 from the Graphic Cycle "Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity"

Alexander Aksinin

  • Sheet 6 from the Graphic Cycle "Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity" 2
  • Sheet 6 from the Graphic Cycle "Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity" 3
Basic information
Alexander Aksinin
Sheet 6 from the Graphic Cycle "Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity"
Date of creation
imprint on paper
Dimensions (height x width, cm)
29.4 x 29.7
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 sixth sheet of 11 etchings from the graphic cycle "Jonathan Swift's Kingdom of Absurdity". The artist himself wrote several titles of his works in his diary. He described one of them as "Country C.". It is likely that this name refers to this etching. Chapter 4 of Part III of "Gulliver's Travels" describes how the hero of the book decided to descend from the flying island of Laputa to land, namely to the country controlled by the king of the island.
The inhabitants lived a chaotic and confused life there, so the country was in decline. However, this sheet has no direct analogies with "Gulliver's Travels". To some extent, the author refers to "A Tale of a Tub". This is indicated, in particular, by the presence of clusters of tubs in the center of the composition. In addition, the English idiom "tale of a tub" means a mess, confusion, and chatter.
The artist composes the flying island and the country below it in a circle, where at the top of the composition there is a strange structure in the middle of the sky. The sky is filled with cosmic bodies in the form of hemispheres, hats, and rolling pins. The structure is based on a platform with non-systemically digitized cages, on which stands a round construction completed with cylinders with hand braces and oval holes on the outside, from which lids fall down, revealing sections with some more cylinders inside.
Above the main structure is another one resembling a flattened pumpkin depicted on a background filled with spherical objects. Its facade is encircled by a cord with balls in shells hanging from it. On the left and next to the main structure, one can see a silhouette of a man, apparently of Gulliver, located in cell No.6. On the other cages there are small barely visible objects, in particular cones, jars, bowls, etc.
With two powerful ropes on the sides, the upper structure is connected with an arcuate structure at the bottom, which itself is composed of many details and objects. These are lids from the upper holes, a helm, doors with handles, pumpkin-shaped pressed forms with carved arches on them. Among them there are human figures in specific poses, a ladder, fragments of buildings, and randomly scattered small household items.
Despite the mixture of forms, the lower structure itself is vertically divided into parts by door panels and falling lids, and thus it is structured. On the right, one can see the author's signature A.AKSININ–1978 engraved on one of the door sides. At the top edge of the building there is a profiled finial on the left, and an arch decorated with a cartouche on the right; the upper structure is tied with ropes to these two elements, thus bending the lower structure in an arc that resembles a zoomorphic monster. 
The diagonals of the ropes between the top and bottom complement the main organizing vertical formed by the falling oval lids. It takes place against the background of a large surface cut into pieces and filled with empty tubs.
In "Aesop's" language, the artist reflects the reality around him, presenting the then social organization, which is meaningless but structured, as a country of absurdity.
The conceptual idea and symbolic basic principles of this work reveal the influences of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the Dutch artists of the 15th–16th centuries.
At the bottom right under the imprint there is an author's inscription "A. Aksinin – 78"