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Maria Safronova prefers to work in series, in which she reconstructs and subtly opens a multifaceted and enigmatic world. In her painterly world, common objects and characters acquire unusual traits and always express a sense of angst and uneasiness. The Classrooms series depicts an “archetypical” school that all Russian viewers can viscerally recognize from their childhood. Such intense familiarity extends beyond the visuals: the odor of old textbooks lingers in the air and the bustling sound is still in the distance in the empty halls. The artist meticulously portrays the slow, steady decay of different spaces, such as a biology classroom and a swimming pool which have become part of the apocalyptic landscape.
With Chernobyl in mind, Safronova was curious as to what has happened to the architecture, objects, and nonhuman lives left behind. These images suspend time to erases the past and reject the possibility of the future. But at the same time, there is an eerie and unexpected sense of warmth, as if these “things” have acquired their own life and agency. Painting as a long-lived art form captures this process and steals time from the artist herself, in exchange for representation of eternity.
Maria Safronova works in figurative painting—classical, but not the most popular genre in the practice of contemporary art. She often depicts a seemingly familiar reality, from which hidden qualities slowly emerge only upon close examination: to what extent is this reality controlled, how artificial is it, and how similar is it to anti-utopias? The painting Panic depicts the moment of a glitch in an information system that regulates the lives of office clerks. Safronova’s technique translates the realistic image into a point of abstractness: the detached look of her protagonists reveals the vulnerability and unreliability of order and underlying systems.
But at the same time, we can’t help but wonder, has this glitch acquired its own life? Visually represented as an organic-looking virus, it seems to be emitting a certain kind of wicked energy to hypnotize and mind-control the clerks. They are not indifferent but completely mesmerized. The virus not only points to a computer failure but also any large ideological or belief systems in our societies. Safronova grasps the feeling of an apocalypse similar to that of ancient tragedies; however, when transplanted it into an office environment, it loses its grandeur and, on the contrary, demonstrates the finiteness and even triviality of the flimsy structures that determine our lives.