“I don't know why, she dreams of islands,” these lyrics from a popular song* are forever stuck in the minds of those whose childhood coincides with perestroika and the early 1990s. They probably also remember the strange sinking feeling in their chests—how they wanted to end up on magical lands in the middle of the ocean, while history awakened from a long sleep was roaring around them. Since ancient times, the image of an island has served as an embodiment of the perfect enclosed system where anything is possible. It is there utopias are built, mythical countries are located, and literary characters find themselves at crucial moments of the history or during their life journey. An island is both a beginning and an end, a whole world in nuce. Each person is also a piece of land, connected by complex maritime logistics with a scattering of solid rock in the distance. But sailing from one island to another can sometimes be excruciatingly long. There is no common language, and even temporalities do not coincide: actually close people can live in different, sometimes radically opposite epochs.
In the late 1970s, British writer Christopher Priest launched a series of books about the Dream Archipelago which has not been completed to this day. It tells the story of an imaginary planet connected by secret threads to our Earth. Priest, who watched the Cold War live, describes a world that is immersed in a sluggish conflict—it is unclear when it began, and it is unknown when it will end. While the continents of the writer's fictional world are torn apart by warring powers, along the equator and the tropics, girdling the planet, a chain of thousands of islands lives in relative peace. Huge or tiny, each with its own culture and history, dialect or language, political system and legends that come to life. Here, time goes wrong and space is distorted. The archipelago is home to some of the most extraordinary and unexpected types of art, passionate about and fiercely fought against. Here people from the mainland rediscover themselves.
The present exhibition, which borrows title from Priest's series, does not at all involve the creation of illustrations for the writer's works. On the contrary, the artists are inspired by the very idea of setting up an island in the middle of the sea and inhabiting it with their own imagination. After all, the artistic method—whatever it is, even the most realistic and documentary—cannot completely exclude fantasy. Perhaps it is the most valuable thing in art, and it's currently underestimated for some reason. So why not give it an entire archipelago to inhabit. Let artists and viewers build their own worlds—surprising, delighting, frightening, whatever.
*This song from the Soviet movie Higher than Rainbow (1986) tells a story of the weed that dreams of the islands. Then a cow eats it. And finally a boy drinks milk from the cow and becomes obsessed with the islands.