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Sculpture (MA)

Mila Dolman

I was born in Moscow (1984), my parents coming from Tajikistan where their families were exiled during the Stalin's Great Purge. Today, I live and work in London. I have a BA in Ceramics from the Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and an MA in TV-Journalism from the Moscow State University.

My artistic practice is profoundly connected with my interest in history and archaeology, the relationship between the past and the present, the layering of memory and myth. By combining historically and geographically authentic materials with contemporary techniques to produce art, I use my practice as an instrument to construct a personal, tactile relationship with history.

My multi-ethnic background and a prior career in journalism defined my practice, rendering individual and global histories a major theme in my work. Born in the USSR, I witnessed a complete denial of individuality in favour of the state. The relationship of the personal and the global is brought together in my installations. I work with various sculptural media, with a particular focus on ceramics and bronze.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the death of my uncle in Dushanbe during the Tajik Civil War in the 1990s played a formative role in my career. Being an artist, my uncle contributed significantly to my development. After getting a degree in journalism I spent several years working in the Russian media, eventually coming to the realisation that there was no creative and political freedom left there.

My work has been exhibited at the IV Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, the VI Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, the XI International Krasnoyarsk Museum Biennale, the VI ArtbatFest in Almaty (Kazakhstan) and at the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy (London). I had won first prize in the Absolut Space Competition for young artists.

Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Sculpture (MA)

The cultural treasures of the past, believed to be dead, are being made to speak, in the course of which it turns out that they propose things altogether different than what had been thought.

Taken from Hannah Ardent, an American political theorist, this citation encapsulates my interest in the layering of history, memory, and mythology that my practice explores. The experience of observing ISIS’s attempts to rewrite history through the detonation of ancient monuments of the Middle East, illuminated that today, objects of cultural heritage, the loci of memory and identity, are threatened by destruction figuratively and literally: by contemporaneity's own state of constant self-destruction and by brutal eradication. This led me to conceive #RuinsRiot - a project about the rebellion of the ruins. I imagined the ancient ruins and destroyed monuments, empowered by centuries of veneration and worship, rise up from the dust and ashes of history’s oblivion, from the devastation of modern weapons and modern neglect, and (with a healthy sense of irony) called it #RuinsRiot. I was inspired by the notion of a collective reimagination, in which the cultural object is traumatised along with the people. The ruin in my project transforms into a conscious entity, it feels, sees, and is motivated by self-preservation.

Through the appropriation of the visual language of Mesopotamian mythology and the use of the same material as the ancients – clay, pigment, bronze, and textile – my reimagined ruins, anthropomorphised, gain a regenerated body. Equipped with contemporary weapons, the heroes of my work are brought to life, able to rise against their destroyers. The stones in my works acquire teeth, tongue, and voice, and finally speak. They violently proclaim their place in history and propose an altogether different way to perceive their power in it.

Intended as a total installation #RuinsRiot invites the visitor into a museum of unexpected realities. The halls and artifacts of this imagined museum join together in a phantasmagorical spectacle in which sacred beings, like Mushkhushshu, become soldiers; ancient goddesses, accompanied by interchangeable ammunition-accessories, transform into contemporary feminists. #RuinsRiot merges past and present, collides memory and allegory. It draws attention to the loss and the need for preservation of cultural heritage and offers the viewer an apprehension of a future, where destruction obliviates the possibility of memory (personal and collective), and thus, a total loss of identity.

#Ruin's Riot: EXITIUM
Relief and sculpture of The Beast on the background of a brick wal
#Ruin's Riot: EXITIUM (fragment of the head of the snake)
#Ruin's Riot: EXITIUM (fragment of the warrior )
Relief and sculpture of The Beast on the background of a brick wall — #Ruin's Riot: EXITIUM (fragment of the head of the beast)
#RuinsRiot — Video explanation of the project.

EXITIUM is a manifest, cast in ceramic form. It proclaims war. War against the destruction of memory, of culture, of history. War against oblivion. War declared and led by those forgotten in the layers of history, but by those to who we owe history – the ruins. EXITIUM is a manifest of those that cannot speak, so I shall speak for them.

In the relief, ancient monuments from the cradle of civilisation - Mesopotamia - and the heroes they commemorated are endowed with contemporary weaponry: modernised and instilled with life to lead the riot against their brutal eradication.

The surface of the relief contains examples of real graffiti found on the walls of destroyed Syrian cities: ‘Peace I miss you,’ ‘Stop war,’ and ‘МИН НЕТ’ (NO MINES) left by a Russian soldier-miner.

I invited my friends and followers to make contributions to what else can be written on the relief, thus adding cultural layers to my contemporary ruin. This is how words and phrases in Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese and other languages appeared on its surface: the om sign, declarations of love, an advert about buying weapons and a poster about recruiting fighters, akin the ones from the First World War. The ceramic wall became interactive and public.

By merging contemporary elements with ancient Mesopotamian epos, I attempt to reawaken its heroes and remains from their watchful trance, to transport them in time, to give them the power to speak and to fight their destroyers on equal footing.

As we lose architectural and artistic heritage to the black-market, the devastating effects of terrorism, war, vandalism, and our own indifference – we lose our identity. EXITIUM, looking at the Ishtar Gate as one of its main creative beginnings, is dedicated to our incapability to preserve and honour our histories and cultures and the revenge thereof. It draws attention to the need for preservation of cultural heritage and offers the viewer an apprehension of a future, where destruction obliviates the possibility of memory (personal and collective), and thus, a total loss of identity.

Medium:

Ceramics, pigments, glaze, plywood boards

Size:

H3.00 x W3.16 x D8
#Ruin's Riot: PARTIBUS (together V)
#Ruin's Riot: PARTIBUS. The Beast Head — H50.5 x W118 x D6
#Ruin's Riot: PARTIBUS. The Warrior Head — H50.5 x W106 x D6
#Ruin's Riot: PARTIBUS. Sneakers — H51.5 x W90 x D6
#Ruin's Riot: PARTIBUS and Mila Dolman
#Ruin's Riot: PARTIBUS. Tail

1. The PARTIBUS was the first piece I attempted to create for the #RuinsRiot project.

2. Most of the tiles were broken during the transportation from the RCA Ceramics Department to my studio. 

3. After leaving the pieces untouched for almost two years, I collected the remaining ceramic tiles and assembled them back together. 

4. I mounted the tiles on Victorian wooden floorboards. The same boards that belonged to the age of exploration and colonisation, and to a time of burgeoning interest in archaeology.

5.The encounter of wood, that the feet of those who filled the collection of the British Museum with stolen artifacts may have stepped on, and my work, commenting on the sacrality of cultural heritage, has given the PARTIBUS its meaning.


Dimensions: Paws H54.5 x W174.5x D6 cm; Legs H51.5x W90 x D6; Snake H51 x W74.5 x D6; Face Beast H50.5 x W1.18 x D6; Face Man H50.5 x W106 x D6 cm.

Medium:

Ceramics, pigments, glaze, recovered Victorian floorboards
LOL Doll — #1 LOL Doll without accessories #2 LOL Doll in the image of a diva
LOL Doll — #1 LOL Doll with dreadlocks on the head and a pet snake in its arms #2 LOL Doll in the image of a warrior
LOL Doll and her treasure box — Sculpture next to the plinth, which is used as a case for accessories
LOL Doll — details and scale

As a child, I had an amazing Barbie doll. Her arms and legs could be bent, and she was part of a limited edition. I brought her over from Germany to the USSR at the time of complete deficiency. You could barely buy food, let alone toys. 

At school, we were staging a puppet show and the teacher cast my Barbie for the lead role of Snow White. I, however, was not given a part - another girl got to hold and be the voice of my doll. After the show, everyone wanted to hold my Barbie. She was returned to me with a broken leg. I felt like weeping...

Years after, the story of the broken leg became a part of my personal story. After a complex fracture and almost a year of rehabilitation, I still wasn't able to 'get back on my feet' completely. I was haunted by pain. Pain that led to nightmares, where everything merged into one: past and present, knowledge and memory, my childhood and my children, my art and the art of the ancients, which I study and find inspiration in.

In my consciousness, the Hittite mother-goddess from Hasanoglan, exists in close proximity to the LOL Doll - a popular new invention that dethroned Barbie herself. This curious neighbourship led to the creation of a new figure in the #RuinsRiot project that simultaneously alludes to ancient bronze sculpture and to contemporary pop symbols. My rendition of the LOL Doll comes with all the accessories she may need to lead a comfortable life, hidden inside a case that serves as her podium. Among them are weapons if war strikes; a crown and a Birkin bag for an outing; it even hosts her pet - a snake. These small details are all cast from bronze and covered with patina of different shades. 

The LOL Doll symbolises archaic feminism, pertinent to contemporary women, who have acquired masculinity without the loss of femininity. Photographs from the Second World War document the female inhabitants of the ghetto - unprotected and tormented. A dozen years later in Israel, we see a completely different image - confident women, dressed in uniform and holding machine guns. Yet, remaining elegant and sexy. 

This, at the first glance, unexpected juxtaposition dates 2000 years back. Ishtar, one of the most important goddesses in the Mesopotamian pantheon, was the patron of war and strife, fertility and carnal love, often combining androgynous features in her physical representations.

Medium:

Bronze, patina, jesmonite, resin, wool, waxed thread

Size:

H56 x W21 x D18
Porttrait with Expectation Sculpture. — Photo credit Anastasia Ermolenko.
Expectation. — Photo credit Zhanna Bobrakova.
The Selfie Vase. — Ceramics H21.5 x D28 cm
Expectation. Protect. — Bronze sculpture on a jasmonite plinth. Edition 8.

Three thousand years B.C., all the major deities of the neighbouring to Mesopotamia Elam were female. Among them, Pinikir, the mistress of heaven, who later became Elam’s main deity. Pinikir, unlike her Mesopotamian equivalent Ishtar – the goddess of war and love, who is often represented with androgynous features - was perceived as more feminine. She is cited as the patron of love, sex, and heavens.

I returned from my expedition to Susa, the centre of Elam’s nation-state, with many materials for the #RuinsRiot project, as well as two stripes on a pregnancy test. My trip to Iran led to an unexpected pause in the work on the project. I had to postpone my studies at the RCA, take a leave of absence and relocate to my home studio, where a small series of new characters and a new branch in the project came to life.

As I returned, the political tensions in Iran intensified. The media supplied disturbing news following the 2018 US withdrawal from the Nuclear program of Iran, the Persian Gulf crisis was commencing. Iranian air was ringing with potential war. For me, this meant to fear for the safety of the cultural heritage of this ancient country.

The Expectation Doll, a bronze sculpture, was the first in the series. Her headdress reads ‘protect.’ During that year, this word was consonant with my personal needs, and what cultural monuments require. I felt the importance of translating that sensation through the mimicking of a deity. When bringing a life into this world, we take on the functions of the creator. This feeling of a unique shift, physical and mental, undoubtedly affected my artistic practice.

Along with the bronze sculpture, a series of ceramic vases came to be part of the Expectation Series. One of them is the Selfie Vase; it is inscribed with poetry from Mesopotamian epos and depicts a female deity taking a selfie. Me ‘trying on’ the character of the sun goddess further resulted in a series of photographs, in which I, as an artist, take on the role of the model.

In ancient Elam sculpture, emphasis is given to the hands supporting the breasts – the primary source of nurture. Voluptuous forms of all the unearthed figurines allude to the idea of fertility and to the idea of the nonviolent treatment of one’s body, a body that can give life.

For me, the heroes of the Expectation Series came to be a vital part of the larger #RuinsRiot project, and a step towards further exploration of the themes of protection, feminism, and the bodily.

Medium:

Photography, bronze, ceramics

Size:

Expectation Doll: H32 x W12 x D6, Selfie Vase: H21.5 x D28
#RuinsRiot: The Beast — Sculpture in profile on an antique transportation chest.
#RuinsRiot: The Beast — #1 Fragment of sculpture. Front paw. #2 View from the side of the tail-snake
#RuinsRiot: The Beast — View from the head of the Beast side on the background of the relief #RuinsRiot: EXITIUM
#RuinsRiot: The Beast — Fragment of the head of The Beast

Intended as a total installation, #RuinsRiot invites its visitors into a museum of non-existing realities filled with imaginary artifacts. Among them, is the main and the most cited hero of the project – Mushkhushshu, a mythical hybrid with the scaly body of a dragon, the paws of a lion, and the talons of an eagle, a unicorn’s horn, and a snake for a tail. According to the religion of ancient Sumer, Mushkhushshu was the sacred animal of the god Marduk, the patron deity of the city of Babylon.

The figure of Mushkhushshu appears on the Ishtar Gate as a repeating relief. I took his image and sculpted it in three-dimensional form, naming him the Beast for simplicity. In my imagined museum, his sculpture is part of the visitor’s route across the exhibition hall: frozen and tastefully lit, like so many artifacts looted from their countries of origin, on display in every European museum.

The Beast, now emerging beyond the form of a relief, becomes a full-bodied entity. He may seem immobilized by his museum setting, however, he is ready to leap into action, to answer the call of his master Marduk and to join the battle against those, who want to destroy their legacy. Far from being paralysed, he presides over this imagined museum and is ready to lead the riot against the ideology of indifference.

Medium:

Ceramics, glaze, oxides, pigments

Size:

H75 x W140 x D25
#RuinsRiot: The Beastie I
#RuinsRiot: The Beastie II — #RuinsRiot: The Beastie III (blue)
#RuinsRiot: The Beastie III (blue)
Three Beasties
Three Beasties. Kiss

Mushkhushshu, presiding over my imagined museum, is omnipresent in it. His eyes are everywhere, his image is scattered all over the room, becoming flesh in the sculpture of him, gazing upon the visitor from the relief. The image of him multiplies in the smaller sculptures - the Beasties - phantasmagorical and inescapable. Just like Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus anthropomorphised by Walter Benjamin, they are endowed by their knowledge of time, they see one single catastrophe, where we see only a chain of events. Dressed in bright colours and splashes of contemporary art, the Beasties await, patiently, still living history, ready to leap into action, to make whole what has been destroyed.

Medium:

Ceramics, glaze, oxides, pigments

Size:

H25 x W47 x D15 each
Painting unreality — Photo documentation of the performance. Duration several days in a row for several hours during the show.
Babylon series — Watercolor on paper. 84x59 cm
Babylone series — Etching, red pencil, ink. 42x29 cm edition 25
#RuinsRiot: series of drawings — Ink on paper. 42x29 cm

Archaeological processes, such as excavation, reconstruction, and documentation of ancient material culture, are methods that I consciously referred to during the creation of the #RuinsRiot project. To mimic the process of how an artifact would be treated by an archaeologist was integral for me to construct my modern ruins, where I am the one unearthing and studying them.

At the age when the remains of the ancient civilisations became the subject of increased interest, the most vital piece of an archaeologist’s kit was the sketchbook. Carefully documented images of discovered objects filled page after page, transcribing every detail with meticulous precision.

Nonetheless, no matter how accurate a representation of the object, it remains a reproduction. A translation made through the eyes of an individual disconnected in time, space, and understanding from the original meaning of the object they have come into contact with.

Archaeology, as a science, is a quest for meaning. The said meaning can belong to the object, it can be assigned, or even imposed. Thus, the object is always altered and transfigured through interpretation.

In documenting my ruins by the means of etching, I both allude to the archaeological sketchbook as a tool of recording knowledge, and, simultaneously, dictate their meaning. Purposefully adding contemporary details - machine guns, sneakers - to the recognisable form of the ruin and images appropriated from Mesopotamian epos and artistic activity, I alter their narrative, layering it with today’s history.

Medium:

Performance and drawings on paper, etching

Size:

Duration - all the time of the exhibition.
The Meta-Tapestry — on the studio wall
The Meta-Tapestry on the graffiti wall
The Meta-Tapestry — fragments of the work
The Meta-Tapestry — The Meta-Tapestry surrounded by the ruins of an old Victorian house.

The Meta-Tapestry continues the conscious excavation and reconstruction processes I am performing in the #RuinsRiot project through the use of ancient materials and techniques. Ancient Mesopotamia was culturally defined by the art of weaving, and the magnificence of Babylonian and Assyrian tapestries was unanimously proclaimed by the writers of antiquity.

Like all the other works in the project, the Meta-Tapestry incorporates elements of contemporaneity’s material culture: a plastic construction mesh serves as a canvas for the delicate threads. The juxtaposition of the materials has brought the tapestry into its ‘meta’ state, taking it beyond the status of a textile: it serves as a commentary on the need to take care of ancient monuments through restoration, as well as turns the textile into a shield, one can wrap around ruins to use as a protective layer without touching them.



Medium:

Wool thread, plastic construction mesh

Size:

H110 x W310
The Puzzles Series
#RuinsRiot: The Puzzles Series — All work on the wall. They can be extended, either all together or in different combinations.
Puzzles series: Warrior.
Puzzles series: Paws and Muzzle.
Puzzles series: Paws.

History presents us with many riddles and puzzles to which we cannot always find an answer or an explanation. During the work on the #RuinsRiot project, a series of reliefs came to being. As I arranged and rearranged tiles, scattered all over my studio, I found surprising harmony and accordance between pieces that belonged to different parts of the large EXITIUM relief when accidentally placed together. The unique patterns of my imagined artifact, formed through each new combination, made me think of the puzzle of history and the archive – how it shapes our relationship with the past and affects the construction of historical meaning. Who defines it? How does its definition affect the conditions that enable the history to be written? And what role do accidental or inexplicable collisions play?

Medium:

Ceramics, glazes

Size:

H35 x W37 cm each
Chamomile — 4 examples of ceramic flower relief on victorian wood floorboard size 20x16 cm
Domestic Beasty — Soft toy and A7 explanation booklet attached to the neck. H30хW35xD9 cm
Owners of the beast toy — Kids playing with toys
Shopper bag and T-shirt — Part of the museum's merchandise.
A piece of relief. Warrior head. Souvenir. — Ceramics, engobes, glaze. 16x19 cm
A piece of relief. Warrior head on the Victorian wooden floorboard. Souvenir. — Ceramics, engobes, glaze, wood. 62x32 cm

In its totality, #RuinsRiot is a staged museum. What follows the rows of halls and every exhibition in any museum in the world? The gift shop, filled with a paraphernalia of items with the reproductions of what one just saw across the rooms of the museum. Pencils, notepads, t-shirts, and toys - ready to be purchased and taken home. The memory of the visit immediately fades, commercialised and capitalised. Art, undergoing the process of mechanical reproduction, is devalued of its uniqueness. The ideas relayed by the careful curation of the artwork, or the larger issues with the provenance or history of the exhibition pieces, are immediately forgotten, as one passes through the shop and back to personal realities.

For my imagined museum, I have also decided to create a gift shop – as a conscious emphasis on it being a museum, as an institutional critique, as well as the critique of the mass treatment of important issues, that go beyond the individual.

Mushkhushshu, the main hero of my project, a fierce mythical war beast, transforms into a plush toy, now easily found within the museum’s gift shop. His tag explains his mission for those that will take him home: ‘to study ancient history and wonderful secrets long forgotten, so we can protect the world’s heritage together.’ In this way, the commercialisation of Mushkhushshu, is an attempt to kindle an interest in the knowledge about ancient cultural monuments, as knowledge and memory are powerful tools in the fight against oblivion. 10% from the sale of every toy is also to be donated to UNESCO, to fuel the action against the destruction of ancient heritage.

Among other items available for purchase from the #RuinsRiot gift shop are customised ceramic chamomile flowers, tote bags with photographs from my studio, t-shirts with etchings. As in any shop, the range of items changes as the project changes in time.

Medium:

Plush, textile, ceramics, wood and other materials