Aleksej Remizov's Threshold Art

Julia Friedman, Brown University

Aleksej Remizov (1877-1957) used his works to reevaluate time-honored notions of artist and audience-and the boundary separating them. Unable to contain his creative Član entirely within the bounds of visual or literary art, Remizov experimented with graphic art, eventually inventing a new genre of handwritten illustrated albums that mix India ink and watercolor drawings with collages and texts. According to a list Remizov published of his albums, the earliest date to 1932. There are, however, single-sheet illustrations to Remizov's own texts in ink and watercolor dating as far back as the second decade of the twentieth century. Between 1932 and 1949 Remizov made over four hundred albums, most of them for sale. Remizov himself stated that he began the systematic production of his albums because he simply could not publish his Russian writings while living in France between 1931 and 1949 and had to look for new ways to support himself.

These albums defy commonsense classification of works into verbal or visual. In the making of them Remizov, while ceasing to be exclusively a writer, does not become all draftsman either. Yet genre liminality is only the albums' most obvious quality. On the level of content they display a remarkable degree of artistic involution, often seeming to recede altogether into some inner field of reference. One can in fact best discuss this art form in terms of the two vital reference frames it invokes: the interior and exterior. The exterior aspect of the albums is one that an uninitiated audience can appreciate as it requires only the apprehension of objectively identifiable data and aesthetic effects. The interior, however, is the world of Remizov's subjective associations and includes references to his friends, colleagues, dwellings--his private games and "in-house jokes." Here is a frame of reference not immediately accessible to outsiders. So while one readily grasps the albums' exterior, decoding their interior requires a close study of various contexts, subtexts and intertexts. This study, which involves the unearthing of primary sources and the investigation of secondary ones, forms the bulk of my current research. Some of the albums confine themselves to one of these two modes, but most of them exist somewhere along the boundary between the interior and exterior, embodying a sort of threshold where interior and exterior intermesh to create a modernist work of art.