I'd decided to go on an organised trip to Leningrad, a city that I had always wanted to visit, ever since I started using Soviet Russian themes and images in my works in the 80s. In 1989, while on a month's stint as artist-in-residence in Syracuse, New York State, I'd come across a book in the University Library titled Russia through Bolshevik Eyes, which had been published, I think, in the 1920s and included a number of fascinating photographs, some of which I used in the works I was making then in Syracuse. Why was I so interested in images of Soviet Russia? It had something to do with the dialectic of utopia and oblivion. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Communism was dying out, revealing, in all their starkness, the images of past idealism. Walter Benjamin wrote about the 'dialectical image' that combines fore-image and after-image, a charged force field of past and present, blasted free of history's continuum. It is this sense of petrified motion, of 'dialectics at a standstill' that intrigued me. Benjamin's passges had long been demolished or turned into shopping malls. What was left, I wondered, of the Soviet dream?
Under the regime of Gorbachev, Russia was going through a period of 'Perestroika' (reforms and openness). It was becoming easier for Westerners to visit Russia, although you still had to arrange somewhere to stay in advance and to have a letter of invitation. So I went to a travel agency in Amsterdam called, predictably enough, Perestroika Travel, and booked a one-week trip. At the same time I had another motive in visiting Leningrad. Through Perspektief Gallery in Rotterdam, I'd come across the work of the photographer and filmmaker Evgeny Yufit, who lived in Leningrad. Yufit was a member of a group of notorious experimental Russian artists who called themselves Necrorealists. I was curious. The gallery was interesting in putting on a show of Yufit's photoworks, so I was sent to do some reconnoitring. While I was in Leningrad I wrote a diary. This is it, transcribed more or less originally and illustrated with some of the photographs I took.
SATURDAY 15 JUNE - SATURDAY 22 JUNE 1991