From Everyday Downfall to Disturbances – Leonid Tsvetkov

23 April 2014

Theatre of Marcellus

On the occasion of Disturbances, the solo show by Leonid Tsvetkov at Ex Elettrofonica, we present here some unpublished images that the artist himself took in 2013 and 2014, as a sort of documentation of a work-in-progress that he started in 2012 in Rome.

Between 2012 and 2013, Leonid Tsvetkov spent a period in residence at the American Academy in Rome, where he initiated a research project inspired by observation of the city, with its archaeological ruins (the starting point was the Monte dei Cocci in Testaccio, which he described as “an open dump”) and its contemporary “ruins,” where nature slowly repossesses architectural elements.

This initial research led to the exhibition of hundreds of cement casts of waste materials (the packaging of our daily lives) set up in the lobby of the American Academy in 2013, followed by their distribution in archaeological areas in and around Rome, and leading to the creation of concrete columns installed into the space of Ex Elettrofonica. Throughout this project, the artist developed a coherent visual and performative narrative that deals with everyday perception and reception of social history.


I was born in Novgorod, in the former Soviet Union. When I was 14 I left Russia for 6 months and wound up staying the next 14 years in the United States, where I pursued my training and developed my interest in art, first at SUNY Purchase and then at Yale. I came to Amsterdam in 2009 to begin a post-graduate residency at the Rijksakademie and since then I have made the Netherlands my home.

My interest in art began from a classically oriented point of view that developed out of portraiture. In my practice, I do not want to fit it into a category; the world is much more complex than that, and if I did settle, presenting myself as a particular kind of artist, it would only be a lie. I am as much of a formalist as I am a conceptual artist. Somehow people want to fit others into fixed categories, but I resist this effort, both as an artist and as I citizen. As much as I am an American, I am Russian, even though I am a foreigner in both places.

My current work develops from a study of residual processes in my environment and their interconnections. I am interested in what is unwanted, concentrating on what is left over and ignored as a tool that shifts the line of vision to the peripheral surroundings. I cultivate a lens that one looks at a negative space of an object instead of looking at it directly in order to understand it from a different point of view. This current project, from Everyday Downfall to the installation at Ex Elettrofonica, focuses on reshaping cultural waste by exploring the social and physical processes that distinguish waste from art and art from historical object.

I like to compare my work process to that of a tracker or a hunter. I know the tracks that I am looking for when I see them although I do not know the animal. In that sense I discover the work through the process of making it without knowing what I want the outcome to be in the beginning of the project. This process is part of a story and this sense of story is an important element of the project; once installed, the work begins to accumulate another narrative, both by means of its reception by various audiences and when it is placed within a group or perceived as a continuation of a wider investigation instead of separately, as a discrete, individual project.

Concrete casts in the artist’s studio at the American Academy in Rome


In Rome in particular, I was interested in exploring the intersections of history, material culture and consumption as they impact social and physical landscapes from antiquity until today. Inspired by the archeological findings from Monte Testaccio – the biggest (packaging) dump of antiquity and now a part of vibrant neighborhood of Rome – I employed contemporary everyday household packaging to call attention to the relationship of consumer waste to the beauty of the city.

Porta Portese, Rome, just after the market closed


Walking and gathering material from the city and my immediate surroundings, I established connections with specific stores, trash routes, secondary consumer culture and post-market sites. The collection of packaging material created unexpected routes of exploring the city and its systems.

Packing material and concrete casts in the artist’s studio at the American Academy in Rome


As a formal study of packaging forms, I made pure cement casts of the collected material. The study called attention to the package design while also transforming the container to architecture and eventually to landscape.

Concrete casts in the artist’s studio at the American Academy in Rome


Concrete cast


Altogether I developed the project around 3 separate themes. I started each of these as separate investigations, seeking an encompassing link that connects them. These themes are:

1) the container form and the relationship of packaging to consumer culture and formal institutional and human structures.

2) landscape, ecosystem and environment as both “natural” and “manmade,” and detected through stratigraphy, life cycles, self-organization and the emergence of transformed spaces.

3) the physical transformation of matter, and the relationship of this transformation to nature, history and culture.

For the exhibit at the American Academy, I took my inspiration from a dictum by Horace, as recycled by the German political geographer Karl Haushofer: “Si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae” (
“Even if the entire globe should crumble, the fragments will hit him unafraid,” Horace, Odes 3.3.7 as cited in 1934). The fragments of Roman imperial remains, placed throughout the courtyard of the Academy’s gracious complex (a landmark designed by McKim, Mead and White Building, between the end of XIX century and the beginning of XX century), served as the backdrop to contemporary “fragments,” spoilt casts of contemporary “garbage.”

Everyday Downfall, 2013. Installation view at the American Academy in Rome



Everyday Downfall, 2013. Installation view at the American Academy in Rome


After the exhibition at the AAR was finished, I took all the objects from the installation and placed them in various historical sites throughout the city of Rome. Over three hundred objects were deposited in sixty-three different locations, (re)placing contemporary artifacts in their “ancient” settings.

I was always fascinated with these shards from the past, which are essentially trash, lying around everywhere in Rome. The obsession with ruins in romantic as well as political terms also intrigues me, as does the connection of residue to landscape. Both Everyday Downfall and the deposit of these artifacts in their seemingly natural settings invited a kind of formal admiration of the organic, which takes human products back to nature but retains them as part of a social landscape. Ruins offer access to an imagined history, which is in turn ingrained into the everyday experience.



Our trash, if you can actually see the form of it (which is why I cast it in cement) is not any less beautiful than the trash from ancient Rome. So why should it not be displayed alongside, as a kind of reminder of who we (still) are? If one puts the two “artifacts” side by side — the ancient and the new — one starts to think about both differently, shifting perception and provoking a different response to items we use everyday.

Imperial fora


My work with packaging and concrete is intended as a serous exploration of perception, as are most of the projects I take on. Still, I don’t mind it if people receive the work as humorous. I did not intend for this project to be funny, but seeing a cement egg carton alongside a Constantinian artifact, I cannot help but smile.

Spanish Academy


When depositing my artifacts, I had to be sneaky, at least to a degree, while also deliberate in what I was doing. Sometimes depositing an object was difficult; I had to take an opportunity when it came. I did circle different sites quite a bit before choosing the one that worked.

Everyday household packaging.



Via di San Francesco di Sales


The point was: to invite viewers to get confused; to repeat new interactions with everyday objects with items at home; to see both worlds different; to question formal aesthetics or beauty; to think twice about what is going in the trash; to question use; to come back home and pour cement into packages and use these new forms as a ready-made decorative building blocks for backyards or what have you.

Ostia Antica


In a nutshell, this exhibition explores connections between contemporary container packaging and architectural from both ancient and modern contexts.

An example of a cast made for a column at Ex Elettrofonica



Disturbances, 2014. Ex Elettrofonica (Photo: M3 studio, Rome)



Disturbances, 2014. Ex Elettrofonica (Photo: M3 studio, Rome)



Disturbances, 2014. Ex Elettrofonica (Photo: M3 studio, Rome)


Leonid Tsvetkov was born in Novgorod, Soviet Union in 1980. He has studied at Yale University School of Art and the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten.

Heavily influenced by the drawing process and deeply interested in the relationship between seeing and understanding, Tsvetkov’s work spans a number of different disciplines as he seeks to investigate the intersections of culture and nature. He is currently working on projects in South Africa, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. He has been honored with Rome Prize in the American Academy in Rome (AFAAR 2012-13), Van Bijleveltstichting Award, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Ely Harwood Schless Memorial Fund Prize, the Robert Scheolkopf Traveling Scholar fellowship, the Ely Harwood Schless Memorial Fund Prize, and the Best of SUNY Chancellor Award for Art.

Minderbroederskerk. Hasselt, BE. Part of De Unie Hasselt-Genk. Z33.
Disturbances Ex Elettrofonica. Rome, IT.
Ostrov – Nikita Alexeev / Island – Leonid Tsvetkov / Insel – Manuel Graf Sammlung Ludwig. Bamberg, DE.

Kunsthandel Dr. Schmitz-Avila. Kunst- und Antiquitäten Woch. Bamberg, DE.
Everyday Downfall Atrium of the American Academy in Rome. Rome, IT. Part of Cinque Monstre.

Moment of Now. 361Roma Associazione Culturale, Rome, IT.
Back to the Future, CBKU. Utrecht, NL.2011 “In Search of the Other” De Nieuwe Ooster Begraafplaats. Amsterdam, NL. Part of Afterlife.

MärklinWorld. Kunsthal KAdE. Amersfoort, NL.

One Whole Thing RijksakademieOPEN. Amsterdam, NL.

The Space Between RijksakademieOPEN. Amsterdam, NL.

Metro Poles: Art in Action. Bronx River Art Center, New York, NY.
Thursday The 12th, Kate Werble Gallery, New York, NY.
Blank, Beijing, China.

Habitant, HGallery, Bangkok, Thailand.
Sculpture Dimensions and Field Variable, San Vito al Tagliamento, IT.
Carte Blanche, Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, NY.
Blank, Ke Contemporary Center for the Arts, Shanghai, China.
Horizon, EFA Gallery, New York, NY.
Short Stories, Photographs 1890-2006 Macy Art Gallery, New York, NY.

School Days, Jack Tilton. New York, NY.