Lang Hosts an Ode to Tolstoy

It’s easy to believe that some people only feign interest in Russian literature because of the satisfaction they derive from dropping names like Nabokov and Dostoevsky in conversation. The New School’s most recent art exhibit proves that’s not always the case.

Painter and visual artist Laura “Lola” Baltzell’s genuine love of Russian literature, language, and culture was on full display at the Skybridge Art and Sound Space on Monday. She and her mixed media art collaborative, Team Tolstoy, came to Eugene Lang College to show 200  collages, a small portion of the total that took them nearly two years to complete.

Collages on display in Lang's fourth floor Skybridge as part of "The War and Peace Project" Exhibition.

”I wanted to do a project that would take us a long time,” said Baltzell, the leader of the group. “It just seemed interesting to try to do something that would be really long and engaging. I wanted to rekindle my connection with the Russian language.”

The aim of the project was to visually reinterpret every page of Leo Tolstoy’s classic tome, “War and Peace,” by assembling collages on top of pages torn from a 1970’s Soviet Union copy. The team meticulously collected and provided English translations of the Russian passages, allowing artists to create collages based on the pages’ content. The collective plans to exhibit their collages this summer at Yasnaya Polyana, the Leo Tolstoy Museum and Estate in the town of Tula, Russia.

“To share their space, and their energy, was very beautiful,” said Nadine, a student who attended the exhibit but did not give her full name.

When examining each piece carefully, one is reminded of Russian religious iconography, which Baltzell says is no accident. What does seem accidental is the punk zine aesthetic that permeates the installation. Then again, the clashing  images may reflect the bickering over artistic vision that at times plagued Team Tolstoy.

“We’ve almost broken up once, because we had differences of opinions about all kinds of issues,” said Baltzell, sounding like the leader of a band of touring rock stars . “So it’s been very challenging and very rewarding to keep it going.”

That the members of Team Tolstoy took a nosedive into this consumptive project and managed to keep their friendship intact might very well be the most endearing facet of their art.

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