I, Oblomov (2009-2016)
I, Oblomov is an ode to the novel Oblomov, written in the mid-19th century by the Russian writer Ivan Goncharov. More than 150 years later, it still remains a key to deciphering the Russian mentality, which for centuries has both perplexed and captivated foreign travelers in the region.
The novel’s hero, Ilya Ilyich Oblomov, is a wealthy landowner living in St. Petersburg. He is a humane and gentle man, but above all he is passive in the extreme. Day after day, he lies on the couch, absent-mindedly receiving a stream of visitors. Lost in aimless reveries, he seems incapable of even the simplest actions; horrified at the prospect of work, he also seems to have no appetite for life beyond his sluggish routine.
Whether this is pure laziness, or a stoic wisdom, Oblomov’s strange lethargy – or “Oblomovshchina” (Oblomovism) – continues to be a powerful force in Russia today. In this project, I offer my own interpretation of this distinctly Russian phenomenon through a series of self-portraits and interior photographs taken over the course of my travels in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. As the images show, I often found myself lying down for long periods, overcome by depression, laziness, bad weather or hangover – evidence that after nine years of living in the former USSR, Oblomovshchina can also become the reality of a Japanese photographer.
“Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone...” (F. Tyutchev, 1866); perhaps no other quote captures the significance of Oblomov so well. Over time, Russia seeps into the body; even if it cannot be explained, it is powerfully felt. If a number of famous Russians, such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, admired Oblomov, others reacted against it. Lenin, for instance, wrote that “the old Oblomov has remained [with us], and we must wash him, cleanse him, shake him and thrash him, in order to get some sense [out of him].” Nabokov, for his part, once commented: “Two Ilyiches ruined Russia” – Ilya Ilyich Oblomov and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Not even Lenin, however, was able to loosen Oblomovshchina’s grip on Russian society. Living here, I joined the ranks of countless modern Oblomovs, sleeping away the crises, living in our dreams. All the notes to the photographs were quoted from the novel Oblomov.