Part one of the trilogy, At the Back of the North Wind (2011), first shown at the 54th Venice Biennale, was a semi- fictional, semi-documentary account of Ginzburg’s quest to find Hyperborea, a mythical paradise that appeared in the writings of Hesiod, Homer, and Herodotus. Among the components of the installation were photos that led the viewer from the American Northwest to St. Petersburg to the ruins of Gulag prison camps on the White Sea; a huge sculpture that resembled a tornado of bones and tusks; a 96-inch, mixed-media-on-canvas tondo that was a swirl of delicate pastels; and a 45-minute video in which a camera panned along a lush forest floor, with appearances by a timber wolf and an owl.
Part two of the trilogy, Walking the Sea (2014), was equally complex. The subject here was the 26,000-square-mile Aral Sea, once one of the largest bodies of water on the planet but now almost dried up as the result of a Soviet irrigation project. The centerpiece was Seaharp (2013), featuring a large white anchor made of plaster. The installation also included a series of gorgeously tapestried maps and an abundance of photographs of the exposed seabed, abandoned military bases, and scattered, rusting vessels.
Ginzburg is clearly an artist with ambition, ideas, and talent to burn, but as with so many installations that purport to take the visitor on a journey, a lot of wall text was required to make the trip. Bits and pieces were fascinating to contemplate and Ginzburg’s facility with a range of media is impressive, but one was left with a slightly hollow sensation, like the muffled enthusiasm one might have for a friend’s vacation photos.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 104.