Pavel Otdelnov's exhibition Hometown at the Old Waiting Room at London’s Peckham Rye Station runs until the end of the week © the artist
The exiled Russian artist Pavel Otdelnov has transformed the Old Waiting Room at London’s Peckham Rye Station into an artistic meditation on his home country, by focusing on his hometown Dzerzhinsk, a military-industrial centre.
Hometown (until 14 June) echoes some of the shows of his work in Russia before he left with his family in 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine. Otdelnov says the Old Waiting Room, which was abandoned for decades before reopening in 2023, is “the venue of my dreams” that conveys the idea of “an eternal waiting place” amidst “bustling streets”. He was inspired to use it after seeing Sarah Sze’s exhibition there and connecting via a friend with Lost Text Found Space, which produces events at the venue.
After building a 1:20 scale model of the vaulted space, he divided it into distinct areas representing the exhibition’s themes of Dzerzhinsk’s environmental catastrophe, gangs, weapons production, and Otdelnov’s family, which lived there for generations. Most of the 24 works, which he created at his London home studio, are acrylic on canvas, depicting ghostly images.
In his artist statement he writes that he is looking to the history of Dzerzhinsk, which is named after Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, “to discover the origins of the catastrophe unfolding before our eyes today.”
Russia’s war against Ukraine has been an economic boon for such cities. “Nowadays, during a full-scale war, the factories get a lot of state commissions,” he tells The Art Newspaper. “It means new working places, better salaries, and developing city infrastructure. Unfortunately, my city is not unique. Many Soviet cities were built as ammunition cities, and the war gave them a second chance.”
An installation view of Hometown at Old Waiting Room at London’s Peckham Rye Station © the artist
Otdelnov grapples as well with his love for Russia: “Love can survive despite the circumstances, even such monstrous ones as there are nowadays. I cannot prohibit myself from loving my family and the country of my origin despite all the terrible things that I know. It’s a part of me and my identity. Moreover, I believe that it’s not honest to distance myself from this. But it’s very important to me not to close my eyes to crimes and to controversial topics.”
Around half of the visitors last weekend were Russian speaking, Otdelnov says, and “a group of Ukrainian women in vyshyvankas [national dress], who had just come back from protesting outside no 10 Downing Street, came as well".