When The World Went Silent: BC’s New ‘Places of Silence’ Exhibit

"Bird," a mixed media on canvas by Asya Dodina and Slava Polishchuk./Gabriela Flores

By Michela Arlia 


   A new art exhibit is gracing the lobby of Brooklyn College’s library, and its themes take a deeper look into communication and the loneliness expressed during a time of shared hardship.

   “Places of Silence” is a series of paintings by artists and M.F.A. alumni Asya Dodina and Slava Polishchuk. The pair, who have been collaborating in the art world since 2003, used this collection as a representation of what the city that never sleeps felt like when it went into lockdown during the pandemic’s peak.

   “Our images are a reminder of the cataclysmic situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” their artist statement posted in the lobby reads. “The world has faced disastrous effects of an unprecedented pandemic: loss of human lives, loneliness, lack of personal interaction, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness.”

   The project consists of large-scale mixed media paintings on both canvas and oriental rice paper. The use of paper was chosen for its connection to nature. Also, a deliberate choice by the artists was the use of black acrylic paints, creating a gradation from black to white colors on all canvases. 

   In one of the pieces on display, “Caumsett V,” mixed media on canvas is used in what depicts a forest landscape. By showing bare tree limbs with dark and heavy black lines, it looks as though time has stood still at this moment. To juxtapose the sereneness created by colors, the raised texture on the canvas jumps out at the viewer, regardless of the distance you are from the piece. 

   “Lot For Sale, (New Utrecht Ave. & 81st Street), 2022” seems as realistic as a photograph. The closed chain link fence speaks to the theme of silence, as the viewer feels shut out to the world of the painting behind it. Similarly, the piece “Around the Bend IV, 2021” uses gated images to create a sense of longing for the viewer to want to experience the beauty of nature that lies beyond it.

   Grateful for the opportunity to share their personal experience with the pandemic through their art, the pair’s pieces come as they reflected on the impacts COVID-19 specifically had on the BC community.

   “All these two and a half years, when Brooklyn College was closed, students were deprived of the opportunity to communicate with each other, and with professors. Loneliness, disunity of the entire Brooklyn College community of which we are part, has become our common experience,” wrote Dodina and Polishchuk jointly in a statement to The Vanguard. 

   Having begun work on the project just a few weeks before the New York City shutdown in 2020, the duo focused on the sublime beauty of landscape, while acknowledging the viewpoint of once busy areas from a new perspective of silence. 

   “We were struck by the scarce silence of the streets, abandoned buildings, gardens,” wrote Dodina and Polishchuk. “We saw the familiar places from entirely different perspective – they were silent. Spacious grounds, the ocean coast, paths in the sand were without the usual addition – a man. Our ongoing project ‘Places of Silence’ reflects our personal experience in this new reality.” 

   Dodina, who earned her M.F.A. in painting and printmaking, and Polishchuk with his M.F.A. in studio art, first collaborated when they realized their independent work was traveling in the same direction thematically. 

    “We feel that working together on the same piece allowed us to bring dual vision to the work. For us it is a joyful and painful experience, it is always a struggle and attraction between two opposite origins of a woman and a man. We don’t have strict boundaries for each other’s involvement to the work or specific roles in the drawing process,” wrote the pair. 

   A large part of their process with artworks is to be as spontaneous as possible and to entrust in one another’s opinion during the creative process. Together, their art has appeared in numerous public and private collections including The National Arts Club in New York and Rutgers University in New Jersey.

   Reflecting on their time as graduate students at BC, both artists expressed their gratitude towards instructors that made them better artists and people. Both expressed their thanks to a common professor, Jack Flam, who was a connoisseur of Matisse, and one of the best professors the pair expressed having. 

   “I am greatly thankful for Prof. Jack Flam’s profound discussions in the studio, encouragements, and advices,” Dodina wrote.

   Dodina and Polishchuk also expressed their gratitude to the Brooklyn College library as well as the exhibit’s curator and Associate Professor Miriam Deutch, who offered much attention and support to their project. 

   Moving forward in their work, the artists emphasized the need for Brooklyn College to highlight more of its graduates artistically. 

   “​​We would like the Art Department at Brooklyn College to provide an opportunity for its graduates, among whom there are many good, accomplished artists, to show their work,” they wrote.

   “Places of Silence” will be available for view now through Apr. 25.