"I was told and I repeat"
The exhibition consists of two sections of equal size: seven ancient cuneiform documents (3rd millennium B.C. - 1st century A.D.) from the Hermitage collection are presented as a prologue to the display of seven sculptural works by the St Petersburg ceramic artist Vladimir Tsivin featuring the translated texts of Sumerian and Babylonian poetry The series of seven items from the collection assembled in the early 20th century by Nikolai Likhachev opens with an archaic plaque and ends with a Seleucid text containing a prayer to the Night Gods. Cuneiform documentation touches on the thorough organization of command structures in the Ancient East in the 3rd, 2nd and 1st millennia B.C. It is an experience in managing the City-State - the Country - the Regional Power.
A miniature Proto-Sumerian plaque from the turn of the 3rd millennium B.C. has a hole through it so that it can be hung up. It bears a text (14000) about the sanctuary of the Heavenly She-Calf, She-Who-Feeds-The-Hero-With-Milk.
The "nail" bearing a building inscription by Gudea, the ruler of Lagash (died about 2123 B.C.) dates from the beginning of the New Sumerian period (2136 - 2104). The text on the "nail"(14418) is a dedication to the Lagash deity Ningirsu, a warrior of Enlil, the chief deity of the scribal and priestly centre Nippur. Such "nails" were driven into the walls of adobe buildings and served as evidence that they belonged to the god to whom the temple named in the inscription was dedicated.
Text 14904 is a masterpiece from the state records office - an annual account of the number of man-days spent producing flour (using querns - hand-mills). It is a Neo-Sumerian text from the gigantic archive belonging to the centralized state of the Third Dynasty of Ur. The dynasty existed for about a century (2112 - 1997). Its most significant king was Shulgi (2093 - 2046). His name means "the Straightener Hero". He was posthumously canonized as a brother of Gilgamesh.
An example of the cursive script of the Old Babylonian period (text 15234) presents the popular Sumerian didactic composition "The labour of scribes, my fellows,…". It manifests not only concern about earnings, but also a special attitude to the scribe's business - the best of all occupations "unbounded like a song".
Text 19001, a brick from the palace of Shalmeneser I (1274 - 1245), the King of Assyria, bears an inscription with his name and dates from the Middle Assyrian period. The meaning of the name, Shulmanu-ashared in Akkadian, is "a greeting to the first-born".
Text 4147 is an inscription on a cone made in the name of Nebuchadrezzar II (605 - 562). His name, Nabu-kudurri-utsur, means "(the god) Nabu defend the borders". The inscription on the cone is devoted to the god known as the Master of the city of Marad. The inscription informs us that, on examination of a site within the city for the construction of a temple, a commemorative text of King Naram-Suen (2236 - 2200), the great-grandson of Sargon the Ancient and a ruler deified in his own lifetime, was discovered.
A prayer addressed to the Great Night Gods, the astral host of Anu and Enlil makes up text 15642. The temple of the god Anu, an embodiment of Heaven, in Uruk, one of the most ancient cities of Mesopotamia was still functioning when the heirs of Alexander the Great ruled the area. In that era Uruk still retained the traditions of cuneiform culture.
Only an artist is capable of conveying to us the pulsating currents of life in those distant times. Vladimir Tsivin's seven sculptural works have captured the most important thing about cuneiform writing - its three-dimensionality with the play of light and shade in the symbols. He makes artful use of the most viable genre in the poetic translations - prayers and incantations. With the artist's aid, the poets have managed to construct a bridge across six millennia. The sacral group of sculptures represents an attempt by a contemporary artist to create a sort of reminiscence of the literary monuments, to seek out a form consonant with the originals. Across six millennia the artist combines words and clay, creates a modern equivalent for the plastic quality of the cuneiform tablets. To do so, he uses the impression of the Russian text composed in an upright printer's font, thus emphasizing not only Gutenberg's invention, but also the contrast between the precision of the impression and the sensitive plasticity of the sculpture. From the extensive literature of Ancient Mesopotamia the artist has chosen poetic texts of a sort that do not separate, but unite the 3rd millennium B.C. and the 3rd millennium A.D. Such eternal themes as sorrow and love, birth and maternity, sin and prayer are close to our hearts now, just as they were for the Sumerians and Akkadians.
Vladimir Tsivin was born in Leningrad on 22 January 1949. In 1972 he graduated from the ceramics and glass department of the decorative and applied arts faculty at the Mukhina Higher Art Academy in the city. He became a member of the USSR Artists' Union in 1975. From 1972 onwards he was a permanent exhibitor at All-Union and republican exhibitions in the USSR as well as at international events. He was a member of the "One Composition" creative association (1977 - 86). In 1980, 1982 and 1984 he won prizes at the International Competition for Contemporary Ceramic Art in Faenza, Italy. In 1983 he was elected a member of the International Academy of Ceramics based in Geneva. In 1999 the artist was awarded the silver medal of the Russian Academy of Arts. At present he lives and works in St Petersburg. Vladimir Tsivin's work is represented in many museums and private collections in Russia and around the world.