I’ll be late tonight is a pleasant object to hold. It has an unobtrusive weight and its physical presence is inoffensive, polite in the hand, and the signatures are contained with pastel pink endpapers that are equally charming. At first.
A casual browse of the pages reveals, for the most part of the edit, domestic settings and their details. There is very little warmth to this first impression: stark white painted walls transmuted through photographs to cool off-white canvases contain minimal, icy compositions. Bourgeois interiors and decorations, all in impeccable, uncomfortable order.
This is a depiction of Roxana Savin’s, and her neighbours’, domestic realities from 2012-2020 living in a gated community on the outskirts of Moscow. Typically, residents here comprise families supported by a husband who commutes into the city, and expatriate wives tending to the apartments, ensuring everything within is maintained to immaculate standards.
We see something of the apparatus that make all this possible in the complex: the pool, spa, gym… and these are complemented with details from within the home, such as soiled cottonwool pads and eyelash curling tongs… There is a potent, exhausting sense of the effort that the wives and mothers in these families devote. In Savin’s portraits of these women, they all appear commanding, in both attractiveness and in their authority.
Savin’s exterior images of the architecture and the surrounding topography are equally measured, and the land is used effectively to support Savin’s narrative. It is an austere environment, captured exclusively in winter months, figureless and bleached in snow. In one photograph, an impossibly well-formed disc of an island with a tasteful sprinkling of birch trees in the middle of a lake speaks directly of a willing, yet compromised, seclusion. Another reveals a razor-wire topped perimeter fence gilded with snow, and a CCTV camera disguised amidst trees in the background. Is it keeping a vigilant eye out for intruders, or monitoring residents? Although rich in detail, the whiteness of the picture mirrors the light tones within Savin’s interiors. We are overwhelmed and trapped, suffocating in the oncoming horizontal avalanche.
The relative absence of children in the book (limited to just two frames) adds to a sense of sterility and dystopia: Savin observes a girl playing on the floor in one image, and in another; twin boys face the camera obediently. (The text on their school blazers gives us the only clue in all the photographs as to where this place is.) The photograph of a spotless child’s bedroom is perhaps the most distressing image of the whole book: the Lego kits, all constructed to the exact specifications of their instructions, spaced evenly and lined up neatly on shelves – not like toys but like museum exhibits.
Aided with interspersed texts that might have been lifted from a novelty stocking-filler handbook for being a model wife, we are aware that all of this is for Him who is, figuratively, only ever alluded to. A clothes horse stands-in to fill-out a husband’s suit jacket in his absence… In another photograph metal shoe-stretchers substitute a husband’s actual feet in his diligently laced Brogues. (Or are they Oxfords? I’m not sure but I’m positive his wife knows the difference.) Even in a picture of a what is apparently a hotel room (somewhat incongruous to the series in that it is not set in the gated community or its environs) the husband is absent, this time his jacket supported by the extended handle of his trolley case.
Whilst this book is a narrative that is concerned, foremost, in a female experience and a reflection upon ongoing traditional patriarchal family structures, it is also about a more universal sense of the toil of sustaining relationships and manging the family. I’ll be late tonight resonates with the sense of loneliness, isolation, and monotony that has been, unfortunately, the reality for all of us in the period that Savin was drawing this work to its concise, coherent and affecting conclusion.
I’ll be late tonight
Essay: Clare Bottomley
Book design and layout: Alla Mirovskaya and Roxana Savin
First edition of 300 copies
Format: 19×23 cm, Hardcover, 67 pages
Published in Italy, January 2021
Price: 35 EUR + shipping: www.roxanasavin.com