Thursday, October 11, 2012

Paper Architecture between Glass Walls

An old dream of freedom

'Calvert 22' is an exhibition space for the display of Eastern European art in London. On the 2nd of October it presented the project of a representative of Russian Paper Architecture conceptualists' group, Alexander Brodsky 'White Room/ Black Room'.

The idea of paper architecture is about dreamland, it is an utopian expression of how the world should be constructed out of the borders of our habitual existence (so proper to the routine realities of Soviet Union where the artist started his activity), even if it strongly refers to this habit and gets the source of inspiration from it. The exhibition is a constructive re-interpretation of paper projects. It consists of two rooms: in one you find a line of small plywood beds, empty and ascetic, reminding a sleeping room in the Soviet kindergarten (for more similarity it could be at least two times more beds, though), filled with warm white daylight, produced by the lamps hidden behind the curtains. The second room is black and square, with surprisingly warm darkness in which a viewer finds an amphitheatric circle of clay human figures looking at imitated fire. Everything looks like a big and minimalistic doll house consisting of the two rooms. The artist however, even allowing viewers to his creation, plays with his toys himself, and doesn't desire to interpret his work to the wide public, neither in personal conversation, nor in the catalogue, which is conceptual enough to say much.

Even despite being created recently, such a clean, irrational, idealistic work can be produced as a reflection of a certain isolated environment which had influence in the past. Alexander Brodsky is lucky enough to belong to the generation of Russian artists who were eligible, whether they wanted this or not, for this blessing of solitude. The place of inhabitance was a glass castle, just almost the same, as one of the award-winning paper projects (Crystal  Palace, 1982) of Alexander Brodsky is called, and the walls of this castle were separating  the whole community of artistic intellectuals in the country from the rest of the art movement in the world. The walls were however allowing to see something, if not to interact, carrying this unbeatable transparent qualities since probably Peter's the Great window to Europe, which was not successfully closed even by the Soviet restrictive and censorship policy.

Yes, it was possible to see something, even if the overview was somehow blurry. It was possible to do something: at last, the limits and lacks always made an artist stronger, and his self-contemplation and the reaction over this world  had much more chance to be expressed in the work - on the condition that an art market that could recognize this art as such was just a distant unclear figure. Instead, there were plenty of inspirational sources inside of this sacred circle reserved just for Soviet artists, regardless of their wish for such an exclusive right.

All these ideas were visible in the past works of Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin that were presented at the research seminar 'From Paper Arhictecture to Research Architecture' at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Alexander Brodsky made clear his perception of art as personal, he just wanted to do his art and enjoy it. That was not a fight for freedom (even though that could be considered dissidence in the widest interpretation), that was rather a dream of freedom from the collective utopia, by creating the own, personified utopia. Which at the end worked out more effectively than all 'real' political changes in the contemporary Russia.

A thin ephemeral chain connecting Russian artists of paper architecture to their own perceptual experience of the everyday and to the best examples of old masters also ties them to the obligation of working in contrast to the dominant authoritative structures. However, this contrast is as mild and warm as it is the light change between the White and the Black room in Brodsky's project.

Photo: Calvert 22

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Deep into Russia, deep into bog

Oleg Kulik's performance 'Missionary' at Regina Gallery, 09.10.12

On 9th of October Oleg Kulik presented his show 'Deep into Russia' in the Regina Gallery at London. The private view was filled with pseudo-zoophilic photography, scent of expensive perfumes, taste of champagne and Russian language. That was not yet the performance, though it could be considered as such, that was the half-an-hour expectation for an artist to start the in-depth tour to his cultural motherland. The motherland was presented in a poetically-metaphorical, but quite profound view of an aquarium situated in the street in front of the gallery. The aquarium was filled with fishes, who were unlucky enough not to get to the supermarket and be consumed in some usual and worthy way, but to get involved into a hell circle of artistic consumption. However,  they just shared the destiny of the public who came to see the event which was the remake of Kulik's performance of 1995.

The aquarium was full of water. When the artist, enchained, wearing a monk's cassock, dived into it, the emerged waterfall immediately engaged the soaked audience into the performance, creating at the same time the puddle-sized distance between the artist with his fishy collaborators and rest of the people. Kulik was diving into the tank with a Bible-looking book in his hands, and from time to time showing his head over the level of water and prophesying in Russian to the audience and to the fishes. The phrase could be understood as one and the same - approximately 'And every earth's animal is weeping and is awaiting for the revelation from human sons'  (author of this article might be slightly confused in the transmitting of the prophetic word, as it often happens in such cases). Besides, the action of each earth's animal was oscillating between 'weeping', 'calling' and 'yawning' ("stenayet", "vzyvayet", "zevayet"), while the latter was the most responding to the actual mood of the event.  After that, the naked-legged monk was diving back to his shelter in order to look out when the air finishes. Then, in the best Tarkovsky's style, this action was repeated until the viewer gives up and feels involvement into this quasi-meaningful spiritual consequence.

The persistence of the body at the same time in the limit between two environments: water and air, must have called to mind a thought (supposedly, ironic) about the instability of the human position in relation to animal world, an idea that we all went out of the water at least at the moment of birth, an assumption that the communication with god (russian 'bog') requires an existence of boundary, and can be performed just in a moment of actual suffocation and resistance to a nobody's, transitive, territory. Nevertheless, this mask of a trickster, worn by many artists before and after, in case of  inversions of Oleg Kulik rather was used in some kind of a circus action where the most strange and exotic things are in value (such as exported and mythologized 'Russian spirituality' in connection to 'zoophrenia'). This kitsch combination of simulated cultural references and images forms the main interest of this performance, like a room of curiosities in a village fair.

Photo: Regina Gallery