Between the Lines exhibition at GRAD London is a collaborative project by students from Goldsmiths University and Institute of Contemporary Arts in Moscow (ICA), a response to a series of workshops and seminars undertaken during a 2015 summer school held at the Academic Dacha near the town of Vishniy Volochek. Our Editor Theodora Clarke saw the exhibition together with its curator Stanislav Shuripa, visiting from Russia.
TC: Stanislav, could you tell us more about your role teaching at the international summer school programme at ICA?
Stanislav Shuripa: I work as a professor at ICA Moscow, where in addition to lecture course on philosophy of modern and contemporary art I host discussions and workshops with the students. I was also one of the teachers at the summer school in Vishniy Volochek.
TC: How did you find the experience of working with different students from both Russia and the UK?
SS: It was very exciting. It was not the first time we have held this summer residency; previously ICA Moscow had collaborations with art school from Sweden. Every time it is something different because there are encounters not only between people, but between cultural contexts as well. Every artist is a way or many ways of seeing and understanding reality, and it is wonderful to meet them in this beautiful countryside, where nothing disturbs you.
TC: What was the format of the residency?
SS: Every day we began at 10am with seminars or presentations and often it lasted until late evening when students can use video projections to show their work in the studios that are built so that they are sun lit for the whole day. It was fun and intense period, both for Russian and international students. Many practices, perspectives, methods – it’s always interesting to look into all of them, and at the same time it is demanding process.
For participation in the summer school we tried to select those artists who shown themselves as most articulate and self-conscious in their practice.
TC: What is the overall concept of the exhibition at GRAD? As the curator how did you decide on the content?
SS: I thought I should avoid any narrowing or defining theme and try to see what comes out of the practices of young artists. Often it is young artist who can find most adequate expression to what is called “spirit of time“. The main theme of the summer school was the issue of possibility of new relationships between the political and the aesthetical in today’s changing and uncertain atmosphere in Russia, and also, it seems, – worldwide. That’s why we decided to look at how artistic gesture, be it performance, video or installation, becomes traversed and influenced by the forces of aesthetical and political nature. That’s how we approached what became the theme of the exhibition: the idea that the aesthetical and the political intersect in the space that is located “between the lines“. It is space of indirect or hinted meanings, coded messages, allegorical images that actualize through reading between the lines. As a result, the exhibition can be seen as a fragmented text about how the images of today’s reality circulate in the global digital communications networks, and how artists can reflect this new reality in their work. It is about allegorical visions of contemporary world that is full of tensions between communication and control. And most of works were conceived under the influence of the residency’s environment.
TC: There are a large number of video installations in this exhibition.
SS: Yes, both Russian and British students work with video. It seems that video, and partially photography once again become most adequate media for describing the social reality. Though, perhaps one can discern different attitude towards video: it is used as a tool for documentation, but what is documented are fictional, constructed realities, made of possibilities, aspirations, anxieties and flows of signs and emotions.
TC: Could you tell us more about the works on display?
SS: We can start with this work by Maria Egorova, Theory of oscillations. One part of it is video that depicts an artist, who is getting ready to go out of her apartment, and just before opening the door she tries on a balaklava. She puts it on and takes it off several times, and then drops it. On the wall around the corner we see second part of the work: the drawings that copy the outlines of the same balaklava from the video, that are inked out on paper. This gesture refers to Marcel Duchamp’s classical work “Three standard stoppages“, where he drops a one-meter long string and after that cuts out of plywood the shapes that copy the outline of fallen string and presents it as a work of art and at the same time as a research of the alternative metrics of time and space. Here, young artist also initiates creation of imaginary universe as a point in a complex narration about suspended desire of political action.
The next work, Imprint by Marina Rudenko, is about the gaze. These are several square pieces of cardboard with tissues glued to them. The artist works with the entertainment aspect of digital reality such as gadgets, emoticons, etc. In this case these pieces of cardboard remind of enlarged pixels, but at the same time they resemble faces with eyes, looking at you. It is also about the power of the visual identification which artist compares to the glue.
Next is Mountain by Francis Almendárez, a student from Goldsmiths University. It is a video of a beach in the south Los-Angeles, where he lived. The artist was born in El Salvador, then he stayed for a long time in LA, and now he studies at Goldsmiths. In LA he spent some time as a homeless person and has this incredible experience of seeing the reality from the side many people do not know. In this video you see a small part of the beach with a very ordinary sand, that is shown in such way that it starts to look as a desert, as a pictoresque vast landscape. Once in a while there are the feet of the artist, who is walking on the beach, and the illusion of sublime landscape breaks. In all his works you can see this interesting ability to present mundane things as imaginary spaces.
The next work is by Daniel Dressel, representing some video sequences he shot in Vyshy Volochek during our residency course. These are images of local, rural youth from the Russian country side, doing some sports and mocking fighting. The artist selected visual rhymes towards these activities, various images from global media, like professional sports and tv shows which perhaps would serve as an example or a prototype to these activities. It looks like poem about imagination, desire and a new media. One of the themes, which is also common for all the artists in the exhibition is the sense of a new role of imagination in our world. Imagination seems to mean much more now, than a couple of decades ago: today there are lots of images and representations, and ultimately all of the social reality is made of imagery.
Next work Precarity is by another Goldsmiths student, Michael Dignam. This seems to be a typical Irish landscape crossed by the moving shadows of the windmill. Here, the artist does not create the image, just documents what is there without changing anything. He only speeds the footage up a little, and it starts to evoke an impression of someone’s running, fleeing or chasing. This, in a way, is a turning point of the exhibition’s narrative.
The next piece is Office by Liza Artamonova, who fuses languages of installation and video together.
This mockumentary video includes an interview with several employees of an unknown office, who describe how beautiful and lovely their new working place is. However, during the interview it turns out that sometimes in the evening people see a mysterious shadow or a reflection on the screen. This installation counterbalances the video: it is an image of an office, that at the same time prevents the viewer to take comfortable position for watching the video. So, it figures that it’s we, viewers who are reduced to the marginal position of the ghosts in this story.
Nearby is a video work by Sophie Hoyle from the Goldsmiths, called Membranes. Her practice addresses the relationships between subjectivity and new media, exploring of how the pressure of communication media influences our psychic and political situation. This work suggests somewhat meditative watching, following the rhytmes of the skin, bodily movements, wires and tensions between them.
Further on this wall you may see a work by Sofia Atashova, student of ICA Moscow. Hunger or a little more carbohydrates, please is a video form a series of the works that address the problem of anorexia. The sound of the video is scratching of the fork over the china. This is quite eloquent example of a new forms of social life in Moscow or in Russia. It describes the self-understanding of the new post-post-Soviet generation, those who were born around late 1980s and has no experience of totalitarian regime, nor of the liberal 90s. They work after the collapse of the traditional public sphere, in the situation of the rise of the network society. Dwellers of Moscow’s highrises, they see the world mostly through the Internet, and at the same time they have to deal with new level of social atomisation and automatism.
The next piece The Borderline Case includes found objects – a chocolate medal and red cushion. They are juxtaposed with the Russian borderline digitally reconstructed in the video by Sergey Tubasov. This is supplemented by the copy of the military award order where artist crossed out all details leaving only the syntax of the power discourse and commenting on the new political, or “geopolitical“ anxieties proliferated by the mass media.
On these walls you may see two photographs by Masha Poluektova, called Radiator and Cinema seats. In fact, they are photomontages, made of the parts of the interiors of the dacha of the Academy of Arts, where the summer school took place. It is an old artists studios, from the 1970s. The gesture that turns the heating radiator into some kind of abstract composition opens up a space of infinite repetition, where the main subject is de-centered and dispersed throughout this digital déjà vu of the vanishing Soviet life-worlds.
Another principle can be seen in the sculptural piece Stop Bolt by Alice Kern. It is a magnified copy of a typical device which is put behind the door to minimize the noise from opening the door, something like a door damper. From one side, due to its huge size, its surface resembles something like a night sky or a map, but on the other hand it also addresses issues of self-control and social fears, all what says “do not be too loud“, as if there is a door of gigantic size.
The video work of Ilina Chervonnaya Alla Marcia consists of two parts: one is the journey of the artist through the abandoned modernist-era spaces, perhaps former hospital, where she is searching for old clothing objects. The interior is a palimpsest of material residues of past times. The artist works with old clothing, putting it into the concrete mixer, so afterwards the cloth becomes petrified and the artist exhibits it as a sculpture. For Irina it was a preparatory material towards her sculpture, but she proposed it as a statement in itself, and I thought it would work in the show.
The artist walks through this abandoned, devastated social space, where she is not threatened, but just left by herself, a bit like as in today’s Russia. The name of the work is a musical term, referring to the noise of the machine that resembles a march with its clear rhythm, thus referring to the atmosphere uncertainty.
TC: Thank you for the tour, Stanislav! What projects are you working on next?
SS: We are planning to continue our work with young artists, but also with more established ones. There are no finalised plans at the moment.
TC: Thank you!
All images are courtesy of GRAD gallery.