CASH: IX Shiryaevo Biennale of Contemporary Art



Last update07:54:46 AM GMT

Back 1999: Province Information, organizers

Сергей Лейбград | Sergey Leibgrad

Сергей Лейбград : Ширяево

Nowhere And Never, That Is Here And Now.

"Province - between Europe and Asia" - that was the name of the project of the artists Korzhovs. Province is Samara. As for "between", they chose for it the village of Sheryaevo. There for ten days they tried to give birth to something. Or nothing. Contemporary art. So we got a double quasi province: between between. Almost nowhere.
The village of Sheryaevo was founded in the 16th century, it's located on the edge of the Zhiguley mountains on the opposite (to the regional centre) bank of the Volga. It looks like an eternal domestic concept, bringing peaceful tears of patriotic sentimentality into one's eyes.

By Sergei Leibgrad

Everywhere you look, you see charming, wise and surprisingly attractive... goats. The mountain, hilly, bank and conceptually (i.e. even symbolically, as a goat prances on the Samara city coat of arms) part of Samara. And besides them you see peacefully grazing pleasant - muzzled dogs from Repin's canvases.
Here, in Sheryaevo, in the summer of 1870, in a small log peasant house (now a museum, clean and ascetic - looking) Russian artists Ilya Repin and Fedor Vassilyev, as well as E. Makarov and V. Repin, lived, worked and more often rested and had fun. Since then something like the spirit of the famous settlement of Peredelkino near Moscow exists there, besides village daily routine; but with a bias toward fine arts, a kind of half-summer cottage, half-open air environment of sentimental soviet realistic artists. Ten days of lovely emptiness in Sheryaevo. Emptiness because of lack of any borders and some border-line feeling. Emptiness, full of movements of Samara, Moscow, German, French and Kazakh artists in the manner of Bunuel. Artists? Or provocateurs of an artistic situation? Creating art or extracting it from daily routine? Noticing a moment of art in everyday life or dramatically breaking this everyday life to extract a fact of meta-language of time out of this breakage?
Between the centre and the outskirts. Between Europe and Asia. Between frontier areas of Russia and Kazakhstan. Really, where were Khalfin, Georgi Triakin-Bukharov, Sergei Maslov, Galim and Zauresh Madanovs for all those ten days in August? The inhabitants of president Nazarbaev republic disciples of Moscow and St. Petersburg, they considered themselves bearers of new Kazakh artistic mind-set.
They themselves are an entire "between". Taking into account marginal character of contemporary art, everything was a blur in my eyes because of these "betweens". Paraphrasing A. Voznesensky, one could say that there were as many "betweens" as microbes in the air.
Ten days, that shook nothing. Because the aim of all this was quite the opposite.
To find at least illusory point of stability, embodiment, materialisation, balance in the ambivalent world, at least an illusory point...
The time of exposed sincerity that I long for so much, hasn't come yet. Relation, a play of notions and with notions, overtaking inertia of high-ranking cliches (just as it used to be) and lyrical manifestations dominate in post-Soviet, still socialist artistic consciousness. That is why any kind of self-sufficiency, if it existed at all, of artistic events-installations, which originated in Sheryaevo's space and disappeared at once, dispersed in the natural temptation of dramatic acting, where author's creations play the part of actors, though expressive, but wholly depending on the will of the director - the language of our stereoscopic and stereotyped thinking. In the context of real, not imaginary, preserved natural Motherland in the form of wonderful landscapes of Sheryaevo, men-made substance had become unexpectedly appropriate and desirable. Cliches of conceptually provocative conscience persistently and fascinatingly resonated with the main and the most powerful cliche, reigning outside our temporary habitations - easily recognisable, classical Volga-region countryside. In the long run the process of resonating destroyed (without any aggression and negative nihilistic energy) the common inertia of perception and pushed our crooked bodies and souls out to face our desacralised intercontinental Motherland. And, thank God, water, forests, mountains and goats (first reminding about a famous art provocateur Kulik), the artists and even (it's hard to believe) the journalists, liberated from pre-set love, turned out to be quite charming and not ugly at all. The illusion of balance... May be, that's the reason why Kazakh artists are so attracted by everything fleshy. Rustam Khalfin's video project, falling on the viewers from the screen of the overhead projector, fixed on the ceiling dashed on a woman's body like an ageing experienced lover. Body of clay. Clay of body. Kazakh girls, beauties, women in general, devoid of nationality and individual features. Body as a concept. Body and clay. Khalfin parodies the Creator, envies Him, negates Him. Deconstruction of the Divine Comedy. Metaphysics of a variety-show. Shaman, drums are aimed to infuse pagan steppe character into the video narration. Body and clay, muting into some kind of unity in a catacomb basement (can you remember the catacomb church in Rome?), made me recall the first Christians. Entire "between"...
"Living is impossible, but that's the only way to live..." - that was the line I kept muttering time and again. I could not even recall where I had picked it up. Living is impossible this way. That's the way to live. The way to live.
First, we must wash off all pathos. I am talking neither of politics nor of social life, unbearably teeming with betrayals and acts of provocation. The meanest post-Soviet reality for a both dreaming of freedom and afraid of it artist is still better than any totalitarian concentration camp resort. As one forgotten Russian poet put it "bitter smell of your skin is sweet for me, sweet as life itself".
Another Russian Soviet poet Aleksey Korolev wrote: "wait, slow down, don't waste away the charm of our meeting so thoughtlessly, this meeting is just a lucky chance, it's hard to tell it from a miracle: a random combination of reasons, a lucky coincidence of accords."
A random combination. A chance. Something inessential and non-existing. A border-line.
Sentimental tones make us lie and be cunning. Life after Oswiecim and never-ending Chechnya is evidently wonderful, because it seems impossible. Art after pop-art, conceptualism and "socialist art" is incredible, because it's involved in endless "artistic incest", doubting every minute not the positive character of existence in general, but one's individual right to embodiment and exposure.
Let's believe Roland Bart. The author is dead. His death has been made fun of by all theoreticians and mourned over by incorrigible traditional lyrical poets. A reader and a viewer have also "rested in peace". Art in search of analytical universe and quasi-real authenticity has stolen the illusion of originality from life. Like symbolists, who turned every word into a meta-sign of something alien an ideal, now any everyday act or gesture turns into an inevitable performance, installation device, biographical personalism, aesthetic strategy and technology.
The one who looked most natural in the "between situation", in the "heart of hearts" of the Samara region, in the Sheryaevo game preserve and Sheryaevo quarries, was an eccentric realist Hans Michel Rupprechter. In the most picturesque, ideally landscape niche of the Volga village no man-made artistic creation can appear. Natural inter-mind self-sufficient light of tangible countryside reveals the unnatural character of art. Rupprechter seems not to create art of full value. He himself is a piece of art. He is an eternal act, a performance, a gesture, a happening. Having no Russian bitterness and aggressiveness, he is cheerful and reactive, open and ever incomplete. He is a late legitimate child of sly avant-garde. First he performed a water colour improvisations, then he recited my poem in German. On the land of a peasant poet Sheryaevets, Esenin's friend, my poem sounded simply inappropriate. This land in itself is an extremely conceptualised, patriarchal, imaginistic text. After Hans Michel's recital, both kind and insane, I felt my two reflections merging into one body. Then I recited my post-lyrical intentions in Russian. Against my pathetic background they were cutting Hans Michel's hair, as if he were a Jerusalem Sheep.
Lovers of culturological forecasts are flirting with themselves. First, they foretell the coming of the epoch of Big Style, then - for the umpteenth time bury art as a personality. Or, smiling mysteriously and belching in their handkerchiefs, using dramatically agitated tone, they talk about complete exhaustedness of humane energy and the death of "death of art", or post-modernism, which failed to justify the hopes for social salvation of the professional layer of scriptors and popularisers with classical education. Alas. The borders haven't disappeared, they have remained. Elite post-modernism haven't become public solace, but turned out to be art, author-centred, individual and real. Having taken an overdose of sleeping pills, the patient survived. Having spent half his life in front of the computer, he remained a man. Having repudiated everything (too human), he demands freedom of speech and conscience and simply public order in the streets. After Oswiecim he has learned to speak, but again he is not understood.
Not total "post-folklore, democratic and mass", not "anti-humane, sound mythology", not "the biggest style in the world", but new post-conceptual lyricism is coming into art. It's exposed, it's running away from pathos to meet itself, it's not needed by anybody, it guarantees nothing to its creator, being his free inevitable choice. All compromiseable has been compromised. The room is free for shameful lyrical self-expression, both biographical and biometaphorical, which is still avant-garde for educated common people.
Again we see a sad division of art into mass (outer, applied, ritual) and the one which is called truly artistic, personified, uncompromising and sober. It's the language of our time, not some "buzz-words". Now it's the best time for the art which remembers what was before it. It's impossible to be simpler than you yourself or your own language. An artist is adequate to himself and the world, not the tastes and demands of comfortable existence, even in himself. Post-modernist sensitivity won't disappear. Comfort and art won't be one and the same thing. Computers & Co, having scared art, after the first impulse, have settled in the sphere of technology, joining the company of other household appliances. If we are not afraid of graphomaniacs, why should we be scared by guys with cameras and computers, creating usual virtual reality? Art is very sensitive to technological changes. Technological mutants are not interested in art.
Not aesthetics, but ecology dominates. Ecology of perception. That is the name of the Korzhovs' project, in which, besides them Rupprechter, the French and Francisco Infante took part. "Ecology of perception" returned from Samara streets to ecologically immaculate zone of Sheryaevo and found itself between the first and the second nature. Between Europe and Asia. Between the will and the unconscious, like Infante's artefacts.
Infante himself, being a classic of the second wave of Russian avant-garde, is an absolute embodiment of "art after art". Being a surprising innovator, he was considered a historical artefact by his colleagues. Evidence of the future, which has come from the past. He seems a slide, a trace of the past, of non-existing. Infante had been insisting on his art for thirty years. And he succeeded in it. Then he found himself between Europe and Asia, between the sky and the ground, between the image and the flesh.
The artistic space, the space of artful and artificial oecumene has seen more than enough artistic practices and radical rejecting. The capitals swell like boils on the snow-white face of young Apollo. His metabolism is broken. Artistic activity whose only aim is to detect the eternal and to confirm authenticity through reincarnation has evolved in the opposite direction. Shape is absence of shape. A mask is absence of a face. A man is absence of a man. Life is a theatrical device. A theatrical device is life. Ordinary people behave like characters from commercials. Commercials absolutely coincide with carefully thought-out artistic freedom. We face the art of commercials or commercial art.
To make sure that you still exist, you need to get into the zone of Plato's "mournful insensitivity", to periphery, to province. To get to nowhere, to freedom from devices, to the reception room of freedom. To attain not primitivism but naivety. Not madness, but mindlessness.
We saw sand horses, made with Madanovs' warm hands; photographic art between the lamp posts, painted goats. We heard drunken voices of peasants intoxicated with life after the tasty project of Maslov & Co, stomach "socialist art", culinart. Here it was and now it has been eaten up. It's between life and death, in the stomach, in the body.
We heard Andreas Bear, burying Andrey Tarkovsky's statement. The buried will be back for sure, it will revive and grow up. But it will be later, and now it is "between"...
"There will be no future. We shall just get old" - it was Maslov's joke, written by him on the wall of some half-destroyed building, either a castle, or a barn. By now we are still in present, i.e. "between".
Ule. Ule Berg. Hardworking. Her performance a-la Brecht is transparent, boring, honest and authentic, like Maslov's joke. A rope on her shoulder with a stone dragging after her... Handful of soil, carried from one place to another... Endless work... The rope reminds of Repin and his picture "Burlaks on the Volga"...
It seems the easiest thing to come to a conclusion, that the so-called Russian "province" (periphery) or the Asian plain, or the Euro-Asian Volga steppe is that very place of applying not completely wasted emotions and artistic energy we have looked for. It seems to be the easiest thing...
An average Russian "province" is even more awful than Moscow, as its people quite sincerely believe in the agrements of the hierarchical centre and dreams of them. Pretending to be naive and unspoiled, the province stupidly and greedily repeats metropolitan banalities, dreaming of metropolitan advantages. It reminds me of a Freud's child striving to eliminate a monster to take his place.
So, is anywhere on Earth a place where you are equal to yourself?! The place where the art of reality is equal to real art. Not realistic (God save us!) but concrete, organic, bodily...
However, a body living separately from a face immediately turns into a concept. No biology will save you. So, where on earth can a face get the possession of its body? At least for a short period time which we could quite seriously call "art"...
Neither in the capital, nor in the province. A metropolitan capital is a myth of marginal careerists, isolationists and Jesuits. A provincial province for an author, who doesn't pretend to be a simpleton, who can become a point, in which rays of sunlight, distorted by numerous mirrors, intersect. In this point he may find himself in the flesh. Does it look like an illusion? May be it is. But a provincial province is still something you can imagine. Something with wildlife, like a compromised banal landscape in a picture gallery. Its beauty, it's agency of Providence, it's a natural craft.
Contemporary art is exclusively unreal, infinite and foreign. It is not need here and it is not possible. But only here it is worth trying. So, hello, Sheryaevo...