Under the sign of emptiness

Karen Karnak16/01/23 12:441.6K🔥

On January 21, a new cycle of events will start in the Vershy space (Minsk), allowing to set up communication between art and the viewer, artist and collector. The first project “Under the sign of emptiness”, which will include paintings by Elena Tolobova and Semyon Motolyants, as well as a video in the genre of film dance by Maria Ponomareva. Curators — Ilya Padalko and Yuliy Ilyushchenko.

Elena Tolobova: emptiness as an author

Elena Tolobova, Сalypso, 2014 (Acrylic on canvas, quartz, mixed media120×120 cm)
Elena Tolobova, Сalypso, 2014 (Acrylic on canvas, quartz, mixed media120×120 cm)

Abstract paintings by Elena Tolobova are made in the author’s technique: before acrylic paint, it was applied quartz to the canvas. This is what the artist says about her method: “I am there, but I am not. In the sense that I am not in the movement of the hand, there is no brushstroke itself, physical touch, author’s syllable. The paint is pouring all over the plane, and I’m sitting here watching”. Elena moves away from the author“s subjectivity. Then the emptiness becomes the referent of the work. The works of the artist are characterized by freedom from color, figure, background and other universals of painting, turning to the phenomenology of tactility, density of the work, materials and texture, their randomness. Elena’s works speak of existence, they establish a regime of meditation, contemplation. The famous statement of art critic Barbara Rose about minimalists will be appropriate: «The art I have been talking about is obviously a negative art of denial and renunciation. Such protracted asceticism is normally the activity of contemplatives or mystics… Like the mystics, in their work these artists deny the ego and the individual personality, seeking to evoke, it would seem, the semihypnotic state of blank unconsciousness.»(1) Are we not dealing with something similar in Elena”s art? Elena’s art is related to the strategy of producing the indexical sign, devoid of gesturality, but the artist still views the positivism of this avant-garde strategy with suspicion (and it is positivist, despite the fact that it is usually attributed to Dadaism, the most trickster avant-garde art). That is to say, not joining to any of the poles, nor to any of the pictorial ideologies, Elena in his own way re-actualizes the questions: what is the author? what is art?

Maria Ponomareva: emptiness as deterritorialization

Maria Ponomareva, “Inability of the space in between” 2022 (ratio 2.4:1, length 10:00), screen danceaspect.
Maria Ponomareva, “Inability of the space in between” 2022 (ratio 2.4:1, length 10:00), screen danceaspect.

Artist Maria Ponomariova shows a work called «Inability of the state in between», which is a video in the cinedance genre. Film dance is the point of intersection of dance and cinema. It uses a variety of techniques: foreshortening, montage gluing, textual inserts, music. At the beginning of Maria’s work, we see two dancers in a symmetrically divided space. The supposed but not visible gap allows them to communicate with each other only from time to time. The symmetrical division of space is read as a metaphor for abandonment (in an existentialist sense). Maria herself, describing the concept of work, speaks of the impossibility of dialogue. The abundant means of the film language immerse the viewer in the phenomenology of thick, luminous air, ghostliness, continuity, and existential emptiness. As the dancers move, they cut into the emptiness of space with their bodies, but we cannot know if their movements find their identity. There is nothing but loneliness and nothing but other (despite the fact that the other sometimes seems a threat). Meanwhile, the video continues and we see how the composition of the work is complicated by cuts. The silhouettes of dancers are blurred and concretized. Only the thick emptiness of space remains unchanged. We can only talk about composition of the work in the sense that since we are dealing with a temporal object, parts are unfolding one after another temporally. And this incoherence, unobviousness of coherence through the technique of cuts causes the effect of short circuit, deception of expectation, deterritorization and in it occurs unfolding the meaning of the work.

Semyon Motolyanets: emptiness as torture chamber

Semyon Motolyanets, Rods and cones, 2022 (Oil on canvas, 160×120 cm)
Semyon Motolyanets, Rods and cones, 2022 (Oil on canvas, 160×120 cm)

The artist presents a series of paintings (oil on canvas) representing seats from public transport in their «natural» environment. The paintings are made from photographs. The use of photography as a readymade is a continuation of the strategy of capitalist realism. However, this technique is transferred to other historical conditions, a different context. And the goal is to distinguish, represent the post-Soviet capitalist reality, to develop the optics of comprehension. The author talks about the present and past of countries that survived the collapse of the empire. This is indicated by another technique used by the author — the use of the style of socialist realism, perhaps deliberately amateurish, somewhat parodic, given implicitly. However, it is impossible to understand whether the artist is serious in relation to capitalist realism. Both of these techniques are juxtaposed in the dialectic between sincere seriousness, melancholy and the slightest distancing irony, both in relation to capitalist and socialist realism and, perhaps, to art in general and to itself. And in this there is a postmodern conciliation in relation to the arts that were born in the conditions of opposing ideologies. The presented works also thematize alienation. This is where the category of emptiness comes into play. Seats are an indexical sign of the absence of a passenger. Thus the passenger is present through absence. Who is this character? This is a “small”, “simple” person who finds himself in an incomprehensible hyperreality. However, in the artist’s works there is not only a fixation of alienation, but there is also a utopian space of non-stickiness, deliverance, like a Kabakov’s man who flew into space, an ontological opposition to the disappearance of the future, a hope to build a society in which social justice is a universal imperative.

Ilya Padalko — project co-curator

1. Barbara Rose «ABC art»



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