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Obscurity: conversation with Belarusian contemporary artist Ilya Padalko

Karen Karnak

The first Belarusians artists exhibition (the first of 4) was held as a part of the “Concrete trampoline” project (Saint-Petersburg, Marina Gisich Gallery) in September-October 2022. Among the well-known and successful authors as Ihor Tishin, Natalya Zaloznaya and others a young artist Ilya Padalko from Slutsk took part in this event. On the eve of his own solo project in DK Gallery (Minsk, Belarus) we have prepared the interview with this artist, which may introduce you not only to his artworks, but also to his method of artwork creation, philosophy and his attitude to contemporary art.

Y.I.: Ilya, your project, presented at the collective exhibition of Belarusians artists “Concrete trampoline” in Marina Gisich Gallery (1), produces the effect of “blurriness”. At a distance of several meters your artworks create a sensation that the image is clear enough, they seem to be almost like photographs. But on approaching your works this clearness disappears, the image becomes a kind of “soapy”, like a shot on old cheap Soviet film cameras or like the effect of low vision when you take off glasses.

Tell us more about your method of artwork creation and how this effect is achieved.

Screenshot, original artwork: 20,7×29,3 cm, paper, tempera, 2022 (provided by the author)

Screenshot, original artwork: 20,7×29,3 cm, paper, tempera, 2022 (provided by the author)

I.P.: This feature you noted is of great importance. This blurriness underlines dispersion of consciousness. Phenomenological density, phenomenology of presence — these are techniques that aim at expressing illusion produced by the consciousness industry. They also show impossibility or, at least, a problem of escape, of exit. Also the comparison of these artworks with photography is meaningful. Actually photography occupies a significant place in modern culture. And that’s why working with photography is valuable. Obviously I encode a photo. A photograph is a message without a code, as Roland Barthes said (2). And this is what Walter Benjamin said about it: “It is a different nature which speaks to the camera than speaks to the eye: so different that in place of a space consciously woven together by a man on the spot there enters a space held together unconsciously” (3). I do not think that we can grasp photography in the way “how it exists”. As Gilles Deleuze wrote: “The monkey sees the world as the world really is, but the man does not”. The human consciousness is principally encoded, and I show this encoded state by painting means. And also, in fact this is a call to think critically. We are living in the terms of terrible simulacra circulation which poison any desire of truth. Besides, I want to remember an apocryphal statement of Gerhard Richter about the intention of creating a photograph by means of painting: “It is not a question of imitating a photograph. I want to actually make a photograph. And because I want to go beyond the idea of photography conceived merely as a piece of light-sensitive paper, I make photographs with other means—not just pictures which are derived from photographs. The same holds true for pictures (abstracts, etc.) which, without a photographic model, produce photographs.” (4) This blurriness indicates crisis of representation, epistemological skepticism and also existential instability; anyway existentialist implications are an important aspect of my art. Simply speaking, the method used for creation of these artworks is pointillage, or tamping: a piece of foam rubber is fixed on a handle and transformed into a rounded shape, it is soaked in tempera and contact between this instrument and paper forms lots of points which I graduate.

Y.I.:The key to the majority of artworks, color scheme, a markedly “dispensa+ble” choice of the plot do not only create the space of alienation and loneliness but also eliminate the value of the image you see. It does not matter “what is imaged”, but “the way it is imaged” does. Tell us more why the image, the plot do not play a special role for you? Or, in other words, why is such “neglect” for them so important?

Screenshot, original artwork: 20,5×29,4 cm, paper, tempera, 2022 (provided by the author)

Screenshot, original artwork: 20,5×29,4 cm, paper, tempera, 2022 (provided by the author)

I.P.: All of us have been stuck in simulation like in a spider web, like in darkness. And it worries me. And there is no exit. For many people who make contemporary art the idea “if the world could not be grasped it could be improved at least” is significant, but the world (I mean the world defined by capitalism) is easier to understand than to change — it seems so. And eventually this desire for world improvement becomes more and more detached from reality. These thoughts lie in the basis of the project. I am really indifferent to the plot of the image (because every plot may be changed by another one). I use screenshots or images produced by my imagination. This indifference to the plot is important, it is important for me to create an ambivalent thing: to show affected consciousness and at the same time to be detached. The pictorial sign does not have a definite meaning in my artworks. The canon of dilettantism is also valuable to me. Creating a percept (5) in Deleuze’s terms is meaningful to me.

Screenshot, original artwork: 20,7×29,4 cm, paper, tempera, acrylic, 2022 (provided by the author)

Screenshot, original artwork: 20,7×29,4 cm, paper, tempera, acrylic, 2022 (provided by the author)

Y.I.: New colors, or maybe it is better to name them “color spots”, appear in your artworks where we may find working with the imagination. This effect occurs when you close your eyes on a sunny day and try to imagine something. I suggest that you did not have such a purpose. Nevertheless do you find that your working with the imagination formally shows the way the imagination is structured on the level of vision as a whole?

Vending machine, original artwork: 29,8×20,9 cm, paper, tempera, 2018 (provided by the author)

Vending machine, original artwork: 29,8×20,9 cm, paper, tempera, 2018 (provided by the author)

I.P.: In fact I did not have this purpose. But at the same time, as for me, this interpretation seems to be quite curious. The world which arises when eyelids are lowered, speaking poetically. This effect occurs because I have added lots of color spots on a moody gray color: orange, green, red ones — it has a great importance to me to create an effect of kaleidoscope, of repeating. Also I want to underline that the imagination is a constant subject of my interest.

Y.I.: You deal not only with seriation but also with variation. Obviously the method of these artworks creation means that coping (repeating) them is impossible, but working with variation may be successful. What does it mean for you?

I.P.: Probably this is the most subjective aspect of my art. It always seems to be like a new approach to the plot, to be like giving additional qualities created by my own imagination. Sometimes I think that all the plots have settled in my head and they require my attention. In my eye, potential infinity of the variation is an interesting plot.

Y.I.: In my view Luc Tuymans’ paintings work with “a disappearing object”, do you have something in common with this author? With all the figurativeness in your artworks their objects are disappearing, or in other words they’re being reduced: both at the method level and at the level “what is imaged”.

I.P.: Luc Tuymans is quite an interesting artist for me. We truly may find that some of his paintings are entwined with obscurity, they may hardly lend to denotation. This is painting in a zombie state. Besides Luc Tuymans it is also appropriate to refer to Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol and Jeff Wall. All these artists made a big impact on me. Discovering these authors by comparing their art methods is incredibly interesting.

Screenshot, original artwork: 20,9×29,7 cm, paper, tempera, 2017 (provided by the author)

Screenshot, original artwork: 20,9×29,7 cm, paper, tempera, 2017 (provided by the author)

Y.I.:Is a spectator important to you? And to what extent? What do you want to say to a spectator?

I.P.: Of course the spectator is important to me. My artworks are pretty thoughtful and verbalized. At the same time I clearly understand that everybody interprets art in his own way — and it is wonderful. I am calling on to think critically and also, despite the tremendous speed of modern life, I am urging for contemplation, including philosophical one; to merge with chaos on a rainy day sitting on the river bank and watching the raindrops’ crashing about the water surface. And to watch art.

References:

1. Link to the press-release of the “Concrete trampoline” exhibition (official website of Marina Gisich Gallery)

2. In the article of R. Barthes “Photographic message”, the object of study is a newspaper photograph, which status is identified as “a message without a code”. Arguing about the denotative and connotative nature, Bart shows the newspaper photography’s paradox, because two messages can coexist in it at the same time: one of them is without a code (it is a photo as an analogue of reality), and the second one is with a code (it is a reality which is processed). Roland Gerard Barthes The Fashion System (1967), University of California Press: Berkeley.

3. Probably the citation from Walter Benjamin’s article “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is mentioned here.

4. In context of this citation we recommend you to read the ArtGuide article “Benjamin Heinz-Dieter Buchloh. Readymade, photography and painting Gerhard Richter’s art” (Russian) — https://artguide.com/posts/1093

5. You may find more information about the “percept” definition here — Deleuze J., Guattari F. What is philosophy? (Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie ? LES EDITIONS DE MINUIT)

6. The screenshot of this artwork is taken from the ArtTerritory article: Art is born from the reality (Russian) -https://arterritory.com/ru/vizualnoe_iskusstvo/intervju/7475-iskusstvo_rozdaetsja_iz_realnosti/


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