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The Art of Mistakes by Ksenia Ilina

Lilia Bakanova16/12/22 08:18707

Ksenia Ilina is a contemporary artist who has gained recognition for her unsettling video art. She graduated from the prestigious Rodchenko school, known for its focus on lens-based media. Although Ilina is mostly engaged with video art, she has since expanded her artistic practice to include performance. This expansion is a logical continuation of her earlier work, as both video art and performance are time-based media. This gesture, exposing the artist to the aloof eye of the camera, might underscore the fragile nature of artistic practice, lack of support and loneliness of an artist. Moreover, adding herself to the image, the artist builds tension between the performer and the viewer.

Ilina“s work often explores themes of inappropriateness, self-esteem and expectations. These themes are exemplified in her performance piece, Durak, which translates to Fool in English. In this performance, Ilina documents her attempts to hang a large piece of polyethylene with words based on the nursery rhymes by Samuil Marshak 'whatever the fool does, everything he does is wrong”.

Still from video performance Durak
Still from video performance Durak

She fails again and again but still trying to make her piece visible in a place where it will be overlooked even in case of a successful attempt. The camera shows no emotions, there is no supporting public, only car traffic disinterested in anything but their final destination. It seems the artist will never manage to install her work the way she wants, which, ironically, is very typical for the contemporary art scene. Persistent repetition of her senseless efforts is what really creates the sense out of nothing. The viewer’s empathy mixed with irritation grows along the timeline, while a sneak peek into the artist’s precarious life turns into disappointment.

By using thin polyethylene sheet, Ilina emphasises the theme of inappropriateness through the slippery, elusive and unmanageable surface. The delicate fine sheet, which can be ripped by the wind and the trees, yet still withstand this environment, can be related to the persistence of an artist. Moreover, the waving material reminds of flying plastic bags often shown in the movies — they turn from garbage to dancing emptiness, being a metaphor for vulnerable freedom.

From documentation of performance Durak
From documentation of performance Durak

Through this work, Ilina seeks to convey the feeling of being a misfit, both as an artist and as a person under constant and exhausting social pressure. She uses the character of the fool to represent the artist’s struggle to fit in and be accepted, but on the other side, this fool is still standing against the judging criteria. In this way, Ilina’s work is different from video performances by John Baldessari and Bruce Nauman, who also filmed their failures but with a clear, brutal and sometimes aggressive riot message. Ksenia Ilina’s approach is not a slap in the face, but a silent feminine endurance.

Overall, Ilina“s work is an exploration of the artist”s path to recognition in search of survival through the critical process. Through her performance Durak, she delves into the universal experience of feeling like an outsider and the impact this has on artistic practice. Ilina’s work is both humorous and poignant, offering troubling insights into the challenges faced by the artists.


Lilia Bakanova

Curator, art critic


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