Author: Oleg Semenovykh
Vladimir Logutov is an artist, who works with various mediums: painting, video, and objects. Also, he is a curator and teacher. The roots of his artistic practice are connected with the received academic education. He studied painting. In the beginning he created only painting.
In the mid-2000s, Vladimir Logutov began to work with video, while his approach was based, among other things, on the development of the picture specifics, its mode and conditions of perception by the viewer. Most of Vladimir’s videos are, first of all, video pictures, in which there is no traditional development, plot, and narrative. They can be captured by a glance from the first seconds. This is a picture on a luminous screen, which is fully present at the moment. It does not develop according to the cinema laws, everything happens in one permanent location.
At the same time, the video is still an animated image, and there are changes in it. Usually they are not obvious and require a very attentive look of the viewer, and sometimes they are more noticeable. Movement within the video picture is usually slow, as if it is an invitation to the viewer to slow down life, stop, move from running to walking, and concentrate on the important things, details. Time is artificially stretched out, separated from modernity with its usual rhythm, so that the noise of the littered mind subsides, the flickering disappears, increasing the perception sharpness.
In some of Logutov’s video works from 2005-2006 (Twilight, Park, and Waiting) one can see the similarity of techniques with one of Bill Viola’s early videos “Reflecting Pool” (1977), in which there is a slowdown, water in the pool and reflections in it that do not match what they reflect. A person jumps, hangs in the air and after a while, without falling to the ground, completely dissolves, becoming invisible.
In 2012, the “Structured Spaces” series of videos finally takes shape, which reflects the artist’s long-standing interest in the ideas of Guy Debord and his psychogeography. Logutov explores natural and urban space, reassembling and structuring them in his own way. It creates a new visual experience for the viewer by mixing dissimilar elements. In different types of realistic landscapes, flat digital elements appear — signs, forming a video picture, in which movement is again created using intra-frame editing. The artist breaks the perception of reality and space, and the signs themselves that create this effect are very different — correct rotating circles with “white noise”, multi-coloured targets, as well as a huge prohibition traffic sign moving slowly between residential buildings.
This series of videos was shown at both Venice Biennales — in 2012 at the Architectural, 13th International Architecture Biennale, Casa dei Tre Oci, in 2013 — 55th Venice Biennale, Universita Ca’Foscari, and besides this, in 2013 at a joint exhibition of two artists, as part of the “Formal Relations” project, held at the National Centre for Contemporary Art (NCCA) in Moscow.
In addition to Vladimir Logutov’s video from the “Structured Spaces” series (2011-2012), Eric Bulatov’s graphics “Freedom is Freedom” (1997-1998) from the NCCA collection were presented. In this project, the creativity of authors, whose artistic language was formed in the 60s and 70s of the XX century, and new generation representatives, collide. At that moment, Vladimir was often called the representative of the “new” or “urban” formalism.
Eric Bulatov (born in 1933) is a classic of Moscow conceptualism with a very recognizable method. He combines poster slogans and texts (from the times of the USSR, but not only) with landscapes in his paintings. The artist already in his early works developed a theory of the interaction of the picture and space.
“Formal Relations. Dialogue: Eric Bulatov — Vladimir Logutov” exhibition raises questions about the influence and relationship of authors of different generations, about the dialogue between them. Both artists talk about space, Bulatov with the help of a painting, and Logutov with the help of video, with minimal movement in the frame and referring to the pictorial tradition. Their works are built on the combination of real space and flat elements, Bulatov’s — textual, Logutov’s — digital signs.
Bulatov has lived in Paris since the 1990s. The artists did not know each other at the time of the exhibition. 4 years after the exhibition, Logutov enters a residence in Paris, and there he personally meets a senior colleague. The artists meet several times, discussing Vladimir’s art and works. According to Logutov, it was a period of interesting interaction, with Bulatov’s very significant comments.
Interesting parallels of this series of videos are found with the works of another Russian artist, Francisco Infante-Arana (born in 1943), especially since he works with photography, which is closer to video as a medium than graphics. The artist, one of the originators of Russian kinetic art, from the mid-70s began to combine geometric forms with natural ones, placing various flat objects (which he calls “artefacts”) in natural landscapes and documenting the resulting installations with the help of photography. His artefacts are always geometric. They are usually mirrors or cardboard figures. It is a mystery symbol, a mystical object, an experience of the world infinity and mystery for the artist. The photographs from the “Additions” series (1983) are visually close to Logutov’s works, while Infante-Arana always uses natural landscapes, Logutov uses urban landscapes and geometric objects that he embeds there, animated, and they are created there with the help of a computer video editing.
In the “Ruins of the Industrial” project (“Regina” Gallery, now “Ovcharenko” Gallery, Moscow, 2013), Vladimir builds the exhibition space as a reminder of the end of the industrial age. The project is based on a great personal experience, because in the centre of Samara, where Vladimir was born and lived, entire blocks of various industries were ruined and then demolished. The exposition contains artefacts, wreckage after the collapse of a certain industrial area. Deformed, frozen pieces of metal, broken pieces of rails in concrete, video are plastic and visual reflection on the theme of decay, industrial “vanitas”, in the centre of which there is not a human skull, but there are visual symbols of the industrial age.
Sculptures made of steel and concrete, from the “Ruins of the Industrial” series are created from railway rails, a symbol of the industrial age of the twentieth century. The 21st century, by the artist’s hands, deprives it of the possibility of further practical application. The symbol is transformed from a geometric straight line into a curve, and becomes a metaphor for the old world collapse. The object seems to turn into evidence and fact of the duel between the artist and the industrial material — a railway steel rail. As if the means of production of the past are withdrawn from man’s practical activity and can continue to exist only when they completely lose their functionality, turning into an art object.
It is interesting how the theme of manipulating the viewer’s gaze continues, which is often found in the artist’s early videos. The objects from the “Pieces of Metal” series, fixed on the gallery white wall, seem to be floating in space as distorted three-dimensional metal sheets. However, these are completely flat steel sheets, and the volume illusion is achieved by creating holes of various shapes on them.
The artist returns to painting in the “Meetings” project (2007-2015), where the picture shows the situation of the meeting of the viewer and the artwork. In many of the project paintings, another painting is depicted, nested inside, next to which the viewer is still present. The curatorship experience is transformed into an artist, who creates an easel work that functions in a distinctly non-traditional way. There are also inscriptions, for instance, “not a painting in an exhibition”, but “an exhibition in a painting”, in figurative works, inside each of which there is actually a mini exhibition. The project includes video, painting, watercolours, and works in mixed media with prints.
Some watercolours do not contain the viewers’ figures and can be formally perceived as a geometric abstraction. But knowing the series context, they are read as spaces of a certain exhibition containing fragments of expositions, objects, forms, walls or an auditorium with a luminous video screen.
The “Next Level” project was presented at the WINZAVOD Centre for Contemporary Art, Moscow (2017) and at Aperto Raum, Berlin (2018). For this project, the artist received the national award in the field of contemporary art “Innovation” in the nomination “Artist of the Year” (2018). This is a fascinating narrative that develops in different directions and at several semantic levels. The exposition was built in a special way. It had a beginning and an end. A certain order of acquaintance with it, designed with the help of architecture, is important.
The exhibition-quest again shows how significantly Logutov’s curatorial practices influence his thinking as an artist. This is not an archive of the painting evolution in principle (including the most extended painting and assemblage), but a continuation of the game with the viewer’s optics in situations of encountering art within the exhibition space. Such viewer situations from the “Meetings” series are transformed into 3D models of mini exhibitions, when a set of works is assembled into a composition on a panel, and the panel is attached to the gallery wall. But there is more, because the panel “expands” itself, going beyond its limits, because next to it there is also a digital plastic flourish on the wall. Therefore, in addition to the picture and the viewer, a third participant in the project is added — an exhibition (at least a mini exhibition), turning the exposition into an “exhibition of exhibitions”.
The exhibition includes both works from the “Meetings” series (paintings and watercolours), as well as new readymades and works designed in Photoshop, digital collages transformed into physical objects using modern printing methods, referring to post-Internet aesthetics, Artie Vierkant and his iconic Image Objects series (2011), whose works are built on images and balance between objects and their modified documentation.
Logutov, as a magician, plays with the viewer’s optics both at the level of works and at the level of the exhibition space as a whole, and together with the curator Ekaterina Inozemtseva and the architectural bureau, they seem to create a double Shklovsky distancing effect, bordering on visual provocation, demonstrating the stages of either development, or the decline and destruction of the picture. At the level of works, this is actually the story of the picture transformation, from modernism to the post-digital era. At the level of space, this is a series of mini exhibitions with different forms and combinations of exposure and interaction, including sometimes inclusive the viewer directly into its body.
On the way to the final of the “The Next Level” exhibition, in which digital collages-memories of a non-existent exhibition play with gloss, the paintings repeatedly show their underside and insides in different ways: with the help of wall-mirrors (in which not only paintings, but viewers), multiplying dynamic angles; a stretcher built into the plane of the wall with the reverse side; windows in the walls, which are dynamic pictures, in which the viewer can watch other viewers watching the exhibition; and cut canvases that reveal the nature of the medium.
The exhibition complex combinatorics is enhanced by a darkened hall with a video, in which the silhouettes of characters, who are also watching a video, in which the viewers look at the exhibition walls, but without works. At the same time, the video hall can be observed from a rectangular hole in the wall by other visitors of the exhibition, maximizing the variability of angles and contemplation opportunities.
The methodology of working with the creation of an exhibition within the framework of one tablet is used and developed by Vladimir Logutov in the future. In 2020, as part of the 2nd Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art “A Beautiful Night for All the People” at the Garage Museum, the “Book Project” work was presented, i.e. such a detailed book placed on a tablet.
As a special case of “mini exhibition”, a picture with two images also appears, because a book is almost always a spread of two pages. According to the artist, he has been thinking in this book format (two images next to each other) for so long that it was intuitively transferred to the creation of art works.
Absolutely, the artist’s mention of working on a book is also a reference to the Artist Book genre (Livre D’Artiste, artist’s book) or photo book. Although the dimensions of the works (from 70×100 cm, 70×150 cm, to 400×400 cm) are clearly not comparable with the typical sizes of spreads of such books (A4, A3). Size, as you know, matters, including when creating works. It is not known whether the artist will ever please us with a book, but it is interesting to watch the working process.
In 2021, the “Sphere” Foundation implemented the “Vladimir Logutov Open Workshop” project, the format of which balanced between an exhibition and an open workshop. The artist previously worked in the studio and implemented new ideas to a certain intermediate stage, fixing it for himself as a possible part of a future new large project. The exposition of works in space periodically changed, including by the viewers, some works were exhibited on the walls, and some on the floor, leaning against the wall. Meetings and discussions were also held at the exhibition with the invitation of the professional community members: fellow artists, critics, and curators. A large series of videos with individual key fragments of them, which can be viewed on the YouTube channel Vladimir Logutov`s studio, appeared thanks to such meetings-discussions.
The works presented in the project are usually consisting of two images (sometimes more), between which tension is created. According to the artist, the juxtaposed images seem to begin to comment on each other, set each other’s perception mode, set off or explain each other, always in different ways.
These paired images usually contrast with each other. This happens not only at the level of colour, lines or character (abstraction or figurative), but also at the level of their creation methods, textures and techniques (printing: photos or digitally processed, digital graphics; made manually: with a brush, spray can, paint, marker, pastel, etc.). In the resulting set of combinations, for instance, abstract painting with paint and photography or digital graphics, a scan of some texture, ready-made textiles and figurative painting, and so on, the resulting effect of such a “collision” in one work of diverse and seemingly incompatible, in the classical sense, images combine and are the subject of the artist’s keen interest.
It is interesting that this working method gives the artist maximum flexibility to work with topics of interest to the artist. For instance, for the First Komi Biennale “New Discovery of the North” (Syktyvkar, 2021), a series of works with paired images was specially made, in which photographs taken specifically in Komi were used.
In addition, a joint (Artem Go, Vladimir Logutov and Andrey Syailev) video work “Trap/On Animal Style” was presented, in which the “hunt for the viewer’s images” was involved in the exhibition hall of the National Gallery, which resonates with the classic hunting for an animal, well-known national tradition in Komi. We again see the connection with the previous projects “Meetings” and “The Next Level”, where the artist included the viewer in the work. There was a lure work at the exhibition, a video with animals that seemed to be communicating via video link. Viewers “were caught” by this lure, and then the artists automatically recorded their reactions and interactions with the help of an inconspicuous high-tech device, a field video camera trap, which is used by advanced hunters and videographs. A similar mechanism was used in the darkroom at “The Next Level” exhibition. Only now it is being implemented using other technological and artistic devices.
Chris Marker had a movie in 1997 called “Level Five”. Logutov no longer counts the level numbers. He simply asks the question: so what will be the next level? He responds to this with an exhibition of the same name, and then gets carried away with the book. The working process on it is not fast, and we see this book “drafts” in the form of canvases with paired images that rhyme with each other. Rhymes are part of the poetic statement logic. Such an analogy with poetry does not arise by chance, because the exhibition-process also includes text. Like a manifesto or a program statement, it forms the possible boundaries of the artist’s interests and path, his present and future.
The text is small but capacious, like raindrops on a quiet morning, about different things in art, its creation and perception — such as, for instance, “the work ‘adjective” and the work “verb””. This verb creates action within the post-digital representation of coexistence and juxtaposition of images. “The image and depiction”. This text itself, according to the author, is also a quote from a future book, the processuality of which balances between exhibition and workshop, visual and textual, signifier and signified and other heterogeneous poles. “New is simple.’ But there is a lot of “adjectives” to this simplicity.
Oleg Semenovykh is the author of articles about art. Curator, artist, member of artist-run space 22 gallery.
Vladimir Logutov is a participant in major international projects in the field of contemporary art. Author of about two dozen solo exhibitions in Russia and Europe. The artist’s works are in the collections of The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, FRAC Bretagne Museum, and others. Vladimir Logutov is the winner of the Innovation Prize 2018, Artist of the Year; the winner of the Joseph Brodsky Prize 2018 in the visual arts.
Vladimir Logutov`s website: https://logutov.art/