January 23 – March 16 2014
at Harlan Levey Projects, Brussels
We’re burning out like the stars, only much much quicker.
Psychological. Astral. Emotional. The burning out of books, communities, cultures and ambitions, of stars, of states and of ourselves. It’s a question of love, repulsion, and eventual exhaustion. Using video, performance, photography and sculpture, Petr Davydtchenko’s new exhibition traces various forms of burnout to the moment just before the fire, in a series of romantic gestures dealing with how we might burnout and not fade away.
* 1986 in Arzamas, Russia
Lives and works in London, UK and Stockholm, Sweden.
Aesthetics & Power
by Denis Maksimov for The Populist
How would you define “aesthetics” and “beauty”? Are they still relevant?
In my mind, they remain extremely relevant. Both are powerful weapons for enrichment and de-struction, which define each other in the intimate way that lovers or long time friends do. Aesthetics is perception and can be framed. Beauty remains much more elusive.
In terms of my work, I build narrative through aesthetics, sometimes deliberately overburdening a body of work with minimal, clean, and polished appeal. This is a conscious way of referencing the complexity of what is deemed as the darker sides of human nature. It becomes a question of seduc-tion, taking things that are problematic, horrible and perhaps too grim to grasp and making them attractive. If a person is attracted to them, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are beautiful. Beauty doesn’t have to be aesthetic. It can be the description of what happens after the initial attraction when it becomes clear that the subject is actually repulsive. In my recent show at Harlan Levey Pro-jects Gallery in Brussels, examples of this include the reworking of motorcycle oil tanks recovered from accidents or the piece ‘They Walked in Line,’ which is a custom made track suit (made in col-laboration with Swedish design Elsa Suneson). The light fabric, cuts and lines are intended to be aesthetically pleasing; a haute couture line that modifies the Adidas tracksuit that is so popular in many subcultures, including Russian Gopniks and Skinheads. As an object it’s beautiful, but what it represents is a violent and hostile subculture with its own uniforms and rituals. I used this suit as a type of second skin for a performance work titled ‘Petty Vanities’ where I offered vodka and free head shavings. On somebody else’s body, this could be the uniform worn for ruthless attacks.
What is political power to you?
I associate political power with fear and oppression, historical shifts and potential futures that both frighten and fascinate me. Political power is a power that dictates conditions we live in. Those con-ditions can be better or worse, but there is always a dilemma. To draw a parallel with art, there is always a basic idea, which we might call a condition. It might be as simple as choice of a material, which dictates the tone of the whole construction or work. When I work with power structures, I tend to represent them as physical structures in space; towers, ambiguous architecture and other pillars that are usually made from steel. My recent piece ‘Swallow Me,’ for example is a sort of table whose width was consciously determined by prefab mirrors sold at Ikea. Political power here is wielded to corporate frameworks. The steel support is covered in Ovatrol to maintain a greasy, dirty and strong appearance that represents the mirror’s power. The Rose powder pills lining the table refer to substance intake and the various dealers that control various substances. Viewers are invited to swallow the pill, which speaks to the importance of human relations in supporting politi-cal structures. It also highlights a romantic narrative to this conversation; a type of destruction that can be the result of a great love as opposed blind violence or the notion that love can be blind and violent. This piece directly deals with political power: Pills are presented to people on a structure. The structure divides the space. The question of power becomes one that is at once subjective and dictated by a branded source.
It can be towers, constructions. I usually make them from steel, as in Swallow Me, which is a sort of table with dimensions 330x100x26 cm. Those dimensions where actually dictated by mirrors that I bought at IKEA so that whole structure was dependent on the dimensions of those mirrors. I see the actual steel structure of the table as a representation of power. Which can also be seeing as po-litical power. The structure is covered in Ovatrol oil to give it a greasy, even dirty look. Pills on the table the amount of them should point to our limits of substance intake and at the same time what/who controls them. By inviting people to bridge a gap of trust and actually swallow one of the pills I try to investigate human relations. There is definitely a romantic element to this work and even to all of this show. For me fire associates with love but also with destruction. So back to the pills – we are invited to participate by taking a pill, pills are presented on a structure, that structure divides the space and extends it at the same time. Swallow me is a piece that in my opinion directly deals with the question of power that can be our own or outside us.
What is the interrelation between artistic and political? When politics becomes art and vice versa?
Whenever someone has something to say. I mean really something important, expressing an opin-ion, which reflects social position. Once that happens, it is almost certain that there will be follow-ers of the idea. Since art is a means of communication there is certainly, an interrelation for better or worse. Think about times when a failed artist became a politician? This gives clear indicators of how artistic approach can affect politics and eventually the shape of the world.
Is it fair to say that all art is political? Is it possible to completely exclude political from artis-tic discourse?
Only if you make the argument that the production of any image is political, but I don’t think so. It would be very boring if all artists were some kind of social workers always considering the good of things.
Do you agree that kitsch can be used as a tool in gaining power? Is it possible to use it for the good of the society or it’s a strictly negative term?
If aesthetics can do this then it likely applies to all aesthetics and this includes Kitsch. So to the first question: Yes. To the second, like technologies, aesthetics are never neutral, but their application can lead to many potential ramifications that lead to positives and negatives, which are again only subjective ideas anyway. Damien Hirst seems to have provided a definitive answer to this question.
What is the borderline between art and propaganda?
I am not sure if there should be one, but propaganda targets viewers as consumers of a particular message with a particular agenda, and art tends to server to open up questions and readings of what’s being ingested and the shit it produces. If an artwork is not open to interpretation it looses its freedom and becomes propaganda. If there is a border, it looks much different in the distance than it does when it’s close enough to touch.
“Boundaries should always be tested whether they are political, social or institutional. Then when it comes to moral dilemmas it becomes more complicated of course.” Is that what art should have a mission to challenge? How do you see your role in the process?
I am not so interested in testing political boundaries with my art. For me it is important to describe my own complicated relationship to this world and to my own existence. It is a love – hate relation-ship, and as in any relationship of that kind, boundaries end up tested even when this is nobody’s intention.
Contemporary Russian art is characterized often as political and literal. Do you think it’s due to the general “Eastern” approach to art, where it tends to be less conceptual and more straightforward?
I think that it is possible to be very conceptual but still maintain a direct approach. It comes down to how we read what is in front of us. In many ways art is a tool to inspire us to read differently. We can choose to see the beauty or aesthetics and just enjoy an appealing object, or we can choose to see beyond and raise questions around technique, materials and gestures made by the artist in the context of working with a particular piece. The harder we work to go into a work, the more con-cepts and contexts reveal themselves.
Let’s move a bit in more general direction. Do you think that our zeitgeist is still postmodern? Does postmodernism still reflect the world we are living in? How would you define contempo-rary public discourse you are living in?
No, personally I would like to believe that we moved beyond the postmodern. People always want to put things in categories, I’d rather live in the unknown, researching and being free in that way. Definition always comes after and once something is defined, it’s no longer contemporary. Potential has already been castrated.
Contemporary arts spaces – museums, galleries, shows – have become the form of leisure in contemporary society. What do you think drags them there?
Inspiration, information, out of the every day excitement, new people, free drinks, the promise of something more than reality; something better; something beautiful; something that is able to em-power them. I wouldn’t say it is always a form of leisure. People are attracted to places, ideas, other people, whatever, for all types of different reasons. Whatever brings them there, I find it fantastic that more people than other before are making time to engage with contemporary art. Personally, I find interacting with people and art a pleasuring experience. At the same time, as an artist, there is always a danger in corrupting your own practice by looking at other work.
What is your view on the role of the curator today?
Curator is a hot word today. With so much information floating around, everybody has a role in curating what they personally allow space for. In art, the role of the curator is to go beyond the art-ist, to create broader contexts, more specific lines and connections between various works that open up new readings. The curator still has an important role to play in bringing art to view and defend-ing it. At the same time, all the roles in art are getting mixed up today. Many artists are becoming curators, and curators, like artists are clearly cultural producers. It’s comforting to know that there are people thinking with you, and beyond you, and as long as an artist doesn’t expect a curator to do their work (and vice verse), it’s a dynamic relationship.
Swedish artist Klas Eriksson has a great ongoing project about curators. He produced a series of scarves using football aesthetics, and instead of supporting or denigrating a club, they say A.C.A.B. – All Curators are Bastards. I find this work amusing and playful. It contains a provocative mes-sage, but I think it can be viewed from different angles. I myself like to curate and see a huge im-portance in taking on that role, even if it means becoming a bastard at certain moments.
Courtesy of Harlan Levey Projects
Posted by Domenico de Chirico