Ruslan Vashkevich "Not looking at anything"

Not looking at anything. 2013. Canvas, oil. 200 x 300
1
3 March, 2015 to 11 April, 2015
The world is what we see, but we need to learn to see it.
(Maurice Merleau-Ponty)
 
Vague anxiety and sense of self-irrelevance.Growing curiosity and increasing (from the inability to satisfy it) irritation.This is how one could describe an emotional state of the spectator, who is experiencing the first  encounter with the new project  created by RuslanVashkevich. But what is the cause of this anxiety? Is it simplyperceptual discomfort (I can not see anything!) Or is there a deeper reason?
 
Four people look downand to the left, their eyes fixed on the space that remains outside of frame, in the area, invisible to the spectator. There is no story that can be told. And there is no dramatic midpoint. Nothing happens. What we "witness" seems to an ordinary scene,the onewe've seen many times (no matter, what in this visual experience has been individually cognized, and  what has been“peeped” in the movies). We could take this picture as a group portrait of anonymous viewers spellbound by what is happening on the imaginary screen. The dark background, which is devoid of depth and deprived of any details, only intensifiestheimpression that the characters are entirely absorbed by the spectacle, as if for a while they have dropped  outof everyday world. But these viewers are clearly not going to settle down comfortably in front of the“blue screen”: something hascaught them unawaresand still holds.
Despite the impression of its triviality, the situation, however, is not ordinary: it is this strange, extramundaneGaze  that discourages us as viewers, deprives of perceptual “anchor” and puts us in an awkward position in relation to the scene that we see. Furthermore, the viewerhas been humiliated twice. We have to admit: that what we see, "does not look at us", and the viewer, against the will,  finds himself in a  structural position of voyeur,  a “peeping Tom”. But  all  this is not so simple. After all, "where I am, where I'm looking at, I see nothing" (Georges Didi-Huberman). And, even if we would have tried to get more convenient position in front of a painting ,we will not be able to see more. Where do these pictured people look? What do they see? What do they feel, staring at the invisible? Whatis catching their eyes ? And even if they look in the one and same direction,  do they see  the same (thing)?
Thus, what the pictured characters  can see,  is inaccessible to us: we are still uncertain about the object of their attention. Unless we  would not pass from the picture to photos and videos. To begin to see that it had taken four pairs of painted eyes, the viewer will have to borrow their Gaze, but the identification (the ability to match up with the subject of vision, to occupy someone else's "point of view") becomes possible only when we immerse into the cinematic history of “wandering” canvas. And only then the camera (which captured that what the painting has “seen”) willingly lends us its ‘eye”. Secondary identification with any of the characters in the picture, thanks to editing effects( echoingthe experimentations of Lev Kuleshov), then allows us to determine our attitude in  relation to the visible. This process will take some time. And now, returning to the picture, we could "borrow" the Gaze of one of the characters. To see what they have seen. Thus, changing camera angles, framing the visible world differently, offering unexpected point of view, constructing an imaginary world outside of the canvas’ frame, the artist reminds us that painting - it is, above all,  anart of seeing.
In the beginning … wasthePicture. Multimedia project, which includes videos, photos and an installation has being created gradually. Round about the canvas and with its active participation.The picture itself “demanded" the development of the narrative, which would tell the story of its journey in the space of the city  - in search of an object of attention.But what kind of objects and what kind of places? And yetwhatis going on there, in the “field of nameless invisibility" (G. Didi-Huberman)?
 
The adventures of the Gaze unfold far beyond the walls of the artist's studio in various social spaces which are not nearbyand to where the access is challenging, to say at least. In the field of vision of the artist and his painting, not incidentally have found themselves: the city dump, a strip club, a church, Cancer Research Institute, a kindergarten, a penal colony, a supermarket, a cemetery and other  locations.
Non-randomness of selection of these ‘objects’ has to do with the following research questions. Firstly,  what happens to the art when it  steps out to the streets? How, where, and under what circumstances an artwork encounters the public? Secondly, making use of a rendezvous of the painting with its object as a pretext, one can empirically discover many visible and invisible obstacles and barriers that break down  the social space into a plurality of closed cells.
Has there been the journey of the artist with his painting safe,and  the adventures of the Gaze enjoyable?The documented evidences (presented on photo and video) help us to understand, to what extent an attempt to create a "barrier-free environment" for art in urban space is problematic, and especially in those places, which by definition are "uncomfortable" for it, either because of their functional specificity, or because of the difficulty of access.
The painting, which left the artist's studio for the sake of an unpredictable encounter with the object of its Gaze, seems to have been created to expose the acts of secret observation. Each encounter as a confrontation.Between the observer and his "object".Invisible, yet tangible network of relationships in which the artist entangles us (by suturing a picture with the scene of representation and assigning us the role of witnesses of various "random liaisons'), it is a mousetrap that can have slammed shut at any moment when we stare at the painting.In this study of the practices of looking in different social spaces all types of visual ‘drives’ and experiences are taken into account, from scopophilia and voyeurism  up to exhibitionism and scopophobia. The position of an artist, of a perplexed  spectator, of the characters in the picture, of people caught in the role of "objects", and finally,  of the incidental witness of  what was happening -  are not static: the modality  of the Gaze depends on where in the visual field at the moment  one finds himself. And to what s/he is entitled. To Be  (under the Gaze) or to Have (the right to see)?  To peep or to be observed? It is very likely, that a viewer who will meet with the painting  not accidentally in the museum, will have to face with the same dilemmas   - which are  the dilemmas of the visible world.
 
Almira Ousmanova