7 November, 2013 to 8 December, 2013
11.12 Gallery is proud to announce the project CHILDHOOD PLAYMATES by Vasily Slonov, the author of a sensational project «Welcome! Sochi 2014».
The Queen of Evidence
Not the written description, not the story of an eyewitness and, even more so, not the painting made by an artist, but the photograph, regardless of all Photoshop trickery, is today “the queen of evidence”. In particular, it is the photograph, which is scientific, technical and free from the tasks of the artistic ennobling of reality. Namely such a photograph is considered the key argument proving that the depicted phenomenon objectively exists or existed in reality. Therefore, for example, the Shroud of Turin is the last and highest proof of the real existence of Christ. Almost none of our contemporaries today have been fortunate enough to see this shroud itself. Everyone is familiar with it through the black-and-white photograph.
- “Here, you can see Jesus himself!”
- “Good gracious, it’s true. As if alive!”
However, the information that what we see is not some anonymous bearded man, but namely Christ, does not come from the photograph itself. We are convinced of this by the mental comparison of the fine face, imprinted on the sheet, with paintings by the Renaissance Masters, for example the image of the Saviour in Sandro Botticelli’s famous “Baptism of Christ”. That is, there is a curious association: thanks to the painting by the Florentine (and the entire classical museum canon), we recognise Christ in the photograph and, therefore, look at the painting with entirely different eyes, assessing it as a genuine document. And then we see the painting in a different light. It turns out that Botticelli did not create the image of Jesus “from his imagination”, but very accurately portrayed his appearance as it truly was in reality.
It seems that a similar mechanism of the culturological interaction between the photo document and Art was employed by Vasily Slonov in a series of X-ray images, “Childhood Playmates”. Slonov rightly believes that even the youngest post-Soviet generation of viewers sometimes possesses a certain general knowledge of classical literature. They, through inertia, have received the remains of a basic literary education, if not in school, then, perhaps, from their parents (dad at bedtime once recounted a story about Danko, struggling to recall the details of the drama). It is with this fragmentary knowledge that Slonov plays. This knowledge allows the viewer to attribute the X-ray images somehow. “I have heard something about an old woman and an axe. Here, incidentally, is the axe – it is Raskolnikov, isn’t it?” Gradually, the viewer also recognises “Achilles’ heel” and the blades of Carlson’s little motor. Identification is like solving a crossword puzzle in a foreign newspaper. It is accompanied by doubts and errors, hypotheses, and then shouts of joy – “It is him, hurray! I guessed it! I worked it out!” After this mental operation, the X-ray immediately acquires the status of a document in the eyes of the viewer. “Have you already seen Wise Oleg? Not yet, I was looking at Hamlet”.
When we in “our day” read Dostoevsky and Turgenev as part of the school syllabus, trembling with fear and being choked with tears, then the main consolation for us was the conviction that all of this, fortunately, was just made up. No more than literary fiction. Cruel Gerasim did not actually exist. Herbert Wells’ Invisible Man did not run naked through the streets. The adventures and deeds of these heroes, who fired our imagination, are of no particular interest to today’s audience. Their cruelty and brutality are mere trifles when compared with reality shows or live TV reports from hot spots and places where tragedies, wrecks and floods have occurred. Having lost the emotional element, the knowledge of literary heroes has shrunk to the vague memory of the general identifying attribute of each of them. Just as saints and martyrs are depicted in icons along with the symbolic object of their execution – St. Andrew’s diagonal cross, St. Catherine’s wheel with knives – Slonov’s heroes also show us their attributes.
Slonov is not willing to accept the complete demise of the classical legacy and somehow seeks to rescue and revive our cultural memory. The artist’s intentions are clear, but they are, at first glance at least, not at all logical. Why, one asks, has the Siberian Avant-garde radical, subversive provocateur, a faithful adherent of the “Blue Noses” group, assumed the role of the guardian of cultural continuity? It would seem that this is purely a matter for the state – teachers, mentors, academicians. The answer is simple: today’s Russian conservative is not the guardian of culture, but, for the most part, its destroyer. His obscurantism is not limited to words. Often, as we know, it turns into the destruction of exhibitions and the public burning of books in squares. Even reformers in Africa did not find themselves amongst such an exotic milieu of ultra-right extremists. Therefore, the Russian Avant-garde artist can but become the keeper of culture, if not in the name of perfecting humanity – this task turned out to be unrealistic, – then at least for the sake of saving his love of Art.