21.07.2014 – 17.08.2014, Central Exhibitional Hall "Manege"
Part of the “Great Expectations” project.
Many years ago, in the 1980s, a very important artist appeared who, in time, became a classic, like all classics ceasing to be of interest to the radical and critically minded artistic public. That artist was Bill Viola. His early, almost non-spectacular works taught viewers to be extremely attentive. They explained to the person watching the screen that unlike the films of Warhol, where there really was nothing at all happening, the plot action here could be concealed, and the entire attraction revolved around identifying it. Later (here we must agree that the visual arts are in the avant garde of the creative industries), this approach became customary first in European and then in Hollywood film, and then in commercials and television broadcasting. This attraction was inexpensive, had a noble intellectual shading and, to a certain point, it worked without fail. Now, depending on the specific creative industry and the specific mass media, this approach is encountered increasingly rarely.
In what many have called the post-digital age, the quantity of approaches aimed at the attraction of the attention of spectators or, on the contrary, at its deliberate dissipation at the necessary moment is increasing at an exponential rate. The appearance of entire horizontal mass media structures and the development of social networks allows “almost everyone” to become a witness to “almost everything”, such as the murder of a cameraman whose gaze you view in order to watch an event until that murder has taken place. That accessibility of violence forces the producers of content to either violate further taboos or to maintain the level of tension, even on the background level, or they risk losing their -audience. This type of construction of events as a syndrome of the post-historic regime of inhabitation only very recently made itself strikingly evident when the ability to instantly share the experience of another and become a participant in some kind of narrative was reinforced by high-speed internet connections. Aleksei Taruts’s exhibition “Raves I Have Missed” is about these symptoms of the post-historic narrative and the means for its representation, and it -attempts a critical consideration of approaches to the identification and documentation of events. Here, the artist is interested in how an event is presented on screens, whether the author capturing the events occupies a certain -viewpoint or whether one can produce that viewpoint oneself, and in what way one can function in a space of endless intense -catastrophes. A space where the very concept of catastrophe becomes commonplace and of no significance in itself, other than as statistics or ratings, with the spectacle not being evaluated by virtue of a conflict being present but merely by the extent of its medialization. In what way is the memory of a person who is not a participant in this event formed, and is it enough to share it in the space of perception and representation in order to feel, nonetheless, that you have been at “raves you have missed”?
In his work “Beyond the Ritual”, Taruts removes the very presentation of -action as such, leaving only the conditionality. The viewer understands that before him is the result of a camera tracking fights by night clubs, but he doesn’t see the central events. The videos of these fights are freely available, and an internet user can, transfixed, watch the execution of violence and the chthonian emotionality of the participants. What changes when the “document” is turned into an artistic object and imbued with plastic and aesthetic characteristics? This examination is not so much about the provenance of attention to -violence and the reduction of evil to the banal as about what allows the spectator to identify himself with what is happening and with the document, and the extent to which interference in a conditional “reality” is -capable of bringing it out of its customary comfort zone. The -image of a three-dimensional video sculpture of a stone references, at one and the same time, the situationist aesthetics of protest, where “under the paving stones there’s a beach” and a romantic “-escape” from the system through the smashing to pieces of the tracking camera with that same paving stone.
In his work “Avalanches”, Taruts uses videos made by the inhabitants of neighborhoods far from the center of Moscow on which a series of domestic explosions of gas canisters are supposed to be captured on the highway not far from the Moscow Ring Road. All of the videos have been assembled and put in sequence, but if you don’t know what’s happening, the event slips past you. Firstly, the -action itself is fairly far away, miniaturized in the distance, and secondly, the artist has removed the sound which, essentially, should designate this action. Instead of the original sound, there are only abstract sounds of explosions taken from a special effects library. The action is designated intentionally, but it essentially -removes any documentary element. And again the viewer is confronted with a catastrophe where the plot and the cause-and-effect linkage have been removed. This puts the video on an -absolutely everyday level without relinquishing, at the same time, a context that is with good reason alarming, albeit at the same time boring. On the one hand, the viewer and the cameraman are in a refuge and perceive the situation from there. Paolo Virno, describing the ambivalent feeling of Kant’s Sublime, said: “When, in a safe place, I observe a terrifying avalanche, I’m filled with a pleasant feeling of confidence which is mixed, however, with a keen sense of my own defenselessness.” Something horrifying really is happening, but it’s difficult to understand what and, moreover, we have all become so inured to this that, perhaps, understanding is of no interest. The artist himself says that in this way he is discrediting the event and its presentation, forcing us to look into the landscapes of catastrophes and apocalypses.
Rounding off the project’s dramaturgy, the work “2002. 12 000 000 Years Ago” also has excess at its foundation. On a small screen, a video from the Chechen war is shown, with armed people standing round, shifting their weight from foot to foot or carrying out simple, everyday actions. From time to time, shots are fired, registering as flashes. The enemy cannot be seen, he is present in this event purely as a conditional factor. Nevertheless, in the bottom left corner of the shot we can see the date, 2002, which in the general notional and factual fog of what is taking place is also a simple convention which, for all that, imbues what is taking place with a factual content and documentary facet. Close by, from speakers, come the distant sounds of deep electronic rhythms, as if coming from behind the closed door of a nightclub. The viewer cannot get away from a sense of anger and even horror, the memory “of a distant holy war” is difficult to extirpate, and no doubt it shouldn’t be. But the mechanisms of recognition operate in such a way that the events that you do not take part in, through their total medialization, become a part of your personal historical narrative, and they are recovered in your memory from emotions and details in just the same way as events from your personal life, such as those “raves you have been at”.
The exhibition is opened by a three-dimensional map of the project which also -forces the spectator to “lose” his presence in this space as an event, tearing the place where the event is taking place free of its context. -Central Exhibition Hall “Manege” stands in abstract mountains captured by Google Maps or Street View, and these mountains -remind spectators of themselves only at the end of their journey through the exhibition with a video of the North Caucasus. The map also immerses the spectator in excess, forcing him both to doubt the stability and integrity of the entire exhibition, which talks of how to represent the event of a catastrophe without immersing the spectator in it, allowing him to feel entirely stable within it, and, with the aid of the mode of catastrophe, forces the spectator to again rouse himself and question the rightness of the current state of affairs.