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Witness


Haim Sokol

August 3 - September 15, 2011



The Hole. 2011. Floor cloth, 800500 m

The Hole. 2011. Floor cloth, 800500 m
Standard. 2010. Installation. Metal, h=211 cm; video (fragment from the movie Communist, 1957, dir. Yulii Raizman)

Standard. 2010. Installation. Metal, h=211 cm; video (fragment from the movie Communist, 1957, dir. Yulii Raizman)
Desinfektion. 2011. Neon tube, wood, 12030 cm

Desinfektion. 2011. Neon tube, wood, 12030 cm
Black Scroll. 2011. Glassine, mixed media, 100500

Black Scroll. 2011. Glassine, mixed media, 100500
Witness. 2011. Exhibition veiw

Witness. 2011. Exhibition veiw
The artist Haim Sokol is a humanist in an age when the word "humanism" has lost its positive meaning (after it was used in the slogans of the Soviet epoch, such as "For Humanism and the Cause of Peace!"). Clear life and social values can be seen in all of the artist's projects. In the Russian art world, which has appeared from Sots-Art and Conceptualism with their emphasis on the relativity and contextual nature of any image, the emergence of such art became a clear watershed between the generations. Sokol belongs to a generation which has already lost the skills of doublethink, which were vital in the previous epoch. And therefore he is able to create such works as Rabies. Tin soldiers wriggle about in the belly of a toy rat. Only recently the grotesque has been the main technique of art, which addressed the world of childhood and the military theme. The tin soldiers bring to mind variations on the theme of Goya in the installation "Hell", by Jake and Dinos Chapman. But instead of theatre, as in the work of the famous British artists, in Sokol's work there is the true horror of the senselessness of war, a direct message built on the principles of symbolism. And it is no less memorable than "The Apotheosis of War" by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Fury stands out from the works created by the artist for the exhibition. The other works have a common background. Haim Sokol refers to his own personal and ancestral experience. The personal is connected with his internship in Vienna, the ancestral with his perception of the Austrian capital primarily through the prism of the persecution of the Jewish population in the 1930s and 40s. The artist's feelings indirectly have something in common with the philosopher Theodor Adorno's statement on Nazism and European culture the famous maxim that writing poetry after Auschwitz is impossible. But instead of poetry Haim Sokol places an image of a modern European city. In the physical purity of Vienna the artist feels a discord with history, and even a threat to it. Life goes on as if nothing had happened, and only someone thoroughly versed in the context of European chronology is capable of feeling "discomfort" (the word used in the exhibition text by the artist) from this purity. Sokol's previous exhibition Rein (Clean), which was held in Vienna and has something in common with the exhibition in the Marat and Julia Guelman Gallery, was based on this feeling.

Using the reflections of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, the artist builds a bridge from the monstrous past to an "as if" neutral, "featureless" modernity. He compares the disenfranchised migrant workers of today with the Jews in Nazi Germany. These people are not subject to the law, but live, according to Agamben, a "naked reality of life" in the new "camps", the invisible structures of modern cities. In order to give a voice to this invisible layer, Sokol uses in his works objects from the everyday life of the migrant workers, from lights at construction sites to floor rags. Using this material he humanises the ready-made. Humanism and the use of real things in art are rarely combined harmoniously. In Sokol's work the previous history of the use of the material leaves in it a trace of a particular culture (in the archaeological sense). Sokol, one of the participants of the exhibition Russian Povera, this time treats worthless material politically, rather than plastically. With the help of the material Sokol denies his works the touch of sentimentality that appears when we see merely old things: suitcases, old tubs, mailboxes and so on, found in the garbage.

In parallel, the artist is working on a project hidden from the viewer's eye. In the action Natural Exchange, with the proceeds from an online auction of his work, he bought new shoes for a group of migrant workers whom he knew. Their old shoes went to the artist. This is reminiscent of the Moscow City Government programme to provide newly arrived migrant workers with second-hand bicycles, but in Sokol's case there is an important difference: it is not the bureaucrat who pays, but a man not financially linked with his place of work.

The comparison of migrant workers and Jews is easily challenged. But for the artist-humanist it is necessary in order to go into the depths. In today's social climate migrant workers are an object of fear or hatred for millions. The intelligent minority is trying to protect their rights. No-one takes this mass as a source of artistic as opposed to documentary material. In Witness, Sokol reveals fragments of the world which we try not to notice. The presence of dark and shapeless patches on the social map causes anxiety in the artist. Perhaps his project is only a way of coping with it. Or maybe it is a step towards a broader view of the situation.

Valentin Dyakonov




9.07.2011
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