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They Met in the Middle

Victor Alimpiev

May 13 - June 21, 2009, M.Polyanka St.

Guelman Projects in cooperation with Regina Gallery

The entire exposition
An exhibition of the works of Victor Alimpiev was one of the first ideas that came to mind when compiling the Black Works programme. From the very outset, this programme has examined modern painterly abstraction or, more specifically, the wider issues surrounding the painterly foundations of contemporary art, i.e. the possibilities and prerequisites for painting today. This task was designed to deliberately counteract the current situation in Russia, where the dominant form of the picture is quoting the traditions of Socialist Realism, with a psychedelic sublimation of the subject, in opposition to the "monotonous and hackneyed" technique of painting. In the latter case, the formal rejection of a clearly readable subject radically shifts the balance of power and the picture becomes completely pointless Ц as was once demonstrated by Komar and Melamid, when they taught elephants to draw brushes across a canvas.

Cynicism, however, is a well-known sign of weakness and negation, resulting from an inability to accept and work with the existing situation. The problem lying at the heart of the "picture crisis" actually extends beyond the bounds of aesthetics and also concerns the general changes in the human mode of existence. There is more than just a financial crisis, affecting all areas of economics and politics. There is a fear of losing the human foundations of our culture, as a consequence of the development of civilisation (and, particularly, genetics) Ц something examined by many thinkers from Foucault and Habermas to McKibben.

In the light of this concern, the formula for a "diverting" picture in today's Russia Ц like the traditions of an amusing and entertaining art Ц seems like regressive obscurantism. Examining the "parallax gap" typical of the current state of culture, Slavoj Žižek rearranges the stereotypical notions of use, functionality and meaning in relation to the objects of culture. The aesthetic aspect is primary, while the potential functionality Ц the "meaning" that preoccupies artists when selecting a familiar subject Ц is secondary, enjoying the status of a side-product. An example for Slavoj Žižek is the oeuvre of Gerhard Richter: "In his works, photographic realism acts on us as something abstract and engineered, while we feel far more 'natural life' in the play of 'abstract' forms and patches. One gets the impression that the disorderly depth of non-representative forms is the last allusion to reality."1

In Victor Alimpiev's painting, the gap occurs in another place: not along the recognisable-abstract line, but inside the form of representation itself. This is the gap between the object of representation and the background, between the text and the context, which appear in his works in two completely different states Ц flat (form) and volumetric (background). The objects, which appear as silhouettes in his canvases, represent fragments of digitised graphics (the artist mounts them beforehand on a computer).

Alimpiev presents these episodes from the "choreography of everyday life" Ц strange and entrancing gestures, folds, turns and touches Ц in a detached and emblematic form on a background of playing fleshy-pearl "clouds." Against this shining suspension, the images appear as flat silhouettes, in which the entire fatal passion of "crossed arms and crossed legs" is lost. The objects whose shadows combine Ц or, at least, aspire towards one another Ц are of the same corporeal nature. Fingers or flags, they signify not a paradoxical conjugality, but a repetition with a minimal difference, which seems particularly acute against this repetition.

In one of his early works, Boris Groys describes Malevich's Black Square as the phenomenological formula of the artist and his work2. Here, the subject-object relationship is black and white. The white background, in which the black square lives, is the artist's creative inner world, which generates and upholds the objects of his creativity. Alimpiev's dichotomy is different. It is not black-and-white and total, but "applied." It only concerns the spaces of the object or, rather, the chiaroscuro. The flat details Ц the shadows of the corporeal Ц are, for Alimpiev, like side-wings, opening up the space of the light, just like the figures flanking the central scene in the landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich. This is a modification, a switch in the places of the light and the shade, when the space of the background seems to be shining and physically tangible, while the fragments of the figures are a grey silhouette (naturally, in the spirit of Žižek's "gap").

Victor Alimpiev is paradoxical not only in the alignment of the accents of light and shade. Filled with light and overflowing, his background ultimately represents what he calls the "phantom of three-dimensionality." The issue of shade places the viewer in a Plato's Cave situation (also hinted at by the exhibition architecture): a group of people sitting chained in a cage face a blank wall and can only see the projected shadows of things existing in the outside world Ц about which the artist tells us virtually nothing, except that it lies outside the image.

Despite the abstractness of Alimpiev's paintings, the planar organisation nevertheless harbours cunning and hope. The rigid border creating the silhouettes of the objects is only possible in space; on a plane, it is purely nominal. In the Meeting in the Middle diptych, however, the artist arranges sections at angles to one another. As a result, the line of contact of the canvases is both the property of the plane of each of two pictures and a real element of the gallery space. And it is this transition from nominality to reality that is the artist's most enchanting, magical creation.

1 Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View (Short Circuits), Moscow, 2008, p. 257.
2 Unpublished paper read at a seminar in the Institute of Architecture.

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