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Irina Drozd & Ivan Plyusch

September 16 - October 11, 2009

Guelman Projects, 7/7 - 5 Malaya Polyanka Street, Moscow

Following the summer break, Guelman Projects returns to its programme of Black Works (2009-10) with an exhibition of two well-known representatives of the new generation of artists Ц Irina Drozd and Ivan Plyusch from St. Petersburg.

The common direction of the professional quests of all contributors to our programme is abstract painting in the general context of contemporary art. Is abstract painting possible today? And, if so, then what sort of abstract painting is it Ц expressive, geometric, monochrome or pictographic? And what is the purpose of non-objective painting that does not have any direct links to the current social-political context?

This question, of course, should be formulated slightly differently: how far is it possible, using purely formal painterly devices, without resorting to quoting and redrawing mass-media pictures, to create a solid counter-partner, not only to mass culture, but also to the aforementioned social-political context? In our society, what is the level of independence of contemporary art and faith in the artistic gesture?

The history of art shows that non-objective painting is at its best and most exciting in times of revolution and turmoil, when people are interested in various innovations and forecasts of the future. Under totalitarian regimes Ц even during periods of self-proclaimed "liberalisation" Ц abstraction, perhaps unsurprisingly, falters. In much the same way, under the dictatorship of a system Ц whether it is state propaganda or the art market Ц the level of trust in the artist and the artist's intuition falls dramatically. The artist is mainly expected to duplicate the objective-commodity world, and non-objective painting descends to the level of self-quotation Ц repetition and variation of the masterpieces of the past.

On the current Russian art scene, abstractionism is completely illegitimate. While this also speaks volumes about the creative potential of our art, the entire international art community is currently experiencing a crisis of free speech and spontaneous gesture. That is why the quests for a non-objective "source of artistic creation" are so important for us Ц as the quest for a new foothold for nonconformism; a new stage in the fight against global consumerism.

Graduates of the prestigious Vera Mukhina School of Art and Industry in St Petersburg, Ivan Plyusch and Irina Drozd have dedicated all their conscious years of creativity to painting. Ivan Plyusch's first investigations into the painterly surface were his objects with wood, which he showed in Moscow five years ago, at a collective youth exhibition in the Moscow Museum of Modern Art on Yermolaevsky Lane. Today, following exhibitions at such galleries as Art Strelka and Pop/off, he is a well-known figure in the Russian capital. The latter venue recently showed his works dedicated to ruined Soviet monumental sculptures.

Ivan Plyusch's most remarkable development in these works was his sensual, almost literal conveying of the medium. Covered in tiny cracks, the grey impasto painting corresponded superbly to the plaster of Soviet park sculptures. In the series recently shown at the Good News exhibition in Orel Art's London gallery, Plyusch's paint runs horizontally, like the lines of a broken television screen, creating the impression of blood stains. Only because television images are incorporeal, instead of blood, the crushed and squashed faces exude multi-coloured paint, like René Magritte's Suicide.

Reflections on the nature of the visual image and an interest in the tactile experience of painting brought Plyusch and Drozd to the Tile series, in which they similarly reproduce the texture of a ceramic surface Ц dark stains and shining varnish. The artists are unconcerned that the prototype for their work is the "low" everyday tile Ц an object manufactured serially and, for the most part, repetitively, in imitation of stone. The secondary function of the tile in the interior is to create "sanitary zones," often requiring damp cleaning. The sensation of indistinguishability is intensified in this series by the fact that tiles are actively employed in public spaces Ц swimming pools, changing rooms and hospitals.

The two artists employ this low serial object to show painting to the viewer. In mathematics, such an approach is known as the rule of contraries. It is as if painting as such never existed Ц only decorative paintwork, adorning works of handicraft, expensive fabrics or even the stars of glossy magazines. It is as if painting was never an independent form of creativity, merely a means to an end, that end being object-commodities (the ultimate dream of the market). But, as Plyusch and Drozd show us, if painting did not exist then neither would decorative paintwork.

The artists do this by employing a complex ambivalent situation, into which the viewer is thrust with the help of their "tile." The viewer is given the right to decide what he or she sees Ц frozen stains of dirt on a tile, to be wiped away with a cloth (if the material object is primary), or a decorative drawing applied to an object with the specific aim of lending it qualities that it does not possess (the beauty of marble). If the viewer tends towards the second version, then the art business, with its vulgar concentration on the utilitarian role of art, is defeated Ц just like in Ivan Krylov's fable of the pig and the oak tree: "If you could only lift up your snout, you would see that these acorns grow on me."

Yevgenia Kikodze

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