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Alisa Ioffe's exhibition at Guelman Projects on Malaya Polyanka Street is the concluding action in the Black Works programme, which explores the possibilities and limitations of contemporary non-figurative painting.
Over the past year, a total of ten one-man shows have been held, presenting works by a new generation of artists from Moscow, Samara and St Petersburg. The exhibitions have shown that the new non-objective painting contains concrete references to objective reality, continuing the tradition of revealing abstract images in the "cracks and fissures" of everyday life, with the help of magnified objects, blurred vision, negative reflection and other optical approaches.
In the Superweiss project, Alisa Ioffe assumes the meta-position of an artist, based on a paradoxical estrangement from the acts of her own hands. The viewer is invited to contemplate the empty hall of the gallery, which is covered in traditional, white, inexpensive water-emulsion paint. The slightly flaking walls retain traces of the preceding event Ц screw holes, dark stains from brushes of outdoor clothes, drops of red wine spilt at the opening.
Peer more closely and an ideal white rectangle can be discerned at the top, on the central wall, directly opposite the entrance. This is the artist's work, instantly giving rise to a whole series of questions, depending on the viewer's level of preparation and personal preferences. Is Ioffe continuing the fine traditions of Simulationism and the painted surfaces of Bertrand Lavier's objects? Is she promoting the minimal art of the ideally white cube? Or is the white-on-white composition possibly a mark of respect to the heritage of the Russian avant-garde and Kazimir Malevich in particular?
Focusing attention on the composition Ц a light-coloured rectangle in the upper section of a darker plane Ц one cannot help noticing its similarity to the architectonics of the horizontal "gaps" in the works of Mark Rothko. Is this the metaphysical revelation of an artist who has found the sublime with the help of high-quality German paint? Finally, there are the inevitable questions of the less refined viewer. Has it actually been done by an artist? After this final exhibition, will the space of Guelman Projects be turned into the respectable white cube of an expensive boutique?
These last two thoughts are the most radical, classifying the white rectangle not as a personal revelation ("speculation in paints"), but as a fragment of interior decor ("soulless design"). Such thoughts return us to the dilemma once set so skilfully by Ilya Kabakov in his White Painting. Joining together thin sheets of fibreboard and covering them with white enamel, so that the seams remained visible, Kabakov demonstrated the cardinal dependence of a work of art on whether or not the viewer believes in metaphysics. Some regarded this work as a white space, while others saw it as a yellowish enamelled surface. In the latter case, the viewer's own reflexive abilities cut off the road to the sublime. This rather blunt example reflected the legacy of Soviet nonconformism, which was extremely touchy regarding any form of compromise with the official doctrine of Socialist Realism or pure ideology tinged with salon art, which also flirted with metaphysics.
An artist of the new formation, Alisa Ioffe's approach is much gentler and polyvalent. Unlike Kabakov, she does not demonstrate the yawning gap between conformism and dissidence. Human optics is, ultimately, responsible for a whole host of possible interpretations of the object. This is no longer the problem of choosing a stance, but the choice of a path or trajectory Ц which, unlike a position, can be changed without risk of censure. From politics, we cross over into the realms of personal preferences, which might also be political in the global sense, but are far more flexible and closer to the individual. This can be likened to transferring from the bus of nonconformism into your own motor transport, which depends solely on your gesturality Ц "absolute and integral," in the words of Giorgio Agamben.
The first exhibition in the Black Works programme was Vladimir Logutov's project, which showed what seemed to be painterly scrap Ц multi-coloured stripes formed from runs of paint. Alisa Ioffe's work elegantly rounds off this discussion of the "chance" in art. Imaginary disarray or, the exact opposite, perfectionism does not have anything in common with the nature of an aesthetic experience, while chance is merely a simpler name for an event.