BALAGAN!!! Contemporary Art from the Former Soviet Union and Other Mythical Places
November 14–December 23, 2015
An exhibition of 150 artworks by 75 artists from 14 countries in the former East
Curated by: David Elliott
Organized by: MOMENTUM for the NORDWIND Festival 2015
In Russia, BALAGAN!!! is a popular exclamation that describes, with celebratory gusto, a farce, a fine mess, the most unholy of cock-ups—but it is also a major international exhibition of contemporary art from the former USSR and Eastern Bloc that reveals a world in which chaos and misrule, along with the social comedy that results from it, are celebrated and scathingly exposed. Balagan originally meant “fairground.” By the 18th century, it had become associated with the activities of the people who worked in them: puppeteers, clowns, and jesters, who made fun of and satirized established order. From the beginning, however, artists have realized the potential of balagan as an effective framework for revealing the truth.
Today, the revolutionary politics of laughter, as well as the cathartic release it promises, are engendered by a sense of outrage at cruelty, inhumanity and the abuse of human rights. But balagan is not only modern: ever since time began, chaos has been ever-present. This exhibition is about how some artists choose to depict the chaos of our times critically, challenging its power through humor, parody and the power of art itself.
AES + F (Russia), Afrika (Sergey Bugaev) (Russia), Vyacheslav Akhunov (Uzbekistan), Shaarbek Amankul (Kyrgyzstan), Evgeny Antufiev (Russia), Lutz Becker (UK / Germany), Blue Noses Group (Russia), Sergey Bratkov (Ukraine), Yvon Chabrowski (Germany), Olga Chernysheva (Russia), Valery Chtak (Russia), Chto Delat? (Russia), Vladimir Dubossarsky (Russia), Andrej Dubravsky (Slovakia), Natalia Dyu (Kazakhstan), Sasha Frolova (Russia), Ivan Gorshkov (Russia), Georgy Guryanov (Russia), Dmitry Gutov (Russia), Sitara Ibrahimova (Azerbaijan), Nikita Kadan (Ukraine), Aleksey Kallima (Russia), Polina Kanis (Russia), Krištof Kintera (Czech Republic), Francizka Klotz (Germany), Irina Korina (Russia), Egor Koshelev (Russia), Katarzyna Kozyra (Poland), Olya Kroytor (Russia), Gaisha Madanova (Kazakhstan), Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe (Russia), Natalie Maximova (Russia), Yerbossyn Meldibekov (Kazakhstan), Almagul Menlibayeva (Kazakhstan), Boris Mikhailov (Ukraine), Ciprian Mureşan (Romania), Kriszta Nagy (Tereskova) (Hungary), Deimantas Narkevičius (Lithuania), Ioana Nemes (Romania), Pavel Pepperstein (Russia), Pirate TV (Russia), Sasha Pirogova (Russia), RECYCLE Group (Russia), Mykola Ridnyi (Ukraine), Arsen Savadov (Ukraine), Mariya Sharova / Dmitriy Okruzhnov (Russia), Slavs and Tatars (Eurasia), Haim Sokol (Russia), Leonid Tishkov (Russia), Aleksandr Ugay (Kazakhstan), Oleg Ustinov (Russia), Anastasia Vepreva (Russia), VMS Group (Russia), Stas Volyazlovsky (Ukraine), Viktor Vorobyev / Elena Vorobyeva (Kazakhstan), Vadim Zakharov (Russia), Sergey Zarva (Ukraine), ZIP Group (Russia), Artur Žmijewski (Poland), Constantin Zvezdochotov (Russia)
A 265-page illustrated catalog, designed by Barnbook, also telling the backstory of BALAGAN!!! in theatre and art, accompanies the exhibition. Details available on the MOMENTUM website.
In November 2015 National Centre for Contemporary Arts (NCCA), Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA), Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center will present the project “The Human Condition”.
Artistic director of the project Viktor Misiano – is one of the most authoritative Russian experts in the field of contemporary arts, curator, art theorist.
The title of this project programmatically refers to the namesake book by Hannah Arendt, whose philosophical thought tried to answer the key question of the past century – how to stay Human in the face of the drama of History. The idea of this project comes out of the assumption that the anthropological problematic once again draw close attention or, in other words, the Human today once again becomes one of the central cultural issues. One of the explanations for this “anthropological turn” can be the experience of high completeness of contemporary reality, so common to today’s worldview, and its irreducibility to simple definitions and exhaustive interpretations. Thus the Human – his direct and present experience in the face of the inconceivable world – becomes the initial and the final point of the actual picture of the world. The project combines research, exhibition, and discussion formats. Exhibitions implemented in the framework of the project will be the starting points for discussion and analysis. They will be accompanied by workshops, video screenings, lectures, workshops, poetry readings, performative action and so forth.
Among the participants of the project “The Human Condition” – representatives from more than 50 countries of Western and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Asia, North and South America.
“The Human Condition” project is supposed to unfold in time and space over four years at different NCCA and partner venues and in its ideal scenario will consist of seven sessions, each of which will include a symposium, lectures, master classes and an exhibition.
The project “The Human Condition” consists of seven sections (sessions).
The theme of the 1st session – a reflection of the modern search for a new definition of humanity, classical anthropocentrism with its conception of man as the measure of all things. It puts into question the dramatic experiences of the last century. A new place for the human in the modern world, inside of natural and subject relations, discovering human in things never previously recognized as human.
The Moon`s Breakfast,2015, the multimedia installation includes 12 felt sculptures, drawings with sound.
The wool objects were impregnated by various plastic bottles, jars, cables, and cloth and formed under hot water in a washing machine. Alongside, a two new series of digital graphics Mene Luna Sappho / 8 drawings, “Rotating Spheres” / 17 drawings are a documentation of the washing machine`s creation.
The special sound composition Washing Symphonycomposed by sound artists and composer G. Popov ( Amsterdam).
Almagul belongs to the first generation of post-Soviet Kazakh artists. They all started their artistic careers in the early 1990s and faced many recognition issues, impossible to avoid given the circumstances. What in fact should the art of a new country look like? What are its traditions and origins? Looking for answers to these questions was considered to be an intriguing and creative task: so the answers were not so much sought as they were invented.
Thus, Almagul Menlibayeva created her own imaginary East, which she improved, referencing Tengrism, Shamanism, Sufism, ancient Persian mythology, Nestorianism and other spiritual traditions, that passed through the territory of Central Asia. This ideological and poetical construction features in the author’s hybrid mythology, with its own narrative epos, set of stable leitmotifs and cultural heroes. Her mythology is primarily a creation myth. This is where the cosmogonic motifs of her works – planets, stars, motifs of nature and basic elements (water, light, air, earth) – come from. As in many creation mythologies, there are ore, clay, wax, milk or honey – considered to be primitive materials from which all things were created. Menlibayeva sees felt as a primitive material, prompted by her Central Asian upbringing. Finally, like in any myth, the basic elements are held in counterpoint and in inextricable connection: for example, she shows Yin and Yang as the antipodes, intended to overlap each other. The image of the world as the combination of differences usually involves freedom from dialectics of development and formation: existence in myth is always self-sustaining in its perpetual return. This circular motion itself is the state from which the world is being born.
This mythologem – creation of a world by circular motions – is embodied in Menlibayeva’s works – quite literally. She created spherical planetary elements, braiding felt in the washing machine. This extremely mundane appearance of her creation mythology is represented in her graphic series. What seems to be paintings of cosmogonic mystery, in fact, is a photo documentation of the rotating drum of a washing machine. Thus the artist makes it clear that neo mythology lies at the basis of her poetics, combining motifs of imaginary archaism with personal life experience. Therefore, the driving of the universe mechanism, an image of machineMundi, can be represented in her work by a household device, and the basic disjunction of everything masculine and feminine can be represented by the wires with connectors labeled ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’. Thus Menlibayeva’s neo-mythology is characterized by a specifically modern feature, unknown to ancient myths creators – the capacity for irony.
Victor Misiano, curator of the exhibition “Elective Affinities”
Almagul Menlibayeva, Moon Breafast, 2016, installation, wool, LED lamps, tableware
The exhibition’s title, Elective Affinities, refers us to Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s heritage. In his eponymous novel the emotional life of the characters appears to be part of natural processes. Social contradictions are explained by Natural philosophy and high passion – by the chemistry of the elements. It looks like these romantic ideas of the organic unity of the world are today undergoing a modern revival. Some time ago, the modern age established a strict scientific image of the world, where all phenomena were rationally divided into different, almost mutually impenetrable categories. But today, in the era of late or of post-modernity these classifications and distinctions are being perceived as artificial and speculative, foreign to the essence of things. Consciousness is now aspiring to an almost impossible goal: to see the world as it is, beyond our representation of it. Hence, what we used to take as being owned by different categories, deprived of connection and incommensurable, occurs in a related and sometimes even identical way. It seems that this new image of the world, which is being
generated today in different fields of knowledge, has also manifested itself in art. Almost all participants of “Elective Affinities” began their career with an understanding of art as a holistic creative practice, which had no more distinctions in genres and types, as well as no delimitation of art from other forms of knowledge, including the direct experience of existence. Since art overcame the intention to classify itself internally and externally, it began conceiving the world differently. It experienced the similarity of the social and the organic, urban and natural dynamics (K. Holten, E. di Maggio). And again, just as the pre-scientific and pre-rational knowledge microcosm and macrocosm are reproducing in each other (C. Löhr, A. Menlibayeva, K. Holten), name and fact, idea and phenomenon, number and thing (A. Csörgö, V. Fishkin) appear to be indissoluble, the world is now ruled not by laws, but
by rhythm and sound (A. Joly, A. Menlibayeva). Subjects and time are deprived of distinction in this image of the world: present recognizes itself in the past (K. Holten, A. Menlibayeva), and universality of substance oozes out of the individuality of private things (A. Menlibayeva, E. di Maggio). Thus, humanity finds itself in the material unity of the world, in the infinity of its manifestations. By contributing to such a popular contemporary problem of human boundaries, this exhibition opens our inter-institutional and interdisciplinary project devoted to ‘Human Condition’. It is therefore worth reminding ourselves here that Goethe’s ‘Elective Affinities’ is a love story, a story about passions, about the inescapable search for another
person and for a home. It is a novel where life fatally emerges as drama and
at the same time is impossible without the pursuit of happiness.
Victor Misiano, curator of the exhibition “Elective Affinities”
The biology of the electrical cords, 2015, multimedia installation/ series of the 9 graphics drawings (70 x 52 cm), electrical cords, plants.
The Human Condition. LIMITS OF THE HUMAN: human, inhuman, over human, antihuman
Participating artists: Alexandre Joly (Switzerland), Christiane Löhr (Germany), Elizabeth di Maggio (Italy), Almagul Menlibayeva (Kazakhstan-/Germany), Vadim Fishkin (Slovenia / Russia), Katie Holten (Ireland), Attila Csörgő (Hungary). National Center for Contemporary Art (NCCA), Moscow, Russia.