Monday, October 04, 2010

ALINA (first shot)

The concept of object as comrade, some general ideas about it, were previously sounded in a different discussions at Goldsmiths, but I have never recorded them in writing. This is what I am planning to do now.

Originally the concept comes from Rodchenko’s ideas that were raised during Phillip Lai’s Artist talk at Goldsmiths in spring 2010. The subject was brought up within the attempt to ontline the difference between two concepts of object-relations. First was Hall Foster’s idea: commodity generates double self: “the phantasmagoric forms of a relation between things and commodities assume the active agency of people. In effect the commodity becomes our uncanny double, evermore vital as we are evermore inert” (Exquisite corpses). The second approach was mentioned in relation to tools of work, Alexander Rodchenko’s idea that object is your comrade. Jesse Heimminger condensed this argument into a few sentences:
Western commodity works to organize desire and construct identities, but it could be working in a subconscious way not transparently. The Constructivists would work with the object to consciously construct identity, society and future. They would do this without serving social relationship between the product and consumer of the object, as Western commodity would by replacing its use value and placing the “market” in the middle. (She speaks about it in her interview, though I remember citing this from the blog, and have not found the right reference.)


According to my experience in research of Soviets, basic culture of USSR was saturated with ideas that originate in Constructivism. For me the idea of object-comrade is important because in USSR there was always a huge appreciation of objects, shoes, good working tools, books; different everyday stuff was hard to get (not speaking about food during Perestroika). I was taught to care about what I own in a certain way that is foreign to the Western society of consumption and big bins. But the next slide of the story is based in Rodchenko’s impressions of his visit to the West, Paris in 1925.

Many aspects of Western culture seemed alien to him, but what touched me most (and made Alina happen) was what in the essay Rodchenko in Paris Christina Kiaer says about Rodchenko’s shock of Parisian woman, she cites Rodchenko’s letters to Varvara Stepanova (may 2, p 19): [I]t seems that only  a man is a person, and women are not people, you can do anything to them – that is a thing.” Constructivism was an alternative.

Constructivism, as both an art movement and philosophy of the relation of people to things, will be the force to liberate both objects and women from their enslaved status under capitalism – both objects and women must become comrades and co-workers in “the new relation to the person, to woman, to things.” (Kiaer)

With this proposition a set of three performative actions was originated. The first action is Miach (Ball), the second is the Hammer, and the third is Alina. Miach is a performance of use of a ball, I play with the ball, and the ball is made to be played with. (Ball-play is also an attempt to play rhythmic gymnast performance.) The poem for children by Marshak (found in the usual Soviet ABC (1988 print)) can be read-aloud though the play  is a poem for the object: “My cheerful, ringing ball, where are you running at a gallop?” –  socialist play with a ball instructs the child on the friendship with the object. The object turns out to be of primary colors: “Red, yellow, blue, I cannot keep pace with you.” I have painted the ball accordingly (and it looks like an illustration of the ball from a book), into the colors of Rodchenko’s monochromes that for him represented The Death of Painting.

The second action, the Hammer is performed with a mantra that is being said on every bang on the nail: “My hammer is my comrade.” What is being hammered? The square frame of wooden blocks.
During the next action, the square made of wood is transformed into the stencil-frame for the black square to be painted over Alina Kabaeva’s naked body.  Initial structure of the performance is accentuated on the use of an object. The ball is for play, the hammer is for hammering, the frame is for framing, the paint - for painting.

The figure of Alina, or the soft-porn image faking her objectified representation (random Internet image) forms the “liberating” context of the action. Alina Kabaeva, title figure, is a Russian ideal-woman with a vivid versatile media bibliography, which includes, rhythmic gymnastics championship and Olympic golden medals, participation in soft-porn industry, celebrity journals and TV shows, participation in the Russian Parliament and the ruling party, at last, rumors about her romance with premier Putin and a mysterious child story. Analysis of this media image is a separate story. I was really touched that Alina Kabaeva and her fellow sportswomen who worked with men’s erotic journals ended up together in the parliament, being just 26 or so.

In my work Alina became a universal symbolic for the condition of Russian woman, signified by her desire for success, her need to care of her looks, her aspiration to be feminine, and her total objectification within the discourse of new Russian capitalism.

In the performance of three actions the last gesture of spray-painting a black square is a climax, moment of “liberation”. Liberation of woman from her objectification, (“her enslaved status under capitalism”), secondly, liberation from figurative. What happens though the spray-moment is a process of decomposition, if one uses Van der Leck’s term. This process was specified by Michael White in De Stijl and Dutch modernism, (2003) (p.20):

…Van der Leck selected standard genre subject (a portrait, a women with cows and a harvesting scene, respectively) and put it though a process of selection, erasure and reduction until it became virtually indistinguishable. He called this manner doorbeelding, […] which approximates something like “decomposition”. (M White, p20)

The creation of the back square in the process is, of course, referential of Malevich, for whom figurative painting was no more than the “rubbish-filled pool of Academic art”. His Suprematist theory, was a theory of supremacy of the pure feeling in art. In an essay From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism, he pronounces: “Only with the disappearance of a habit of mind which sees in pictures little corners of nature, Madonnas and shameless Venuses, shall we witness a work of pure, living art.” Thereafter the process of decomposition, spraying black abstract shape over Alina’s body, is a process of purification; disobjectification, capitalist and sexual liberation. The futurist aspiration of early modernism to art autonomy from the real here turns into a futuristic transformation, or suggestion of transformation of political of the real.

One of the interesting things is that this imbeddedness of ideas within ALINA repeats and reinforces one of the typical tropes of culture of 20s, the equation of sexuality with capitalist bourgeois qualities and vice versa. Sergei Eisenstein, for example, showed drastic polarities between bourgeois women and striking workers’ wives  in Battleship Potemkin, where the workers’ wives were totally ripped off their sexuality and portrayed in domestic settings. Male capitalist consorts’ clothes and manners are portrayed as clearly seductive. This depictions can expand Rodchenko’s ideas and his idealist and polarized perception of woman’s sexuality, that was tackled by Kiaer. To go further it needs to be mentioned that, in Russian culture woman is usually being portrayed as a standard of morality (Attwood, L.), and the talks of sexuality, or predominance of the subject in arts has never been taken for granted (Naiman, E, 1997): “A common critical reaction to the culture’s obsession with sex was to read current talk and behavior as a symptom of social disease.” But this is a condition of early Soviet state, today’s Russia must have a different morality, different perceptions of the subject, although the main cultural tropes are still obviously there.

Nevertheless art is not a vehicle of promotion of certain political values, and here the socialist story is just another connotation contextualising the existence of the art process. Spectator-wise the understanding of ideological is undesirable, it is only one of the potential ways of interpretation of my artistic actions. The action of the performance seeks to be perceived as a play. The play can be read in accordance to Jonathan Meese’s idea that art is a field for all-human-beings play. He would speak about art process as of the process of not becoming, but playing. The process of becoming is a potentially schizophrenic process, and there is no need to become someone in art, no need to transform and be up to a certain standard: “In art nobody has to kneel down, or pray, or make himself small. In art no human being is more special than another one.” (Meese’s paper for the seminar in Goldsmiths - 2010).

Relatively, rhythmic gymnast play is not created as my attempt to be Alina Kabaeva, it is playing Alina, making fun of her... The presence of live body of the artist and contraposition of ideal Kabaeva image creats political tension. At some point it could be mistaken for an aspiration to grow up to the standard of the ideal. But the performance does not rely on this anxiety, because the ideal body on the picture is a total figure of oppression. Alina is a universal symbol of power, feminine standard of today’s Russia, woman possessed by the State system, the figure of success at last. The play is a performance of ignorance in relation to the oppressive image; it is a process of befriending with objects though their use-value, performance of friendship with the objects that help to rebuild the society for better. The futurist aspiration... The play culminates in creative act of painting, futurist attempt to manifest new object-relations, attempt to reaffirm the political power of art. The presence of painterly gesture restates my identity of a creator. The creative act is a pivotal gesture for all my last performances.