Exhibition Project “Interpretations”



Curated by Elena Gubanova (Russia)

January 26 — February 7

Research Museum at the Russian Academy of Arts
St. Petersburg, Universitetskaya nab., 17


Opening night, photography Anton Khlabov

CYFEST is celebrating its anniversary: it was founded in St. Petersburg 10 years ago by artists and independent curators as one of the first festivals of new-media art in Russia.

Experts and critics yet to reach a unanimous opinion on what can be called new media art today. On the one hand, in new multimedia projects, the artist frequently loses the notion of “image”, so important for classical art, from the field of vision. The linear composition is replaced by fragmentariness and nonlinearity. The center stage is occupied by interactivity, that is to say, the blurring of authorial lines. The artist shares with the viewer an opportunity to complete a certain event within the limits of used technologies; they increasingly turn into the designer or developer of a fascinating game, the maker of a virtual reality, of connections and relationships that disappear at the command “disconnect”.

On the other hand, in large multimedia exhibitions, many artists and curators continue to look for the answer to old questions: how to contain art in technology, and technology in art; what could be called art in new technologies and what criteria should be used for its evaluation?

Multimedia exhibitions that are held in unending succession by traditional museums all over the world show the timely character of the subject. For a museum, this is an attempt to renew the “territory”, establish a relationship with contemporary art and fight against turning into a “cemeteryof masterpieces”. For artists, this is an opportunity to define their position towards traditional art and to put the classical legacy into a contemporary artistic context.

The exhibition project “Interpretations”, accommodated in the building of Academy of Art, the oldest institute of higher artistic education in Russia, firstand foremost raises questions of compatibility of the classical formal language and contemporary art that uses new technologies. This exposition of multimedia objects that is unusual for these halls establishes a delicate connection between the notion of multimedia and the aesthetics of artistic traditions.

The interpretation (artistic explication) of an artwork was widespread even back in the Renaissance era. There were conflicts between Michelangelo and Raphael about borrowing figures and subjects. In art history, we could trace the interpretations of entire styles that, in their turn, grew into new styles and movements.

Among copies of the paintings by Raphael and Titian, contemporary artists create plastic and conceptual rhymes to the works of other eras in the huge halls of the academy museum.

The Titian Hall has the tone of European museums. The action in all the works exhibited here is slowed down and feels like a dream or a memory. This precisely corresponds to the exhibition’s subject: scrutinizing, rethinking, interpreting.

The famous Belgian media artist Koen Theys has created a homage of sorts to the Dutch guild portraits of the 17 th century. A huge video projection appears to us as this portrait canvas where aged rock musicians are depicted as the exhausted heroes of a lost battle. The dark background, opaque lightingon the faces, showcase clothing, the shiny “armor” of the instruments – this is a guild portrait of our contemporaries.

As the American classic of video art Bill Viola once admitted, he always wanted the classical canvases to come to life. At our exhibition, the famous Korean artist Lee Lee Nam uses a computer technology of “revival” of paintings in his video works. Familiar subjects change before our eyes: the character of Van Gogh crosses over into the landscape of Hokusai; in a frozen Dutch still life, there is only the reflection in a glass vase that is moving; milk in the immortal masterpiece of Vermeer gets poured into infinity.

The work of the festival’s guest of honor, the classic of Italian art Fabrizio Plessi, is a hymn of sorts to Venetian Painting and, at the same time, a philosophic parable: a stone thrown into the stream (a metaphor of event) changes the color of the water, but not its essence (fluidity, movement in time).

Another very important question is the almost instantaneous “aging” of data storage devices. An artist of any movement, especially one who grew upon the traditions of modernism, consciously or subconsciously creates their work “for all ages to come”. However, the endless renewal and limitedpossibilities hidden in a specific technology undermines their actualization of “immortality”. One can often see works in “mixed style” at the exhibitions. In one project, an artist unites painting and projection, classical sculpture and kinetics, wooden relief and a screen. By way of example, the work of St. Petersburg artist Vitaly Pushnitsky “Expectation” is an attempt to demonstrate visually how the old painting form could coexist with the newest means of augmented reality. Furthermore, they do not destroy each other, but rather become codependent.

In the same hall, there is a showcase of the video “Kairos” by the American artist Susan Kleinberg, the subject of which is the micro- and macrocosm of art. After working for two years at the Louvre’s restoration lab with a microscope and a camera, Kleinberg made a remarkable film in which the goddess Ishtar appears before the viewer as a fantastic planet.

One of the projects, which already has a history of being exhibited in amuseum, is “Rehearsal” by Irina Nakhova, a recognized classic on the Russianart scene. The work is provoked by the painting “The Dead Toreador” by Edouard Manet, and is dedicated to the eternal theme of comprehension of death. The author writes about her installation: “Any rehearsal here turns into the reality of a show and every copy has a powerful energy of the original. Narcissus is engrossed in his own beauty and reflection, and it is only a harsh sound going off from time to time that saves him from an untimely death in the water of the brook”.

The work by Ludmila Belova “Dedication to Vermeer” directly unites the time and space of the Dutch painter with today. The enchanted silence of halls and hallways of the Hermitage is subtly played on by the St. Petersburg artist in her homage to the great master.

In her grand-scale creations, Alexandra Dementieva works extensively and fruitfully with the theme of interactivity. Her impressive stained-glass window-installation “The Unbearable Lightness” plays with the contemporaryperson’s notions of a miracle. In the Belgian artist’s interpretation, a change in the classical world perception takes place inconspicuously and gradually, but its nature is drastic.

There are also some works at the exhibition that do not require the viewer to be sophisticated in art history. The Italian Donato Piccolo, in his work “Anachronism”, directly uses reproductions of the old masters’ paintings, offering his interpretation of the greatest masterpieces of the 17th and 19th centuries with a great sense of humor.

In the Raphael Hall, which houses interactive and kinetic projects, the artist Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai presents the author’s version of the myth of Icarus and an ironic homage to Jacque-Louis David with his “Death of Marat”. In his work “The Bath of Marat”, the tragedy of the two stories about creative aspirations to change the world is turned into the grotesque. The magnified child’s toy becomes an ominous figure.

The group Kuda Begut Sobaki from Yekaterinburg are acknowledged masters of new media. In the installation “Fields 2.1”, they attempt to create an illusion of consciousness in non-living matter. The artists themselves explain: “We chose a moving eye as a property that allows the viewer tointerpret the “inanimate” as the “conscious”. The work is done in compliance with all the laws of a multimedia object: it has both producibility and interactivity – and, within the framework of our exhibition, in the environment of the domination of a different style, it is filled with additional meanings.”

The work of American artist Igor Molochevski translates the visual language of a simple video observation into a graphic sketch – it is as if the artist draws history in his sketchbook, quickly following his memories, accentuating nothing and pinning down nothing.

In their installation “Danae”, Ivan Govorkov and Elena Gubanova recreate the Greek myth. The protagonist here is light. A light-beam “enlivens” the matter with its touch and makes it quiver, presenting itself to the artists as both the vivifying light flying through the universe and the ancient god Zeus from the story of Danae.

In their grotesque still life “Oratory of Kombucha ‘Fairy Rings’”, Moscow artists Sergey Katran and ::vtol:: (Dmitry Morozov) disprove the notion of “dead nature”. The enticing agglomerate of mysterious glass gleaming like in the still lifes of the Lesser Dutch Painters turns out to be filled with life and sounds. The same subject – imaginary reviving and imaginary death – is played on in the work of Anna Frants from her series “Explosion of a Can of Condensed Milk after Water Has Evaporated”.

The important phenomenon as mapping is represented by the work of St. Petersburg artist Marina Alekseyeva. Her new project “Elevator” is an ironic commentary on costly spectacles. The elevator-projection incessantly darts across the museum’s windows, moving up and down profane life in the midst of the eternal beauty of academism.

The participants of the exhibition “Interpretations” are from different countries and cities, but they are united by their investigation of the changes that take place in the world – in the speed of life, speed of data transfer and sensations of the human being in space. Many of these artists resort in their works to an interpretation of the classics, thus demonstrating the profound interrelation between new and traditional works of art.

Elena Gubanova

Marina Alekseeva (Russia), Fidelity. Fidelity. Fidelity. Homage to Jan Fabre
Marina Alekseeva (Russia), Elevator
Ludmila Belova (Russia), Dedication to Vermeer
Elena Gubanova, Ivan Govorkov (Russia), Danae
Alexandra Dementieva (Belgium), The Unbearable Lightness
Sergey Katran, Dmitry Morozov aka ::vtol:: (Russia), Kombucha’s Oratorio “Fairy Rings”
Susan Kleinberg (USA), Kairos
Where Dogs Run Group (Russia), Fields 2.1
Igor Molochevsky (USA), In Transition
Lee Lee Nam (South Korea), The Milkmaid
Irina Nakhova (Russia), Rehearsal
Donato Piccolo (Italy), Anachronism
Fabrizio Plessi (Italy), Splash
Vitaly Pushnitsky (Russia), Studio. Waiting
Koen Theys (Belgium), Death Facking Metal
Anna Frants (Russia-USA), Explosion of a Can of Condensed Milk After the Water Has Evaporated
Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai (Russia), Bath of Marat


About the curator

Elena Gubanova
Artist, curator. Born in 1960 in Ulyanovsk, USSR. Graduated from the Ilya Repin State Academy Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (Leningrad, USSR). She is engaged in painting, sculpture, installations, and video. Gubanova’s principal interest as an artist is to explore the time-space notion in a social context and to present scientific discoveries through the figurative language of art. Recipient of Sergey Kuryokhin Award (Russia, 2012) in the category “Best Work of Visual Art” (together with Ivan Govorkov). Her works were exhibited at major Russian and foreign venues, including Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia), Russian Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia), Museum of Moscow (Moscow, Russia), University Ca’ Foscari (Venice, Italy), Chelsea Art Museum (New York, USA), Kunstquartier Bethanien (Berlin, Germany). Participant of the Manifesta 10 Biennale Parallel Program (St. Petersburg, Russia, 2014) and several exhibitions parallel to Venice Biennale (Italy, 2011, 2013, 2015); many times participant of the Cyfest Festival. Since 1990, she has been working in collaboration with Ivan Govorkov. Lives in St. Petersburg, Russia.