The 4th International Modern Art Biennale called “New in Modern Art: Illusions and Reality” was held on October 2-9 in Tashkent. Its principal organizers were the “Forum for Uzbekistan Culture and Art” Foundation, the Academy of Arts of the republic, the Tashkent City Khokimiyat [municipality] and the National Television and Radio Company. For the first time the Tashkent Biennale covered all exhibition sites of the capital: the Central Exhibition Hall (CEH), the Tashkent House of Photography, the International Caravanserai of Culture, The Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan, the “Exhibition of Culture and Art” Gallery and the Cinema Museum. More than 150 artists from 33 countries arrived to take part in the Biennale.
The basic idea and underlying principle behind the 4th Tashkent Biennale was the organizers’ wish to make it different and unlike the three previous ones, as each biennale had and has its own specific context. The first three biennale held in Tashkent had fulfilled their historic mission – to promote modern art in Uzbekistan as an innovative trend and to push the habitual boundaries of artistic cognition both in spatial and creative/ideological plane.
By the time of the 4th Tashkent Biennale, modern art, one may say, had already found its niche in the art of present-day Uzbekistan through the efforts of artists and curators, as well as various personal projects. The 1st Tashkent international photo- and video-art festival held in May 2007 brought about the ultimate entrenchment of its positions. The idea of the “rehabilitation” of painting started floating among art critics. In our view there is no reason for juxtaposing innovative trends in contemporary art and its traditional kinds such as painting, sculpture and graphic arts. As some experts noted, the national cultures in the post-soviet space (just like in the entire contemporary art in other countries – K. A.) appear as inter-text that consists of quotations, allusions, metaphors, stylizations, trends, as well as polemics, dialogue, collision, etc. Every art phenomenon reflects not only differing vectors in creative development, but also specific mentality, a particular mood or mindset.
The theme for the 4th Tashkent Biennale “New: Illusions and Reality” was not a chance selection. New trends, new curators, new names, new personal projects, new works and new look upon established notions enabled moving away from a habitual stereotype when always the same artists participated, as well as more comprehensive cover of contemporary creative process in order to distinguish illusions and reality in it. Hence, the goal of the 4th Tashkent Biennale was to demonstrate different trends, new areas and new names to the general public. Its objectives, appropriately, were to galvanize international cultural links, intensify creative dialogue of cultures, traditions and achievements of different countries in the sphere of fine art, emancipate creative mind, promote pluralism in creative search, and demonstrate specificity of the post-modern in different countries and the state of inter-textuality of modern art. As the international curator of the 4th Biennale Pavlos Konstantinos Politis (Greece) noted, ‘Our objective is not only to attract public interest and present it as a colourful show, but most importantly, to provide a “podium” for modern art and give the participants the opportunity to come here and discover something new for themselves’.
The 4th Biennale demonstrated a positive dynamics in the development of the Tashkent Biennale exhibitions of modern art. And it is not only the matter of the growing number of participants; it has evidenced the great effectiveness of engaging prominent foreign curators and project authors such as Pavlos Konstantinos Politis (Greece), Galina Briger (Germany), Maria Tsantsanoglou (Greece), Denizkhan Ozer (Turkey, UK), Shalva Khakhanashvili (France) and Khan Khen Sam (Republic of Korea). The abundance of material from different countries that was presented to the organizational committee enabled, even after a careful selection, creating a balanced and interesting composition for each exhibition venue. Every hall that housed the exposition of the 4th Biennale had something worth taking a look. “Modern Uzbek Video Art” and “The Youth Project” were singled out into separate independent projects.
The 4th Tashkent Biennale, no doubt, has contributed to the emancipation of the artists’ creative mind, facilitated further development of pluralism in creative search, and demonstrated the situation in post-modernism in different countries and its opportunities, as well as different trends in the work of different artists.
The art of post-modernism, or post-post-modernism as some researchers call it, is quite diverse. Yet it is worth mentioning that the situation with post-modernism in the CIS countries is even more specific, as many of the trends that had been explored by the European post-modern as early as in 1960s-1980s still maintain their relevance and novelty for the modern artists in the former soviet countries. Some researchers refer to this phenomenon as lagging behind global paradigm in the development of modern art worldwide. Naturally, this lagging behind has its reasons, just as the varying degree of demand for modern art and the specificity of its development in particular countries today.
Despite the diversity of artistic self-expression, currents and trends, the expositions of the 4th Biennale give grounds to assume that the main problem in modern art is not only the renewal of its language, but also the issue of a relationship between the man and contemporary world.
The exposition at the CEH started already in the street, and that was yet another peculiarity of the 4th Tashkent Biennale. The interactive approach, reaching out into the urban environment attracting attention of the general public – these are the things without which modern art is unconceivable nowadays. The exposition was opened by the anonymous white cube titled “Room” by an Israeli artist Daphne Yalon. Somehow reminding of architectural landscape shapes of the Middle East, it still appeared strikingly odd. The artist’s project synthesised minimalist concept, installation, video-art and performance. The woman-artist was walking barefoot carrying a bucket, taking handfuls of soil and decorated her “Room” with clay moulds. In the evenings the room glowed in the fireworks of colour and light effects, catching the eye of the passers-by. But most important feature was the concept of physical interaction between a human being and earth on the planet that the Israeli artist has been able to communicate in her work; she said, ‘Having entered this white space the man “discovers” the bottom, drawing the earth from the depth. One has to feel the earth, inhabit it, create with it… And then you will see how the raw natural source shows itself, transforms the space and turns it upside down. Feel the earth both as planet and as material’.
The problem of environment and the relationship of man and nature was the theme that inspired Lettish woman-artist Ilona Sausa who created her piece on the lawn by the entrance to the CEH. Her composition consisted of simulakri that imitated the most ordinary multicolored earth-warms crawling into a ditch accompanied by some music. Despite the simplicity of the action, Sausa has succeeded in drawing the viewers’ attention to the fact that we are too wasteful in relation to the living nature and that our caring attitude to it starts with very basic things. One only needs to pay attention – that is the main concept of the Lettish artist.
Projects presented at the 4th Tashkent Biennale are also quite interesting. One of them is “The Tokyo Dance” by a well-known Japanese artist Hironori Murai that, as the artist himself says, represents the view of an oriental person, according to which the misty haze in the shape of a human body (the astral) is always in an anaphoric connection with the Universe. This concept presents the transformation of air into force. The shape of the figures is based on the image of kuroko (in traditional Japanese theatre, Kabuki, kuroko are people dressed in black who assist actors on stage and back stage). In this case they represent people of the urban world, preoccupied exclusively by their inner world, alienated from one another and incapable of hearing anyone but themselves. The objects produce different sounds: thoughts about the idea of life and death from musical fragments of songs, recital of Buddhist sutras, as well as different kinds of noises. The sounds are separated from the original context, therefore their meaning is irrelevant. Sound is just a reminder of our present-day life. Taking into account the profound philosophic content of this work and the innovativeness of its performance, members of the Biennale honorary committee unanimously awarded the Grand Prix to the Japanese artist Hironori Murai.
Rich philosophic content fills the work by the Uzbek artist Faizulla Akhmadaliev titled “Dialogue with Bread”. Bread is the basics of life; everyone needs it and works to earn it. Life is all about contrasts. Photographs in frames made of bread show different faces and different fates; those who once ate this bread and did not come back from war; those who eat this bread today, the faces of women who baked it; and in the mirrors every one could see oneself. Who are we? How do we live? This project was not only about bread, but also about life, the world and people who love in it.
“Record II”, the work by the Polish artist Ireneush Solarek, won the liking of the viewers and positive evaluation of the honorary committee members. It is an unusual video-installation in which the Polish artist acted as both film director and engineer. His work caught attention by being simple and extraordinary at the same time. When getting in touch with it, the viewer felt oneself flying. It was the flight of the soul. ‘I am mighty glad to present my project at the 4th Tashkent Modern Art Biennale’, said Ireneush Solarek. ‘The exhibition gave me the opportunity to lean about the work of Uzbek artists, and I have been very impressed by it’.
The post-modernism art is the search dynamics in the direction of visual images representing de-localized virtual reality. This factor determined the emergence of video-art that is capable of creating live, independent and interactive pictures. One of the many fascinating biennale projects was the “40 Years of Video-art in Germany” by Goethe Institute (Office in Uzbekistan) and a seminar on video-art offered by German artists Kristiana Delbrugge and Ralf de Moll. ‘Perhaps, video-art is the kind of art that, by sight, frightens some people’, commented Kristiana Delbrugge. ‘In the exhibition halls it is usually presented in a set with monitors and headphones. And artists who work in this genre do not look like Bohemians at all: they can be seen with notebooks, CDs and video equipment. Yet, as time goes by, video-art becomes increasingly common and acclimatized in the society. One can even say that it is gradually coming out of the shadows’.
It should be noted that the biennale programme dedicated a special place for video-art. Along with the presentation of the reels by German authors, the Cinema Museum housed the viewing of works by Uzbek video-artists. Video-installations by a Spanish artist Davis Maroto and Swiss artist Andreas Widmer also presented a whole universe of technical, artistic and semantic possibilities of this art.
Ethnic theme and post-modernism is yet another noteworthy aspect in modern art. A video-art piece by the Uzbek woman-artist Umida Akhmedova on the topic of the traditional rite of circumcision, which was filmed in one of Uzbek villages, caught the viewers’ attention by the spirit of anthropology of the mundane. In her work there is a manifestation of the “new natural realism” that draws attention to the state of our daily, habitual life that has preserved its “archaism”.
A synthesis of body-art and ethnic theme was implemented in the works of a well-known Kyrgyz artist Yuristanbek Shygaev. For the artist the body becomes a matter, “a ground in which the effects of the world are manifested”; it reflects the traces of a concrete reality – in this case it is the reality of ancient signature cultures that submerge the viewer into the world of mystic presentiments. Unlike the manifestations of the European body-art of 1970s that imitated the “identity crisis”, Shygaev’s body-art carries in it the metaphysics of ancient signs and symbols.
A project titled “Grasping the Sense” (authored by the Uzbek artist Tursun Ali) demonstrated a synthesis of creative photography, installation and painting. Photographs taken during the traditional nomad shearing of camels show these eternal “ships of the desert” in a completely unexpected perspective: thrown down on the ground and helpless. Close-ups and expressive angles transform a commonplace ritual of shearing into a confrontation between nature and utility.
A multitude of manifestations in the relationships between nature and man, ideas and images, illusions and reality was demonstrated by a project called “Reflection” (curator Shalva Khakhanashvili, France). The concept of reflection in art has long roots – one may recall a Greek myth about Narcissus. According to Alberti, Narcissus, the “inventor” of painting, is the first who makes us contemplate about visual art.
Another new trend represented at the 4th Biennale called “natur-art” was implemented in the project titled “Pamir. The Following Day” (project director Georgiy Mamedov). “Eyed” trees and stone “fishes”, the In-Yang symbol made of twigs, stones and sand… Natural appearances and compositions made of natural materials have been turned into true works of art owing to the artists working in this area. This biennale section was a novelty and introduced the viewer into the “environmental” trend in modern art. One of its promoters was Oksana Shatalova from Kazakhstan, who presented a series of photo- and video-projects.
The works of our young artists deserve a special mentioning, for some of them they have won the main bonus prize of the 4th Tashkent Biennale. The works were amazing in their openness and willingness to experiment. And these were not just technical experiments. In their majority, the works were full of meaning and raised different issues: environment, alienation, Sufi philosophy… As a result, Andrei Lomanov earned a trip to France to participate in an international exhibition (the prize awarded by the Embassy of France), Maina Mukhamejanova – a trip to Turkey with the exhibition (the prize given by the honorary committee member Denizkhan Ozer), Sanjar Jabbarov has won the participation in the 2nd International Modern Art Biennale in Saloniki in 2009.
The 4th Tashkent Modern Art Biennale has had a major positive response. Maria Tsantsanoglou, the Director of the Modern Art Museum in Saloniki (Greece) noted: ‘Uzbekistan has a very good infrastructure for holding this kind of exhibitions, and, most importantly, there is support from the Academy of Arts and the “Forum for Culture and Art” Foundation and other authoritative organizations in the country, which is essential for its success. This means that biennale is becoming a central project in which the main role is given to artists. I like the work of many Uzbek artist, their sense of aesthetics and good taste, as well as extensive and skilful use of ancient national traditions in modern art’.
‘The Tashkent Biennale is a major cultural event of international scale’, said Galina Brigger, the Director of Art Deport German Cultural Centre. Artists and art critics were given an opportunity to learn about the work of their colleagues and share views. I would like to mention specifically the high standard in the organization of the biennale that opens the way for new ideas. I participated in many international biennale in many countries. Not very often one can see such beautiful and majestic exhibition halls as in Uzbekistan. The artists of Uzbekistan can take pride in the fact that the country has this unique environment and every condition for creative work’.
The 4th International Modern Art Biennale in Tashkent has given a spur for the creation of new remarkable works and the implementation of new ideas, different international activities and exchange exhibitions and cultural projects in the near future.