With support from the “Forum for Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan” Foundation, “Ijod” Association, the Swiss Cultural Agency at the Embassy of Switzerland in Uzbekistan, and Marjani Foundation, the conceptual art of Uzbekistan was for the first time presented at the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, titled “Rewriting Worlds”, which ran in autumn 2011. The A3 Gallery demonstrated a special project by curators N. Akhmedova and K. Bohorov “ЕТ IN ARCADIA EGO / non EGO…”
The project named “ЕТ IN ARCADIA EGO / non EGO…” relates to cultural memory that actualizes reflection on the present. It fitted the general theme of the Moscow Biennale, “Rewriting Worlds”, proposed by its curator Peter Weibel, the renowned Austrian art critic who defined its concept as follows: “We live in the era of active “rewriting programs”: rewriting the history of art, political and economic history. We live in the age of re-discovering the forgotten segments of history and geographical coordinates, which for a long time remained on the periphery of our attention; we experience a rethinking of historical concepts and events. Contemporary art and the modern world are part of the global ‘rewriting program’” (1).
The project “ЕТ IN ARCADIA EGO / non EGO…” was first shown in Tashkent, on the remains of the Ming Uryuk ancient settlement site and archaeological monument, during the “Signs of Time” international exhibition running as part of Artweek 2011. It represented the idea of conceptual art “invading” new territories, and the rejection of the traditional concept of using exhibition halls for displays. To present the project, the authors chose a metaphor of the legendary Arcadia of Ancient Greece. The new “replay” of the myth and its introduction into the cultural context of Central Asia allowed for a more adequate “experiencing of reality” and the whole range of issues associated with contemporaneity. Art, as a magnifying glass, has shown that the attainment of Arcadia in the globalized world entails the loss of heavenly innocence that used to typify its pastoral morals.
The works of the Uzbek artists performed in different media-practices – video, installations, objects, photographs – explored ideas and images associated with the need to understand passéistic or actual dimension of problems. It is characteristic that the idea of the memory of the past as an expression of some compensatory logic keeps manifesting itself in the art of Uzbekistan, influencing the insights into contemporary being. Each piece of the project exposed the key message of the exhibition, and the ancient myth was “rewritten” anew in the context of contemplating the fact that the modern worldview is failing, and the belief in utopia is dying down with it, too. What shall come to replace them?
The drama of the project was built not only on topical issues – how to respond to financial crisis, popular culture, and post-communist syndrome, but also on the existential problems facing the artist. The exhibition displayed the works of E. Kambina, A. Nikolaev, S. Tychyna, J. Usmanov, Y. Useinov, M. Fozili, as well as of the young artists B. Ismailov, Z. Mansurov, and S. Jabbarov.
Nikolaev’s works “The World of Good People” and “Apotheosis” (video installation) excited keen interest of the visitors. Searching for feedback from the audience and for attractive ideas for his projects, the artist is guided towards studying the metamorphoses of modern society that navigates the element of new economic laws. Taking as basis the picture of the late XIX century Russian artist Vasiliy Vereshchagin, (“The Turkestan Series”), Nikolaev creates a video installation on the power-of-capital theme. With the help of new media, the piece is released from the bonds of its cultural domain and engages with contemporary context as modern artefact, in the framework of “rewriting the history of art” that is so typically postmodernist. “The World of Good People” – six textile panels made by A. Panova based on Nikolaev’s sketches in the aesthetics of kitsch and naïve “Sunday” art – in the context of contemporary culture industry is perceived as “pure” and glamour-free, something folk and genuine. Pieces of satin, sequins and some other tinsel communicate the ancient magic of things tangible, golden, archaic… At the same time, the images of merchants, owners of computer-shops and kebab stalls freshly express the new ideal, a new breed growing on a solid foundation of property, however small. As it usually happens with works of this kind, the artist engages intentionally banal images series, and, at the same time, puts in references to ecclesiastical iconography. Having entered the territory of kitsch and primitivism, Nikolaev reaffirms his original discourse and his right of the ‘actual’ artist to touch upon the nerve of social being.
Installation by S. Tychyna, “The First Teacher”, is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the release of the Konchalovsky film of the same title. “Rewriting” its idea, the artist reflects on the historical experiments and Arcadian utopias of the “teachers” in this region. Original technical solutions employed by Nikolayev and Tychyna, which actualize the pop-art approach, as well as the monumental installation by Y. Useinov, “The Gastarbeiter Flight”, which is akin to the Boyce ‘social’ sculpture, define one of the segments in the country’s conceptual art.
Another angle or refraction through the prism of the Arcadian Stone were given to the passéistic discourse manifest in the thoughts about traditional Oriental values in video-art pieces “Reflection” by D. Usmanov, “Face” by B. Ismailov, and “Musaffur” by S. Jabbarov. Developed as part of respect for tradition and inherited “sensitivity” to the contemplative side of perceiving the world is a characteristic feature of the video-art style of these artists. Metaphysical note in their works is a crucial semantic component, as through visible things they try to capture the presence of the supersensitive in the surrounding continuum. The artists gave answers to questions many were pondering: How do we deal with the classical heritage of the East in the age of new media? How does the traditional Oriental world-view sublimate in the aesthetics of video-art and installations? And how does one translate this whole experience of contemplative metaphysics into the language of modernity? Thus, Jabbarov’s “Musaffur” shows modern post-industrial civilization through the eyes of a wandering Sufi dervish as a vision, the essence of which cannot be grasped by a profane.
The projects presented by the participants, by way of actualizing national archetypes and the consequences of soviet utopias, provoked the audience to think about social responsibility for the “Arcadias” and suggested yet another independent version of contemporary artistic practice.