KHIMKI - STATION 2. Text by A. Borovsky
The duo Dubossarsky & Vinogradov are one of themost popular, mass-media hyped phenomena of our contemporary art, andyet, there are few few professional, critical texts about them. Ingeneral, it is difficult to critique successful artists, and all themore so when they are not strangers, but our very own, localresidents of the Moscow art scene. However, it brings no joy whena phenomenon passes beyond the influence of local gravitationalforces and enters an uncontrollable orbit. Both their rapid impact onthe transnational establishment as well as their instantaneousembeddedness within the Western art scene is galling (especiallyinfuriating is that chic “&”, just like Gilbert &George). Likewise the fact that, amongst frenzied productivity, thereis talk not just of a biennale and auctions, but also of theselection of their paintings for museums. And what is most unsettlingis that the reaction of Dubossarsky & Vinogradov to any criticismis completely predictable. They will happily accept any invective andeven play along. This is no Olympian “praise and disparagement areboth accepted indifferently”, but rather the classiccontemporary Western reaction, that of Koons or Hirst. Fire thingsup, guys! Give us anything but that dry, academic cool and citationsfrom Baudrillard or Sloterdijk: “Maybe you are right to suggestthat we are scribblers and hacks. And that’s nice to accuse us ofcommercialization! We are caught between a rock and a hard place;we're not in step with the 'left march', and we are perfectlycomfortable making use of the bourgeois representation machine.”Not only does a healthy dose of provocation lie at the very heart oftheir production of art, but also in their behavioral pattern.Their approval of criticism, or rather the ability to harness andchannel others’ comments is a technique to involve the audience,and that includes the critical audience. Professional criticsquickly realize they have become pawns of artistic manipulation.Thus, in recent years, they have mainly grumbled about Dubossarsky &Vinogradov behind the scenes. The artistic press remains silentfor the most part. I think their new project 'On the Block' will alsobe met with distrust: as will this walking among the people.Khimki mon amоur: a low-budget film.
Well, we will wait and see.
Gogol has already told us everything that can beused to reproach the successful and the lucky: “‘Look here, myfriend,’ his'professor said to him more than once, ‘You havetalent; it would be a shame to waste it. But you are impatient.When something tempts you, you fall in love with it, you becomeengrossed in it, and as a result, all else goes for nothing, and youwon’t even look at it. Take care not to become a fashionableartist. Even now you begin to paint too vividly. Your drawing is notstrong, and sometimes even weak, with no discernable line. Youalready strive for a fashionable style that strikes the eye atonce. Watch out, or you will fall into the English fashion.” On theother hand, what did the professor mean by 'the English fashion'?Perhaps, Joseph Mallord William Turner? Then that is not at allbad, according to the current opinion. Yes, and 'strikes the eye atonce' is rather strongly put.
What is striking about Dubossarsky &Vinogradov’s work, bearing in mind the 'first glance', that is, theconventional state of today’s modern visual style?
I think that before they 'struck', the artistscarefully examined the state of figurative art in the middle of the90s, at which time they began to collaborate. If we disregard the oldguard, like those of the London school, who were firmlyestablished in classical museum archives and still (at that time) inno need of reinterpretation, there were not that many names activein representational painting which were relevant. For some reason,it seems to me that in the course of their survey, our artistsstudied Fischl, who documents with Updikean candour the everydaylife (and in particular, the sexual life) of the American middleclass; also Alex Katz, who is older, yet whose images retain anamazing vitality; and of course, they drew strength from theLeipzig School, above all from Neo Rauch. What was their relation toSots Art? More on this to come.
The duo completely consciously contributed tothis tried and tested visual corpus a body of work that was in oneway or another associated with Socialist Realism. First of all, thiswas done at an opportune time: the ideological connotations werenow a thing of the past, and Western market institutions (albeit of alow level) were now processing a vast array ofcorresponding material. The time was ripe to utilize thisresource, which still retained its appeal. But what should be gleanedfrom it? Should its language be appropriated? A language of SocialistRealism, as such, does not exist. What is shared, in terms oflanguage, between Gerasimov’s sloppy painting in the picture Stalinand Voroshilov in the Kremlin and Yakovlev’s stunning skillin Discussion About Art? What is the connection between these twopaintings, if we disregard the sophisticated mimicry, the narrativescheme (whether directly present or potential) which was no lessdeveloped, and certain compositional and technical aspects (the useof historical iconographic techniques, etc.)?
I believe what unites these stylisticallydifferent works is a particular attitude with regard to the painting.A Socialist Realist painting possesses, among other things, a certainelement of what ought to take place. It constitutes a window intoa world more correct than the actual reality provided to us. This ishow leaders ought to look, how heroes ought to die, howcollective farm girls ought to dance folk dances, and how ears ofwheat ought to grow. Naturally, this element is used in various ways:in one picture reality is corrected in its entirety; in anotherthere may be only a minimal omission. This mode of 'what ought tobe' is more important than the visual style itself, and moreimportant than the painting’s quality. At the very least, this isbecause it unites a vast array of works of varying quality and amultitude of styles into a coherent whole and a parallel reality thatis more vivid that it actually is. It unites them and endowsboth truly outstanding works and common merchandise with asuggestion similar to Lepeshinskya’s 'living matter' (or, later, toSorokin’s Blue Lard). Of course, the term ‘sacred’ can beapplied in relation to all of this, and for some works (i.e., thesame piece by Gerasimov) the term is quite suitable (incidentally, inthe painting’s subsequent 'democratic' renaming as Two LeadersAfter the Rain is there not the desire to expel and drive out thesacred?). But in other situations, this term is too strong. Thus Iwould limit this concept of a mode of 'what ought to be.Therefore, Dubossarsky & Vinogradov fully reflect the essenceof this mode. It is precisely this practice that they haveassimilated. They had only to adapt it to their own purposes andchange the mode of 'what ought to be' by extending it to a worldthat is far from correct.
Which is what they did.
When modern Russian leaders, Schwarzenegger, andHollywood monsters appeared in their works in the iconographicpatterns of socialist realism, many thought that the duo’srelationship with high style was built upon the principle ofparody. Moreover, the artists did not hide the fact that theyunderstand the level of their prime audience and, shall we say,exploit its gullibility. Parody is the duo's favourite tool butthey have others at their disposal. (Just as deconstruction of Sovietmythology and ideology and desecration are not the only methods atwork in Sots Art. In a number of cases, Sots Art even uses theresource of sacredness that was developed within Socialist Realism.This is especially true of Komar & Melamid’s 'NostalgicSocialist Realism', a project to which, it seems to me,Dubossarsky & Vinogradov paid special attention). Banter andjokes are short-lived; the strength of these works lies on a deeperplane, in the remarkable credibility and vitality of the images.An enormous dinosaur, straight from some Jurassic Park, ends up in ahot workshop, and the essence of this piece is not to parodyart galleries and Hollywood, but in the determination with whichthe furnace-illuminated workers are drawn to the lizard and in howconvincingly it breathes fire. In a winter forest, a troika rushes atfull speed and a naked maiden opens fire, not at wolves, but at someghoul, a vampire with wings. The point is not that the girl is nakedand that there are vampires instead of wolves, but the naturalnessof the characters’ behaviour in the circumstances presented.Tractor drivers and milkmaids in the fields of collective farms donot dance folk dances and celebrate holidays at a table beneathRed slogans, but engage in group sex. Again, it is with the samenaturalness and expertise.
All this can be interpreted with recourse to theconcept: the sublimation of the fears and secret erotic dreams ofRussian literature, multiplied by the visual style of porn magazines,and horror and fantasy films, for example. But it is not trashpsychoanalysis that is interesting here, rather something else. Allthe characters, right up to the naked giants of Russianliterature, behave themselves as is proper for the givensituation. Indeed, later in 'Underwater World', this naturalness istested even while submerged in water. The heroes are carefree andglamorous, the children of modern urbanism. They are unaffectedand behave as normal, amusing themselves and engaging in folk dances.There is nothing catastrophic such as in Hirst’sinstallation Flooded Offices. However, here we may see thetradition of Russian non-reflexive alogism: Repin's contemporariesnoted that the painter’s Sadko sings underwater as though nothinghas happened and without wetting his kaftan.
Devilry, Sodom and Gomorrah, and other horrorsare depicted not as paranormal phenomena, but as reality. Everythingthat exists, is observed, constructed or hallucinatory has a rightto representation. The principle of 'what ought to be done' isvalid for the realms of logic and ideology, and everything else.Moreover, the principle also continues to be in force whenaesthetics and the iconography of 'gloss' begin to play anincreasingly significant role in their visual representation. Itturns out that the mode of 'what ought to be done' is also in effecthere and no less obligatory than in respect to the visual style ofSocialist Realism: the models do what they should and the masses lustas they should; an ideal, sterile and correct world should beprecisely thus, not ashamed of its glamour and hedonism. Life iseverywhere, and it can be realized thanks to the painting, whichexhibits and tolerates everything.
However, what does it mean to speak of a Dubossarsky& Vinogradov painting?
And what is the role of the media in their work?
It seems to me that at the heart of the modernunderstanding of media there lies a kind of conceptualization of themeans of representation, that is, the techniques and technologythrough which a work of art is made. This is not justtransmission; rather mediality is sometimes understood as anorientation to the mass media nature of modern communication; andthis is reasonable. But that is not all. It seems to me that bothtraditional techniques and technologies (for example, a pencildrawing) or strictly functional methods of recording an image,not originally conceived as art work (for example, an X-ray) cantake on the qualities of media. They can do this – providing theyare meaningful – precisely in terms of visual representation:how and why they have an effect. Dubossarsky & Vinogradov takeas the basis of their visual style sweeping, yet universal (i.e. ableto portray anything) brushwork, which could be seen in the worksof the art factories which were still in existence at the time of theartists’ youth. Precisely because of its universality anddemocratic nature it ideally suits the mode of 'what ought to bedone' discussed above: suggestive qualities are endowed to a complex,multi-figure composition and an impoverished landscape 'with birches'which embodies the observed motives in its slush andhallucinations. It is convincing nonetheless, 'everything fits inplace', and, if this reaction is not deceptive, everything belongs toa recognizable universe. But outside of this mode, the picturesquequality loses its meaning and almost flows down from the canvas. Itseems that the duo does not have separate, individual pictures thathave been excluded from this mode. This is the drive behind makingseries. Thus, mediality as understood by Dubossarsky & Vinogradovdoes not exist outside of the tasks they set for the picture as apiece of the universe... The picture as a unit of mediality.
Of course, they have made their visuals slightlymore complicated, adding a little Warhol. And, of course, theyconceptualized the pithy, masterful skill of the art factories,lending it a trendy, trashy inflection. Then they mixed all of itup with gloss. But such amplification only emphasizes the content’sinner life, which does not fit within the techniques ofcommercialization, namely because they have a complete picture ofthe world. They are capable of adjusting their lens in accordancewith the expectations of their audience – to imitate postmodernpastiche or minimize the message, but the wholeness anduniversality of their picture of the world cannot be denied.Therefore, they do not fear accusations of commercialization orcreating bubblegum art: they can work for both oligarchs and 'thepoor'. They simply use expectation and make conjuncture work forthem, using its vital force. On our art scene there were few whocould reflect upon the energy of demand: either it was not thenorm, or they were embarrassed. Many in the West could do so – atleast the pop artists, Koons, and the Chapmans. This demand is fora stable world represented through anarchical, alogical and brutalmethods. Now this is more like our duo.
It seems that over the years of their success,the duo, despite their purely positivistic outlook, has had a nottrouble-free experience of the social and institutional subcurrentsof the transnational artistic process.
In their project 'Danger! Museum', they offer upa kind of counter-museum. The project was created for Venice, andalthough it claims to be self-sufficient, of course it presupposes amuseum environment. This is a museum within a museum, butsubversive, a kind of Trojan horse. There is no avant-garde symbolismin their project, the kind to rip a museum to pieces… There are nosigns of the current discourse of the left – no quiet attempt toredirect the institution, break ties with world capital and extricateit from the cultural establishment and the ruling system ofrepresentation, and to make it a think-tank and archive of socialactivism. I would call what Dubossarsky & Vinogradov haveconceived 'museum raiding'. They want to swoop down and capturethe traditional institution, force out the security, and create theappearance of its former activity, while in actuality removing itstreasures. This is a wonderful, playful project, fully attuned tothe strategies and mood of current capitalism, which has run wild andis losing its former cultural achievements. In 'Danger! Museum', theartists straddle the tides of two markets: highbrow and lowbrowart. This first tide relates to the idea of control. A vastliterature exists on this theme – from Bentham’s Panopticon tomodern notions of social control. By inserting video surveillancecamera eyes into their paintings, the artists have provided anoccasion for endless reflection on the museum’s involvement in asystem of total surveillance. The second tide is connected withthe mythology of the art market: with the idea of manipulating theconsumer. The higher the auction and other prices, the louder thetalk of bubbles and other troubles. Here, too, Dubossarsky &Vinogradov are at their best: as before, they master trashyinflections, but now their bad painting is terrible like neverbefore. Commercialization looks at us with the eye of the videocamera, gauging whether we have mistaken a fake for high art, andwhether high art has been successfully disguised as a fake. Mostlikely the artists are ready to accept any interpretation. Iprefer my 'raider' interpretation: the museum has been captured, whatis truly valuable has been removed, poorly made forgeries have beenplaced on display, and video surveillance is carried out as acover-up: to indicate that there is something worth stealing here.
It seems that the museum project may have playedthe role of an intermediary summation in the creative fortune ofDubossarsky and Vinogradov. After it, a kind of detachment arose –it was time to strike a balance. After all, the word 'danger' inthe title could speak to them as well: something had been exhausted,something became inert and required reformatting, if notdeletion. What do the classics say: “Ah! All is drunk!Bathyllus, life yet laughed away? Ah! All is eaten and drunk! No moreto say!” The artists’ new project 'On the Block' was ascetic inits own way. The artists go to the people in the literal sense –they go to the street, like cops talk about their workaholic rank andfile walking the beat. As if there had never been theglamorous, transnational, underwater stages, etc. There were nophantoms and hallucinations, fully controlled as they may have been.It is easier to recall what remains. And quite a lot remains. Avery positive, holistic approach to life. Formerly, this wasevidenced by an excess of imagination, now – if not by the paucityof everyday life, then by its monotony. Democracy waspreviously achieved through attentiveness to their art’scommunicative capabilities and the ability to achieve a rapportthrough figurative representation. This concern for recognition isnow forced, so to speak, upon the plot and thematic elements ofthe paintings: nonetheless they are about urban life – not theinner city, but normal, suburban life, and recollections of theirKhimki in the most fanciful mood. There also remains theunderstanding of a painting as a part of a universe (no matter if itis scaled down to the local level; below we will discuss how it canbe decompressed, like a spring): one painting means nothing, butin aggregate, they are a developing world.
Of course, the duo’s purpose throughout of allthese manipulations to simplify and bring things down to earth(asphalt) was not at all in order to introduce the traditionalRussian rites of searching for true values, inevitably associatedwith a mid-life crisis. That is truly quite tenuous. It seems to methe magnitude of their own phantom-making has somewhat frightenedthem. As has already been said, they have retained full controlover their actors: Barbie dolls, metrosexuals, and every kind of evilspirit act as they should, like clockwork. The artists haveretained their control over their audience. It appears they neededto come to terms with their own consciousness, with the balance ofactual reality and the realities of consciousness – muchhad intermingled, like in the Briullov’s Dreams of Grandmotherand Granddaughter.
I think the task the artists set for themselveswas realistic as always and consisted of the following points: toreturn to the idea of spontaneity, chance, and the sense of lifecaught unawares, as it really is; to rethink one’s position orworldview accordingly: to reverse the position of the producers ofrealities and that of the observer; and to readjust the emotionalregister. This is a very important question for the duo: over thecourse of many years they constructed a kind of general, flatemotional tone, in accordance with the rules of the game. In theBrezhnev era, the Leningrad Neue Wilde movement invented the imageof a moron – a 'stupid and endlessly cheerful person' – as themouthpiece of the manifestation of an unsullied ideology oflife. Dubossarsky & Vinogradov established themselves in verydifferent times, yet their message was also non-ideological, althoughfor different reasons. You cannot call it unemotional, but it depictsemotion of the simplest kind, based on reactions of approval that canbe voiced by interjections or short words such as wow, funny, a rush,all’s fine, etc. (thus, there was no need for the artists toshow their own emotions, as it was not part of the rules of thegame). In this new situation, it is clear they feel the need toexpress themselves emotionally and to think about emotionalnuances. I think what tempted the artists was their development ofthe notion of social observation. Previously, there had been nooccasion for this: the duo’s imagery was mediated nonetheless byvisual and verbal sources (social realism, the magazine Ogonyok,glossy magazines, their contemporaries, folk and 'intellectual'mythology, the narrative of jokes).Now the opportunity has arisento look at the street from point-blank range.
No better place than Khimki (where the artists’studio is located) could be found to carry out their homework: it isa regional town, but the second largest located nearMoscow. Dubossarsky & Vinogradov show us a cinéma vérité –a city of familiar faces, banal situations, and easily read meanings.And yet it is a city full of potential human stories and evensurprises. The mediality of the project, as always with the duo,is reflexive: certainly it is photo-based art, but the photorealisticbasis is constantly stripped away and erased. There are no glareeffects, optically blurred movements, or exposure contrasts. Ingeneral, the optical and mechanical clearly are immediatelysuperseded by the perceptual, which emanates from the reaction oftheretina. But the main thing that distinguishes these works from theclassics such as Goings, from our first tentative Photo-Realists atthe end of the 1970s, and from Faibisovich is that they do notfocus on fragments, that concentration of attention which is supposedto lead to enlightenment and insight. Although Dubossarsky &Vinogradov use a kind of cropping and blow-ups, they gravitatetowards a different, scenic format (it goes without saying, not in aphysical or quantifiable sense, but in terms of content, which hasbeen mentioned above). And as you will recall, a picture does notonly constitute the unit of mediality for the duo, but alsopresupposes the presence of a complete universe, even if thatuniverse is just Khimki.
In this universe, girls prepare themselves forlove by striking poses from glossy magazines, cars overturn, and dogsfight. A sexy policewoman in her office shows off her knees like in aTV series about corrupt cops. And a teenage girl with braces onher teeth is exactly like something out of a new Exorcist. It isterrible to say, but in general, it is a normal city. Thetownspeople are not aggressive and they are well dressed. Theyhave their Dolce & Gabbana here, second hand certainly, butnonetheless it is not Chinese junk from shuttle traders. Here peopletalk on mobile phones and go, go, go (a characteristic of life 'Onthe Block' rather than on Prechistenka or Ostozhenka Street). Theyhave things to do, that is, they are going somewhere and fora reason. The artists let us know that this is not 'cityphysiology', as if it were a record of daily life the 1990s, butsomething else. Just urban life. A bit simple, yet tasteful. Evenwith style.And, it even seems, with hope.
Let us stop here. I think Dubossarsky &Vinogradov are entering dangerous territory, perhaps unwittingly. Itmay seem to them in the context of their own development that theyhave surely just presented themselves with a rather interestingproblem: namely, is genrism possible in modern art. And not just anygenrism, but genrism combined with hope, with a sort ofhumanistic inflection. Therefore, it seems they are reaching outto the straightforward genrism of the 1960s: above all, to Pimenov,with his Wedding on Tomorrow Street (a historically importantpiece; it is no coincidence that Gutov quoted Pimenov in hisinstallation Over the Black Mud). In due course, all the hopesassociated with these naïve streets of the 1960s were trampled. Andthat’s that. Whereas today our artists have great interest inwhether this stratum can be reclaimed? The question possesses them,in keeping with their interest in the limits of painting today.Ten years ago this limit was measured by devilry and glamour,today – with everyday life: a girl from the bank, sunshine on one’sretina, and a freshly-washed street. So what is dangerous in thistesting? I think it elicits a much sharper reaction than previousaccusations of glamour and catering to the tastes of the wealthyclasses. Phantoms and Arcadia are nonetheless far from us, whereasthe street, a proletarian district, and asphalt are all quite close.Yet the territory is also foreign, having long ago been chosen by avery specific part of the artistic community for its own goals.For example, street activism, critical reflection on capitalizationof the country, and analysis of the economic trauma inflicted onsociety. And now here are Dubossarsky & Vinogradov with theireasel-painting genrism devoid of a message. In this manner,visualizing their Khimki universe in a similar way and with an almostbenevolent attitude will lead to claims that everyday life isimproving somehow (for some reason we had to study Yakovlev’sTransport is Improving for our exams at the Repin Institute of FineArts). Opportunism! I think Dubossarsky & Vinogradov are notthe only unwanted guests here. So are all the phenomena of variouscalibres that in one way or another mark a turning point inworldview. Is it a turn to the left? Probably not, given thescanty ideological component. It is simply a turn to normality, whichin the Russian tradition has always meant focusing attention on thecommon man. It is a turn that responds in some way to Guelman’sexhibition 'Russian Povera' and to all of these new, social,'suburban' movies - Hard-hearted, Tale in the Darkness, Tambourine,Drum, and whatever else there was… Of course this may offendmany people. It’s a nice business when people within the art systemgauge the degree of commercialization and hand out passes for socialintimacy. More precisely, they deny and protect their own. I thinkKhimki will sort itself out.
I think Dubossarsky & Vinogradov personallydo not give a second thought to this wrangling about localsignificance. Rather the paintings are interesting as study ofmanners. The duo has long presented themselves as a specialexpress train, well-equipped and decorated with garlands and lights,speeding along. God knows where it is racing to, but I think thattoday it has stopped at the right station.
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