Exhibition at MMoMA, Moscow February 2010
From the moment I started thinking about my paintings as possessing a value, more important than mere aesthetics, from the moment that I saw these objects functioning as an important historical or social weapon, Christian Orthodox iconography has played a central role in my work both visually and methodologically.
About a year ago I embarked on a project that is based on the book titled The ladder of Divine Ascent written by a Mount Sinai monk called John Climacus (ca. 579 – 649, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Climacus). This project is called “Climacus”, which means ladder in Latin, and its core component consists of 30 paintings each measuring 110×105 cm. Along side this I have made 2 video installations and several other pieces. The whole body of work is intrinsically linked to a common theme that relates to my theories on current political and sociological issues, expressed through the more traditional methodologies of Orthodox Iconography. At the same time this project addresses issues about art and indirectly the art establishment.
The icon made as a result of the above book is one that has always fascinated me. This icon type portrays a very surreal image with a captivating sense of space, movement and emotion. At the core of its subject matter, it seems to me visually, are polarities; saints vs. demons, up vs. down. These polarities are why I chose this image and this book. I am fascinated by forces of good and evil and how they influence the path of our lives. Each of the 30 paintings represents a part of the icon, if all the 30 paintings are put together they will reveal the icon, it is a kind a giant puzzle if you will.
One of the books core messages is apatheia or dispassion, this being the only way, according to the author, to reach divinity. It’s hard to be dispassionate however when you look at the world around us. In this, the Moscow metro and Russian popular culture for me have become symbols of a global phenomenon. Travelling daily in the Moscow metro is a very intense experience. What strikes one most is the apathy yet extreme intent with which people go about their daily business. Untouched by the increasingly polarized world around them, and eagerly soaking up any media ploy to keep them abject, men and women mesmerized by popular culture and the hypnotic hum drum of an ultra materialist existence, descend towards decadence. With a determined, aggressive step it seems to me they step towards their ultimate destruction, fully aware and yet not caring, apathetic. In one of the video installations there is footage of metro escalators combines with a 3x2m painting of the Climacus icon.
In all this work, Russian contemporary popular culture is placed in the boxing ring with Orthodox spiritual thought (not dogma, nor missionary type religious messages), in an attempt to awaken the need to want to be aware, to be involved and above all to be active concerning global affairs. At the same time, the use of on the one hand video and on the other of painting is a similar commentary on the state of contemporary art which shuns any reference to spirituality and gloats much rather in sensationalism, irony and the ultimate shock effect, through grand scale multimedia creations.