Olga Chernysheva. Catalogue Biennale of Sydney 2006.
One of Olga Chernysheva's recent projects, Panorama (2005), is presented as a cycle of pictorial canvases that recreate the frames of a famous 1960s cinema attraction - a documentary film about the land of the Soviets, which was projected from different sides onto the walls of a cylindrically closed space. Presented in a range of muddy colours, these canvases represent nostalgia for that public wholeness, the loss of which has turned into (in the words of the artist) "phantom pain" for several generations. Ilya Kabakov, for instance, overcomes this pain with his "total installations", which are stenographic reconstructions of the former socialist order, and also panoramas of a kind. Chernysheva has taken another road: since the end of the 1990s, like Walter Benjamin's flaneur but with a video camera in her hands, she has been recording everyday situations in her surroundings that suggest "profane illumination".
The "heroes" of Chernysheva's video diptych, Anonyms (2004), are two elderly people she has spied on in public parks: a man who opens and then drinks a whole bottle of vodka for the entire duration of the film, and a woman who, half-dressed and standing on a white towel spread out upon the ground, breathes in the fresh summer air.
Oblivious to what's going on around them, they are completely self-absorbed. With the perspicacity of a sociologist, the artist reveals a new type of person who has sprung from the wreckage of the Soviet order: the asocial and self-contained individual.
The "hero" of her first documentary video work, Marmot (1999), has joined a Communist demonstration, walking beneath red flags to the sounds of slogans and songs of the Soviet era. However, the heroine is filmed during a pause when, having fought her way out of the procession, she stands at a parapet and counts the small change of her pitiful pension in her palm. She then rejoins the march, a photo of Stalin in her hand; however, obviously the era of masses and social movement apparently over. Everyone in that crowd is motivated by the same personal "phantom pain" that moved Chernysheva when she first took the video camera into her hands.
In post-Soviet society, alongside the nostalgic demonstrations, there is another but just as illusory type of social community that has been created by bio-politics of power. Chernysheva's video film, March (2005), shows us some public holiday celebration with flags, balloons, an orchestra playing marches, and rows of small boys in military uniform alongside pretty, half-dressed, dancing girls. There is no hint of the former authoritarianism: here, military strictness merges with the impossibly early eroticism of the dancers, and the balloons swaying in the wind move first to the slogan "Hurrah" and then to the slogan "Panasonic/Ideas for life". As the camera glides along the participants in the festival, the focus is upon the mechanical nature of the movements and the vacant looks.
Chernysheva's focus however, is free of the objective documentary approach inherent in so much contemporary video art. Hers is not a static, uninvolved camera, but a dynamic and selective one. Her films are constructed like a montage, accompanied by soundtracks that, at times, suggest a classic musical. Finally, what moves the spectator in these works is the artist's ability to perceive the humanity in her everyday "heroes". This ability links Chernysheva's work with the best examples of classical Russian literature. Russian Museum (2003-05), for instance, plays wittily with perspective: the artist photographed pictures in the museum in such a way that the figures in them look like living people. Catching the reflections of the viewers in the glass covering the pictures, she stages their "meeting" with classical European characters of the humanist tradition. Hence Chernysheva's reinterpretation of the role of the flaneur: her "profane illuminations", linked with the discovery of the "other", are to be found within fragments of contemporary experience. But hers is an ethical and inevitably political response. It is a movement towards what could be called, in the words of Giorgio Agamben, "the coming community".
Viktor Misiano, Catalogue Biennial of Sydney, 2006
Olga Chernysheva. Emerging Figures. A Project in Video, Photography and Drawing
"Chernysheva's work typically depicts characters from Central Russia living the most trivial lives, never making it to the level of news. None of their activities merit sensationalist exposure - they could be described as doing things that are just ignored by the TV and media. However her focus on their lives transforms their status and our perception of them.
"Emerging Figures" shows people absorbed in particular and everyday activities: sweeping a road, moving along a street, riding a scooter in red square or collecting items in a part for recycling. Do they reflect the changing state of Russian everyday life or is she recording the mundane or the forgotten moments which constitute the substance of life itself?
In her attention to their activities, Chernysheva manages to capture people in moments which are as fragile as they are ephemeral: an elderly women in the park in the evening, a girl learning to skate on the ice of the frozen pond, a disabled man walking along a deserted street using a box instead of a crutch. Ordinary experiences become extraordinary as the viewer realises their own presence as observers and their complicity with the artist's vision.
The exhibition will also include the video film "Seven Exercises", "Good People!", a series of black and white photographers from a snowy street market in Russia, and her drawings from the "Figures" series which are based on images from her videos and photos. This disparate material is united by a particular time and place: life in Central Russia, 2004-2005."
White Space Gallery, London, 2005
Our time according to Olga Chernysheva. The happiness zone.Tetru Moscow 2004.
Olga Chernysheva called her exhibition at the Russian Museum The Happiness Zone. It includes video-films The Unknown Ones, Self-sufficient Activities, Steamboat Dionysius and Train as well as drawings and watercolours based on the images from the video / photo series. All the material is united by time and place: Central Russia, 2003 - 2004. The films show people absorbed by some activity (by sweeping a road, by moving along a street, by riding a scooter in Red Square or by collecting items for recycling in a park). They show a man and a woman submerged in the summer sunshine somewhere in the suburbs. Or a city crowd going up and down the river on a ship. Or passengers of long distance trains edited by the artist into one meta-train. So, The Happiness Zone starts with observation of male and female nature. Then, gradually, all manner of characters slip into this world, each absorbed, as befits human creatures, by their, at times understandable and at times mysterious, body movements. Then, in the Train installation this human kaleidoscope transforms: the camera moves along the circuited space inside the carriages, along the passage from nowhere into nowhere, along the mechanical 'riverbed' which goes through rows of faces and bodies as though through a mass of water or earth which remains the same and changes every minute.
Chernysheva 's first exhibition at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg coincided with the retrospective of Ilya Repin whose genre painting went way beyond the professional framework and turned into a live picture of Russia during the reforms, a phenomenon defined today as blockbuster. Chernysheva is prompted by a desire to grasp, to preserve the spectacle of new Russia of the 1990s: of that middle-Russian life unfolding in markets and railway stations, near kiosks, on the pavements of big cities and squares of provincial capitals. However, the genre originates here not in the pathos of a nation or a social group looking for their identity as was the case in the middle of the 19th century. It comes from the desire to record unknown people unselfconsciously going about their lives. People who are like everything else around - like nature or, to be precise, biosphere which includes megalopolises with their ever decaying and self-regenerating world. There are no clearly defined borders in the art of Chernysheva between individual objects or between bodies or between urban and non-urban spaces. When, in the second episode of The Unknown Ones, the camera suddenly pulls out, the man under a tree amidst the shiny, sunny dense bushes turns out to be standing on a concrete base which in turn, with further zooming out, 'grows' into a railway platform.
In the video-installation Train it is especially obvious that the artist is not only interested in the passengers' ability to take over the carriage like a form of mycosis but also in the entrepreneurial ability of human nature which, in its highest manifestation, is called creativity. It is this that makes anthropology the subject of Chernysheva 's work. And it is at this point that Chernysheva 's oeuvres comes close to those genres of Dutch painting of the 17th century, in which one simultaneously perceives, in the unifying act of creation, both the whole of Creation and the immersion of anonymous individuals in the flesh of totally absorbing insignificant activities: skating, catching flees or contemplating the sky over sanddunes. Chernysheva , with all her sympathy, demonstrates the absurdity, and at the same time the strong inner need impelling her characters to settle in the zone of their present existence - from a cramped railway carriage to the slopy paving near the Kremlin wall.
Chernysheva 's attention is firmly fixed on the total self-absorption which might come upon those who, by chance, entered the field of our vision. We know and admire those moments of self-absorption, marked by virtuosity, of an artist or a sportsman, when everybody understands, with all lucidity, that it has began, has fluttered, has kicked off. That some ecstatic channel of Universal connection has opened, that real life has begun to flow and that the intensity of experience at that moment redeems long years of emptiness, oblivion and weakness. But the artist, in the Unknown Ones and The Self-sufficient Activities chooses precisely the kind of people and situations directly connected to weakness and oblivion: an elderly woman in a park in the evening; a girl skating on a pond just about cleared of snow; a disabled man walking along a deserted street using a box instead of a crutch. The miraculous quality of this experience opens to the viewer at the moment of realisation of their own presence in this footage of reality beyond 'normality'.
Unlike documentary camera operators, Chernysheva has a very soft touch. As though out of air, she creates, in each of her shot-story-biography of the character an unseen but palpable presence of a guardian looking on. This miraculous guardian's presence is sometimes materialised as a cover over a person or a plant (as in the winter series about fishermen wrapped up in transparent film or the young trees protected >from the cold by canvas). But most often, induced by the artist, it is born out of our own emotional experience of what we see. It is the viewers who, following the image on the screen with their souls and eyes, unwittingly despatch an angel to hover behind the back of the lonely figure of the skater and to keep an eye on her boots which have nearly disappeared in the deep snow. It is the viewers who draw the happy trajectory for a passer-by in the dark and are totally engrossed in the performance of an amateur poet in a commuter train. Here, a fairytale does not become a true event before turning into a fossil, but true events here and there grow into fantastical stories immersing themselves into unknown worlds and, just like trees, wash their crowns in the sky where angels, birds and other flying objects live.
There are two types of the seen world contemporary people know: one presents itself to them, rather unwittingly, outside the window, and the other - in the TV-set. The TV world distracts us from the one outside the window, all but erasing in our consciousness the habit of contemplating life which is close to and around us. Chernysheva 's projects strive to return to the viewer the ability to perceive the live reality which has not yet been dragged through the information machine. The artist gently substitutes the usual content of a monitor screen with spectacles accessible to an individual who unhurriedly looks around getting in direct, sensual two-way contact with the world in which light goes on and off and the day unfolds. This spectacle, nevertheless, is perceived by contemporary consciousness in a dramatic way because an everyday experience, which has not yet been pigeonholed as a piece of news or statistics, has a very powerful effect on our senses. It reminds us of how we are distracted >from ourselves in our own lives. It is as though Chernysheva were sending us her characters as a reminder of how priceless each moment, hour or day are, of how priceless direct perception of the world is, the world which, in its eternal death and rebirth, is now as ever identical with nature. The presence of the messengers sent by the artist, is light like a whiff of air, like a roving eye. It makes our hearing and vision get totally involved in this open invitation to immerse deep into ourselves simultaneously with the artist's character who dedicates him / herself completely to the process of perception, gets enveloped in the uninhibited flow of energy which, using us as its medium, makes the environment real and active.
Chernysheva 's video-projects are dedicated to resuscitation, on the monitor screen, of the world which we accept as ours much more readily than the one behind the window. She is not the only artist working on reactivation of this waste screen fuel. Video-art of the beginning of the third millennium is marked by a tendency of making 'reformatted cinema', i.e. documentary fixation of scenes from life which, by means of a light grotesquerie of images, of rhythmical pauses-disruptions in editing and soundtrack, returns to everyday life the energy of transformation and emphasises the effaced and hidden meanings by way of barely palpable micro-ecstasies. Contemporary oeuvres of this kind represent the realism of today's life, which aspires to inhabit its world without artificiality or the conjuring trickery of post-modernism. Unlike in the 1980s - 1990s, resistance to the bureaucratic unification of life comes here not >from employing a hyper-illusion but from searching, in reality, for bio-physical forces which oppose wasteful consumption of life's warmth and the global ice age of the soul.
Chernysheva masterfully employs disruptions in the soundtrack in Self-sufficient Activities; or the titles describing the action in advance in Steamboat Dionysius creating 'memories of the future' in which the viewer has already taken part together with the characters; or life unfolding, falling into pieces and reassembling itself again, a process which the viewers can rewind, pause or let go of in their imagination. Two opposing impressions - the disrupted rhythm of visual and audio elements and the special force of endless return, reappearance of the beginning - find peace with each other in the same stream of being which is possible not thanks to orderliness and the laws of society but solely to the absurd desire, the pure drive of life. From the seemingly pointless events, words and sounds Chernysheva extracts the desire of fullness. It is this desire that is reflected in the delirious 'poetry and songs' accompanying Train and Steamboat Dionysius in the zone of happiness: bread and salt / on a clean cloth / steaming cabbage soup / wine in a glass; or completely down to earth: dance-balls / beauties / man-servants / cadets. There is a clear call to admire and enjoy in this: in the same sky hover both The Sky Dance ballet and the picturesque images of the Spaso-Prilutsky monastery.
Her ecological talent to transform life's everyday absurdity into meaningful art is the hallmark of Chernysheva . It stems from a strong desire to be in contact with the world and from her belief in the practical magic of art. Chernysheva is an animator by education. Her artistic skills serve the purpose of preserving people living trackless lives. That's why, simultaneously with video, she starts drawing the same characters fully covering by hand and pencil the space already depicted by the camera. The genre nature of the video-recording and all its everyday life details blend into a new, now singularly artistic fabric in the form of drawing. This form finds its way into the all-encompassing grisaille panorama, into the interplay of light and the shadows gliding across the surface of the biosphere creating images of life visible to the eye and remaining in history.
Andreeva Katya, 2004
The Time Closure
Olga Chernysheva is one of a very few contemporary artists, who not only began to work in the medium of video installation, but have precisely grasped and practically implemented the specific aesthetics of this medium. The specific characteristics of the video installation as art medium are only beginning to be discovered, and this exploration is likely to be a slow inchmeal process. Yet, even now it is possible to say with certainty that bringing the film from the movie theater to the art exhibition space has essentially changed its perception by the spectator. The movie theater is a place where people come to watch a film from beginning to end. During the whole cinema show a spectator sits motionless and in darkness - only the film moves. With it move people and things in the film. This is why the audience expects, and even demands that the movement in the film be as fast as possible. For all one can say, a cinema movie may be really interesting and thrilling only inasmuch as it moves fast - together with everything inside, whether it be cars, bullets or people. A movie, in which things move slowly or - Heaven forbid! - stand still, is simply boring.
Beholders of the video installation find themselves in a quite different situation. The video installation places a film into an exhibition space, which is usually filled with pictures or sculptures. They are motionless, but their immobility does not provoke the feeling of an unbearable boredom in a visitor of the exhibition space, which would undoubtedly chase such visitor, if he or she were watching the same works of art in a movie theater. The point is: the works of art may be still and motionless, but the spectator is in motion himself or herself. An ordinary visitor of an exhibition space continually moves around it, passing from an item to an item to get back to those objects that are attractive and worth seeing again. However, coming back to an already seen work of art would be impossible, if it were incessantly undergoing changes. For this reason, ordinary movies shot for cinema shows only frustrate the audience if they are projected in the context of an art exhibition. The images in such movies quickly come and go one after another all the time and, therefore, fail to ascertain their identity in time, which is a precondition for an adequate perception of any work of art displayed in the exhibition space. It follows from the above that a film, to become perceivable in the context of an art exhibition, has to undergo important transformation in terms of its aesthetics. Such transformation needs to be so profound, that only very few of modern artists appear to be able to make it. It consists, above all, in the immobilization both of the film itself and of everything that goes on inside it.
With that, under the conditions of an art exhibition a film gets immobilized automatically, just as a result of being shown in an incessant clockwise manner, or in loop. As a consequence, the film forms a circle and loses the sense of its motion, which becomes endless gyration, or eternal repetition of the same. As a rule, any film proceeds in one direction - >from the past to the future. That is why it is optimistic by nature, whatever be the contents. The film as an art form emerged in the epoch, when European humanity believed in progress, when action was valued more than passive contemplation, when any movement forward was recognized as multiple times more important than quiet contemplation or repetition. A video installation is a location in which the film as such loses its historic perspective and is relieved of the dynamics of progress, replaced by the post-historical ritual of self-repetition. Within the framework of a video installation the film stops to be narrative. Instead of demonstrating life in all its variations and dynamic developments, as it has always been before, it unexpectedly becomes an ideal medium for revealing the repetitive rituality and regularity of life subsisting beneath all the claims for alteration and advance.
In his time Marshall McLuhan wrote that the medium is the message. The success of any artistic project depends, first and most, on the extent to which the individual message of an artist coincides with the message of the medium used by artist in his or her work. The video projections by Olga Chernysheva are spontaneously convincing and truly artistic inasmuch as they rest on such congruity. To begin with, she approaches, to the maximum extent possible, the conditions for perception of her video projections to the conditions for perception of a traditional unmoving picture. The projected image is usually stable during the whole film. For example, each of her two works titled "Anonymous" represent a figure in a landscape - a topic that is quite common for a typical museum picture. The exposure lay-out remains practically the same till the end of the film. As a consequence, the spectator is able to react to these video projections in a way, which is similar to the way he/she responds to the traditional pictures. If an exhibition visitor retreats >from a particular work for some time, and then comes back, he/she will find the characters approximately in the same places and doing the same things, as when they were left. Even in the projections featuring movement or replacement of characters, as, for example, in the video installations called "The Train" or "Steamboat Dionysius", the scene of action remains stationary and easily recognizable. A video installation operates effectively only if and when it offers a compromise between the expectations of a moviegoer and those of an exhibition visitor. In all of her works Olga Chernysheva finds and displays a fragile balance between the motion of a film and the motionlessness of a picture, a balance, which best agrees with the nature of video installation as a medium.
At the same time, the video installation is obviously not limited to a simple adjustment of cinema motion to the quiescence of a traditional picture. A traditional picture shows an "arrested moment", leaving its viewer under the impression that movement still goes on beyond the frame, but telling nothing of the nature of such movement. A video installation, by contrast, displays the movement itself, though rather in the form of a circular movement, or rotation. At this point the aesthetics of video installation begin to impose on an artist not only certain formal, but also specific thematic choices. Characters in Olga Chernysheva's works are not just shot in a manner making them look good in the space of a video installation. They behave in exactly the same way even prior to shooting, being involved into a continuous, reiterative, monotonous motion. Whatever such characters do - open a bottle of vodka, change clothes at a beach, swim along a river or move along a train from head to tail and backwards - it soon becomes clear, that in fact they never move >from a dead point. Because of this, they can serve as allegories of an extra-historical, extra-social existence. Even their appearances indicate that they have once and forever fell out of the dynamics of historical life and are doomed to eternally substitute each other in an endless go-round in a way, which is hardly noticeable neither by others, nor by themselves. Such characters not only cannot - they do not want to keep pace with the time of their epoch. They do not need anything latest or up-to-date, being quite satisfied with their participation in the circular time of eternal return.
Chernysheva's characters are far from being invented. They are true-life people. Chernysheva is very consistent in avoiding any elements of theatrical staging, as well as any claims for non-conventionalism, exoticism of the material she makes use of, or for a special originality, exceptional "artistry" of her style. For her video installations she uses documentary footages, which look quite normal, trivial, even commonplace. The artist shoots them herself with her own camera, as she walks and observes simple people's behavior in everyday life. For all that, such documentaries refer us to the aesthetics of readymade. Interesting for the spectator is not how the artist designed this or that image, but the image itself, and, certainly, the criteria by which the image material is selected. Such refocusing of attention >from the artistic processing to selection, which is so typical for all contemporary, present-day-oriented art, with the lessons of Duchamp still fresh on its mind, is attained by Chernysheva through her emphatically neutral, observational, documentary style of filming. The resulting materials, judging in terms of their stylistics, are such that at a first glance appear to very well suit into a TV actuality program devoted to the labor and leisure of our contemporaries. However, there is a great difference between a TV documentary and a documentary shown by Chernysheva in her video installations, which most clearly reveals itself in the aesthetic neutrality of the latter. A TV report features, or at least is expected to feature, only urgent, red-hot news, that would be interesting to the present-day general public and reflect current political or cultural situation. Contemporary mass media care solely for what is new and extraordinary. Alternatively, Chernyshova's works demonstrate characters, who live most trivial lives and, therefore, never appear in the TV news. Today the context of contemporary art is the sole one, which enables to document extra-historical, extra-temporal people's lives. Only contemporary art makes it possible to represent things going on in the everyday routine, which otherwise would have never raised up to the level of news, let alone sensation, - things that are just ignored by the media. It is noteworthy, that Olga Chernysheva belongs to the number of a very few contemporary Russian artists, who adequately respond to this aesthetical, social and political role of contemporary art in the currently existing cultural and media context.
For all that, it is remarkable that role described above was not just imposed on the contemporary art by the mass media that have occupied the whole domain of historically relevant information. A present-day artist or intellectual, living under a constant pressure on the part of the media pushing him towards the role of a fashion- and newsmaker, has every reason to envy all those people who are not subject to such treatment by definition. The envy to extra-historical forms of human existence, which is often naively interpreted as sympathy to common people, was insistently introduced into the public agenda by Leo Tolstoi and many other Russian writers of the 19th century. It is not accidental that such envy intensifies during those historical periods, when the urge for artists as fashion- and newsmakers becomes especially importunate. In such periods it seems as if the real freedom is not the ability to make history, though rather the ability to be free from history, or, in other words, freedom to repeat the past, to move around a circle. In this way, we have, as it may appear on the surface, only two models of freedom: freedom of linear movement forward, as it is realized in a movie shown in a cinema theater, and freedom of eternal return, as it is realized in a film exhibited in a video installation. But, as a matter of fact, there is a third and much more thrilling freedom, which is actualized by Olga Chernysheva in her video installations. It is the freedom of artistic choice and practical installation of a mode of motion as such.
Boris Groys, 2004 (translated by Galina Chernakova)
- Olga Chernysheva
- Laurent Friob
- Vladimir Kupriyanov
- Robert Lebeck
- Esther Levine
- Jens Liebchen
- Wiebke Loeper
- Grit Schwerdtfeger
- Sandra Senn