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Ingredients of an Instant Soup

A. Talstou, For Happiness, photo: Alina Krushynskaya

I was asked to make a visual essay, to present myself in some way. Sure. I started thinking “how to make a visual essay on your practice and not to end up with self-advertising”?

A. Talstou, from the exhibition: Self-control, photo: Victoria Kharytonava

I would like to start with the work from a distant past, an oil painting. It is this first image in the front. It was a part of the show entitled Self-control,  it was my first more or less serious solo exhibitions I made at the gallery Y in Minsk in 2013. I was torn between oil painting and everything else then and eventually everything else won. The show was about perception of big media events and globally recognizable images in, let’s say, in one of the Eastern European countries. I guess what I tried to do was to bring alien narratives and discourses together and to juxtapose the local art scene with the ways of representation that mass media and internet provided at that time. I remember that it was pretty comfortable and rewarding to work on this show.

Aliaxey Talstou. Evil (2012). Oil on canvas, 150x200

…but I wished to say a few words about the piece itself. Its title is Evil. It is an oil painting on canvas, 150x200cm large. The painting was made out of the cheapest materials, for quite obvious reasons. Well, it is a kind of battle painting. In the center, a little bit to the left, you can see Satan who assists street protesters to fight the “angels of god” – riot police. I guess I came up with this topic after researching around England riots of August 2011. The basic ideology of any state has something in common with beliefs the citizens share, so the parallel is simple enough. I’m not inviting you to worship the Devil (disclaimer!), but while thinking of binarity of political opposition and such labels like patriotism and treason I guess I’m leaning to the side of wrongness, to the side of those who demand the impossible. While the whole show attempted to deliver a kind of landscape, a partial glances on the world sunk deep into social inequality, wars, informational networks and traditionalist narratives merged with late capitalism mechanics – so, maybe I could say that it was a kind of level one for me regarding the choice of area of interest and direction.

…but looking back at it today I think that, in a way, I fooled myself.

A. Talstou, photo: Victoria Krushynskaya

A. Talstou, photo. Victoria Krushynskaya

I came closer to the local Belarusian agenda believing that with my practice I can bring the discussion about political relations and nature of power to some another level – not a higher level, but to introduce some different points of view. The next two pictures are from my installation It’s So Beautiful! (2016) which was shown in gallery Y’s basement. The main materials are roses, soil and milk poured into crystal vases, plates and glasses. The main thing for me was to collide nature, biological processes with politics and ideology of a state power. The show was opened on May 1 and commemorated 130 years after Haymarket riot. I tried to create some illustration of biological instability of any human relations, including any structures of society. In the three weeks of the exhibition the strong smell of biological decay was welcoming everybody at the door. The words on the wall were saying: It’s so beautiful when that which was alive decays! It’s so beautiful when politics shine with gold! I like to have some poetry around me and I’m not sure if many of the visitors wished to see there as well something else than just the critique of the government.

Then, on the 3rdof July, the Independence day of Belarus – I woke up early and went to the Independence square to break some vases. The Crystal vase in Soviet Union was a sign of wealth. The political continuity that was established in Belarus after gaining independence stated that with this very act not so much has changed and that the old traditions of Soviet past are still present. Once, Lukashenko, referring to his long term presidency, compared the country to a precious crystal vase that he cares carefully, afraid of dropping it – it was much fun when people made a meme out of it, mocking the synonymity of the state and the vase. And I guess I was letting some anarchist vibe into this gesture that day. I believe that the whole construct of such relations of power and subjugation must be revisited.

A. Talstou, photo: Raman Chmel.

The same goes for these weird ideological anchors that bond society with time through constructing patriotism and false, utilized interpretations of history. In one of the last works I made a kind of ritual of honoring a war monument in Brest fortress through adorning it with pieces of broken vases. So, as you can see, the work was embedded in the local context. Hard to interpret for those who are out of it and in addition impossible to sell.

photo: A. Talstou

The next pic is an invitation to the court hearings. Actually, I was surprisingly active in the year 2016. I started this case with National Center for Contemporary Art and Ministry of Culture. To put it briefly, I sent a letter NCCA asking to inform me, as a citizen and taxpayer, what the curators had bought to the collection during the last three years, how much money had they spent and on what criteria the selection was made. They came back saying that information is classified (secret), even though it concerns public funds spent by public institution on the public collection of art. So, I went to the next people in the chain – Ministry of Culture. They backed NCCA. Then I went to the Council of Ministers. They sent me back to Ministry of Culture (that was really illegal). Then I got some help from lawyers and brought NCCA and Ministry of Culture to the court on the case of withholding of public information about funds and procedures. The judge didn’t get it, people in NCCA and Ministry were pissed off, artistic circles started talking, albeit cautiously. Journalists thought it was all about art and they were not competent at it. After several hearings, the court said that the information is secret. Statements from the side of defense, such as “He is an artist known for performative this and that, so all the case is a performance but nothing else” – were taken into consideration. We had a lot of fun there. But the most interesting happened later in 2017 when the director of NCCA got fired and prosecuted after internal investigation came up with allegations in corruption. Deputy director was fired too.

photo: Aleksey Naumchik

photos: Nicola Spesivtsev

Around that time I also started to do some art curating. And here I guess it became a little bit more complicated. Next photos were taken at several openings, in crucial points for any show. The first one is from the exhibition Boundaries of the Other (August 2016, CECH, Minsk), the second – Talks about Politics (September 2016, DKDS, Moscow), and the third is What Unites Us? (May 2018, gallery KX, Brest). The shows were very different from each other and represented diverse approaches. The first one was based on collaboration and was led by the group called Vera. We set up a horizontal structure of working together and all participants were at the same time artists and curators of the show. I was additionally involved in doing the administrative work. The second was more like a research in which I attempted to showcase artists who worked with political issues in Belarus after 2010. I also gave a lecture on this topic. The third exhibition took place in Brest and was more an activist curating commissioned by Human Constanta, an NGO that works with issues of migration. I also worked as an art director of cultural and educational center CECH for the whole 2017 and curated the program of the gallery there.

There can be a lot of discussion about all these types of curatorial practice, but here I would like to show my motivation. One cannot do the work if they see no sense in it. I found mine in developing the local art scene, in setting up discussions and advocating the unpopular statements. I guess for me this work was a kind of balance between job and cultural volunteering. When one knows that nobody is going to do what is needed to be done, one does it themselves. Sorry for being pompous, but it is a kind of duty. You should do it for the sake of art, culture, professional community, some kind of (un-)imaginable community. The same was with that court issue I described above.

Photo: Maria Sarycheva

I guess here is the place to share the clinical part of my art practice. Today, I’m not really sure how healthy curatorial practice should look like. Probably something between blind dedication and high personal ambitions, but this spectrum is huge. Nowadays, under current circumstances, I’m not sure if I could find any reasons to continue it on regular basis. To make a long story short, I would like to recall here a thing that happened to a friend of mine, curator from Russia Maria Sarycheva. While she was curating the residency program in Murmansk she broke her hand, but she learned about it 11 days after the accident, when she finally found a moment to visit the doctor, just after the closing event. The case was pretty extreme but after hearing this story I started thinking about my own work that eventually brought me to some kind of rethinking of my interests and goals in art. In the years 2017 and 2018, as an artist, I was involved only in two group shows with works produced a while ago. It was strange to realize this.

Today I think of reorganizing the way I work. And somehow it connected with the fooling myself that I mentioned before. I had a nice time in Berlin last fall meeting interesting people and seeing something different. Then I took a holiday in Asia. Came back to Minsk to the familiar landscape. I think of starting this new kind of work and I feel that I can hear myself better now that I can do things I like the most. I’m picking up some topics and narrations and while doing so I don’t care about abstract ideas but about the perception of life that happens around and about my feelings, interests, fears and concerns.

Cran. Photo: Aliaxey Talstou

Clocks. Photo: Aliaxey Talstou

Gym. Photo: Aliaxey Talstou

For instance, I see this crane outside window. There was an old Soviet movie theater Druzhba (Friendship) and pretty soon a new business center will rise in its place. In this new thing I’m about to start, I will deal with the perception of time. I found a nice stock of cheap Chinese clocks in the furniture shop nearby and maybe I will buy a few. In an attempt to make myself feel healthier and stronger I bought a gym pass this month, as part of a research work, of course.

Blue Flower by Aliaxey Talstou

I see this new project as a complex body that consists of different components made in various media. Here is a still from the first video of it, Blue Flower. I guess I’m talking about the dependency on energy resources, about nationalism bounded with this fossil fuel prices, etc. I don’t want to be too precise, and not too speculative either. There is a lot of nationalism around, pumped up by manipulations, based on fear of new techs, mobility and so on. Kind of old fashioned fears that work good when employed for nowadays politics.

Somehow I ended up with coming back to that project of 2013 that I started with. I abandoned it then for the sake of other issues. This battle painting Evil– is just an image that lays on the surface but for me it marks the point where I can (re)start my research today. I want to return to the issues of power and conflicts and approach them accompanied by that feeling of anxiety, stress and the need of safety that really are the pressing side effects of today’s life, my own life included.

A. Talstou, The Soup of Time, photo: Victoria Kharytonava


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