Olga Chernysheva’s work is distinguished by its attention to the psychological state of her subjects. “There’s always a human figure in the frame,” the artist explains. ”The characters could be confined in a cramped interior, or they could be lost in a vast space, but they’re always on their own.” The black and white photographs of the Guards (2009) and The Cactus Seller (2009) offer portraits of such characters, figures isolated in a world of their own, alienated from their surroundings. Chernysheva focuses not so much on the figure, as on the atmosphere surrounding her subject, leading the viewer into a mysterious, meditative environment.
Curator Boris Groys observes that while much of the contemporary art of the 20th century has fixated on integrating art into the everyday, Chernysheva uncovers the art in the quotidian. “Chernysheva has become increasingly interested in documenting the life of people whose jobs consists of doing nothing, like ice-fishers in winter, who sit motionlessly for hours on a frozen river, or security guards, whose only task is to watch intently while remaining completely still, fixed in one position. These ordinary people embody various modes of vita contemplativa, the contemplative life which finds itself even in the midst of the feverish urban milieu.”
The theme of contemplation and meditation gains the added dimension of duration and repetition in Chernysheva’s video works. A special commission of the ARTiculate Contemporary Art Fund, L’intermittence du Coeur refers to Pavel Fedotov’s Encore, Encore!, widely recognized as one of the masterpieces of 19th century Russian painting. Chernysheva’s video is more than a simple recreation or animated citation of Encore, Encore!; it takes the ennui and monotony implicated in the painting and infuses it with a character of what Foucault called “spiritual exercises.” The poodle’s erratic leaps lend the work a sense of arrhythmia, alternately interrupting and emphasizing the protagonist’s solitude.
Chernysheva continues these exercises with the meditative gesture of the protagonist of Untitled, Dedicated to Sengai (2008). Standing outside a crowded metro, a serene young woman repeatedly draws Zen master Sengai’s symbol on an Etch-A-Sketch. She holds out these sketches to passer-bys, from time to time selling empty screens. Rather than peddle the simple images, she advocates the contemplative bliss of the repeated gesture and offers others the tools to achieve this.
In the space of the BAIBAKOV art projects’ Red Hall, Chernysheva’s meditations were heightened with the sense of nostalgia evoked by the factory architecture. Against the original tiled floors, her Present Past came into contact with a past still very present. The arrangement of the works invited the viewer into an experience of contemplation, echoing that of Chernysheva’s subjects.
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© 2010 BAIBAKOV art projects