The New Logic of “Abracadabra”
The 6th Moscow International Biennale for Young Art is showing until July 31.
Translation in English: youngart.ru
In the discussion about the Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary, the rule of “reference points” which changed the system of interpretation of the forum in a positive way, really did work.
The first point. Finally, arguments about whether a biennale for young art is necessary have been snuffed out, when the concept of “young art” is itself equivocal to say the least. If we take its formal meaning to be an artist below the age of 35, then we would have to classify Mozart and Pushkin (who gained maturity in the last three years of his life) as young, alongside other great artists. Sensible people well understand the axiom; art is either good or nor art at all. What does age have to do with it? I have asked myself this question many times. However, the hard work of the creators of the Biennale for Young Art in Moscow (first Daria Pyrkina and now commissioned by Katya Kibovskaya) has proved that the festival of young contemporary art not only has the right to exist, but is also very important in the development of artistic life.
The socio-economic component is fundamental. It is the youth biennale that gives artists – graduates of various art institutes – the chance to showcase their work at the best venues. It gives an opportunity for self-realisation, making contacts and starting a career. This chance is blocked to the “adult” biennale which operates according to other rules and the “anti-stress” default of current artistic life, in which bets are made more often on work that is tried and tested and has status. But it is not only social reasons that justify the youth forum. Young people have courage, a pragmatic approach and the right to make mistakes. That which in an adult forum can become the “establishment”, here is given to the principle of open laboratory design, it is alive if oft-times dog-eared and sketchy in nature. It is clear that genius is not beholden to age. However, the community of young people is a separate collective character, and it has its own psychology, which helps open the prospects for thinking differently.
This leads us to the second point of bifurcation. The Youth Biennale has become an indicator of new topics for human studies. From post-conceptualism (the performances of Andrei Kuzkin in the middle of “the noughties”), the vector of the youth forum was directed to the study of hybrid media (the biennale of the year before last, Deep inside). And today, to the situation of mutation of the subject, identified in the projects of the new 6th Biennale under the name “Abracadabra” (the curator of the main project being Lucrezia Calabrò Visconti).
The third point of bifurcation is related to the energy of the new commissioner, Ekaterina Kibovskaya. It has become a good tradition that the main project of the Biennale is the opening of new spaces inside Moscow. Old decrepit factories become objects of gentrification – new centres of city life with studios, galleries, offices and cafes. Two years ago the Trekhgornaya Manufactory was the chosen venue. Today, the “Rassvet” factory.
Both addresses are in the area of Krasnaya Presnya. The cluttered workshops and corridors left in the conditions of the once new capitalist formation of scientific research institutes and plants are cleaned out by the team of the Biennale and transformed into exhibition spaces. In the future, they are ready to take on a new life in other cultural and social conditions. Thanks to this reformatting for the sake of art, the very space of the capital ceases to be discrete, and becomes continuous, like text, united and friendly.
The new 6th Moscow International Biennale for Young Art is called “Abracadabra”. A word to the curator: ‘The most widespread theory about the origin of the word “abracadabra”, widely adopted by pop culture, connects it with the Aramaic avra kedavra (“what is said must be done”). Another source of the word may be the Arabic abra kadabra (“let everything be destroyed”) and the Aramaic abhadda kedhabra (“disappear like this word”). In other versions, abracadabra means “blessing” (from the Hebrew ha-brachah) or “epidemic” (from the Aramaic dabra). Thus, abracadabra refers to a multitude of narratives, equally referring to both healing practices and to the techniques of curses. The coexistence of such opposing and diverse interpretations may have become the reason for the fact that in Russian the word “abracadabra” also means gibberish or nonsense.’
Lucrezia Visconti associates the emergence of this term with the dialectic of disenchantment and re-enchantment today, when the so-called “economy of presence” is dominant in the social, economic, psychological system of relations. This term, introduced by William J. Mitchell, refers to the “pleasure economy”, a consumer model in which goods are effectively sold emotional simulacra. This economy involves finding a person in a constant online regime, a mode of constant “presence”, the production and sale of a leisure product. Salvation from such post-Fordist dehumanisation of the individual can, according to Lucrezia Visconti, become hypochondria and fatigue – the psychic protective reactions of the body, helping to get out of the vicious circle of the optimisation of optimism. Therefore, abracadabra, as a violation of the logic of rational systems, relieves dormant natural forces whose irrationality and ‘underworldliness’ are freed from simulated consumer cycles of parasitic information exchange.
However, how is this clever “superstructure” realised in the concrete works of the project? I would say, according to the system of ordered entropy. To understand it, one should turn to the topic of post-humanitarian knowledge, which is topical today in philosophical thought, knowledge acquired outside the presence of a person. The ideological platform for this topic was given by Quentin Meillassoux, in his book “After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency.” The philosopher believes that the Kantian system of subject-object relations in knowledge does not work when something is impossible to think through personal experience, subjectively.
The correlation in the individual consciousness of Being and Thinking breaks down where the cognisable material does not give any codes, when it is unclear how it is subjectively and experientially perceived: prehistoric time, ufology, the world of nanotechnologies… It is these strange cases of the need to understand that phenomenological reduction is not applicable, that represent the opus of the main project of the 6th Biennale “Abracadabra”. These objects require the use of the apparatus of so-called speculative realism. We accept what can not be experientially perceived as a given in its autonomous reality. And that’s all. Known anthropological models of interpretation do not work here. New magic and spells of the cyber and nano-epoch become our aids.
The video of Frenchman Clément Carat “Fusi Time” may serve as a prologue to the main project of the biennale. In Soviet Hungary, “fusi’ time was the stolen time that workers spent on the production of their own goods at the expense of state equipment and the norm-driven day. On the screen, two small vehicles compete – forklifts in the empty workshop of a plant on the outskirts of Budapest. Just like the “Rassvet” factory, this plant was, evidently, part of some gentrification program. Production in the post-Fordist phase of capitalism has been curtailed. The workshop is filled with art. The race of the small loaders becomes a purely aesthetic event, leisure, in and of itself. In this case self-criticism sets the prospect of a gambling interpretation of the topic of the search for meaning in obvious nonsense.
In the halls of the former workshops, each job is provided with explication, it can be read and integrated into the discourse of “tales of times long past”, hybrid environments, mutation of the subject… Or you can not read anything at all and just add everything you see to your own rhymes and adventures. The youth biennale is good in that its explicit laboratory assembly gives the widest space of participation, the opportunity to connect your own ideas and fantasies.
One of the leitmotifs of the forum was for me the theme of a new corporeality. Elena Artemenko captured in marble the traces of hands sunk into soft clay. That is, in this “eternal” material fixed a deliberately random, unformed and chaotic movement. The work of Anna Pavlova “Inside” is a simulation of human anatomy and organs from silicone tubes. “Metronomes” by Joe Highton and Victor Ruiz rock on the floor, hung with flags and banners. Their rhythm is inconsistent. Instead of presenting order, these “eternal engines” present the agitation of systemic chaos. Their behaviour is very well correlated with the bodily vanity of most of today’s earth dwellers, who build simulated ordered chains in queues for enjoyment and leisure. The Logos of the classical understanding of the world, of its cognition, of being in it is attacked by those accidents in which the anthropomorphic dimension is erased and the human scale disappears.
We fall into the territory of autonomous systems that demand a different position of the observer, be it a doll (outstanding works with the suffering puppet of Riccardo Giacconi), an animal, a humanoid, an inorganic substance… These “observers” turn into heroes of entire visual poems in which hybrid environments are simulated exactly according to the laws of speculative realism: we see strange mutations of material, meanings, and forms and take it for granted. The habitual apparatus of interpretation is powerless.
The global conflict of such exact knowledge and the hermeneutic Gadamer tradition of understanding of Being as Language is almost the best work of the main project: the video of Kasia Fudakowski “The Martyrdom of Professor Sanchez”. The plot refers to the darkest anti-utopias of the 20th century. The level of the worlds oceans are inexorably rising. Scientists have found a connection between this process and the way we speak. In order to prevent a universal catastrophe, the world’s legislature order the uttering of no more than 433 words a day. The figure itself is a homage to the cult musical work of John Cage, “4.33”, when the musicians gather and for four minutes and thirty-three seconds simulate a performance in the silence of the hall. In Fudakowski’s film a special controller checks the earth dwellers quotas, tallying the spoken words on a device, not terribly dissimilar to an old cash register. However, Professor Sanchez, in contempt of the new law, spews a thousand words. For this, he goes to prison, where an aquarium with water is put on his head and he is forced to sit silently. But the professor continues trying to talk even in the spacesuit-aquarium. Kasia Fudakowski’s video is a sarcastic grimace in a dialogue with Quentin Meillassoux on the topic that classical humanitarian knowledge does not help to understand what exists regardless of man. Water in the ocean is clearly not a humanitarian purview. And spoken words are just that. The obvious absurdity of the coexistence of the two methods of interpreting the world is revealed in this satire.
However, the apologia for post-humanism and autonomous systems of “non-human communication” is also vulnerable to criticism. It is enough to remember dear old Kant with his “Critique of Pure Reason”. After all, if logocentric knowledge about the world is absent, then with what “devices” will we understand the same life on earth in the dinosaur era, mathematical series and the world’s oceans? All the same, our experience, physical and psychic natures are all compatible. How are we to check accurate data for authenticity without switching on our own mental resources and logic? It turns out that the territory of phenomena that are not related to man is the same “thing-in-itself”, without which one cannot enter into Kant’s philosophy, but with which one cannot remain. And this self-critical conclusion is an excellent result of visiting the main project “Abracadabra” of the 6th Youth Biennale in Moscow.