Save the Light!

Fictional Press-release

Artists: Alliance of Precarious Images (England),Vasily Boyko (Ukraine),Ad Reinhardt (USA)
Curated by Arseniy Zhilyaev
The title of the international exhibition Save the Lig ht! is borrowed from the campaign in support of the Left Front activist Vladimir Akimenkov,arrested under the investigation of the case of “mass riots” on May 6,2012. Akimenkov has a sig ht disability. However, in spite of multiple requests from his attorney to change the measureofrestraint, theactivistisstillinprison, hiseyesig ht continuing to decrease rapidly. The exhibition,curated by the artistArseniyZhilyaev, consistsofthreeprojects, eachofthem handling the limits of art and politics in its own way. Alongside with that,the key concept for the whole project is Light,understood by the authors,just as by the organizers of the campaign in support of the political prisoners,as a metaphor for freedom. The London-based activist collective ‘Alliance of Precarious Images’ presents a video work that analyzes the speech of the judges involved in the 6th of May case trial. A series of archival materials from the Kherson Museum of Local History tells the story of an outstanding avant-garde artist Vasily Boyko who spent twenty years in concentration camps creating his unusual ‘svetopis’ (‘blueprint’) works. And finally,the limits of the visual are delineated in the conceptual “black paintings” by Ad Reinhardt. The exhibition is held outside the framework of the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.

1st room

Whereas the early period of Vasily Boyko’s oeuvre has been studied relatively well, the years spent by this avant-garde artist in the Stalin concentration camps remain scarcely known. However, it was during the last years of Boyko’s work that he created one of the key monuments of the 20th century art – a series of blueprints on canvas “Svetopis’” (“The Blueprint”) which unfortunately has been almost forgotten today.
In 1937 Vasily Boyko got arrested in Kiev together with his common-law wife Olga Pilyova, a noted Bolshevik who at that time was working at the State Planning Committee of Ukraine and headed the Institute for the History of the Party and October Revolution, part of the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Bolshevik Party. It is known that Pilyova died the same year, 1937.

By that time Boyko was an engineer and had almost quit his vigorous creative activities. But, still being “a member of the public enemy’s family” and a person who took part in the radical left art movements of the 1910-1920s, he was repressed and spent about 20 years at the camps. This avant-garde artist was released only after Stalin’s death (not later than 1957), whereupon he returned to Ukraine and lived in a small town of Kherson until his death.

The unique series of canvases that continued the poet’s radical experiments was revealed to the world due to Lidiya Kovalyova, Boyko’s second wife, who transferred their family archive to the Kherson museum of local history. The series is not precisely dated. The name “Svetopis” (“The Blueprint”) mostly bore a factual, functional meaning and was attributed by the museum employees while they were making an inventory of the archive. However, it is known for certain that the canvases were created already during the post-war period – ca. 1946-1958 – by means of the prolonged impact of mere sunlight. While in prison, Boyko used sunbeams that entered the cell through the prison grid in order to create a simplest geometrical symbol – a cross which gradually showed through on the canvas by contrast with its faded parts. Strictly speaking, the series consists of blueprints created by means of an extreme exposition which lasted for a decade. There are no additional comments to the work. Equally unknown is the exact sense of the cross symbol used in “The Blueprint” series. There are versions that establish linkage between the camp oeuvre of the poet with the mystical circles of Neo-Platonists that emerged due to the activities of the philosopher A.F. Losev and were widespread in the Soviet provinces. But it is most likely that such interpretations may not be considered justified. Boyko had little to do with the movements that gained popularity in the province at that time.

A more well-grounded version is the one connecting “The Blueprint” with the poet’s experiments of the 1910s and his membership in the Intuitive Association of Ivan Ignatiev. In 1913-1914 Boyko took part in issuing several ego-futurist collections: “Hare zasa kry” (1913); “Beat me!.. But listen!!!”; “A Smashed Scull” (1913); “Deeds and Declarations of Russian Futurists” (1914). It is worth noting that the members of the Intuitive Association distanced themselves from the common symbolist orientation peculiar to the poetry created by one of ego-futurist leaders, Igor Severyanin. The program declaration “Gramota” (“The Deed”), signed by N. Aseev, S. Bobrov, I. Zdanevich, and B. Pasternak, featured a controversy with “The Tables” by Severyanin literally about every single point. “The Deed” was also directed against the first declarations of another futurist group, Hylaea, with Mayakovsky, Brik and Kruchenykh among its members. In the almanac “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste” the “Hylaeans”, or “butetlyane” (from the Russian word budet 'will be') proclaimed collective actions, whereas the ego-futurists strived for “revealing the individuality and separating it from the collective, an incessant creative progress, and an incessant aspiration for attaining the opportunities of the Future in the Present.” It was in “The Blueprint” series that this aspiration to reach the boundaries of individuality would find its utter expression, since this series, per se, does not need any other viewer besides God or, more precisely, reality itself.

The year 1913 saw the issue of a famous collection of poems by Boyko entitled “The Finale of the Art: Sixteen (16) Poems”, the last one of which brought repute to the young poet. This collection, that became an ego-futurist manifesto of the intuitivists, was built on the principle of gradual “nullification” of language. Thus, whereas the 15th poem only contained one letter “U”, the 16th consisted of an empty page. Nevertheless the 16th poem needed other “egos”, i.e. it was meant for public reading. One may learn from literary testimonies that it was the cross-like gesticulation that lay in the basis of performative reading of the emptiness of Boyko’s 16th poem. For instance, evidence thereof is to be found in Viktor Shklovsky’s memoirs: “He also had a poem of the end – it consisted of a crisscross hand gesture” – and in the ones by Vladimir Pyast: “Vasily Boyko… liked to recite his “Last Poem”. It had no words and consisted solely of a gesture of his hand, swiftly lifted in front of his hair and abruptly dropped down and then sideways to the right. It was this gesture, something like a hook, which made the whole poem.”

The gesture of negation in Boyko’s oeuvre, fixating by means of a cross-like strikethrough the limits of art under the conditions of public reading, i.e. in the presence of spectators and readers, in the situation of imprisonment, and in the absence of an adequate reader, is radicalized to the limit. Each day of life in Stalin’s GULAG might have been the last one, and the necessity to keep on existing under such conditions required an over-human or a post-human artistic gesture. “The Blueprint” creates the possibility for the existence of an utmost art of negation without a human recipient. It is created by the matter itself and gets perceived by it as well. As soon as Boyko’s utmost negation leaves the literary plane that had still assumed human communication, for the almost molecular plane of pure interaction of light, it becomes absolutely self-sufficient. It also expresses in its fullest form the ideal of ego-futurism, and maybe of the whole modernist project of the 20th century which fought for establishing the utmost autonomy of the art. Thus, ultimate art does not demand any other spectator anymore than the material reality itself. In this sense the horror of utterly constrained camp life is literally imprinted in the negating post-human gesture of hope, organized according to the laws of art. “The Blueprint” became a unique monument, testifying to the artist’s resistance that managed to use even the inexpressible catastrophic experience as its material.

As it was said earlier, after release Vasily Boyko moved to Kherson. Here is what is written in the biographical material about this avant-garde artist prepared by the Kherson museum of local history:
“Got married to a Kherson woman and moved to Kherson. Received a status of “personal pensioner”. It is unknown whether there were any people left in Kherson by that time who personally knew the famous avant-garde artist Kruchenykh, who was born in this town, or the Burlyuks, who had a house in Kherson and lived there for long periods. However, Boyko’s grave is not looked after now.

2d room

We are the workers of contemporary art.
We are the ones who make visible what has been made visible.
We are those on whose shoulders you stand.
We are installation fitters, lighting technicians, cleaners, and porters.
We refuse to install the Ad Reinhardt exhibition
As a protest against terrible working conditions and our disenfranchised position.
We will dazzle you with all the light of art,
And all the installation spotlights of our exhibition spaces, so that
You finally behold your blindness!

The anonymous workers of contemporary art

3d room

In their video work Untitled the London-based collective ‘Alliance of Precarious Images’ turns to the analysis of the linguistic nature of the judicial speech produced by the Russian prosecutors who conducted the case of the May 6’ “mass riots”, as well as several other much publicized cases involving artists and oppositional activists. Since video- and audio-recording without special permission was prohibited, most of the speeches were recorded with the help of a hidden dictaphone with no video-image available. The black background of the Untitled video is “conventional” for a candid recording of the speech of a public officer, whereas the white background, with its pure light, corresponds to silence. Thus, the visual gets split all the way down to the minimal difference between light and darkness. The same visual form was used in the early video by Guy Debord, founder of the Situationist International, entitled Howling for Sade. References to the situationist ideas constitute an important part of the API activities. In the judgment of the collective’s anonymous authors, they “should go further and destroy the power of the capital on the pre-figurative level of the pure language of power.”

Taken out from the context and free of any distracting visual elements, the speech appears in all its absurdity and authoritative pretentiousness. The ‘Alliance of Precarious Images’ discloses the destructive ambitions rooted in the binary code of the visual, as well as in the binary language oppositions. The art that actuates these abstract fluctuations also turns out to be a part of the mutual cover-up of the authority. The rhythm of interchanging light and dark scenes in the Untitled is borrowed from the 1949’ American film The Fountainhead based on the novel of the same name by Ayn Rand. The movie tells the story of a modernist architect who is ready for any, even most drastic steps for the sake of realizing his creative genius, right down to crime and various forms of violence.