On May 16, ISSMAG gallery presented n the first personal exhibition in Russia of Belarus-born Belgium-based artist Jura Shust, Baptism by Fire. In his artistic practice, Shust refers to the ways how Soviet and modern myths and rituals correlate with science, technology development and the processes of late capitalism.
Curated by Alexander Burenkov.
Exhibition was born as a result of the artist's study of the ethical meaning in the early Soviet culture of the symbolism of fire as one of the most important metaphorical tools of secularization and the way of purification from the past, embodied in drawings created by Shust with the help of activated charcoal. More often than not, conversations about the symbolism of fire are conducted in the context of the denial by the Bolsheviks of Christian traditions, especially Orthodox traditions, and even mockery of them. It is from this position that today, for example, the well-known fact of the creation of the first crematorium in Russia in Petrograd, 1919-1921, which seemed interesting to the artist, is estimated today. The storyline of historical events in many respects confirms the militantly atheistic meaning of all the actions of the Soviet authorities connected with the construction of this institution, however, the construction of a crematorium for its immediate initiators and executors was also an expression of the socio-cultural position of the "industrial man". The Decree of the Council of People's Commissars "On the removal of monuments erected in honor of tsars and their servants and the drafting of projects for the memory of the Russian socialist revolution" was an act of deliberately destroying historical memory, the initial stage of desacralization of the past as a whole and the cult of the dead in particular, because in most cases, the monuments were the materialization of the ritual of worshiping the deceased person's personality, that's why the construction of crematoria in the early Soviet period was viewed as part of the plan for monumental propaganda. At the same time, many intellectuals in that historical period strongly gravitated towards the concepts of destruction of the traditional world order, a kind of sacral sacrilege, a demonstrative overthrow of the spiritual symbols of the past. On Russian soil, a new culture, a new aesthetics of expediency, was clearly ripening and emerging, in the system of which an important role was assigned to the process of destroying all the old, obsolete, not corresponding to the accelerated life rhythm of industrial society. This nascent culture extolled the symbolism of fire as a method of purification from the past.
The study of these historical collisions inspired the artist to create specially for the exhibition in ISSMAG a series of pictorial drawings made on the gallery walls with activated charcoal. The Soviet tradition combines in them with recognizable plots of many teachings and philosophies that swept the post-Soviet space in the late 20th century: from the symbol of the lotus, the embodiment of purity and enlightenment of the Buddha, and the image of a girl practicing Jala Neti, washing the nose, purifying exercise of yoga to improve breathing, described in Ayurveda, to the plot of spell of water for happiness from the Soviet TV screen "Yunost" ("Youth"), the baptism of a newborn, a glass of Soviet champagne and the image of a strict Moidodyr, hero of cult Soviet cartoons.
The central position at the exhibition will be occupied by three key works of the artist. The first one is Spirit Intoxication, installation of inverted wine glasses, in which alcohol is replaced by a cleaner of toxic green for washing dishes. The second one is Newton's Cenotaph ("Newton's Cenotaph"), an installation of broken circular mirrors placed in cardboard boxes from pizza, referring to the unrealized project of the French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée, who created drawings of an imaginary spherical gravestone monument to Newton, under which there should not be the ashes of the deceased. And the third one is the new work Baptism by Fire, created specifically for the exhibition.
Many works Jury Shust, in its form and shape, resemble, one way or another, monuments or tombstones. This impression was provided by Exo-Oblivion, one of the most memorable works of last year's 5 Moscow Biennale for Young Art (installation of motorcycle helmets, broken beer and wine bottle roses and eggs installed on pieces of building granite) dedicated to the decipherment of archetypes post-modern digital rights. The same shape of monument was in the original version of the installation Spirit Intoxication, exposed by the artist on the granite slab topped with a stepladder. This is how a series of printed on aluminum dibond digital prints Daily Life Relics ("Relics of everyday life") looks surprisingly similar to the gravestone plates with carved graphemes of everyday objects, remaining in the shadow of everyday life. Drawing the projection of the future through the prism of the past, Shust sees in the toast, pronounced over a glass of champagne, and the New Year's tradition of burning papers with desires an archaic attempt to predict or program the future, and in turning to the mirror (the water's surface) - the practice of divination and the associated mystification.
The second floor of the gallery is dedicated to the display of a new video by Jura Shust, Noosphere (2016-2017, 7:17 min) with documentation of the artist's performance performed in one of the underground historical shopping malls in the center of Brussels, which is in ruins because of Financial crisis. The artist, who drinks water from a futuristic fountain in a deserted and abandoned fading shopping center in the center of the economic capital of Europe, clearly appeals to the myth of Narcissus, which is interesting to Shust in the interpretation of Marshall McLuhan, who used the myth to describe the work of technology and the transition from the "pre-mirror era" to the modern world of techno-capitalism. Like Narcissus, who fell into a stupor due to his acquaintance with parallel world, meeting with new technologies that become a continuation of our body makes our body die, to which the artist symbolically establishes a tombstone in the form of a video essay. The chosen reference to the theory of the noosphere of Vladimir Vernadsky, becomes, in this sense, not so much an optimistic anticipation of the transition from the biosphere to the noosphere as a result of reasonably controllable global planetary processes, but rather a personal attempt by an individual to find a way to escape from information intoxication and find his self-identification in the turbulence of the flows of the thinking ocean surrounding him.