THE KEEPERS?

 

                                                                                                “How long does it take for the post in a sort of adventure

                                                                                                 to get from the Twentieth to the Seventeenth century?..” 

                                                                                                                                             Alexandre Galich

 

  When one perceives culture as a complex of the human actions, when it becomes related to everything, and we can, subsequently, talk about a culture of relaxing at the bench or a culture of winkle-fishing, the entire concept of culture becomes inevitably devaluated. It is certainly possible to regard "The Big Brother" series as part of culture, putting aside the question of whether it really becomes. Democracy, where a politician who meets with culture as a term for the first time when he becomes minister of culture and political correctness, which primarily concerns about equality and equalisation, provide a disastrous effect on culture, elite and hierarchical by its nature. No culture can exist without the past, with lack of knowledge about the past, without a dialogue with the past. Any culture is an echo, a reflection. We emphasise here this rather banal statement, since these very terms - echo, reflexion, reflection and, finally, culture - can be fully regarded as characterising the works of the artists presented at this exhibition.

  A significant exhibition normally activates our grey matter encouraging us to expatiate prolifically. In our case it encouraged various reflexions about craftmanship as a meaning and about all transformations it has passed through more than a hundred years. It is significant, as it's craftmanship and materiality, both in their original meanings, that distinguish this exhibition from the vast majority of the others.

  There's a certain irony in the fact that at the peak of flourishing of a consumer society we have finally lost the feeling of an object. We do not love consumer goods themselves, but more possibilities that they provide us with: a status, a feeling of being part of the swarm. But as soon as an object of our fondness is out-fashioned we throw it away without regret replacing it with another, more updated one. A very production of all these goods, be it a car, a computer or a pair of shoes is optimised for another season, not a long period of time, which lets a wheel of sales turnover spin without stop.

  However, for the artists whose works are presented at the exhibition an object means the whole world, moreover, it is the nostalgic world that has vanished before our very eyes. On the other hand, the memory about this vanished world is actual, at least for these people. Look at a landscape of Jerusalem. It is rather a recollection about an ancient post-card where the contemporary city has been miraculously foreseen. And here's a tea-spoon. A silver one. It might be a contemporary one, but the bottom is Dutch and dates back to the 17th century. Who is he, the one that dared to snatch the spoon? Little Zaches he is, who folds his cloak about and tilts his romantic hat over, for conspiration, winking at us from the table of the dead kings feast.

  These artists live in a world where a bootmaker addresses his customer with the following words, while delivering him his new boots made to measure: "You will die, but your boots will be like new, as before". It is the world where the objects inherited are treated with all worthy love and respect. The world where the elders are still seducing Susannah, not jerking themselves off at a free porn site.

  One's allegiance to an object cannot be regarded apart from one's respect to the craft. The works of the artists presented at the exhibition are very different from the dominating trends of the modern society, where form and content are not in unity anymore, where ideas prevail and their material realisation is a peripheral matter, where art lost materiality (concept is not for hanging on the wall) resulting in devaluation of the craft principles of honour and dignity. This art is based on craftmanship in particular, declaring openly its connection to the tradition of classical oil painting. Similarly to the masters of the past times, they create objects. These objects do have a size, a weight and, finally, a value. Like the real craft masters they use all their craftmanship, all their talent to handle a rectangular canvas with oil paint, to the full due. Working in such a manner, they find themselves, willing or not, in a world where time passes differently, where people still exchange long letters, where furniture is custom-made by a woodcarver, not bought at the IKEA. This world, if we are honest to ourselves at least, has nothing to do with the one where artistic reputations are done nowadays, where the prizes are granted, where the modern art process boils and scums without rest. Consequently, they have no chance in such a world. They enter the tilt-yard with a 17th century court sword or a duel pistol at the best, surrounded by the graduates of Bezalel equipped with the super-modern weapons and fighting each other for a place under the sun. Well, we do realise that one needs a significant amount of courage, or stupidity, or both things together, to deliberately chose a position of an outsider.

  Now, the question is: who are they? A kind of naive conservative romanticists? Sort of lunatics, who refuse to accept the verdict of Time? Individualists, who reject the opportunity to become part of an artistic flock? Megalomaniacs, who are sure in their right? Just fools pissing against the wind? A little of this, a little of that. However, there's something else. The ways of God are inscrutable. It is very probable that their creative works will be forgotten as anachronism of any possible kind. But it may happen once that people would feel some grief about a world where they could read books instead of watching reality-shows, could live their own lives instead of accepting maximum of new possible visual information for a moment of time, could return to a rectangular canvas with oil paint on their wall, perfected to the highest level.

  It is possible that once a world comes back, where an object, a thing will be useful for a human being and the latter will treat it with love and dignity. And possibly then people will come back to those who have kept and preserved all the knowledge of their ancestors through the passing years, who have increased and perfected all the secrets of craft, secrets of craftmanship, who passed them further to the similar stubborn outsiders, like themselves. And the people will remember those, who, being loyal to their selves and to the high dignity of profession, not the passing Time, turned to be the watchers of fire, the keepers of culture. Possibly it will be so (to confess, we would love it to be so), possibly not.

  Whatever happens in the future, this exhibition today puts some questions we are to discuss. Some of these were already mentioned in the text, but there are others. Specifically, is it necessary (being impossible, which is known) to enter rivers twice, even if the rivers are canals of Delft? Is it right that an artist refusing to accept the realities of his time is primarily doomed to become an epigone? Do we eyewitness or not a historical end of painting in its traditional incarnation at least, as a canvas handled with oil paint?

   It is hardly possible to give answers to these (as well the other) questions, but that does not mean they lack significance and are not worth asking. Who will finally get a prize in this long distance rally, - the artists who bet on their time, or the artists who bet on eternity, a creator who goes with the stream of time, or a creator who goes against it, - only Time itself can provide us with the perfect answer, in three hundred years at least. As a great poet, once the principal poet of his time, who is almost forgotten now, used to say: "Let us meet and speak in three hundred years".  

 

  With my best wishes of good health and long life.

 

                                                                                                                                   Sasha OKUN

                                                                                                                   Translation: Andrey  Mashinyan 

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