The CAG presented the first Canadian exhibition by Russian born artist Pavel Pepperstein. Pepperstein has an eccentric practice in which he mixes painting, drawing and writing to build idiosyncratic iconographies and elaborate chronologies that both reflect a hazy past and predict a fantastic future. His series of paintings and drawings, Landscapes of Future depicts an absurd timeline of a not so plausible future. Many of the pieces in this body of work link figures from Russian mythology and fairy tales with signs and symbols from critical theory, literature and current politics, creating a bizarrely abstract representation of society as we know it that hovers between optimism and anxiousness. Pepperstein aptly situates this series within the genre of landscape painting. In general, the individual works either directly incorporate the common tropes of this genre or move toward total abstraction; for example, 2388 depicts the year lakes will begin to fly and 3017 abstractly represents the fight between ‘The All’ and ‘Nothing.’
Born in Moscow in 1966, Pavel Pepperstein began his artistic career just as Soviet Communism was collapsing. In the late 1980s he co-founded (with Sergei Anufriev and Yuri Leidermann) Inspection Medical Hermeneutics, which “was concerned with studying theoretical constructions, ideologies, artistic principles and the shifting borders between micro-social and macro-social spaces.” 1 In a post-Soviet climate of political and economic instability, Inspection Medical Hermeneutics (MH) used linguistics, cultural theory and psychoanalysis to construct a critical distance from the events of the day. Faced with an opening to the West and all forms of mass commercial culture, and with the experience of conceptual art from the preceding generation, they aimed to challenge the tendencies of Russian cultural politics.
Centered on the relationships between texts and images, their strategy was to create endless chains of referral to other texts and other images. While cultivating their own mythology, they conflated official and unofficial culture, invented terminology, and developed a subtle rhetoric of senselessness. The idea of “inspection” itself was identified as “senseless repetition.” In an early text published for an exhibition in Italy they wrote, “[T]he Law of Futility presents itself as the instrumental unraveling of a chain, a commentary…with a complete absence of links, where the hollows in between are filled in by the friable, mottled little world of private fantasy.” The text goes on to describe various ways to stratify the Law of Futility, through the formation of categories and “lexical transfers” or by incorporating “a wide variety of forms of nonsense…accumulated in the order of aesthetic discourses, from the demented to the extremely pretentious….” 2
While MH has had various members and adepts over the course of years, the personal work of Pavel Pepperstein is inevitably bound up with its practices. Like MH, Pepperstein’s solo practice employs texts and images in combination, bringing all manner of subject matter into play. Similarly, his practice remains mistrustful of personal expression, aiming rather to examine the inner workings of culture and society. His sources might include Russian fairytales, theoretical tracts, historical styles, monuments, movies, advertising, propaganda, and so on. In the series of paintings and drawings, Landscapes of Future, Pepperstein considers the future as abstraction. Just as abstraction requires its own pictorial space, the future needs its own space, a proposition that led him to think of landscape motifs with abstract forms as landscapes of the future. 3
As a society we have great difficulty visualizing the future, especially at this moment when we seem on the brink of destroying the planet. Hence, a work like 2037 (So called “planet trees” in the snow garden) seems at once apocalyptic and whimsical. Likewise, 2388 (So called “Flying Lakes”) or Ground Wave 5016 might allude to ecological disaster, while other works cast doubt on the continued existence of the human species: Talking Clouds at 2999 or Civilization of Shells 5048, for example. But other works, such as The Fight between “The All” and “Nothing”, are more obviously rooted in aesthetic discourses. In spite of having brightly coloured spheres in place of heads on the figures in 2099(Two travelers in the mountains), there is a fairytale atmosphere to these images. This is reinforced by other images which may be only dimly remembered but impart a powerful psychological momentum to the way that we perceive and interpret the pictures in front of us. Thus the viewer also contributes to that unending chain of referral. This too may be one of the “moments” from which Pepperstein’s narrative continues.
- Christina Ritchie
1. Pepperstein, Pavel, “City report: Moscow.” Frieze Magazine, 90 (2005): 98-102.
2. Leidermann, Yuri and Pavel Pepperstein, “Stages in a Brief Voyage.” Contemporary Russian Artists. Prato, Italy; Museum Luigi Pecci, 1990.
3. Press release from Gallery Kamm, Berlin, 2006.
Someone (let’s call him/her The One) concentrates on the image. It can be any image, indeed, but let’s call this image The Picture.
IN THE FIRST MOMENT The One sees The Picture as “something” (little “mister x” which must be considered).
IN THE SECOND MOMENT The One sees The Picture as “food”: it means The One understands the he/she can digest (understand) The Picture.
IN THE THIRD MOMENT The One finds out the fact that The Picture is “bad food”: it has something in it (something hard, or raw, or rotten) which can’t be digested (consumed, to be understood).
IN THE FOURTH MOMENT The One sees The Picture as “mirror”: The One sees reflection of The One. This is the moment when The One can touch his/her soul within The Picture.
IN THE FIFTH MOMENT The One finds out that he or she doesn’t have soul. In this moment he/she calls The Picture “secret animal”.
IN THE SIXTH MOMENT The One finds out that he or she is not The First One. In this moment The One calls The Picture “enemy”.
IN THE SEVENTH MOMENT The One realises that he/she is not alone anymore. From this moment on instead of The One we have They.
IN THE EIGHTH MOMENT They turns from The Pictures, because The Picture is boring and accidental.