TO DRY OR NOT TO DRY
- Jewgenija Tschuikowa was in her first year at the Moscow University of Printing Arts when the unthinkable happened in November 1989. With the news of the fall of the wall, she packed up, headed West. Twenty five years later …
“I was one of the first from Moscow to crawl through the hole in the wall. I went to see the ‘Rundgang’ at the Duesseldorf Art Academy (famous annual open studio day), and the notion of freedom was overwhelming. When you don’t know it you don’t think it exists!”
Without hesitation a sabbatical year of ‘academic holidays’ was arranged for her to join the Düsseldorf Academy to check it out for
2 semesters. It turned out to be a one way ticket. While visiting home regularly for work and pleasure, her base has been firmly on the banks of the Rhein rather than the Moskva ever since. “In 2000 / 2001 it seemed like the tables had turned, suddenly in Moscow everything seemed possible... all offered on a plate. But it turned (ugly) very quickly.”
Why use lipstick on canvas, nail varnish on stainless steel? “Make Up is a very alluring material, shiny, seductive, … with its very own properties, physical as well as symbolical.”
- For a Western lay spectator, the most visible Russian export only one step behind oil and gas, arms and scary news, are… Russian women. As beautiful models, top spending fashion shoppers they are particularly welcome.
Working in fashion or art, you hope whoever Russian stalks in will be a present or future wife - or daughter - of an oligarch, if not a rare one herself. As the stereotype goes, one expects them to be strikingly beautiful, and / or beautifully ‘made up’. But, of course, the latter wasn’t always so. “In socialist Russia, men and women were more equal in work, and (to a point) in appearance.
There was a lot of manoeuvering, lying, in dealing with ‘the system,’ but male and female ‘comrades’ were in the same boat as individuals figuring how to make things work for them. In terms of ‘look,’ women were also working with limited resources.“
”The collapse of communism left a vacuum and a brutal capatalist anarchy swiftly followed. In the new division of equity and power, women were left out. They withdrew, in a situation that was progressively becoming more openly dangerous and fought mainly between men. The influx of novelty drugstore supplies then provided the means for another newfound battle: women against women. Out came the long painted fingernails, got longer and became the norm. In villain-ville the greatest gangster gets the (prettiest) girl! Now, in winter you may see this strange image of a woman pulling a huge load of bags behind her across the ice — in short skirts and stilettos.”
- Make up therefore really becomes warpaint, or a mask to hide behind. “Next to my gallery in Moscow a beauty store opened, looking like a shiny jewellerybox, all glitzy white, and empty. The women who ventured inside all looked unhappy,… including me of course!”
“Buying expensive lipstick,… Chanel, Dior, Scream, Astral, Innocence, Purple Triumph, Rouge Dolce Vita, First Love, Fake It… by the kilo has its own dynamic. You are breaking a taboo, you are squandering, adultering,… applying lips on canvas, becomes a form of meditation. The layering changes everything. One is beautiful, two three, three hundred… Eventually you don’t see the single ones anymore. They are hidden, appear only occasionally, vaguely revealing themselves, a few at a time, depending on the light.
A red monochrome, where the individual does – or doesn’t show… Doesn’t that remind us of socialist Russia? “In contemporary Russia you live a life of fear and hiding. The best you can do is not to be too visible. If you become proactive and show yourself, very quickly you land in prison. After the collapse there was a sense of freefall, but now a new structure is forming. It is a frightening system built on Angst, hate, oil, gas, nationalism, but people still welcome it … because it is human to search for something to hold onto. Meanwhile, it is very heavy to live with, one way to protect yourself a little bit is to ‘freeze’ emotionally.
- With ‘Purple Triumph’ I wanted to exude and bring in a positively charged warm energy. The ‘lips on canvas’ exhibition was shown in Moscow in the depth of winter. At -30 ºC… outside, the city was frozen, white, covered in snow. When you entered the gallery, the bright red of the lip impressions was radiating, glowing like a real gas heater. It felt amazing. The energy was beaming from the walls, warming the viewer.
Layering continues to play a major role in ‘Quick Dry.’ “After the laborious lip works I was longing for something more immediate. Nail varnish was perfect. Liquid, shiny, translucent… it interacts well with steel, is hard to manipulate, forces you to be fast and basically becomes quite a mess, which is what I wanted.”
Snippets from conversations, sms, emails, facebook comments talk back to us from broad sheets of metal, polished or matt.
“When we first started to use sms I saved some texts which eventually filled a whole book; they were beautiful, poetic, or outstanding in meaninglessness. For ‘Quick Dry’ I layered these like transparent pages, they are passing comments, parts of conversations and also escalating arguments. This type of communication fuels misunderstandings and frustrations.”
Technology can be a shield to hide behind. “… and also meaningful.
- One statement from a Russian friend reads ‘Our state of being equals that of the oil, wherever it flows, we go’… ‘Furious, frenzied, at our last breath’ the title stems from an explanation of the same friend who tries to rationalize the communal feeling in Moscow. As the text fragments are superimposed, depending where you are standing you can discern one or the other.”
This layering process works as a kind of camouflage. In Quick Dry there is the viewer’s own reflection, the light reflection of the steel, and the changing texts. What you see – like what you feel – is never the same, word sequences are overwritten but still isolated. “In the end the work always revolves around loneliness, isolation. In the lip paintings it is the act which isolates you, the artist, in the en masse replication then the individual lip impression drowns in a sea of lips.” And a blood red sea at that.
The make up cupcakes are intriguing. “The cupakes are made of remnants of the other works in poured plaster, these small ones are about to be replicated in large size concrete. They are reflections on the Russian expression ‘rolling someone in concrete (or asphalt)’—.
New works involve broken mirror … “In Russia superstition reigns, and broken mirrors are a terrifying sign, ‘bad luck’ to the extreme. Defying this is invisible - but crucial - like so many things in life.” Cultural cross messaging in a universal vortex, East-West context. Win one lose one at random or will, ‘einsam in der Menge’ – alone in a crowd – on canvas, concrete, steel.