Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
June 21 - August 20, 2017
The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts presents the Recycle Group intervention exhibition.
The project “Homo Virtualis” has been specially prepared for the Pushkin Museum. It reflects artists' thoughts regarding the transformation of art perception in the mass media age. 16 objects made with different techniques will be placed in the halls of Ancient World and Middle Ages art, as well as among Renaissance sculptures of the permanent exhibition.
The Recycle Group artists play a unique game with visitors by placing their objects and sculptures in the space of a classical museum. They offer works of art that visually resemble pieces of ancient artifacts but in reality are made of polyurethane and plastic. They are actually post-industrial waste, and at the same time they are a subtle reflection about the “personal dimension” in the virtual reality age. Relics of “classical art” (or, at least, something that a modern viewer could interpret as an element of “high culture”) become a part of the “archeology of the future.” Icons of popular networks seem to brand the museum space and give sculptures additional meanings. The artists of the group ask visitors: how can we measure the authority, influence, and popularity of an individual artist or an entire museum today — using a citation index, the number of followers in social media, or the number of likes or selfies taken in front of works of art?
The exhibition includes new objects made using augmented reality, which should be viewed with a special mobile app. Using augmented reality as a new tool for art interpretation, artists formulate laws of the new figurativeness existing at the intersection of virtual and material worlds. Such objects are displayed in a classical museum next to pieces of ancient and Western European art, thus playing a game with visitors, inviting them to find unconventional and sometimes paradoxical rhymes and likenesses resonating between modernity and the classics.
Sculptures from previous projects are also presented at the intervention, including “Noah's Ark” and “Educator 12,” which were first displayed in 2015 at the “Conversion” exhibition as part of the parallel program of the 56th Venice Biennale of contemporary art. These objects of art tell about human life in virtual space: an individual can achieve digital immortality by keeping data in a cloud or using storage services.
“Homo Virtualis” demonstrates the development of the main theme of “human being/machine” in Recycle Group's creative works. Digital technologies and social networks increasingly intrude into everyday life, thus transforming an individual's understanding of the world and classical art. They form an approach to life that makes the contemporary audience ignore the difference between the high and the low, the unique and the widely reproduced. Regardless of whether it is a person, a masterpiece, or a brick wall — they are all the same in front of a smartphone lens. What used to be a revolution in figurative art in the middle of the 20th century has become an ordinary pixel code today.
Alexandra Danilova, deputy head of the Department of 19th and 20th Century European and American Art, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
Polina Mogilina, Triumph Gallery
Tekst by Aleksandra Danilova
In summer 2017 the halls of the permanent exhibition of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts have been transformed yet again: among the unique collections of monuments of the Ancient East and antiquities and in halls with the renowned Tsvetaev plaster casts, you come face to face with works by the young but already internationally renowned Recycle Group.
Today a number of the largest museums in classical art or famous architectural com- plexes such as the Louvre and Versailles, the Palazzo Borghese and the Metropolitan Museum, the Hermitage and Prado, have proactively started adding more and more modern works of art to their exhibitions. Such a community makes it possible not only to update space and attract a new young audience to museums; it also sets a new frame of reference. Entering into dialogue, classical and modern art identify with exacting precision the fundamental topics in culture and simultaneously sharpen visitors’ per- ceptions, proposing that they view already overexposed things from a new angle. These unexpected confrontations render clear and obvious areas of common interest from different eras and demonstrate clearly how the perception, mentality and even physiology of thought is changing.
Intervention exhibitions intruding on the habitual space of museum exhibitions and interiors represent one way to answer the questions: “Where does the fine line be- tween the past and the present run? To what extent is classical art still relevant? Today the art museum, and also the communities arising around the museum, can be decribed as a kind of filter that plays an important role in the “intellectual ecosystem”. Back in the 1970s the British philosopher and sociologist Stephen Toulmin insisted on the need to introduce such a concept, as the dissemination of ideas is directly dependent not so much on the evolution of thought, but instead is determined to a far greater extent by the “climate” of social niches. In these local spaces of society, new ideas are tested and then legitimised. This is the very issue that Recycle Group tackles; they propose that the spectator contemplate how authority, decisiveness and popularity can be measured today—the number of “likes”, the number of subscribers, the citation index?
In the 1960s, discussing the problems of how modern culture is supersaturated with standardised images and signs, which constitute junk information, the French artist Martial Raysse created a whole series of works on the topic of “visual hygiene”. After filling his work with fashionable washing and cleaning products in bright packag- es, he would wax ironically on philistine consciousness littered with advertising and mass media images. He perceived in these images/signs both an alien element in the “high culture” space, and a new visual language imbued with brightness, clarity and persuasion. Half a century later, when the development of information technologies, the appearance of new global telecommunications systems and social networks have created a compact virtual cocoon of values, meanings and opportunities around the individual, the issue of clarity of perception and freedom of conviction simply be- comes ever more relevant. How far can modern man distance himself from his own virtual persona, and what is the extent of our engagement in social networking, as we contemplate issues over breakfast and automatically post a selfie to Instagram...
Half a century ago, the Canadian philosopher Marshal McLuhan asserted that modern civilisation started with the invention of television, which presented man with fun- damentally new opportunities, introducing a new sensation of time and space. Today digital technologies and social networks intrude more and more actively into our daily lives, transforming reality to the point there is no longer any difference between high and low culture, the unique and the mass-market, the real and virtual. McLuhan’s famous aphorism “The medium is the message” acquires a completely different mean- ing in the space woven from SMS, WhatsApp and Telegram. Like a stigma, the icons of popular social networks brand the appurtenance of the works of Recycle Group to this modern digital culture. “You will only see me if your eyes become virtual”, pronounces the sibyl Siri, inviting us to go for a walk around augmented reality. The works of Recycle Group, visually similar to preserved fragments of ancient artefacts, made from polyurethane and plastic, are transformed by the lens of the smartphone, turning them into a modern Discobolus or Doryphoros.
When placed within the context of a classical art exhibition, the works of Recycle Group easily discover their own utopian nature and the dichotomy in which the perfection of visual form contradicts the emphatic contemporaneity of the material.
Their Apostles are casts of their own bodies, rendered from new high-tech materi- als—a subtle reflection on the “personal dimension” in the era of virtual reality and si- multaneously of post-industrial trash. The symbols and attributes of our time—mobile phones, electronic cables, selfie sticks—in the hands of statues that look like antiques elicit a gentle smile. One can discern in every detail of their works the subtle irony that also enables the works of Recycle Group to take hold “inside” art. And it is precisely this that gives the spectator an optimistic belief that, notwithstanding the fashionable super technological gadget in his hand, man still feels that he is the heir of a great past.
In the Homo Virtualis project prepared especially for the museum, the artists discuss the “archaeology of the future” and how modern civilisation will be perceived cen- turies from now. Which exhibits will adorn museums in 3017? Perhaps wonderful bronzes and marble will be replaced by super technological plastics and polyurethane, the functions of the gold sacred background will be performed by radiant light boxes, and maybe art in general will become virtual and will only be perceived through elec- tronic devices. Siting their objects and sculptures in the space of a classical museum, the artists of Recycle Group try to analyse the “archaeological culture of the early 21st century, which they designate as the era of “virtual man”. Usually in archaeology cultures are named on the basis of some unique characteristic—the decoration of ce- ramics, a specific ceremony or ritual, the common tools of production. It is not hard to predict what name will be given to our era...