Participants of Laibach group in front of the work by Erik Bulatov
The Foundry, a space for radical art launched by artist Andrei Molodkin in France
A place where artists from different countries, among them Erik Bulatov and Santiago Sierra, have been coming to realize their most daring ideas, kicked off its public programme with a collaboration between Molodkin and Laibach, the legendary band from Slovenia.
Letters forming the word SLAUGHTER are gleaming in rosy neon on the facade of The Foundry. At regular intervals, the word turns into LAUGHTER as the letter S keeps blinking on and off. It’s a work by South African artist Kendell Geers (b. 1968) and creates an ominous air of warning, an air that keeps draughting through the Foundry’s cavernous halls. This extraordinary space is the brainchild of Andrei Molodkin (b. 1966), an artist who uses crude oil and real human blood in his art. One of his most avid supporters is London-based Russian-speaking entrepreneur Andrei Tretyakov who was born in Kazakhstan. Molodkin bought this abandoned munition factory at the foot of French Pyrenees and turned it into a space where radical artists from all over the world can realize their more risky and daring ideas. “This is a place where artists can do things they can’t do anywhere else”, Molodkin explains. Thanks to the efforts and international ties of Tretyakov’s A/political Foundation, the artworks they create on site are then shown in museums and other locations throughout Europe and America. The space was launched in 2015 yet not open to the public until now.
Molodkin himself seems to take pride in the fact that his work was once censored at the Russian pavilion at the Venice biennale. His installation ‘Le Rouge et le Noir’ was displayed there as a part of a group exhibition in 2009 and it addressed the tragedy of the Chechen wars. It consisted of two transparent replicas of The Winged Victory of Samothrace, filled with Chechen oil and blood, that, according to Molodkin, came from Russian soldiers who had fought in the region (Milena Orlova, at the time art critic for Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, stated in her review of the pavilion that the blood was in fact donated by Moldavian workers employed on the site.). On the opening day in Venice, the curator was told to tear the explanatory text off the wall. Molodkin learned that lesson well. Now his works speak for themselves, needing no explanation. He uses words, slogans or iconic images such as the façade of the White House which he fills with blood or oil. For him, oil remains a symbol of power, despite the first world’s increasing leaning toward a hydrocarbon-free economy. As for the blood, it’s always real but never his own. “I am an artist, I give people a form which they can fill with their blood,”Molodkin says. When asked, if it is easy to persuade strangers to donate their blood for the sake of art, he answers laconically and somewhat vaguely “Not always”.
His work DEMOCRACY, formed by transparent letters through which crude oil is pumped, is on view at The Foundry, as well as other word-based sculptures by Molodkin. The newest one, called GOVERNMENT is black, huge and seemingly falls apart, as its letters are leaning to the ground at various angles. CAPITALISM is in the back yard, its rusty letters gradually having been overgrown with weeds. Somehow, other artists whose works are dispersed across The Foundry’s halls all share the same passion for sans-serif fonts and anti-establishment slogans. Even established Russian painter Erik Bulatov (b. 1933), who first ventured into the domain of sculpture here, is no exception. His impressive installation ‘Forward’ adorns a piazza outside The Foundry. Huge red letters form the Russian word ВПЕРЕД (Forward) repeated four times. They are placed in a circle where the viewer feels almost locked up: as if there’s no escape from this vicious circle, either forwards or backwards. This monumental work was displayed in front of Tate Modern in 2017 and now is a part of the Foundry's surreal landscape. Several of Bulatov’s sculptures and paintings lurk inside the building, including the absurdly optimistic ‘Everything’s Not So Scary’ and mildly shocking «Насрать», translated literally as “To shit on” or, more accurately, “I don’t care a shit”. On the outskirts of the sleepy French village of Maubourguet these ominous musings and warnings in Russian look strangely topical, yet strangely out of place. Molodkin's latest work was a portrait of Russia’s president filled with blood donated by Ukrainian workers employed at The Foundry. A video version of this artwork was used as a part of a video sequence created by Molodkin and his team for the Laibach concert at The Foundry. The programme that premiered on May 10 revisited the 40-year-long history of the band, known worldwide for its ambiguous totalitarian aesthetics. Words of warning such as “War” or “Danger” flashed behind the band as they performed, on a huge screen gradually filled with a certain unmistakably red substance. These images were interspersed with panoramas of a battlefield, seen from the perspective of a combat drone. All this looked poignantly topical and even more out of place in the peaceful Pyrenees, a short drive away from the town of Lourdes, where millions of pilgrims come every year to heal their aching souls and bodies by the water of a holy spring. On the next day, The Foundry opened its doors to the public.