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Vladislav Efimov: beyond photography

‘Around the Forest’, a solo exhibition of pioneering Russian new media artist Vladislav Efimov is on view in Moscow at the Pennlab gallery.

In the semi dark exhibition space there are crafted plywood constructions with wooden legs reminiscent of vintage fairground peep shows which the artist calls “observation stations”. However, instead of showing images of exotic lands there are pictures of forests, a jumble of branches and leaves, which if sublime, feel out of context. On one side of the exhibition space there are large-format photography stands with pictures of landscapes showing a fairytale meadow or a wilderness. On the opposite wall, there is a long shelf with a row of images of greenery lit up from behind, images which are blurry to the point of near abstraction. Finally, in a corner of the room there is a slide show which depicts Efimov's (b. 1964) own wanderings through the forest. The movement of the slides has a pulse which is infinitely slow, like in the early philosophical aporias.

In the exhibition text Efimov notes that his project is based on a natural philosophical contemplation of the forest. However the tools of perception we have which include our vision and its various technical extensions are not ideal. Nature’s living matter is blurred, there is a blurry outline of different shades. “Good and evil, the important and insignificant parts of a forest become simply green spots in the picture,” the artist writes. This ironic attitude towards human ambition, which has conquered the highest peaks of science and technology and choked on its own power, is a main theme in Efimov's art. “I am wary of how the human mind claims to know the world,” the artist says. “Humans are forced to look at specific things, and that is why they can not see the world in general”.

Having started out in the conservative environment of ‘direct photography’ at the end of the 1980s, Efimov quickly discovered and embraced media art, which in the early 1990s was a revolutionary field, exploring new means of expression using technology. This period concluded in his collaboration with Russian artist Aristarkh Chernyshev (b. 1968), and the duo existed until the mid 2000s. Their best known joint project is an interactive video installation called ‘I'll Be Back’ produced in 2002, which was first shown at the XL Gallery in Moscow. It involved Efimov and Chernyshev taking turns to trample on miniature Terminators, and the artists themselves being trampled on by robots.

However, for Efimov, the euphorically progressive pathos of media art eventually came to its natural end. “You can look at the world with an attitude of dissatisfaction” he laughs, recalling those times, “but it’s about what to do next and that is not clear”. Efimov eventually turned his attentions to far less popular, historical - if not ‘archaeological’ - subjects. His installation “For The Radio” (2008) was about wired radio outlets, which had become extinct, something he found interesting. At the beginning of the 20th century there had been higher expectations for the radio than there was later for the Internet at the end of the century. The radio was supposed to lead the world to a bright future, but it became an instrument of dictatorial regimes and more than once caused mass hysteria. “I made reference to an article by Velimir Khlebnikov, 'Radio of the Future', where the radio as a tool creates both freedom and violence,” Efimov explained. This project comprised old fashioned Soviet songs performed by a choir with stutters and references to ancient Greek tragedy.

The project ‘Without Blood’, exhibited at the Fifth Urals Industrial Biennale in 2019, was photographed at the Zoological Museum in Moscow. As Efimov pointed out, the exhibit there lacked one element to make the creatures on the display come alive: blood. But the artist was undeterred by this: he photographed stuffed wolves, monkeys, deer and other animals using special filters, the pictures were taken in the dark and everything was lit with an infrared lamp. As a result the Zoological Museum was transformed into a bloodbath, utterly macabre and alive at the same time. At the biennale which was dedicated to Immortality, Efimov's series of photographs looked like bitter mockery. But so it should be: any utopia needs a reality check, performed by art and artists.

Vladislav Efimov. Around the forest

Pennlab Gallery

Moscow, Russia

June 16 - 31 July 31, 2022

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