Yuri Leiderman Born in 1963 in Odessa. Artist, essayist and writer. Lives in Cologne and Moscow.
So we already know that art has lost its battle for space. It has become utterly impossible to relate space to anything invented, non-existent, or remote. For a while, it seemed that art could recoup in the registers of time, endlessly deferring and holding its object at bay. Yet alas, it has now become obvious in how far even this was hopeless. Seeking consolation in nothing more than the symmetry of such hopelessness, we might say that if space is occupied by ideology, then time is occupied by technology. In order to take hold of ideology, one needs to be a political artist, but this is repulsive. In order to capture time, one needs to be a great inventor, a scientist; this, of course, is not as disgusting, but it is even more difficult than becoming a great artist. Plus it requires a special education.
In search of those sparse free zones that still remain vague, the formula "The Calm Quantification of Non-Existent Objects" comes to mind. Just as physics have an entire slew of "statistics" – "Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics", for an instance, or "Fermi statistics" – one could imagine a statistics of non-existent micro-objects. Incidentally, such desolate, burnt-out statistics suspend the tiresome question of authenticity and viewer-resonance. After all, this question only arises if we are talking about personal, intimate visions, memories, and hallucinations. But here, the viewer is not subjected to non-existence itself, but to the rather conventional operation of its quantification, its distribution across graphs, into the cells of tables, or along the duration of a performance – almost in the same way as in classical conceptualism. The only real difference is that this statistics concerns situations, whose current volume of existence is steadily approaching zero, even if it doesn't reach it, hovering in a kind of ungrasped, desolate obscurity. Incidentally, the status of these situations has no meaning for the spectator anyway, since they prove to be obscured by their own cross-sections and quantifications. This is somewhat reminiscent of a mysterious phrase from one of Kabakov's essays that reads, "...like in Dostoevsky's "White Nights", in which the hero of the novella admits that everything that happened to him might in fact be one single fantasy, but that the blood spilled as a result will be real blood". (This phrase is so mysterious because there is no such episode in the novella itself).
The formula "A Calm Quantification of Non-Existent Objects" is reminiscent of some kind of mantra, and indeed, one might say that each of its words is exactly in the right place.
To be "calm" means to be non-agitated; it means to hope for nothing, to spit on and cancel one's career, to be satisfied with uniqueness of one's own way of life.
"Quantification" is a purely numerological, ornamental operation, which entails neither utility nor integration into anything except for one's own hollow set of coordinates.
"Non-existent" is defined in counterbalance to today's widespread misconception of art's connection with "life", understood in a trivial way; as such, it returns art to its intended subject, to "that which is not" instead of "that which is", to objects of minimal immediacy (actuality).
"Objects", finally, do not denote ideological constructions, but objective fragments of ornaments (which arise after their "non-existence" has been quantified), charted (and artistically located) centers of adhesion for force coagulating in the void.
Having said that, it would be tempting to image the "calm quantification of non-existent objects" as a tendency of sorts, arising on the Moscow art scene. Here, of course, it is difficult to make do with fantasies and distortions, since this kind of activity can hardly be a "tendency", since even a tendency – once it has established itself – cannot appear on a scene that does not exist. But let's try to make mention of a few works nevertheless.
First and foremost, we might mention one of the last performances of the "Collective Actions" (CA) group and a few statistic calculations made by A. Monastyrsky, which actually are artworks in their own right. It is common knowledge that a large part of the group's performances took place on the famous field near Kievy Gorki. However, this field no longer exists as a demonstrative space at all, since it has been appropriated entirely by "new Russian" ideology, that is, what-do-you-call-it, privatized, cut up into lots, and overbuilt with cottages. Nevertheless, the CA action "Places Nos. 40 and 41" refers to this disappearing space, to a topography that has already become immaterial: it turns out that the group's performances were conducted in 39 different places, which is why the place of the given action's execution turns out to be the 40th place, so that the entire singularity of its status is encapsulated in nothing more than the number itself. Additionally, one can see yet another place somewhere in the distance, a place that only differs from the landscape of "non-places" that surrounds it through the author's direction; once again, there is nothing singular about this place except that it can (but of course will probably never) become place No. 41: the calm (contemplative) quantification (description) of nonexistent (far off, remote to the point of utmost distance, looming faintly on possibility's horizon) objects (places).
Another example: the piece "The CA Indices" (1990-1997). We all know how one of the most haunting components of the current ideological background can be found in economic problems, or to put it more simply, in the question "Where can we find money?" In this situation, Monastyrsky scrupulously calculates and summates the contribution indices of each member that participated in the group's activity, divvying up fees that, for now, remain completely arbitrary (or "virtual", as one says today). From these calculations, one can discover that the sum of indexes for Monastyrsky adds up to 327, while the sum of Pantikov's indices is 96.5. It seems superfluous to clarify that this scheme has never been in demand of application since it was drawn up seven years ago that its column of figures have a purely ornamental character. In part, all of this appears as a kind of anti-Phythogorean anti-numerology: the world is not created and actualized through simple numbers; instead, complex calculations give rise to fractions and percentages that chase away the dreary present, reducing it to an absurdity, while the world becomes an impassive tautology with no qualities, a pure duration of "praxis" as such, "tradition" as such. The Protestant ethic of a digitized "Beruf", in other words.
By the way, speaking of tradition and praxis: some time ago, Moscow Conceptualism had found a substantial base in marginal ideologemes (most of which were from the Far East), which allow to trace more and more "good-for-nothing" zigzags, more and more disconnected interpretations, chewed through over and over again: "Writer-Doctrinaires in the Epoch of Fading Pennants", "Schizo-China", "Laying out the I-Ching". However, time transferred these ideologemes from the periphery to the center; by now, all kinds of brochures on the I-Ching and all possible "Chinese horoscopes" are being sold on the discount book tables along with instructions on how to diet and how to drink your own pee. (It's an entirely different question whether the "centrality" of this center isn't actually almost identical with the centrality of a madhouse.) Under these conditions – when it is no longer possible to uphold apartness or twofold "deferment" with alien ideologies, since they too have drifted from the edge to the compact, busybody, juggernaut focus of public attention – one can only rely upon the tradition of one's own praxis, upon an auto-canon of sorts. For an example, in "Rings of CA", Monastyrsky calculates the number of months that lie between the group's sequential actions, transforming the whole twenty-year history of "Collective Actions" into a neutral series of numbers: 13.3.1976. – < 1- 2.4.1976. – 6 – 2.10.1976. – > 3 – 26.1.1977 – < 5 – 15.6.1977 – < 4 – 2.10.1977., etc.
We could lay out "I-Ching" actions of CA in chronological order: "Gates" (1985) or "Taxi" (1986), for an example, then the last actions on the field at Kievy Gorki as it was disappearing such as "Means of Series" (1992) or "Negatives" (1996), and then finally pieces like "Place Nos. 40 and 41". If we examine this sequence from the perspective of "canonic mainstays", it appears as follows: reliance upon an imported canon – reliance upon an auto-canon, upon a series – reliance upon empty or as-of-yet non-existent places, facing the pure, impossible future that guarantees nothing at all.
By the way, working with self-reference is a rather well-known artistic device in Moscow conceptualism. However, it is important to realize that CA's self-references are not directed inward or breadth-wise (as they are among the "Inspection Medical Hermeneutics" group or in the work of V. Zakharov), since there is always a great risk of getting lost in the depths among the roots (and all those drillions of different things always have roots that are one and the same), of merging with some great ideology and losing oneself in it. Instead, CA's self-references strive toward the surface and the pure ornament, to the spectrum of unsubstantial intervals. This is unswervingly "one and the same", always receding from itself to an imperceptible magnitude. On the "outside" devoid of quality (the surface of calm, aimless observation), this fluctuation manifests itself as nothing more than a certain group of numbers in the final analysis, and any number, no matter how big it might be, is essentially always quite an insignificant, useless thing. Paradoxically, in the praxis of CA, which one usually thinks of as "esoteric" for some reason, there is nothing hidden, nothing cryptic, and nothing that is only known to initiates. Quite on the contrary, everything is intended for the calm glide of an outside gaze. But then again, it could be that this is what true esotericism really is.
Appearing for a somewhat different angle, "the calm quantification of non-existent objects" can also be found in Guia Rigvava's video "Are they rich?": planted motionless on the avenue of some boulevard in Munich, the video-camera documents people passing in couples or alone, while the author's melancholic voice asks one and the same sacramental question as each of them passes: "Is (are) he (she, they) rich?" While viewing the video, all economic, half-starved connotations of East and West vanish in the monotony of repetition, which sounds like an aleatoric sound track with its own minimalist grammatical changes from "he" to "she" to "they", from "are" to "is" and back again. Actuality wears thin in the haze of this overcast day in Munich, obscured by the insubstantial LP-records of grammatical deviations of male and female, plural and singular.
If we were to enter into a more comprehensive analysis of art from the perspective of "the calm quantification of non-existent objects", we would find ourselves describing the works of other artists as well. For an example, there is a series by Armen Bugayan, in which the dual code of canonic texts (the "Tao Te Ching", the "Apocalypse" etc.) gradually becomes much like a carpet ornament. Or, for another instance, the personal exhibition (this is what the piece was called, namely "Personal Exhibition") of Vadim Fishkin, whose main object were the coordinates of the exhibition venue, determined by a global geodesic system. However, this kind of art-historical analysis will hardly be able to do justice to the calm quantification of non-existent objects itself. After all, as Andrei Monastyrsky wrote in the text that accompanied "Branch": "No matter which part of Stockhausen's article on Webern I use here, it would still be "the wrong music", "not quite right" etc., as one might say..."