12 sep - 22 nov 2019
MYTH gallery, St.Petersburg, Russia.
"Buffer Zone" is an exhibition that descends from classic immersive installations, but not in the familiar spatial sense. Rather, it is a labyrinth of meaning with zones that flow into each other and separate shapes, objects, and shades, but all with the same message. The entire gallery space was turned into a temporary "buffer zone" created by the artist Liza Bobkova.
A few months ago, Liza turned to her friends on Facebook (like many of us, she's never met most of her Facebook friends face to face) and asked them to send a letter. She gave them no guidelines for subject, length, or level of candor. 15 of these letters became the basis of the project.
The artist assumed the role of an impersonal and unbiased "operator". Instead of reading the letters, she "processed" them and translated the words into images, codes, and sounds. She used a variety of materials: first watercolors, then brass plates and figures in which ephemeral images acquired a metallic hardness and golden color to reference eternity, the unseen and unknowable. Later she used number codes (each number that is shown or pronounced is equal to the number of letters in a word) and images of sound waves recorded when reading the letters, which were also immortalized in metal. Still later, she added fabric with patterns "etched" on it using bleach.
For the viewer, the same "processing" occurs in the opposite direction. Like Alisa from "The Mystery of the Third Planet", we gaze into a string of mirrors melting into each other, and the first thing that appears before us is apparently meaningless codes, numbers silently uttered by an announcer. Then two-dimensional metal figures appear — body parts, animals, and objects. In the gallery hall, they create their own text and their own theater. Like many works of the exhibition, the conversion isn't exactly pure: the "interference" of human perception and the results of modern laser metal-cutting technologies add a new layer of meanings when transferring images from watercolors to brass plates.
The last thing we see is the watercolors. They are the key, the source of the visual images. We are already familiar with them: a bunny with carrots, a hand with a saw, a collection of phallic objects. The artist does not hide this. The very first reaction and the first code was an emotional one — sensual, tender, nervous, and tense. The words were received by the "operator", but in practice the buffer zone turned out to be a crucible of intensely heated emotion.
In the last room, the process of emotional and intellectual transformation is observed by predators who have left the symbolic space to enter the space of reality. Each of us has a predator like this lurking inside us, a huggable monster. In the gallery we hear a sound and more numbers again, closing the loop in the system of images. Now we can go on to the next round.
Texts have been converted into codes and visual images throughout the history of art, but especially often since the beginning of the 20th century. Symbolism, abstractionism, and surrealism as artistic styles, along with postmodernism that imbues all cultural products with appropriation and dark infinite meanings, all provide a huge number of examples. The Swedish abstract artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), who studied the Bible and conducted séances and meditations with her friends in search of spiritual guidance, created her first abstract works in 1906. The Mexican Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) encrypted the stories of her mental and physical suffering in her numerous self-portraits, which often shocked contemporaries with their candidness. The French artist Sophie Calle (b. 1953), known for her strategy to destroy the concept of "personal space", turned a note about her breakup with her lover into an installation dedicated to various interpretations of the story of separation in the "Take Care of Yourself" project.
In "Buffer Zone", we submerge ourselves in coded texts, examine fragments, and try to put together a puzzle while under the gaze of predators. We finally realize that all this is actually a postmodern speech made by the artist herself. Everyone who wanders through this labyrinth of meanings will understand and perceive this text in their own way.
And yes — you can circle around and make another lap.