Weapons and tools

by Ekaterina Rozhkova and Bogdan Mamonov
Fabrika Project, Moscow
from the 15 of March to the 3 of April 2009

The title of the exhibition “Weapons and tools” is highly topical.

Indeed, what is modern art — a weapon or a tool? This question was raised a little less than a century ago in the time of historical and cultural emergence of the avant-garde. Since then the discussions about the functions of art have not stopped.

This question cannot be separated from the general debate about history: how can a New World start, through revolution or evolution? In this century we have heard different answers.

Let’s remember what Mayakovskiy said: “I want the pen to be on a par with the bayonet…”. Even then not everybody agreed with the author of A Cloud in Trousers. Tatlin and El’ Lisitsky, heroes of the Russian avant-garde, thought about their work as a construction of a new consciousness and art as a tool for this work. 

The echo of those discussions still sounds even now. What is NBA (New British Artists) or Moscow Actioneers from the 90s, if not a new “thermonuclear” weapon? At the same time, there emerge new alternative practitices that seek an intimate talk with the audience, that want to become its guide at the boundaries of art. For instance, there was a group called ESCAPE which had, until recently, Bogdan Mamonov as its leader — the initiator of the Weapons and tools project. In ESCAPE Mamonov had instrumental relationships with the audience, but in his new works he shows very intense “masculine” and aggressive positions. His fragments showing revolvers at strange angles are reminiscient of some terrible meat mincer. On the contrary, Ekaterina Rozhkova, a colleague of Mamonov, produces huge black and white images with fragments of tools. It seems that there is a typical dichotomy in front of us (masculine-feminine), but it’s not so simple. In Rozhkova’s monochromatic works you can feel a hidden threat and a reminder that not every tool is safe. At the same time Mamonov’s revolvers make us recall some kind of steel plants, perhaps because one of the canvases shows a quote: “A cold revolver is kinder than any flower”.

Like we said, the the exhibition is very historically topical. How is this manifested? In a time of a global crisis, modern art loses its economical value and returns to its nature. It returns to showing us the model of the world with all its difficulties and contradictions. It is not an accident that famous artists, who have a lot of options of showing in the best galleries of Moscow, chose “Fabrika”, which carries the genetic markers of the avant-garde and the revolution. Even though it has been a while since the Oktyabr’ Fabrika has produced its original product — paper — in such big quantities, but it’s much more important that it con-tinues to produce meanings.

And that is the most important and primary product. Artists who explore the “Fabrika” are the new proletariat who will find a solution to the crisis. According to the authors, this solution is not in overcoming the financial collapse, but in the possibility of transforming the world around us. So what the art will be — a weapon or a tool?

Bogdan Mamonov