From the catalogue to the exhibition
"Horizons of reality", (Werkelijkheidshorizonten),
Antwerpen, Muhka, 2003, p. 48 - 53
The work “Smash” was conceived of and created by me together with two other projects, “Shuttlecocks” and “The flying saucer” in 1992 under the following conditions: At some time in 1991 Oleg Kulik started to organize an exhibition entitled “On Transparency”. It was a suitable time for such a choice. The recent August victory over those involved in the putsch unleashed in the country an unprecedented energy of so-called private enterprise. New Russian businesses, crazy about the complete lack of surveillance and their own impunity, developed with the speed of a thermonuclear reaction. With deep sorrow I observed the majestic spectacle of the subjection of all higher human interests to the force of money. During this wild outburst of passions everything artists could possibly offer appeared rather pale. Art mutated before our very eyes into a deeply personal affair, a private occupation that a number of my friends proclaimed to be a new aesthetic programme – one that appeared to me, however, to be entirely helpless.
But its alternative was also created. If I correctly understood Oleg, then he thought of “Transparency” as art which is capable of mimicking social reality, of blending itself with it, of appearing invisible and of remaining powerful and independent. At any rate, the period gave birth to an inhuman canine image, although in my life I have met with worse bestiality. In those years I worked with compositions that were grandiose in size but almost dematerialized, located on the very boarder of visual perception. Kulik found in them something related to his own conception, and that is why he invited me to participate in this project.
For this exhibition, an abandoned pioneer camp named after Jury Gagarin was selected. We travelled there to have a look at the place. We found buildings shedding their paint, sport fields overgrown with tall weeds, and sun faded scoreboards around a pole upon which the flag was raised. I don’t really like to recall my own youth, but here I had nowhere to hide myself. Gagarin, the weightlessness, the soil of the pioneer camp saturated with sperm and the fury arising from the burden of physical existence in 1992 in Moscow simply had to be cast into a single image. After a couple of months of reflection I decided to hang over the camp a cloud of shuttlecocks used for playing badminton.
It was an idea that still had to be realized. My friend and co-author Konstantin Bokhorov set to work on it. To him we owe the plastic completion of the work and a number of technological inventions involved in the realization of the project. During the course of a week in September, under pouring rain, we hung up thousands of shuttlecocks. From one day to the next, from morning till night.
The entire project was financed by the Moscow gallery “Regina”, an example of the phantasmagorical cooperation of industrial finance capital and contemporary art in post-perestroika Russia. The opening of the exhibition was spread out over an entire night and was later celebrated as a scandal that was in some way prophetic. Kulik dreamed of uniting in one space both new businessmen and artists. But they didn’t appeal to one another very much. The affair ended in a fight. More accurately, some of the artists got beat up by the bodyguards of the business men. That all took place at night in the pioneer camp as the gypsies we invited sung and danced, and as the shish kabobs and sturgeon fish were being consumed under the clouds of shuttlecocks used for playing badminton.
“Smash” is the name of my second project, and it was completed under the auspices of the same cultural enterprise, one that could not better suit the carnage that just took place. In the Russian language the exhortation “gasi” used during volleyball games is a call inciting the players to strike the ball hard from the top downward so that the opponent has no chance to get at it. But it can also serve as a cry inciting an active blow in a muzzle to muzzle street fight.
In any case, although the aggressiveness hung in the air at the time, the path of my thoughts as I created this work was entirely different. I was attracted to everything unfinished, unfulfilled, incomplete. To things cast aside half completed due to unforeseen circumstances. Non finito. The Latin phrase suggests a circle of themes that are very important in Marxism. (One need only recall in Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte the idea that the proletarian revolution progresses from defeat to defeat.)
Over a volleyball net I hung a ball on an invisible fishing line; the ball was frozen in midair precisely at a point where all players were supposed to rush for it – but instead they all appeared to have vanished. The fate of these disappearing pioneers concerned me, and it was no joke. It was much like the fate of the swiftly disappearing Soviet civilization together with all its unfulfilled promises. “Smash” sounded to me like a categorical imperative to return and complete the task for which others lacked the power and the patience.
In these last words one could hear, if not the haughtiness, then at least the immense confidence in one’s own powers. Is that surprising? That fantastical period in history instilled in many the thought that through the strength of one’s own will one could thrust much upon the world. “Volley volley” was the title of a work created by one of my friends at the end of the 80s, and it, too, was dedicated to volleyball. (For my own part, I never much liked such play upon words but I loved this work by Gor Chakhal). Another acquaintance of mine who was still very young back in those years developed a plan to subjugate contemporary art. “Is your train moving on according to plan,” I asked him. And he answered: “I’m progressing ahead of schedule.”
The ten years following this period offered a serious corrective to our calculations and to our impression of how much reality resembles a complaisant joke. Reality demonstrated that it was possible to grind anyone into slime – obviously one simply had to lend one’s attention to it. During this time I felt an enormous sympathy for all who did not allow themselves to be pacified by circumstances, whatever they may be. And yet no one has reshaped the universe according to his own plan. Bypassing the details of this movement towards an encounter with life as it is, I shall now return to one of my last projects, “Mom, dad and the Champions’ League” (2002), a work which became a direct continuation of my work “Smash”.
In a series of 13 photographs the movement here once again evolves around a typically Russian landscape surrounding a suspended ball – this time a football. My parents play. They rush forward to get at the ball, forgetting the score, the spectators, the referees and the rules. Caught in a selfless and embittered sportive skirmish. Without journalists and television cameras. They mimic a pain and passion in no way second to that of professional football.
It is not difficult to observe that in the development of my ideas during the last ten years I have not advanced much. Perhaps it would have been possible to expend less energy to unite my old installation with real people, but I simply spent as much time as I had to on it.
 The broad lexical range of the infinitive gasit’ includes: to put out (a light), to extinguish (a fire), to pay off (a debt), and to put to rest (rumours); in sports or in fights it has a more volatile meaning: to knock down, to hit hard, to smash (as in tennis) etc. (Translator’s note.)
 The Russian word for “volley” resembles an inflected form of the noun for “will” (as in free will). Thus the title “Volley volley” suggests another cry: “with will, with will”. (Translator’s note.)