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Vladimir Potapov: Speck of the Sun

Triumph gallery, Moscow Russia

19.06.2015 - 05.07.2015


The history of painting is the history of the relationship between human consciousness and light. Two centuries before its demise, Ancient Rome sacralised light in the cult of the sun Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”), preparing the European mind for Christian monotheism and authoritarian rule. In the Middle Ages, light in painting became a force that transfigured visible reality and opened up the unseen, in other words dazzled and blinded for the sake of symbolic intellectualisation. In the Renaissance, light opens up perspective and the representative spaces of power, both ecclesiastical and secular. The French Revolution democratises light and fastidiously combines it with death, transforming the lamps deployed by the police to fight crime into gallows, as a sign of the end of the regime. The lamp would illuminate bodies and disclose the truth, purifying and legitimising the terror of the revolution. The liberation of Truth by Cronus is yet another allegory of that time. Sometimes these images imitated the iconography of Christ descending into hell, but Cronus was replaced more frequently by Descartes, and by Newton in England. Truth carried the mirror as the source of light, in its way a kind of lamp.

Vladimir Potapov’s series “Speck of the Sun” imbeds the sources of light with a political context, based on the tradition of correlating light and politics. The political element in this project exists at two levels. The private light refers to house parties, kitchens, non-conformism, and night classes using the light of the desk lamp. At a public level, light is representational; it communicates the might and wealth of the authorities, designates the centre and subjugates the social space. In addition, the imperial light of incandescent lamps, calling to mind the USSR, and the contemporary light of LED and halogen lamps, economical and environmentally sound, introduce yet another strata of differentiation.

The name of the project updates Leonardo da Vinci's statement “The sun will not show the shadow” and refers to the non-exclusivity of any source of light, any autocratic regime. The speck of Sun (and indeed a shadow on it) challenges the evidence of what we see, in other words, it undermines the visual languages of power and the dominant representations aimed at the production and distribution of images as a mixture of reality and illusion, subjugating our consciousness, which is the only place where this reality exists.

Potapov links the politicisation of the visual with the problematic area of the dependency of light. A painting rests on the opacity of a canvas. As a result the picture does not possess its own light and is forced to construct its internal light patterns and shadows. Artists have been preoccupied with the issue of the dependence of light in a picture since the second half of the 19th century. In his portraits, Manet reduced the shadows in order to stress the light, illuminating the picture from the outside, and not from within.

In Volodya Potapov’s works, the wooden materiality of the foundation is embedded in the closely woven fabric of the illusion — skilfully composed light. It is as if the screen or paper used to carry this text has added a couple of phrases on their own behalf. Breaking the construct of the internal light itself generates the light, the perforation of a hole or picturesque foundation in the simulation of light space itself turns out to be luminous. The picture is only needed in an attempt to overcome its own medium. The disruption of the illusion uncovers the essence: the image is more important than what it says — just as language is more important than what it designates. The spectator has to make an effort in order to separate one light from another, the colour of the picture from the colour of the foundation, in particular when the very image renders this task more complicated.

Vladimir Potapov is interested in the mixed nature of the image — the intersection of cultural contexts, social and hallucinatory, light spaces, the exchange between the real and the imaginary, art and document. He trusts the ability of the work of art to find its own form and medium depending on how it defines itself and on its link to the image. In the project Transparent Relations, he proposed that spectators correlate their own movements with the disintegrating image. The picture returned in an experiment of synthetic perception as the construct of a meeting with the spectator. In the project Manifestation he juxtaposed the pigment and the latent element on which this pigment hangs. We end up with pictures of a mixed nature — bordering on the indexical, as the trace was manifested therein, as in photography, — and mimetic, as the pigment opened up the realistic picture, although the foundation remained visible, and the result was more reminiscent of graphics. Furthermore, the actual technique used to create the image at first glance has not been made with human hands, and as in photography raised further questions. He consistently analyses different aspects of the picture, and researches the fetishes of aesthetic autonomy. Now he is preoccupied with light, both painted and real, their mixture and the potential of this mixture — expressive and political.

History’s latest concentrated gesture of approval of aesthetic autonomy is post-painterly abstraction. In connection with the Speck of the Sun, one inevitably recalls the lightning pictures of Barnet Newman, which were composed as an allusion to the Jewish mysticism of light, creation and the revelation of reality. Several years before Newman, Heidegger in his seminars reasoned about the Hericlitian “flash of lightning that results in new illumination of the world”, leading the world to existence, which Newman considers through painting.

Potapov shows a modern inversion of this thought. His pictures exist as fragments of reality reduced to existence through electric light, but the illusory reality of the picture is broken by the flash of the broken wooden foundation, which is also reality itself. The picture, broken by the abstraction of the material, the trauma of the surface, sounds like pure horror, nameless — similar to the way in which sometimes the commonplace can seem unbearably sinister in dreams.

Volodin’s inversion of the discoveries in abstract expression is more political than formal — exactly how politically we consider the nature of reality, in which everything perceptible is reflected ideologically in the media and conceals reality, but what we don’t see – this is also the nameless reality, prior to language, which is always forgotten. We forget to remember the shepherd of Being.
Today light reveals not the surface, but rather the essence of things. The voice of the surface is the trauma or packaging. In the history of art, as in reality, the trauma is preceded by the packaging: initially non-figurative expression, then pop art; first Pollock kills himself crashing into a tree, and then Warhol and Liechtenstein ask everybody to relax.

Vladimir Potapov shows what happens when we tear off the packaging — the wound is mixed with the light, leaving no names or shapes. In this way reality returns, demanding a new language and that we choose between media truth and the illusionist’s lie. Since the 1990s we know from the analyses of Baudrillard and Mitchell what to hide – exactly as in the nature of the media, and also to maintain that any image conceals as much as it reveals. Today the question of painting is a question about the nature of art in a situation where we all know about the methods used to deceive us. Painting functions in a regime of self-imitation and more than that, as a representation of other visual regimes. The media truth has become too similar to picturesque deceit. We live in an ambiguous time where values are being exchanged — light and shadow, cause and effect, visibility and blindness, enlightenment and ideology. Art opens up vast spaces of culture where the previous value system is no longer valid. The exposure of the media props for painting opens up reality and renders the hidden visible. Art returns us our presence in reality, but today reality is a form of hallucinosis, and the issue of painting is the issue of its relation with the observer. Modern painting engages in the politics of what we see more than an analysis of its own autonomy. It instrumentalises the picturesque illusion, which is created in order to make transparent the manufacturing of a political illusion.

Alexander Evangeli


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