Leading Russian conceptual artist Vadim Zakharov seeks out the unknown, and, through his impossible-to-categorize work, takes us with him. “Without an encounter with the unknown, creativity is impossible,” he has declared. “The edges of my activity are always in some extreme, liminal state. My face is turned toward the unknown, while my masks address that which can be recognized by culture.” Such abstract thinking characterizes the artist’s approach to life and art. It has fueled projects ranging from actions and performances to installations and objects, linked by his central concern with freeing both himself and his viewers from socially imposed modes of thought and behavior. To see his work is to see politics, history, current events, life, and the world itself from an altogether different perspective.
In 2007, for example, Zakharov went to Rome, where he ranged mischievously across the city and performed actions—such as playing an absurd, solipsistic game of hide-and-seek with himself in the library of the American Academy in Rome—collectively called “The Rome Actions.” While there, he pointed his camera up toward one of the carved angels perched on either side of the Ponte Sant’Angelo, and rendered it almost entirely abstract in his photographic series, “Quake Black Moon above Ponte of San’Angelo, Rome” (2007). The “moon” in question appears as a fuzzy black dot at the tip of the angel’s wing in one photograph, and then, in the others, seems to have become unmoored, streaking across the picture erratically, leaving black trails in its wake. The images of the angel, too, become progressively wild; in some, the sculpture practically dissipates into a blurred swirl of frenetic motion. Here, through sleight of hand, Zakharov provides an encounter with the unknown, transforming a solid, man-made religious symbol into a metaphysical vision of light, air, and heaven itself—or is it hell?