The Moscow-based Vika Begalska (°1975) was born in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine. After graduating from the prestigious State Academy for Design and Art in Kharkov she has continued her artistic career in Kharkov in the circle of artists working with photography, such as Boris Mihaylov and Sergei Bratkov. In 2001 she moved to Moscow, and has been associated with the Russian art scene since. Vika Begalska became well-known to the public by her provocative video works which are referred to the performance tradition of the 70s and 80s and which the artist interpreted in her own way in the post-soviet atmosphere of the 2000s. In 2004 Vika Begalska turned to a new medium - painting. However, unlike her socially oriented videos and performances, her pictorial art is utterly sensuous and emotional. It reflects the abundance of personal motives and reveals a profound knowledge of the avant-garde’s psychohistory and painting which appear to be the areas of her inspiration. Her group and individual expositions took place at the sites of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the Latvian National Museum of Art, the Kunsthalle Wien, the Lyublyana Museum of Contemporary Art, the Central House of Artists and others.
ALEXANDER VILKIN (°1982) was born in Snezhinsk, Russia. After graduating from Chelyabinsk Art College he continued his studies at Northwestern Institute of Printing Arts, St. Petersburg and at ‘Base’ Institute, Moscow. Since 2005 has been living and working in St-Petersburg, RU. In 2006 founded an art-group ‘Prosthetics’ in cooperation with Mezheritskiy and Ushenko and participated in the creative alliance ‘Parasite’, St. Petersburg.
In 2014 founded a creative art group of artists and sex-workers ‘Teresa’ in cooperation with Vika Begalska and has been cooperating with Vika Begalska since, experimenting with different media, but mostly in the technique of painting. The video “Aphrodite’s Girdle” by the art group ‘Teresa’ has been included in the collection of MUKHA after the debut in Ostend last year.
Molensteenkraag, or that which separates the head from the body.
Vika Begalska and Alexandr Vilkin have formed an artistic duo four years ago. The scope of their interests is divided into two quite distinct trajectories that are seemingly opposite but actually are complementary, saturate and affect each other. The first line is their participatory practices as part of the Teresa creative union (association of sex workers and artists). The second is painting.
And while in Teresa alliance the medium is theater performance and social case studies, when turning to pictorial art and easel painting they become interested in the sensual element - the state of uncertainty and suspension between pause and standstill, between the image and its disappearance. In both cases the main feature is the interaction. But if in Teresa the interaction of people, collective creativity and process are inserted in the format of the social field, in their paintings the interaction of methods, techniques and images is deliberately limited to the format of a canvas.
Adherent to the "big picture" and "grand narrative", Vilkin and Begalska don’t make exhibition statements, but are trying to build one large narrative project. Their collection of images, where the images wander, like nomads, from painting to painting, from one exhibition to another, is limited and is being repeated as a cycle of a millstone, due to which there is a constant recurrence as in a multivolume novel, with continual departures, links and comments. All of this as a single story, progressively and irreversibly developing before our eyes. When following their creative process one can follow the fate of their images, characters and themes.
A laughing hyena, nuns, Rafflesia flowers, resembling ripped flesh, a hunter who might be waiting for his prey or who might have become the prey himself; dogs attacking this hunter, ashy figures ready to crumble away from a harsh movement; knights or their empty armor covered with flowers… All of these images are building up in a completely independent ecosystem, with its own cycle of characters and objects. In fact, the painting becomes an entity which proves the existence of timeless autonomous zones, where everything is interconnected, where everything has its place and performs its function. This is "pure" painting, as "Dirty is something that is not in place" (according to the anthropologist Mary Douglas). But the painting is also ‘pure’ because - despite ashy gamut and usage of ‘dirt’ – this is a thin transparent painting, with numerous "watercolor" glazes; so transparent that the very texture of the canvas surfaces, the basis is breaking through color, while the image sinks deep into the fibers, deep into the flatness of the picture.
The plentiness and decorativeness are not a tribute to esthetics in the work of the duo. The décor and ornamentation in the work of Begalska & Vilkin are no longer decorations or elements of decoration, but a reminder of the former beauty, as if it hides its remains under the fallen leaves. And now the ornaments turn into ligature of entrails; the flowers are no longer flowers, but bullet holes; the pattern encircles the figure like a net, moving from the jacket on the surroundings, enveloping, pulling and holding the image, dragging it into the marsh, absorbing, preventing it from fully declaring itself. The same attention to décor and detail is an attempt of each fragment of the image to find its place, and, sharing the equal responsibility and significance, make sure that every inch of the painting surface is equally important. This horizontal line (while horizontal relationships are the main objective of the Teresa creative alliance, here is this objective reinterpreted in a different way) requires attention to details, increased responsibility, because in case of an error something important can be overlooked.
The plentiness as illustration of labor and demonstration of skills, as well as an attempt to establish criteria for themselves. Here we can refer to "arts and crafts movement," and with it, Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites and Ruskin again with his ethics of dust. The attempt to establish the relationship between the creative process and labor leads the artistic duo Begalska – Vilkin to complication of their technique: applying glazes, continuously erasing and wiping already created images, sometimes to the base. But it does not divert the observer: the artists give him the opportunity to follow the whole creative process, the whole "production" from the very beginning, as the canvas captures the entire "path" from pencil sketching to pastel-like inclusions, which in some places are present as a reminder of the pictorial art, delayed expression, and are an occasion to pause and try to remember, to reconstruct how the painting had looked like yesterday.
Text: Lusja Petukhova