In his previous project Vitaly Barabanov used canvas to document his relationship with nature. The Plastic Cultura project is the next stage of this relationship. Starting with looking at the traditional sculpture in a critical way, Barabanov develops the idea of a living work of art. His aim is to create a project about the three components which are essential for the life of any species – water, light, and warmth.
The exhibition includes the living sculptures – the plants that the artist has grown during the year from the stones of the fruit that don’t normally grow in Russia (avocado, tangerine, dates, loquat, pomegranate, etc.). He drew portraits of these plants at different times of the day. These portraits are presented in the form of negative images, black flowers. Having received a traditional art education, Vitaly is striving to create a comfort zone for the plants and viewers alike and so conscientiously goes in the opposite direction. Because of the limitations of the traditional media he worked with, it was important for him not to become immersed in the practices of land-art but to work specifically with sculpture and painting. Painting in this project is like a path of water seeping through the pigments of three basic colours while leaving marks on the textiles. The linen is a natural canvas which is used for water filtration and purification. This results in abstractions with geometric patterns, biological forms in different hues, some dirtier, some cleaner, which are the living works of art. Barabanov unfurls the process, trying to show the effects of nature through performative action which can be compared with a religious rite where he doesn’t affect the result. The defining feature of these works is the absence of limits with abstraction blending into landscape.
Together with the living plants there are also dead ones that died as a result of insufficient care and became something like monuments. Filled with plaster like sarcophagi they make visible the dependence on relationships, showing us what we don’t usually see - beauty on the brink of death. The roots are more durable, they don’t rot, remaining the beautiful tombstones. After dying, a plant turns into a sculpture which was previously static and dead but now comes alive in the space of the gallery. As in the myth of Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with the sculpture he made. All paintings on this subject portray the artist kneeling before his art, amazed by its power. The figure and pose of the artist describe the state which the artist aspires to achieve – defeatedness and subordination, equalisation, the space of some absence.
The subject is absent and so the created object takes centre stage. Soviet flats in the 60s were such places for objects and not humans, where flower pots hung high under the ceiling and their leaves were dangling like lianas. Pompous decorativeness of the modern green spaces in the entrances to Russian houses that inspire Vitaly and concentrate in themselves maximum embellishment turn these reserves and oases of greenery into the likes of decorative botanical gardens, devoid of life, so cultivated that the differences between the living and dead things are eliminated. It’s similar to the way fake flowers sometimes seem real and vice versa. In Vitaly’s works the plants solidify and turn into sculpture. Although not dead yet they become similar to objects, creating a space with no divisions where directions are given from one object to another. The objects in the cluttered impenetrable spaces become the same; there is no difference between a plant, a souvenir, a cupboard or a chair. This way Barabanov’s project about the three elements of life is presented in three forms which portray the stages of birth, growth, and death.
What is the difference between fruit and vegetables, Vitaly ponders? Vegetables exist to live fast, for one year, but the fruit live to nourish someone; they are the donors and demand the right care and attention, a long-term relationship. But the result is still unpredictable as in the case of the “living” abstractions where cultivation can show itself from a different angle. Too much care turns the objects into something unnatural, so perfect it makes you sick. The objects do not succumb to interaction but stay completely autonomous, solidify and turn into monuments for themselves, become museumified.
Text: Ayana Chigzhit