SARIEV Contemporary, Plovdiv
BUSINESS, MODEL, SCULPTURE
Consulting: Emile Ouroumov
23 May – 23 July 2015
Opening 23 May 2015, 7 pm
SARIEV Contemporary has the pleasure to present the second solo exhibition in the gallery by its listed artist Stefan Nikolaev BUSINESS, MODEL, SCULPTURE. The show will be on view between 23 May and 23 July 2015 at SARIEV Contemporary, 40 Otets Paisiy Str. Plovdiv.
The Mercantile Model as Sculpture’s Heart of Darkness
Years ago, I received a letter denouncing the activities of a certain Stefan Nikolaev, most of them conducted abroad. Fulfilling the role of henchman to something akin to a “capitalist realism”, his art can be crushingly criticized through the following lines: “The reactionary ideology of imperialism, as we know, comes across in art in very varied forms, from the “innocent” absence of ideological principles, […] from individual “revolutionary” rebellions to treason, pure and simple, against the people. […] treacherous are the forms of outward a-politicism, behind which lurks devotion to the exploiters; forms of objectivism, expressing the most reactionary subjectivism; and forms of individualism, sold as a thrust or surge towards “creative freedom”, and so on and so forth.”
Nikolaev is about to display his works in the very heart of our progressive homeland, during an exhibition tellingly titled “Business, Model, Sculpture”. This event amounts to an attempt to divert the fight against formalism towards some other reactionary goals. The artist’s armchair exercises on show express a hidden subjectivism and negate the obligation to portray the wide spectrum of societal reality, often repudiating or misrepresenting mankind.
We can measure the resolute objectives of this desperate campaign by the fact that all works were specifically produced for the occasion, a fact disguised under the speculative market principles of the worship of novelty. His show-trial of class struggle and social progress begins with a neon sign spelling the title of the exhibition. This intervention is positioned in the front vitrine of the gallery, imitating on purpose a petty bourgeois boutique publicity sign. Day and night, it is thus visible by any passer-by: undereducated individuals insufficiently prepared for the merciless consumerist indoctrination; honest and sane workers who beyond doubt will protest against this shameful display; children.
A central tirade of this ensemble is a work congenitally titled the same as the exhibition: Business, Model, Sculpture (2015). In the outskirts of our capital city, there is an artwork-producing workshop manned by ordinary heroes of the collective labour. Nikolaev has cunningly abused their trust and has them manufacture a large number of his quasi-artistic creations. One day, he observed they were about to discard and put to fire an old wooden workbench, rendered obsolete by recent advances in our art and science. He criticized their rightful gesture and nostalgically “saved” the archaic object, in order to transform it into an unsightly, stuck in the past furniture-sculpture. Cast in bronze, the bench and its title throw abject negation on the workers’ labour, assimilating the latter to a mercantile “business”, promoting the antediluvian Platonist notion of an inescapable “model” – a proper obstruction to progress – and sticking the label “sculpture” to this mechanical act, as if art didn’t need enlightened ideas nor author. The bench thus implants a vision of national nihilism regarding this country’s advancements and constitutes an unneeded distraction in the working process, almost as if it were some reactionary “strike of the objects”.
Further on, one wonders in front of something that can be characterized as the outlandish result of an aboriginal fire-dancing ritual. Autofiction (2015) has a connection with an extensive edition published in 2012 and encompassing the artists’ body of works until that moment (Stefan Nikolaev: One For The Money, Two For The Show). We know Nikolaev has more than one string to his bow; on the present occasion he attempts to turn this self-glorying treaty of little interest to anyone else into a winning strategy. Taking it as a point of departure, the author has attempted a pseudoscientific zero-sum experiment: he puts to the bonfire copies of the books in question and with the heat thus produced, melts down some bronze into a shape reminding a printed volume. This gratuitously self-cynical and arsonist activity results in an object as useless as a paperweight; moreover, it is laughably incoherent in its disregard of basic scientific credibility. As Marx wrote, “All science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.”
The show finds its end, both metaphorically and literally, with Hello Darkness (2015), two bronze-cast arrays of pitch-black embers. The title of this misanthropic work comes from a socially sceptical American song, whose meaning was described by one of its authors as “the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other.” The doubtful motives of the ensuing sculpture become apparent: it is an obscurantist longing for a primitive society where the natural elements were the focal point of community, a dark fixation unable to overcome the end of things, reminding times long ago superseded by the masses’ unstoppable advance towards the future.
Paris, May 1st 2015