The 3d Moscow Biennale of Modern Art
Collateral Programme
September 11-24th, 2009 / KINO Gallery/
Project «Coat of Arms of the World and Mariposa»
Oil-painting, objects, video installations
Press-opening and preview September 10, 7 pm
Had Ivan Surikov not been painting pictures so much resembling icons, his dwelling on Tenerife, one of the Canaries Islands, would have been just a detail of his personal biography, however peculiar it may seem. But in case of the artist who took a stage name of Vanya with a clear– cut intention to implement some kind of meta-religious cult, the cult of Saint Vanya, his lifestyle also becomes part of this utopia-stylized art project that can be interpreted as a modern tradition of monasticism. Just as in the old times hermits lived around monasteries, our main character Ivan became part of a very special cultural sect, known to the rest of the world as Mariposa art project and located in the mountains of the Tenerife Island. In fact, this part of the Canaries became a natural site that not only hosts numerous objects created by modern artists but also houses their workshops. This artistic settlement does resemble a monastery both practically and ideologically. First of all, it is a closed territory for tourists and other outsiders. One needs to get a blessing from a German couple, the art-gallery owners and founders of this art space, to enter the location. Secondly, art people come here not only to work in creative atmosphere on the next piece of art, but also for meditation and serene inspiration in natural surroundings away from civilization. And finally, art objects created in Mariposa have to own very special qualities and match special criteria: they are not just some pieces of park sculpture or garden architecture, but instruments for obtaining certain spiritual level, for contemplation, meditation and philosophical observation.Artwork of Ivan Surikov created in Mariposa fully matches this description. The House of Silence is the first in this row. It is somewhat of a hut, a chapel and a monastic cell at one and the same time. This small hut roofed by bamboo serves for observation and contemplation of the only picture in there that is the symbol of faith of Ivan Surikov. Any art pilgrim is offered a bench of a special design made of some precious wood. The construction of the bench makes a visitor take a bended position that reminds a praying posture. The treat implies a combination of various religious traditions and shrine worshiping and at the same time refers a visitor to a ritualized civic tradition of demonstrations in an artist's workshop that has been converted into a special ritual. The picture /icon located inside the House of Silence also combines various artistic traditions: it goes without saying that Orthodox canon of icon painting is the most important contribution, but the picture also borrows elements from Hinduism, Buddhism and even Islam. It is quite clear why: hierolatry invented by Ivan Surikov is dedicated to the Artists of the World. Ivan Surikov paints his Saint together with Christ and Lenin, but puts him above both illustrating a popular idea that art is above politics and religion. The new Saint has his own special sign. Just as St.George is always depicted with a Dragon, St. Vanya holds his own cross that is a golden brush. This symbol of creativity is present in all works by Ivan Surikov. Sometimes a brush takes a shape of Orthodox onion domes, sometimes it is turned into powerful looking minaret or golden Mandela, into a nimbus, a candle or baptismal font. In some pictures the artist combines a brush with a crescent, one other significant symbol for him that every now and then forms a cross in combination with a brush. A brush and a crescent can also be seen in ornaments the artist used for decoration of the fence in Mariposa: but in this particular case these symbols create a new motive – a boat and a vault of the sky. Imaginary landscape becomes the Universe which comprises the lifestory of Saint Vanya who is blessed by the brush (or a church dome) and who is traveling around in his boat. The Artist of the World has been marked by a special stigma – an all-seeing eye on a footstep. This mark can also been interpreted as a sign of the eternal pilgrimage. The Artist's cross is depicted in the center of some kind of an alter created by Ivan Surikov in Mariposa. Marble-paved octagonal site where the alter is located, differs from the surrounding natural stony soil of the island and is supposed to mark a sacred space. Another metaphor expressed by this specially designed space can be interpreted as creating a place for scarifying to the alter of Art. The author of this idea though is not bloodthirsty and the alter space can be used as a dancing ground. It is a fact that this is the only monumental object on the territory of Mariposa having a clear similarity with an ancient site resembling a square of some ancient city with a decorative mosaic as if it were dug out by archeologists . It is also the only implementation of the initial idea of the German art collectors to build an art colony on the Tenerife that clearly hints to the legendary myth of Atlantean continent, the legendary land that ceased to exist.... This myth has an analogy in Russian national mythology: a mystic city of Kitez that disappeared under water. Unfortunately, nobody makes an attempt to create anything similar to Mariposa in modern Russia. The project of meta-religious cult looks more natural in international environment which is much more tolerant to this kind of ideas. Nevertheless it is fair to emphasize that the project is deeply rooted in Russian culture and national traditions...It this regard it's worth mentioning Russian fairy tales with its key character of Ivan the Fool, young Bartholomew from the famous picture by Mikhail Nesterov « The Vision of the Youth Bartholomew “(1890–91), ,messianic ambitions of Russian avant-garde aiming at art revolution on a planetary scale. One of those artists of the revolutionary epoch who tried to combine communist ideology with Christianity was Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov, famous for announcing himself the Chairman of the Earth. Thus for the first time Lenin was depicted with the nimbus by Soviet artist Klement Redko in his picture «The Uprising» dated the beginning of the 20 ies. Currently the picture is in the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery. In the USSR where officially atheism took the upper hand in the struggle with religion, underground art was in search for the new sacred artistic language. Artistic life of Mikhail Shwarzman is one other example of that search. In the 60 ies and 70 ies being known as the author of mystical compositions, he created a cycle called “Hierotours» that had a lot of similarity with Russian iconography. Primitivist Leonid Purygin also made a cult of his own personality : he portrayed his life in the form of unfolding icons called «skladny» in Russian that are used in Russian iconography for telling story life of saints. Purygin used to sign his works as «Lenya Purygin, a genius from Nara», thus stylizing the manner of icon painters. Such approach when the artist made his own personality the main figure of his creative activity was one of the favorite art play of the 80 ies. A big retrospective exhibition called « An artists instead of the art object» dedicated to this issue took place in Moscow in 1994 in the Central House of Artists. This exhibition also profiled art group called «Champions of the World» that belonged to the same generation of artists as Vanya the Artist of the World. At that time participants of the art group like «Champions of the World» presented themselves as fairy tale characters or sport team members challenging the reality and doing heroic deeds, nowadays an Artist of the World is mainly an observer and a philosopher. Creative world of Ivan Surikov combines utopia and art play, synthesize national mythology and its international interpretation. Particularly these traits grant him a special place in a vast geography of a modern international art scene.
foto Julia Ovchinikova
From the article by Milena Orlova for catalogue of Ivan Surikov "Vanya – a mediator in cross-cultural communication» 30.08.2008 – 11.10.2008 Museum of Icons in Frankfurt on Maine

Copyright by Ivan Surikov © 2006