Evgenij Kozlov: B(L)ACK ART 1985 - 1987 page 5
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When you Start to Feel Muscles!
The painting When You Start to Feel Muscles! (1985/1986) is a vast narrative with its individual strands beginning and ending in an unpredictable way, leading to or competing with each other.
It produces the overall impression of an overabundance of events, whilst retaining a formal structure, as the viewer is not left in the dark about where the main and the secondary characters are to be found.
The aggressive and fast dynamics of the lines, transferred from an overpainted photograph and a felt pen drawing on paper ( Шок арт / Shock art ), find their counterpart in the drama of the subject matter. On the right, we see an explosion which we already know from the smaller Ya-Ya. Here, however, the story goes far beyond the explosion: a fire spreads and envelops the bars of a prison in flames. A woman has had the lower part of her body torn off: one leg is lying on the ground, and intestines are tumbling out of her naked body. We see her bikini top lying at the right edge. Screaming, she is clinging to a figure whose incredulous look is directed towards the scene: the figure holds the little woman before him like a foreign object, and his hair stands on end with terror.
If we take a step back and look at the photograph as it was originally captured by the artist, we see a completely innocuous scene: Igor Verichev is sitting at a laid table holding a large cup with both hands. With a stunned look, he pretends that he is caught off his guard while eating. In comparison to what it finally became, this is a scene of compelling innocence.
The left part of the painting seems no less turbulent than the right. It is dominated by a young woman in profile, the central figure of the picture. This figure is executed entirely in bright red echoed in the fire on the right. The woman’s right hand rests on a cane, which originally was a bedpost. Admittedly, one must look at the graphic Shock art to realise this: only then does one recognise this detail.
It is absent in the photograph on which Shock art is based. The peculiar facial expression of the slightly tilted head is taken directly from the graphic or, rather, from the photograph. It is difficult to characterise this expression. There is a slight hint of irritation, but also something determined, powerful, and vehement. The facial expression is complemented by a sort of visible breath, falling out of the woman’s mouth like a megaphone. Her glance from under her lowered lids is directed downwards, towards the four claws on the bottom left. Like the tentacles of an octopus, they are making their way into the picture. Because of her almost closed eyelids, it is not clear whether the woman is shouting at these menacing tentacle-like claws or does not notice them at all.
On closer inspection, the tentacles, which might also be four fingers of a hand, turn out to be two pairs of legs: it is possible to make out shoes and heels. Whatever the two corresponding bodies are up to, it lies outside of the painting and must be pictured by our imagination. In any case, their activity does not seem to be particularly peaceful: the legs are in violent motion. From out of the background, a pair of eyes stares menacingly at the young woman. However, she has nothing to fear: a blue ribbon painted with fanciful symbols runs around her body from head to foot. Together with the curlicues at the woman’s head and legs, it forms the outline of a hippocampus framing her like a protective cover.
If we trace the female figure back to the graphic and, finally, to the original photograph, we once more come upon a less exciting, if somewhat ambiguous, situation: the artist standing behind a young girl in a button-back dress. His arms outstretched, he is touching the second top button, either fastening or unfastening it. In the graphic Shock art, he is replaced by a monster, which re-emerges in the painting as the pair of eyes.
How is it that these trivial scenes become subject to such dramatic transformation?
Evgenij Kozlov is inspired not by the situation (context) in which the characters appear in the photograph, but by their facial expression and gestures. In other words, what is essential here is the inner state that the characters convey, a crucial role being played by the glance. In the painting, this inner state is not only preserved, but intensified and dramatised.
In this particular case, “intensified” means that the atmosphere experienced by the artist in the Leningrad of the mid-eighties enters into the painting. This atmosphere is shaped by the final stages of the Cold War, accompanied by massive ideological propaganda. The conflict, the struggle, and the confrontation that give rise to something new is always depicted as grotesque.
The anarchic character of this tension is discharged in this painting, and its name Когда вы начинаете чувствовать мускулы ! (When You Start to Feel Muscles!) enlightens us as to its content. This sentence is written on the bottom left in picturesque handwriting; it has its offshoot in the vertical line that is wrapped around the red figure like a blue ribbon. In this ribbon, the exclamation is continued in other characters: asterisks, commas, curlicues, transfigured exclamation marks, and other interjections that produce, when observed, a violent inner gesture.
In the picture, we see what happens when one starts to feel muscles, what actions are to be expected, and what dynamics they produce. It is not specified who is the one feeling the muscles, causing the explosion, making the buildings collapse and people panic. We can assume, though, that it is the radical nature of the artists that destroys the old structures.
Evgenij Kozlov never depicts the constellation of power or powers, or rather, forces and their conflicts, as primarily political. Indeed, no political symbols are to be found in this picture. Hence, we should speak of the principle of force, as long as we see this principle as real. Transferred to the human plane, these forces can be perceived in the inner strength of a human being. This inner strength puts him or her in an individual, special relationship with other people and the outside world. Such relationships encompass a whole range of possibilities, from destructive to constructive and harmonising. This picture presents three options, one for each group of figures: panic, terror, and helplessness in the face of the erupting brutality; wild passion, threat, and protection; balanced harmony and contemplation. The third group of figures is embedded upside down in the bottom right area and belongs to another plane.
Due to the fact that the artist created this contemplative plane behind the “event plane”, the viewer is able to coherently arrange all of the contradictory impressions, and the painting can be perceived as a single composition, despite its complexity. This contemplative plane is visible only in two narrow strips, but with their soft, pastel-coloured harmony, they are large enough to make the overlying chaos soar. At the top of the picture, we see the skyline of a big city under a cloudless green-dotted sky; at the bottom, the heads of a couple, rotated by 180 degrees, with the woman displaying an open glance. We feel the tranquillity of a festive mood, the inviolability of the seventh day, its clarity and constancy acting as a counterweight to the aggressive staccato of the overworld.
Evgenij Kozlov represents the joining of polarities of any kind by the signs of plus and minus. There are two pairs of these signs on the top left, painted with powerful, broad strokes: - + - +. The plus sign also serves as a cross. If we step out of the picture’s boundaries, we can envision the upper plane of the painting, the “event plane”, as a cross. In this upper plane, the horizontal and the vertical of the cross are already present – we only need to extend them.
Hannelore Fobo, 2012
Translated from the German by Tatyana Zyulikova
|Last updated 26 October 2021|