EVGENY ANTUFIEV – “With a copper mask in one hand and a vase full of secrets in the other one, my body will rest in a sarcophagus guarded by twelve specially trained monsters” – a solo show at Emalin, Shoreditch, East London
Well that certainly has to be one of the art show titles of the year, Emalin’s presentation of Evengy Antufiev at Frieze this year was certainly one of the highlights of that vast vast art fair – that mouth that dared you to come in, that glimpse of Antufiev’s world (or worlds), his mystery, his art that throws up far more questions than answers, who is this guy? What is going on? How far into that cheek is his tongue? Emalin’s presentation at Frieze was one of the braver aspects of what was on the whole a rather conservative fair, that giant mouth in the corner was a welcome bit of attitude or challenge or danger or something or other in there amongst all the brightly lit politeness and the all too obvious lack of artistic adventure. At the time, as part of the Organ round up of Frieze 2017 we said “Emalin Gallery‘s mouth had a bit of wit about it, as does the semi-playful ceramic work of Moscow-based Russian artist Evgeny Antufiev – Emalin are one of the more rewarding of the current signless London galleries, there’s a rather interesting Nicholas Cheveldave show in their Shoreditch space right now if you can work out where the actual door to the gallery is, they also put that brilliant Kembra Pfahlar show last year”.
We went on to say that “apparently it is important that we know the artist is from somewhere called Kyzyl (in the Tuva Republic) and not from the big city of Moscow. that he carves wood, boils bones, hides in the woods (he’s rather like those Liars) there’s all kinds of symbolic significance, fantastical narratives, oddities, you’re not quite sure if he’s playing with you or not, bits of shamanic playfulness (was it playfulness?), is he paying with us? Apparently Kyzyl is located exactly in the geographical centre of Asia. While every other gallery and artist in the vast Frieze pavilion is intent of being deadly serious, to view Antufiev’s very tactile work – objects made of metal, wood, ceramics, textiles, bone and who know what else – to view his work you need to walk through the mouth of a giant cardboard monster he’s constructed to separate himself from the rest of the fair. He’s back at Emalin, here in East London, there’s a solo show in November, and he’s off to the Mostyn in North Wales as well, wonder what they’ll make of his monsters there?”
And, with Frieze already fading away and with the year almost at an end, the Evgeny Antufiev solo show at Emalin’s own space had to be caught (and caught on the eve of the turning of the season, that seemed right). Off to that strange almost hidden warehouse building with an ever changing gallery space that’s almost hidden inside the bland looking brick building. And they’ve actually got a sign on the door outside now, they’re no longer hiding in tha warehouse t space over from that Boxpark nightmare by Shoreditch railway station.,,
Will it be as powerful without all that polite Frieze art to bounce off? Will he still threaten to drag you off to the woods, hit you on the head, hide you in a bag (and yes, as you wonder around in the silence of that contemporary white-walled gallery with your white shoe covers on, those Liars do start quietly playing in your head again). What to make of Evgeny Antufiev? What to make of his snakes and his monsters, his clay pots and his words scrawled on his walls and why did we need to put on shoe covers to enter the exhibition anyway? He is without doubt an artist who excites, who’s head you do really want to get inside of, you really don’t know how much of his art is really from the forests or woods or from the Asian boarders of Russia, what kind of creature do they have there anyway? What is going on here? Really don’t want an answer to any of the questions, really don’t anyone to come along and attempt to explain him or that bowl of snakeskin or that dagger on the wall or what that piece is over there and how does that pot relate to that head? Really don’t want anyone to mess with his mystery, really really don’t want to know, and that mystery and that edge and that darkness is even more powerful in the silence and the peace and quiet here (really pleased I missed the opening and got to see it all in complete silence by myself, to see it without the noise and people and the wine and the art talk). Really really don’t want to know that much about who Evgeny Antufiev, I rather like my own interpretation of his various realities (not that any of my interpretations make any sense). Why are those pots over there? What has Michael Jackson got to do with anything? How do we read that one? What is he spinning? Why am I wearing covers on my shoes?
“Exploring a contemporary space for myth and ritual, Evgeny Antufiev carves wood, boils bones, and stuffs and embroiders traditional Russian fabrics to supplement found curiosities and deposits of kitsch. Deeply invested in the cultural particularity and symbolic significance of materials, Antufiev’s accumulations feel both prehistoric and personal: forms abandon their material functions and fantastical narratives are spun around objects that escape categorization or correlation. These displays of oddities veer between persiflage and plausibility: they recall the shamanic mysticism still vital in Southern Siberia, only to sever these ties and open up alternate realities altogether…”
Truth is I have no idea who or what or where Evgeny Antufiev really is, I have no idea how seriously he wants us to take all this? I have no idea what all these things mean? I think I take him very seriously indeed, this certainly is a solo show to take very seriously – “Antufiev has transformed the gallery space into a cavernous tomb that houses a selection of uncategorisable objects that undercut the historical plausibility of the site. The use of carved wood, boiled bones and embroideries in traditional Russian fabrics throughout the artists work reflects his interest in the cultural particularity and symbolic significance of materials” – I really don’t want to be told too much about the fascinating world of Evgeny Antufiev, is this a reconstruction of some ritual he came across out there in the Russian forest? A “cavernous tomb” we’ve enter with show protectors on? A ritual? I want to explore it all myself, I don’t want those words on the the outside explained or the darkness of that dagger or what to expect next, I don’t want to meet him or talk to the curator about the show or to have the thought behind those textiles explained or any of that, I just don’t want to know, I love it, I love all these hits of ritual and darkness and myth and the hint of a “cavernous tomb” and who knows what? What is that bowl of snakeskin doing there? Loved it, loved every bit of it, including the shoe covers, what were the shoe covers about? Were we in a warehouse in Shoreditch or were we in a tomb in a forest with….? Whoever he is and wherever we were, he has to be one of the artists of 2017, and Emalin have to be one of the galleries or curating teams of the year, loved it, loved it all, art excites. (sw)
Click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show (and what was Mr Bowen doing outside?)…