by Rahul KumarApr 18, 2022
Through a display of work from over the last 13 years, with the significant survey exhibition A Space of Celebration at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai, we are immersed into the world-building imagination of Taus Makhacheva. The Russia-born artist locates her oeuvre across various mediums of art and involves a slew of collaborators, who lend their expertise to the production of a world that follows its own logic and set of aesthetic provocations. Borrowing from the Soviet era along with her own cultural background, where she speaks of her relatives being from the Republic of Dagestan, an autonomous territory under Russia. Makhacheva’s work spans across video, installation, photography, performance and so on, seemingly disparate but coalescing categories that redefine and reaffirm the practice of so-called ‘contemporary art’. These categorisations across mediums only act as an entry point into the nature of the works, as her explorations are medium agnostic in a way that is refreshing and additionally renewed within the exhibition space.
Speaking to the nature of her artistic practice, Makhacheva tells STIR, “I try to figure out a life of every project which plays with the rules we are in. Because I also like to think of practice as gestural very often, as there are a lot of testing boundaries, pushing against walls, and seeing boundaries of institutional spaces or borders of states, for example.”
Through the exhibition the audience is brought into contact with storylines and touchpoints that serve as a glimpse into various logics that populate the space, from the carnival to superheroes to circus performers and gymnasts, all seeming to be contortionists in one way or another, in their relation to reality or realisms, rather.
The titular video work takes place in an empty banquet hall, where there are chairs set out for hundreds of people to attend a wedding. The video begins with a dizzying, swirling view of the dome ceiling, almost like a merry-go-round. The architecture is bathed in pastel colours, with muted decorations that are colourful yet subdued at the same time. Human forms are introduced into the space, wearing tent-like outfits that seem to serve as these absurdist spatial barometers. Much of the movement is rolling around and walking up and down the empty aisles. The story is however about Dagestan, and the culture of the wedding venue, and how it has come to become a common signifier for the region.
In conversation, the artist mentions the term ‘magical realism’ in relation to her work, which tends to bend reality towards a sleight of hand, a set of fictions enacted upon. Makhacheva’s alter ego, that of Super Taus, an artistic and cultural practitioner in her own right, offers a fictional counterpart to the artist herself, who finds herself deeply embedded in the throes of art history. Super Taus is played by the artist herself, where her ‘works’ are described as ‘life-affirming practices’, in order to create a distinction between the two figures. Super Taus is an amalgamation of and homage to the artist’s relatives in Dagestan, whom she describes as never quitting and being tough in the face of hardship.
Speaking to this idea, Makhacheva says, “I think of Super Taus as my alter ego that allows me to live the life that I want to live, because she leads the life that I was destined to live. I guess she thinks about me in some other way. [...] She lives in a slightly different world, where she is not so embedded in the history of art as I am.”
The artist speaks about how she finds herself situated in the productive space of larger art historical narratives - regional and global. In conversation, she seems to gesture to the idea of the ‘copy’ or even the stylistic pivoting that the meme provides in contemporary media (image-based) consumption, that finds its own embeddedness in modern and contemporary art history and visual culture.
“I strongly believe in artistic co-ownership of the history of art. So whatever I do, I build it on the basis of what’s been done before me, and in a way, participate in that flow, and you are making the next step. [...] I followed impulses that were already realised by other artists, but to me it has to do with multiple discovery, coincidental plagiarism, and the steam engine effect. All of these terms describe the phenomenon where the same idea comes to different artists, musicians, scientists and so on. It’s this existence in one flow that I am interested in. I am also very aware that I am standing on the shoulders of artists who lived before me or at the same time with me. If I am allowing myself this co-ownership and juggling of these various methodologies that I observe around me, it means that my own methodology has to be and will be absorbed in the same way. This is where the archiving impulse in the studio comes from.”
Taus Makhacheva’s ‘A Space of Celebration; is on view at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai till August 14, 2022.