by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
“Our relationship is very old because we know each other since we were children, because our parents were artists as well. After working together for more than 10 years, we realised in 2008 that we should be a group. It’s much easier to work together after knowing each other for all this time. We have a democratic principle in our group, and if one of us does not like an idea or direction then we do not go ahead with it. Even during the pandemic it’s easier to work together as a group, for Georgy as well, because we can divide up the work and be faster as well,” says Andrey Blokhin, one part of the artist duo who call themselves Recycle Group.
Recycle Group took shape from a friendship that resulted out of both Andrey Blokhin and Georgy Kuztensov’s parents being artists in Krasnodar, Russia, at the same time. Their first exhibition under Recycle Group took place in 2008 and they have since journeyed together to explore the nuance of a range of subjects through their artistic lens. In their recent installation Artificial Environment, a 130-meter-long bas-relief, they explore the complexities of AI technology. Blokhin shares, “The vector we are using is about people living in artificial environments with machines. We understand that we live in a new reality now, we are more linked to digital things. We are interested to show the material traces of our virtuality. We have been working for many years with the idea of material and virtual life - to keep our brains alive forever by downloading it onto the web. In the future I think bots will replace a lot of human activity and discussion. It would be interesting to create your own avatar. It is interesting to see also how the pandemic has influenced life and virtuality”.
Blokhin continues saying, "Now the main concept we are working on is the eternal life of people, the relationship with machine and the ethics involved”. The installation is located at a public park in Krasnodar, which houses a previous work by Recycle Group titled Geolocation.
The bas-relief is crafted to tell a story, a contemporary narrative in the guise of a traditional art form. Born from the duo’s keen interest in the material effects of virtual life and vice-versa, Artificial Environment takes the viewer on a visually linear thought journey. The installation reminds one of ancient Greek storytelling. The resemblance builds on the idea of urban legend (in the making) and emphasises the historical nature of the landmark shift into the digital age in the 21st century. While this merges with the visual culture of the region it is located in, the content of the installation itself makes the viewer look twice and rethink their previous notions of traditional relief sculpture as this work employs contemporary material and narrative. Blokhin explains, “They are carrying these cables and trying to download this information and trying to understand the meaning of a ‘game’ and why it is so important. It’s at a public park in Krasnodar which is also where we did the large stainless steel geolocation sculpture. We have been working with this plastic mesh material for over 10 years, and we are always developing new ways of using the material”.
The mesh works in sync with the location of the installation as it is frequently used to protect young trees in the park. In recognition of the significant choice to realise the concept of this artwork as a bas-relief, Blokhin says, “Somehow, we have our roots of Sovietic sculpture, somehow in our brains - all these plaster reliefs. It is somehow linked with our biography as well; I mean since we were born there”.
Dedicated to the overlaps of digital and material culture, the artists discuss their fascination with augmented reality spaces. Blokhin tells STIR, “We have done a lot with AR, we even have our app called Recycle Group. We started our first project in 2016 maybe, when AR technology was not that powerful. We did a project at Centre Pompidou in Paris, where you would see the collection of the museum through the point of view of a machine - how it calculates the colour, or to see how many views it has received and to explore if it can be compared to a SpongeBob Squarepants video, for example. We did an alternative map of Venice where you could walk and see various objects on the streets”.
Artificial Environment is a permanent installation at Park Krasnodar in Russia. The artist duo won the Kandinsky Prize in 2010 and have since participated in notable festivals globally including Venice Biennale (2011, '13, '15 and '17).