Jevgeni Zolotko

We actually saw the world of Yevgeny Zolotko coming. The hit on the WTC Twin Towers in New York flooded the media with a myriad of images depicting people covered with dust from the explosion. Almost ten years on, the second act is played out by the volcanoes in Iceland, burying the island and part of the atmosphere in suffocating smoke and ash. Second to these comes British Petroleum's “accident at work” –– the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, covering the flora and fauna of the Caribbean Sea and the beaches of Florida with a sticky black film. A year later, engulfed by an avalanche of mud, the explosion of the Fukushima nuclear reactor adds its own contribution. Let the painting begin – the monochrome world is knocking on the door.

Actually, this is not just about colour, the agony of corporate capitalism or ignoring environmental threats. We find predictions of Zolotko’s ash grey spatial visions in history, science fiction and mass culture. Pompeii and Herculaneum, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and the man-made wastelands of J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World not to mention Blade Runner and Mad Max — all telling the story of matter disintegrating to the point where all stories end and speeches break off.

Yevgeny Zolotko is a post-apocalyptic visionary par excellence. We may dismiss the thesis and only pick out a few motifs from among his waste landscapes, so as not to guess the ending. Let’s take books, for instance. There are dozens of huge books in Zolotko’s installations, more precisely book-shaped objects pressed from the shredder’s excreta, their birth pronouncing the death of text. Thanks to Marshall McLuhan and Ray Bradbury, we can now guardedly speak of ”only“ books and Gutenberg’s galaxy ending up in the rubbish bin of a media society, which is comforting, as life in some form still continues, text messages flow like an avalanche over social networks, soap operas and reality shows rise with the sun and the TV never sets. This voyeuristic world reduces everything to a spectacle: an accident at work after the news, an environmental disaster before bedtime and mass murder for sleepless TV viewers. The only thing holding back a live broadcast of the end of the world is the fear of losing the audience (Baudrillard).

Nevertheless, what do we make of an archaeologist crying in similar ignorance over a mere shard of pottery at the ruins of Pompeii? What do we make of a scholar who only sees a stone bookcase in Rachel Whiteread’s monument to Holocaust victims? For it is not just about books. Two solo exhibitions, Grey Signal at Vaal Gallery in 2009 and its sequel, Grey Signal/Retort 2 atpArt gallery, fortunately still impose a more metaphoric way of thinking. Now we are presented with apocalyptic reminiscences from the Book of Revelation, interspersed with the eerie absurdity of Daniil Kharms, and naturally the author’s handiwork, NIKH — a generator for producing emptiness. Moreover, there is the Black Box controlling the production of empty space, invented by the curator Kiwa. Add control and exploitation props, and we agree with Ellu Maar, who notices symptoms of Foucault's surveillance society at these exhibitions, stating that it may also be an abandoned laboratory. For some reason, the mastermind has made a hasty escape, leaving all his retorts, drawings and tracings. Fortunately, a couple of citations by the Russian mystic Nikolai Fyodorov were left behind, giving us an idea of what was to come of the retort — no less than man physically resurrected, freed of mortality, a perfect citizen of the eternal state of life.

Thus, the question of whose dystopic future it is, receives a frightful answer. No, it is not the fear of the end of the culture of books or a middle class fear of losing the idyllic suburban life. Neither is it the fear of losing democracy to totalitarianism or being overcome by a tsunami. Nor is it the fear of a terrorist attack or ash clouds. This is not a prediction based on oppressive anxiety at all. This is a post factum realisation that Armageddon has already begun, followed any minute now by a nuclear winter, and a thousand years of peace emerging out of the doomsday fires.

Thus, there are two sides to the story. On the one hand, a fundamental rebellion against a society built on the regime of rationalism, and on the other hand, total world (re)creation plans –– a constructive re-building programme. The atomisation of any matter into dust, cellulose wadding and papier-mâché provides the demiurge, which Zolotko undoubtedly is, with yeast dough to proof a new, eternal world in its absolute perfection. In addition to Fyodorov, press releases have also mentioned Henri Bergson. Hilary L. Fink has penned a nice treatise on the entrenchment of the classical Russian avant-garde and religious thought in Bergson’s philosophy. This makes it possible to place all of Russia’s classical avant-garde with all its somewhat religious optimism against the background of Zolotko’s spatial installations. Away now with Aristotle’s and Plato’s logocentric worlds. Enter Dionysian characters: elan vital, intuitiveness and an organic world in eternal flux. And Zolotko too contributes to this world by freeing matter of its static obligation to remain intact and playing with Lego blocks in a repressive model of the world. Yes, Zolotko’s creative method is largely destructive and this is an aggressive metaphor against a society desperately speaking of integration, consensus and social cohesion. Too late for that! It is now time to revive Fyodorov’s old teachings about the physical resurrection of all the people who have ever lived, let the dough rise and build a fire in the global oven. The world as we know it must be taken apart atom by atom and reconstructed, to release a free, direct and creative relationship with the new, resurrected world. Recipes can be found in theosophy, vitalism, spiritualism, mysticism, the Illuminati movement,...

We could go on with this terminology parade if the Russian avant-garde utopias were Zolotko’s only background. According to a famous claim by Umberto Eco, after Barbara Cartland nobody could ever again say innocently and sincerely, “I love you”. Prisoners of context, we must now say: “As Barbara Cartland has put it, I love you.” This suggests the assumption that Zolotko’s own handling of the heroic ideas of the past are not altogether sincere; they may contain hesitation, nostalgia and a secret irony mixed with regret. In times that have lost the ability to create historic perspectives and justified expectations about the future, the human consciousness is flickering on the borderline of nostalgia, escapism and hysteria, unable to fill the howling void in its world model. In this world of –isms with the prefixes anti-, neo- and post-, Svetlana Boym’s off-modernism manifesto stands out, calling for a revision of the dark side-streets of modernist heritage, determining what went wrong and asking when sincere will became merely another –ism. Thus, Zolotko bending over the retort is not an alchemist’s attempt to clone a homunculus or wake the Frankenstein. Rather, it is a question — why has it not succeeded so far? Lack of faith?

Johannes Saar