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ALEXANDRA GALKINA

А АВТОПОРТРЕТЫ АКТИВИСТКИ АРЕСТОВАНЫ АССАМБЛЯЖИ БАР БАРМЕНШИ БАРРИКАДА БРЕЖНЕВ БУТЫЛКИ ВЕДЬМОЧКИ ГРАФФИТИ ДЖЕМ ДИДЖЕЙ ДОКУМЕНТЫ ЖОПА ЗИН КАРАНДАШ КЛАССИКИ К СТЕНЕ МАДАМ МАРКЕР МЕГАЗИН МИНИБАР МУЗЫКАНТЫ ПЛАТЬЯ ПОМАДА ПОРНО ПРОКЛАДКИ РИСУНКИ СОСЕДИ СОСУЛЬКИ СТОП ТЕХНИКА ТРЕТЬЯКОВКА УБОРКА ФРОТТАЖИ ЮБКИ Я


ZOOM NAVIGATION AND OTHER MUSEUM PRANKS OF SASHA GALKINA (WELCOME UNDER THE TABLE), Lyudmila Bredikhina Not everyone will be taken into the future, but who exactly will be taken and how the cut-off point is arranged is a question that spawns myths. In a broad sense, museums live off myths. For a long time, museums were like the Cyclops, protecting the eternal wheat from the living chaff. But then squabbles broke out among the gods and Apollo slew all the one-eyed giants. Since then, museums have sought various informal approaches to art and the audience, which is why, nowadays, so many museums are filled with former fringes. The artist Alexandra (Sasha) Galkina is one of those fringes. Her generation of “young leftists” was shaped in the late 90s at Avdey Ter-Oganyan’s School of the Avant-Garde and in the Radek group. Aged sixteen, Sasha took part in the Barricade on Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street, dedicated to the May 1968 events in France, with such memorable situationist slogans as “All power to the imagination!” and “No money and no need for it!” (and a simultaneous demand to pay the Barricade participants 1200 dollars a month). Like many artists of her generation, Sasha Galkina has a good understanding of what it means to “talk as a community” and to work in a common context. But she has always managed to achieve an original artistic gesture that combines elusiveness and unpredictability with recognizability. Galkina’s works are minimalist: the spiral shavings from colored pencils, canvases that face a wall, paint spilt from a cup, a floor washed with paint. They are memorable, but rarely talked about. Perhaps because they offer transparency of gesture and textural expressiveness rather than critical potential, so that their “visually experienced political nature”(1) seems more visual than political. Even when their texture is that of “naive and useless graphics”(2), as in the collective art-spam project, megazine.biz, there is much ​​ interest in studying the sea of tiny monochrome objects: a camera, a hoop, underpants, all things that can’t really be bought or sold. The functions of genuine sharing and shopping sites are cloned: there is an “already viewed” option, sections for delivery and handling of rejects, the “goods” are sorted by shape or colour. Quantity turns into unfamiliar quality, and there comes a point where you find yourself gazing at the monitor with an idiotic smile – the way people look at children playing or at sunsets. The megazine.biz website has been museumified online, but still has the capacity to bemuse good-faith internet shoppers. Is the inducement of such stupor in a would-be shopper a successful criticism of consumerism? Can an ecstasy of graphomaniac illustrators, scribbling feverishly in this gap between aesthetic and teleological reflective judgment, into which they have fallen, be viewed as a Kantian disinterested pleasure? Action, movement, explicit and implicit provocative gestures are very important for Sasha Galkina. Performances as such are a rarity in her work, but the nature of performance is inserted into the seemingly most static genres. Her stencils secretly or frankly demonstrate the reverse side of glamour. 1 marker exhausts itself on a single sheet of drawing paper, leaving its mark in art history. Her frottages – the result of stubborn, almost perverse rubbing of a pencil on different surfaces – unexpectedly reproduce the subtle effect of sfumato around the words that unexpectedly appear: “Psychoneurological Dispensary No. 12”, “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin”, “Reception”. Dresses made from unpainted corrugated cardboard, seemingly flat and uncomplicated, present an illusion of the missing body – its outlines suddenly visible in posture and direction of movement – as soon as they reach the wall. Then there are sanitary pads, which, in Galkina’s work, lead us far away from bodily needs into the sphere of architecture and fashion design.

Galkina’s best-known works are probably her serial graphic portraits of women: barmaids, activists, and self-portraits. The self-portraits provoke a strange sensation, as if the artist is much more interested in seeing than showing. These works do not allow objectification of the woman who is depicted, but that is not because they do not correspond to generally accepted paradigms of female attractiveness or because they defiantly destroy such paradigms. Objectification simply is not their concern. They are too laboratorial, focused on peering into the internal state of the self and carefully dosing what can be seen from the outside. Something like a Gioconda smile, a slight hint of benevolence or some challenge can occasionally be detected on the surface, but, more often, we see no more than the “family” nose, eyes that cannot be called a mirror of the soul, and a strikingly autonomous forehead. Sasha says herself that the actor in the series of portraits of barmaids and activists is her alter ego. It is not immediately clear where the distance comes from, since activism is no stranger to her artistic strategy and she has tried the role of barmaid several times in the performances Bar and Minibar. Perhaps, in the performances, her inner states have been energetically pushed out onto the stage to play herself as a role. In any case, the characters of the portraits are bright, theatrical and seem to be overacting. The challenging way in which Sasha lights the cigarette of her Activist, documenting the act in a photograph, suggests a complex relationship. The series with a half-dressed woman in the act of drawing who is never fully visible also poses difficulties. We feel certain that she is always drawing herself and that on each sheet she draws the very moment, which is shown to the viewer. But we do not see the effect of this recursion in its entirety. It is fragmented, the scale fluctuates, there are inexplicable interferences and damage, and our attention is distracted by the various familiar objects lying on the surface: a marker, a plastic cup, some stickers or ornamental spam. Although, theoretically speaking, such interference enables better organization of the information (including visual information). This is something we will return to. Many things in Sasha Galkina’s work lie on the surface and are determined by it. So the surface of old Soviet wallpaper calls for the use of another surface – that of linoleum – in her wallpaper linocuts, which feature the faces of grandmothers and great-grandmothers who Sasha hardly remembers. In these portraits, we again see the familiar family nose, and eyes aglow with an unexpected interest in the world. Deprived of volume and colour and taken from walls with scraps of sticky tape, these reproduced prints are Galkina’s most vivid and endearing female portraits to date. Even her self-portrait in this series has a rare directness and willingness to “run on the fuel of empathy,” as young leftist critics would put it. The artistic tendency toward intervention and free navigation on personal and alien surfaces can have scandalous results, as in the Zhopa (“ass”) series and Galkina’s illicit gesture at the Feminist Pencil 2 exhibition by the Moscow Feminist Group, where she used a marker to draw tiny phalluses next to several of the works. The gesture provoked a heated discussion “ranging from harsh condemnation of the arrogant vandalism of a ‘successful’ artist to approval of a subversive and well-aimed remark” (3). What it shows in Galkina is something, which any parti pris is bound to find undesirable – a propensity for the provocative gesture even at the risk of antagonizing the home team. What it shows in the Moscow Feminist Group is that, though ready and willing to pursue social criticism, it is not ready to embark on institutional criticism, as shown by its sharp condemnation of this “parasitic image”(4). To me, the intrusion of a parodically diminished and demeaned phallus into a collective feminist statement seemed a good joke and a meaningful remark, a certain “memento de Рhallo” to the sisters. But Sasha acciden-


tally or deliberately touched a sore point of those sullen forms of feminism, which are intolerant of any version other than their own. The Welcome Under the Table project could have been a predictable intervention by the artist in a museum space, with another dose of institutional criticism. But it is actually not that. It seems to be a stranger phenomenon – a collective provocation by the artist and the museum. At the entrance to the Tretyakov Gallery, Sasha Galkina places a modestly sized construction reminiscent of Gulliver, Alice, Schumacher’s film about the woman who suddenly shrank or early Claes Oldenburg. It was Oldenburg, the great master of scale, who showed Sasha that any physical object in art is unstable and alien to immobility. Galkina has laid a table for us the size of a room. Visible from all floors of the building, it turns the Tretyakov Gallery space with all its current exhibitions into a giant total installation of unprecedented proportions. The artist gives us an alternative scaling mechanism where the pairs ‘top’ and ‘bottom’, ‘above’ and ‘below’, ‘low’ and ‘high’, ‘large’ and ‘small’ lose their usual meaning, and the action of this mechanism takes over the Gallery. Accidentally or intentionally, the museum has taken a risk. Whose table is this? Does it belong to the Kabakovs, whose retrospective is being held on the second floor of the museum and whose project Where is Our Place? is in obvious dialogue with Welcome Under the Table. It would be tempting to call this a recursive relationship, but something gets in the way. The Kabakovs’ giants shown at the Tretyakov are tiny: the exhibition features only a model of their wellknown total installation. In the real installation, the audience only saw the legs of the giants, just above knee-height, while the rest disappeared beyond the ceiling. The model of Where is Our Place? is missing the main thing – human measurement – and this jump in scale looks to have been planned by Galkina. The mechanism of her zoom navigation through the surfaces and spaces of other artists becomes apparent and starts to operate. As you make your way through Labyrinth with Kabakov’s mother’s diary or stand in the hall surrounded by Natalia Turnova’s huge, picturesque canvases of passions, you cannot help asking yourself: what is their relationship to Galkina’s portraits and self-portraits? The viewer, finding him/herself under Sasha Galkina’s table, resembling a cozy shelter built by children, does not yet realize the difficult position he/she is in. The viewer is in a space where the scale will constantly gallop, asking him/her to repeatedly find their place between cracked recursions and bimodalizations, in a multilayered synthetic environment, generating meanings between modal poles. The viewers can, of course, close their eyes to all of this, but the question, under whose table they have been offered temporary shelter, inevitably arises. Indeed, what are we to make of this table laid by a “young leftist” artist? Are we under the table of the system and order? Of entertainment, consumerism and life style? Of art and freedom, or lack of freedom and ideology? And, if of ideology, then what kind of ideology? The old kind (the “lie we need in order to know the truth”(5) or something else? Are we talking about the “repressive sublimation” of Marcuse or Adorno, in which case we need to release our desires in order to be rid of them, as in Galkina’s Face to the Wall series? Or should we take everything that is left over from art and ideology under our own control? Perhaps it is time to think about “repressive desublimation”, “new original sin” and start everything anew?(6) An invitation that looks straightforward proves hard to accept. Galkina’s table is a signal for the start of a special cognitive navigation, with no ready-made maps or routes and no guarantee of any truth at the end. Firstly, because no system (including the museum system) has an optimal trajectory and optimal development path, but is developed and adapted by accidental and intentional interferences, through “intentional instability”(7).

Secondly, working with a local context poses universal tasks, because there can be no “landing in a universal space” without precise localization(8). Thirdly, the joint efforts of a fringe and the museum to problematize the overall context force us to return, starting from an individual gesture here and now, to current understandings of the avant-garde of the 70s and 90s. So, Galkina’s “feminist suprematism” enters into yet another unspoken dialogue – with the Tretyakov Gallery’s VR project, Avant-Garde in Three Dimensions, which lets the visitor reproduce the works of Malevich and other avant-garde classics. The Black Square comes perfectly to life through the “feminine look” and witty shift of emphasis in Galkina’s colourful skirts and lipsticks. And to conclude: the intentional instability proposed by Sasha Galkina in Welcome Under the Table lets us re-evaluate her own work. And I cannot agree that, in Galkina’s work, “there is no positive subject, and her gestures are always parasitic.”(9) Her toolbox contains more than the standard “anarchic” set of intervention, spoiler, spam and stickers, and her artistic gestures are much more sophisticated than provocations. Her female portraits express a strange shock from the collision with life, Grandfather’s Shirt hints at a trauma that still reverberates, and her work contains acute observation of how criticism relates to disinterested pleasure, ineffability to discursiveness, and the personal to the political. LITER ATURE 1. Ilya Budraitskis, “The good, the bad and the evil” // Moscow Art Magazine, №67-68 (2008). 2. Artem Ushan, “Nastya Ryabova, Sasha Galkina: Visit us for serious trouble!’” // Colta, 19/08/2009. 3. Gleb Napreenko, Alexandra Novozhenova, “Stop press: who is quarrelling with who in leftist art and why” // Colta, 6/11/2013. 4. Ibid. 5. Theodor Adorno (cit. ex: Slavoj Žižek, The Metastases of Enjoyment, p. 33). 6. Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (chapter 10). 7. Resa Negarestani, “Where is the Concept? (Localization, ramification, navigation” // Lecture at the conference “When Site Lost the Plot” (London, 2013). 8. Ibid. 9. Gleb Napreenko, Alexandra Novozhenova, “Stop press: who is quarrelling with who in leftist art and why” // Colta, 6/11/2013.


А АВТОПОРТРЕТЫ АКТИВИСТКИ АРЕСТОВАНЫ АССАМБЛЯЖИ БАР БАРМЕНШИ БАРРИКАДА БРЕЖНЕВ БУТЫЛКИ ВЕДЬМОЧКИ ГРАФФИТИ ДЖЕМ ДИДЖЕЙ ДОКУМЕНТЫ ЖОПА ЗИН КАРАНДАШ КЛАССИКИ К СТЕНЕ МАДАМ МАРКЕР МЕГАЗИН МИНИБАР МУЗЫКАНТЫ ПЛАТЬЯ ПОМАДА ПОРНО ПРОКЛАДКИ РИСУНКИ СОСЕДИ СОСУЛЬКИ СТОП ТЕХНИКА ТРЕТЬЯКОВКА УБОРКА ФРОТТАЖИ ЮБКИ Я


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А In the late 1990s, I accidentally got involved with the AvantGarde School in Moscow, where I was almost the only girl student. Not that I particularly want to begin the story of my interest in art from that point, but it’s better than starting with stories from childhood, though I did learn some general things from the funny lessons we had at school. Out of interest, I began to take part in the performances and actions of my older colleagues, combining study at a humanities institute with contemporary art. At the same time, I did some work of my own, I painted and invented works in the spirit of school pranks, the simplicity of which required maximum thought and exactness. I was also interested in various forms of social protest and, over time, this curiosity about the social structure and my own structure developed into an enthusiasm for feminism. That led to series of works dedicated to lyrical heroines, smoking cigarettes as they read books, carrying banners and looking at the viewer with eyes battle-worn in the fight against injustice. In my imagination I “took on their garb” and that helped me to convey some of my own stories, to share them through my characters. This book is presented like a children’s ABC. It contains my works from the last 20 years, but not in chronological order. You can read it as a collection of “funny pictures” and, if you want to go deeper, you can read my comments. The book also includes two critical texts, by Lyudmila Bredikhina and Alexandra Novozhenova, which were written at different times but which both help to understand what my creative interest and my interest in life are about.

ALEXANDRA GALKINA. 2019


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А ВТО П О Р Т РЕ Т Ы

SELF-PORTRAITS. Paper, acrylic markers. 19.5 x 19.5 cm. 2015-2017


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SELF-PORTRAITS. Paper, markers. 19 x 13 cm. 2014


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FEMALE ACTIVISTS. Series of graphics. Hardboard, paper, acrylic markers, mixed media. Various sizes. 2012-2014


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А РЕС ТО В А Н Ы For the action “You are under arrest,” we printed and distributed invitations to the supposed opening of an exhibition at a new space in Moscow. Guests were invited to come to the indicated address on the appointed day. The point of the action was to produce surprise. The art audience, accustomed to the playfully sophisticated atmosphere of art openings found themselves face-to-face with the unedifying reality of a local police station in Moscow’s Basmanny District.


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YOU ARE UNDER ARREST (with Alexei Buldakov, Alexander Korneyev, David Ter-Oganyan, Anna Orekhova). Documentation of the action. 2009


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АСС А М Б ЛЯ Ж И When I am painting in the studio, I often break or drop things. That is the nature of the process. On one occasion, I knocked over a cup of paint when I was mixing paints. I left it where it was because I couldn’t interrupt what I was doing. Then later I noticed that the paint had spread and the cup had stuck fast to the surface on which it had fallen. The Assemblages series, which uses chance containers used for keeping and mixing paints, grew out of this incident.

ASSEMBLAGES. Canvas on cardboard, acrylic, mixed media. Various sizes. 2014


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BAR. Installation. Documentation of the performance. 2014


БА Р This installation was inspired by bars that I had seen in art squats, made from cardboard boxes and beer crates. In the performance I play the role of a bartender and mix cocktails for visitors. Consumption of drinks and the appreciation of art are usually kept separate. But here the serving of drinks became a work of art, with the artist as a part of it, acting as a built-in guide to the exhibition. The audience formed a queue to the bar, and discussed the exhibition and other current news while cocktails were mixed and drunk.


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БАРМЕНШИ Portraits of barmaids, painted from life or from memory.

BARMAIDS. Digital printing. 40 x 30 cm. 2011-2012


БАРРИК А Д А Barricade is the first action which I took part in as a “student” of Avdey Ter-Oganyan’s School of Modern Art. This action was intended to mark the anniversary of the May events of 1968 in France, which began with student actions and led to demonstrations and a general strike. My contribution to the organisation of the action was modest – I printed leaflets (mostly surrealist slogans of the Situationist International) and brought them to the action. My school friend came with me. She took part in this and some other actions out of interest. We had just finished 10th grade.

BARRICADE. Frames from the video. 1998


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Б РЕ Ж Н Е В I designed the cassette for a musical project called Brezhnev Kley.

COVER. 2016-2018


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BOTTLES. Acrylic, gouache on cardboard. Various sizes. 2015


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LITTLE WITCHES. Computer graphics, color stickers, posters. Various sizes. 2013-2014


Г РАФ Ф И Т И At one time I noticed strange geometrical shapes painted on walls and fences and began to photograph them. It became an absorbing activity and a motive for unhurried walks around the city. For the exhibition entitled International (part of the Stop! Who goes there? festival, which later became the Moscow Youth Biennale) I put the photos together in a small booklet and decided to go a step further than documentation. I studied the walking route from the metro to the NCCA building, where the exhibition was to open, made a map of painted walls along this route and published it together with photos of the walls themselves. When a visitor arrived at the exhibition, there was a booklet with a map waiting for him – a suggestion that he may just have walked passed the exhibition, and a source of interest for the return journey.

Untitled (PAINTED OUT GRAFFITI). Photo documentation, colour print booklet. 15 x 21 cm. 2005


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ГРАФФИТИ This exhibition was timed to coincide with a seminar on the work of the Radek Group which was held at the Department of New Trends at the New Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val. The curator and director of the Department of New Trends, Andrey Yerofeyev, designated the exhibition space as a “yard” or “street”, and called the exhibition Street Miniatures. Works by the artists Georgy Ostretsov and Georgy Litichevsky were already in the gallery – as wall paintings on two adjacent walls of the hall. The curator’s idea was that these works were graffiti framing the “yard” (one of the walls also had a basketball ring fixed to it). For my project, called Painted Out Graffiti, I personally painted over one fragment of the wall painting, which is what janitors do to graffiti on outdoor walls.

PAINTED OUT GRAFFITI. View of the exhibition. Wall painting over other wall painting. 2004


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ДИД ЖЕЙ Dj Galqueena — Happy Artist’s Hardcore Set is a series of lectureperformances that began in 2015. I take the role of a DJ playing songs one by one. Happy Artist’s Hardcore Set is an authorial collection of “artists’ music” from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. Usually, each musical selection is made for a specific situation: the opening of an art exhibition, the afterparty of an exhibition project (as in Pong, the underground club in Vladivostok, which, unfortunately, has now closed). I call these performances “lectures” – lectures you can dance to. There were six performances with a track list for each one. Anyone who wants to do so can study the track list at leisure and learn something useful for themselves. The project has now expanded to thematic podcasts which I create on the Internet.

HTTPS://SOUNDCLOUD.COM/DJGALQUEENA


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FAKE DOCUMENTS (with David Ter-Oganyan). A series of collages, mixed media. 2009


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ЖО П А The idea for this ​​ series arose from observing how graffiti are removed on city streets: intricate polygons filled with colour appear where there had been anonymous drawings or texts. Over a period two years, I wrote the word “zhopa” (“ass”) where something had recently been painted over. I recorded each stage in this process from approximately the same position in order to achieve the effect of a photo-chronicle.


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ZHOPA. A series of 16 colour photos. Colour printing. 21 x 29 cm. 2006-2007


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ЗИН A publication for my exhibition at Gallery XL in 2016 (with Alexandra Novozhenova).


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К А РА Н Д А Ш I went to an exhibition on feminism and made mischief.

Intervention at the exhibition Feminist Pencil – 2. 2013


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HOPSCOTCH. Installation on the floor. Mixed media. 2010-2016


К СТЕНЕ Face to the Wall is a work that I invented specially for an exhibition, which was held as part of the non-commercial program of a Moscow contemporary art fair. I wanted to make fun of the status of painting in the context of the art market. I repeated this work several times afterwards.

FACE TO THE WALL. Installation, canvas, acrylic paints. 2010-2013


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МАДАМ I was once invited to be one of the heroines of an article about “young talents” in a glossy magazine. Another girl went to the photo session instead of me, but I gave the interview myself on another day. No one noticed the substitution, and the magazine came out with this photo.

TORN OUT PAGE. Documentation of the action. 2008


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М А РК Е Р This is a series of graphics in which I assiduously make marks with a marker until it runs out.

From the series 1 MARKER. Whatman paper, marker. Various sizes. 2007


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М Е ГА З И Н Megazine grew out of an innocent desire to draw what I wanted, which led naturally to spontaneous drawing of the surrounding material world. The idea of ​​combining all these drawings into a virtual gallery was borrowed from websites dedicated to donating and exchanging things. The unsophisticated and therefore touching presentation of the “goods” (amateur photos of things laid out on a sofa, which are to be offered a new life) seemed appropriate for these drawings. This led finally to the idea of ​​a “store”, where, paradoxically, nothing could be bought. The title of this megalomaniac project plays with the meanings of the word “zine”, which, in DIY culture, denotes an amateur publication with small circulation (abbreviated from English “magazine”) and Russian “magazin” (“store”).

WWW.MEGAZINE.BIZ


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М И Н И - БА Р Mini-bar was an exhibition held in the Svetlana gallery-apartment, which at one time occupied a built-in cupboard in the apartment of the artist Sveta Shuvaeva. The entire budget of this exhibition was spent on 50-millilitre bottles of alcohol. At the opening there was a presentation of the split tapes of two musical groups – Lenina paket (“Lenin’s packet”) and Pank fraktsia Krasnyhk Brigad (“Punk Fraction of the Red Brigades”).

МИНИ-БАР. Инсталляция, перформанс, смешанная техника. 2014


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МУЗЫК АНТЫ A series of ready-made objects that are part of the Bar project. I asked various artists from the musical underground scene to share some personal thing and then put these things in my “bar”, like in the famous Hard Rock Cafe, where personal belongings of Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, etc., are displayed on the walls.

PERSONAL BELONGINGS OF MUSICIANS. Ready-made objects. 2015


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DRESSES. Object, cardboard. Various sizes. 2002


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ПОМАДА My Lipstick is a monumental image bordering on abstraction. Three monochrome canvases are placed vertically one on top of another (black square, green and red rectangles).

LIPSTICK. Triptych, oil on canvas. 130 × 130 cm, 150 × 100 cm, 40 × 80 cm. 2009-2016


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П О РН О “Micropornostickers” are a sticker-pack made for an exhibition on the occasion of my birthday. A series of amateur photos (now they would be called “selfies”, but I didn’t know the word at the time) is printed as tiny stickers, which are almost impossible to make out. I also showed these photos in a doll’s house as part of a temporary exhibition project by some friends from France.

MICROPORNOSTICKERS. A series of photographs. 2010


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ПРОК ЛА ДКИ These works belong to the period when I had embraced radical feminism. I wanted to show that everything personal is political, to make public and visualize the issue of feminine corporality, which is under a social taboo: feminine hygiene items are shown from a “personal” viewpoint in a light, quasi-designer manner.

SANITARY PADS. Computer graphics. 2006


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РИСУНКИ The video Drawing is Hard captures the process of drawing on paper with a felt-tip pen. The sound of the pen-paper contact has been amplified many times. Usually, in video art works, the screen is set up so that the viewer first hears loud noises, and only then identifies their source at some place in the complex image. I deliberately chose simple, straightforward figures, combining naive “childish” drawing with a loud accompaniment to intensify the effect. The drawing jumps out from its frame and fills the space. I wanted the viewer to “hear” the line or point, to feel the dotted line or curve, as if it was physical substance.

DRAWING IS HARD. Video, 4 minutes 35 seconds. 2009-2010


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СО С Е Д И The action Noisy Neighbours was a response to the campaign led by local police in Moscow, which included street posters across the city calling on residents to report on their neighbours if they made too much noise. This looked like an attempt to divert attention from other, much more serious social problems. We gathered in a small group in a shabby apartment and staged an improvised “concert” there. The instruments included screwdrivers, hammers and nails, as well as an electric guitar.

NOISY NEIGHBOURS (with Artem Galkin, Viktor Makarov, Elena Martynova, Pavel Mikitenko, David Ter-Oganyan). Video, 8 minutes 55 seconds. 2006


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СО С УЛ ЬК И In the exhibition Beware, icicles! I brought together several of my works, which had already been shown before, but never together. It was important for me to show that there is a definite connection between them, despite the diversity of their genres and techniques. (see also: ПОМАДА, РИСУНКИ, ФРОТТАЖИ, ВЕДЬМОЧКИ).


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BEWARE, ICICLES! View of the exhibition at Gallery XL. 2016


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С ТО П The photographs in this series were taken during the G8 summit in Prague in 2000. The series documented a small intervention in the street protests that accompanied the summit. The photo shows improvised “leaflets” with feminist and anti-globalization slogans, written by hand on sanitary pads.


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STOP. Documentation of the action, a series of digital photos. 2000


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ТЕХНИК А A series of objects where a simple drawing set (coloured pencils and sharpeners) itself became a piece of art. The routine process of sharpening a pencil, taken to an absurd extreme, becomes a creative experiment. This series can be described as a miniature sculptural composition, using mixed media. It also resembles a game people play when peeling potatoes: what is the longest spiral you can make, going around the potato with a knife.

MIXED MEDIA. A series of objects. 2013-2014


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Т Р Е Т Ь Я КО В К А Welcome Under the Table. Text by Alexandra Novozhenova, WONDERFUL TRANSFORMATIONS / BIG AND SMALL, page XXX


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Installation, WELCOME UNDER THE TABLE


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У Б О РК А The installation Full-Scale Clean Up was made for the YEYO (“Her”) exhibition, curated by Oksana Sarkisyan at the Zarya Centre for Contemporary Art in Vladivostok. The name of the project is an ironic reference to the total installation genre. The idea was to clean the premises using acrylic paints instead of water. The exhibition raised the theme of the women’s movement and the female subject in art. My intention was to make fun of the common cliche that cleaning is women’s work.

FULL-SCALE CLEAN UP. Installation, objects. 2015


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Ф Р ОТ ТА Ж И These works were made in different cities for various exhibitions. The idea is that the image is created mechanically by the frottage technique (paper is placed on any surface and a relief image is obtained using graphite or a pencil). Since the project was originally conceived for an exhibition dedicated to the city, the surfaces were signs of various city institutions, but then I also “copied” commemorative plaques, fragments of sculptures and architectural elements. The geography of the project is extensive: Moscow, Samara, Kharkov, Kiev, Tallinn, Vienna, Murcia. After Moscow, where guards at the FSB building and bank security guards confiscated the works I had just made, everything in Tallinn was child’s play – I took a copy of the sign outside the parliament building in a minute and no one paid the slightest attention to what I was doing.

FROTTAGES. Paper, graphite. Various sizes. 2010-2011


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ЮБКИ My intension in this project was to make fun of the stamp that exists around the artistic phenomenon of Suprematism. The shape of some of Malevich’s classic figures is less than perfect. I saw them as trapeziums, reminiscent of miniskirts.

SKIRTS. Canvas, acrylic. 60 x 60 cm. 2006


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MYSELF. Photo with my teacher


ХХХ Alexandra Galkina’s installation in the lobby of the New Tretyakov Gallery, laid out under and on a giant table, is her first work on such a large scale. As we at once see from the cyclopean piece of kitchen furniture, which makes a roof over other exhibits of the installation, it is also a work that plays with scale. The table defines the boundaries of the exhibition and separates it off from the emptiness of the multilevel space around it. Without the gigantic table, the artist’s intervention would dissolve into an emptiness between staircases. The Gallery lobby, a space that merely leads to the exhibition halls, is an antechamber to the history of art, suitable for things that are temporary and untried, such as the first total installation by a young female artist, intended to be of short duration and to divert the viewer on his/her way to the “real” exhibitions. Galkina herself clearly sees the work differently, but persuading the museum to carry out her plan was not easy. Before the table came to the lobby of the New Tretyakov, a competitor was there waiting for it, a competitor in both size and repute – Vladimir Tatlin’s model of his vast, never-implemented architectural project, the Monument to the Third International (Tatlin’s Tower). While Galkina’s table is scaled up, the Tower model is scaled down by many times from the impracticable, original idea of ​​the first years after the Revolution. In its museum context the model becomes a monument to the exorbitant, impossible ambitions of the left-wing avant garde. The Tower lives on the threshold of halls that contain “real” works. Although reduced, it is still too largae for conventional exhibition, which even in the New Tretyakov Gallery – a museum of “contemporary” art – is based on painting, with everything else (objects, photographs, installations) tagging along behind. The Gallery’s exhibition halls do contain modern reconstructions of lost objects, but specifically as objects of art. The Tower is banished to the hall because it is an architectural model. When she designed her installation Galkina gave much thought to how she would neutralize or conceal the Tower, meeting the challenge posed to the enormousness of her table by this avant-garde masterpiece. The everyday, prosaic nature of the table –gigantic, but


emphatically ascetic and neutral – seemed at war with the pathos of Tatlin’s constructivist spiral. But the museum would not consent to Galkina’s plans for interaction between table and Tower: to hide the latter under a giant tea cosy or to fence it off behind a false wall with a window through which it would be visible (“You can see Tatlin’s Tower from our window”). Russia’s principal museum of national art is a special place, authorized to exalt the things kept here to the status of great art, making them objects of “museum scale”, proportionate in their symbolic significance to the significance of this august institution. Galkina’s table seemed to translate the metaphor of great art to “great” in a purely quantitative sense. But the point of this gigantic table is not merely, by its “greatness”, to poke fun at the greatness of museum masterpieces. Outsize tables and household objects are often found in art (at least since the advent of pop art). Galkina needed the table, not as an attention-grabbing object, which becomes art and stands out from reality by its amazing size. Despite its magnitude, Galkina’s table is deliberately neutral in terms of texture and proportions. It is realistic, preserving the illusion of “real” furniture that has been enlarged by some ordinary magic, but remains unassuming and gray, almost like a false wall or the podium beneath a museum exhibit. In school textbooks for the study of foreign languages, pictures of tables are often used to illustrate the use of prepositions (“beside”, “above”, “under”, “near”). Galkina’s neutralized “ordinary” table has a similar function – as a bare, phenomenological structure (the table does indeed appear naked), which plays out the artist’s relationship with aesthetic law and even real law in a new way. In this sense, the “hall-as-street” may not have been the worst context for the table. Asked by the museum to design an installation at the approaches to high art, Galkina was in the position of a guest of the museum. But, by building a giant table, she built herself a house or, rather, a shelter for her work in an open space that extends upwards for several floors, so that objects of any height – even objects as tall as the model Tower – would otherwise be lost. In the shelter under the table Galkina has invited visitors to come to the museum as if to her home. She has shown an ability not to distinguish where foreign territory begins. Albeit by invitation and with


permission, she has managed, at least in fantasy, to realize the original principle of the avant-garde, for which there are no “alien” places in art, but only shared places. At the same time, she has obtained something that she could call her own. Welcome Under the Table is an invitation to bypass the “grownups” and enter a safe space where the artist creates her own little world under the nose of the art world. This little world is not illegal (everything was done with the approval of the museum authorities), but, nevertheless, the works that are exhibited under the table would hardly satisfy the requirements of a large-scale (total) installation. The table also shelters Galkina’s own desire in art, keeping it separate from any response to a demand and establishing two levels of the artist’s presence on the premises of the museum. As in her previous work, Galkina needs to play with the law even as she stands close up against it. The different floors of the installation define relationships between the seniors who make the rules and the juniors who do not have independence of action and decision. On this occasion the law is not presented as specific limitations which are imposed in the real world, but is played out in the form of stage props from the life of giants who are made to appear really present. This presence of the seniors is not meant as a hyper-reality, inducing paranoia or negative emotions, but is tamed by its placement in the kitchen at home. An invitation under the table can only come from a young creature who is not master in the house: from a child, a dog or a cat, or even a mouse. Such little ones do not have full legal rights, but they are constantly expanding the sphere of what is permitted to them. Such creatures go their own way under the noses of the grown-ups, but without being noticed or, perhaps, with the tacit consent of the grown-ups. Without the “giants” – potentially dangerous if only because they could inadvertently tread on you – life under the table would not be so interesting. They are necessary in order to make “childish” feelings complete, but they are only partially presented – by the video projection of several pairs of huge shifting legs that fill the entire space between two legs of the table. The sound that accompanies the video of the legs is also a noise metonymy rather than articulate speech. It has no clear meaning.


The seniors or rather, their legs and shoes – on the basis of which the juniors have to guess (by imagination or by smell) what more there might be to them – are really a phantom, an imitation of the presence of ill-defined forces. The legs seem to belong to gigantic beings, but they wear jeans, sneakers and slippers, and in the background we can see what resembles the artist’s studio. Maybe these aren’t grown-ups, but an older sister and friends or the artist herself – playing the role of giantess – and her friends. In any case, this supposedly dominant “above-the-table” class is strangely lacking in status and seems unconcerned about what is going on under its feet. “Don’t let the giants see you!”. But they don’t have eyes – the video projection cuts the figures in half. Having installed her table with the permission of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Galkina must enact a technically challenging performance, by which the viewer cottons onto the semi-legality of his/her visit to the artist who feels at home though she is a guest. The exaggerated suspense is indeed childlike – whispering nonsense in secret from an elder sister or pretending to be afraid of mother’s threats to call the police. Not just enlarging but exaggerating the seniors, while making no reference to the real forces at play in the museum. Under-the-table as a shelter, where Galkina shows a dozen small and personal works, is not just a place to have fun, with limited risk, right under the noses of the grown-ups. It is also a refuge for the artist and her works. This is not just a public exhibition, but also a personal dwelling, a safe space for her alone amid the emptiness of the museum lobby. At the lower level of this safe place, the artist demonstratively places objects that are important to her personally. They do not follow the avant-garde imperatives of purity of the medium, which have been the internal law of many of her previous works. Under the table – or rather, on the false wall that stands at some distance from the table– are Galkina’s self-portraits (some of them with a cigarette… “What, you smoke !?”), portraits of her relatives (lino cuts with old Soviet wallpaper, based on photos from the family album) and a drawing of the shirt of her beloved and recently deceased grandfather. Here we have a ceramic sculpture of the “family nose”, enlarged to the size of a piglet (the only “enlarged” object which is under, and not above the table).


Genetics is in a way the opposite of artistic appropriation: instead of new generations choosing what to take from their predecessors, the ancestors confer family traits upon their children. Galkina has never before spoken “in the first person”. Here for the first time she does not provoke, does not evade censure, does not present an alter ego, but furtively brings what is “small and personal” into the Big Museum, under the table. Her approach has changed: in the under-the-table works (the ceramic nose and lino cuts with wallpaper) she sets herself new tasks that require artistic craft and practice, insisting that, for now, such a strategy is more important to her than technically simple, seemingly impromptu provocations. It was as if she had become bored of being a “young artist” but, instead of becoming an adult, she wanted to become very small, even tiny, so that she could remain in art and at the same time shut herself off from the avant-garde, which makes it harder for her feel at home. The impression is that Galkina wanted some security for herself, or at least a roof over her head (a table is quite a basic object, offering little by way of comfort). In this sense, the fact that the personal can only be located underneath and that the gaze of the grown‑ups is cut off by the edge of the projection confirms the importance for Galkina of escaping from observation and judgment. The only question is what exactly this gaze might be, which the artist reconstructs and so assiduously “neutralizes”. Instead of the foundations of a medium, Galkina has occupied herself with family history, finding a new ideal not in activists, but, unexpectedly and perhaps for the first time, in a man – her own recently deceased grandfather, to whom some “metonymic portraits” under the table are devoted (for example, the drawing, already mentioned, of his favourite shirt). Asked for a solo installation in the Tretyakov Gallery, Galkina appears suddenly disillusioned with challenging gestures. Of course, it would be hard to win the museum’s consent to them and pure institutional criticism is not a task, which the artist sets herself in this “work of imagination”. It was not easy for Galkina to build the table (departing from her usual DIY approach, she had to ask other people to make a large part of the installation objects) and to carry out her plans. Creating, with her good giants, a mirage of the law, she does not play up and flaunt the institutional obstacles she encountered in


her work with the museum. The impression from the table is that nothing in the museum space concerns Galkina – her fingers no longer itch for a juicy marker pen with which to play havoc. On the contrary, she puts frames around fragments of family comfort and family history. At the end of the day, little people, unlike terrorists, need family. Specially for the portraits of her “family” heroes, the artist learns the linocut technique, softer than stencil, old-fashioned, but new for her and requiring practice, and makes prints of her relatives on old wallpaper with flower patterns, an endeavour that gives her quiet pleasure. We seem to be witnesses of the mellowing of a concise and acerbic female artist. A little more and, who knows, she may feel the urge to put a tablecloth over the table –what a pleasing addition it would be to this square and bare object. Sitting under the tablecloth would be even nicer. But Galkina seems in every way opposed to the illusion of total immersion in a constructed environment – to what is expected from a “total installation”. She does not ask us to immerse ourselves, but to think up or imagine a connection between elements that are not fully coherent, while providing contradictory clues at different levels of the work. She preserves the gaps between the parts and between the diverse media (the distance between the wall on which the legs are projected and the table itself, the table as half-object, the half-pedestal, the partiality of the giant legs and their obscure status, the heterogeneity and confusion of proportions, achieved by the welter of different media and the jumps in scale; video, papier-mache, linocut, ceramics, plaster board). All of this requires study and cannot be read off all at once, as it could be if a “holistic world” had been enlarged for the viewer to lose him/herself in. But something has changed. Previously (remember Skirts), Galkina erased second layers, second tiers, second meanings, doing without sentimental connections. Now she wants to put down roots, not in occupied public places, but in her own private genealogy, although situated in the midst of a public space. So under-the-table is a shelter for personal and family acceptance, opposed to the hypercritical essence of the lone avant-garde female artist. But the table is also seen from above. From the balconies of the upper floors, it appears as an “object of great art” or a pedestal for a series of objects – a set of, originally miniature, doll’s house tableware enlarged in proportion to the table. These objects


confuse, once and for all, the hierarchy of original sizes, proportions of scaling and proportions of various realities –human, toy, imaginary and represented. Did something happen in this work – apparently static, like the table on four legs – that is analogous to the living act or frozen trace of an act from the artist’s previous works? Since Galkina here urges us to complete her thought, to connect across the gaps she has left in the installation, we can imagine that the artist did not spend months designing the table and dishes, did not order their creation by subcontractors, but took a magic wand, pointed it at a table bought in a furniture store and, hey presto (everything is possible, if a little one believes in miracles), enlarged it to the size of a house fit for guests. Clearly, she also enlarged the “family nose”. It once seemed to her too noticeable on her own face, but now it even seems not large enough in its inherited uniqueness, and the artist has monumentalized it in an outstanding sculptural form unique to her name. One can imagine that Galkina has had her magic wand for some time and that it not only enlarges, but also reduces. In Welcome Under the Table the transformations are laconic but good-natured – such is the appearance of the doll’s house dishes , enlarged to match the scale of the table. Unlike the table, which has kept “human” proportions, Galkina has created the tableware by pointing her wand at the tiny furnishings of a doll’s house. In the bowls, glasses and saucepan, the change in scale suddenly presents itself to the eye at the level of the material and in the deformation of proportions. These items acquire the quality of “sculpture” from a disproportion between their height and the thickness of their sides and from the inconsistency between their materials, shaped by hand, and the industrial origin of their plastic or metal originals (the giant doll’s-house saucepan that uses papier-mache to imitate metal). The clumsy strangeness of the objects makes us read them not as enlarged objects of the human world, but as sculptures, whose original existence is artistic; placed on the table, they are raised, as if standing on a pedestal. Never a part of human life and enlarged from miniscule originals to the size of monumental sculpture, the tableware is in stark contrast with the flat “realism” of the unstaged video projection. The giants are shown up to the waist, cut off at the level of the tabletop, and the


“giant” toy tableware, although in scale with the “seniors”, exists outside their purview, in a dimension that is parallel to them – the dimension of art. The tableware is not actually meant for the digital video giants, who, after all, are without eyes, mouths and hands: between the characters “sitting” at the table and the objects standing on the table there is a gap and discrepancy at the level of imaginary and real, of everyday and artistic origin. Lately, it seems, Galkina prefers enlarging to reducing. It seems hard to imagine that once upon a time this same fairy, more provocative and uncompromising, turned the authoritative phalluses of militant feminists into little pricks or smuggled representations of turds onto a gallery floor. In Welcome Under the Table, the artist has certainly shrunk her public , but she has become much more tolerant towards it – the reduction is not malicious, but confidential and even emancipatory in nature. It scales down, but does not belittle those whom Galkina invites under the table to share what is most important to her in this period of her creative and family biography – new family identifications that have suddenly became the formal and technical essence of her work. But if we heed Galkina’s call to complete in imagination the logic that obtains between the scales and realities, which she has jumbled together, and if we believe in everything she has proposed that we believe in, the question remains: why did the artist not use her wand to shrink the model of Tatlin’s Tower?

WONDERFUL TRANSFORMATIONS / BIG AND SMALL Alexandra Novozhenova


ALEX ANDR A GALKINA А–Я, 2019 With the support of Smart Art: Ekaterina Vinokurova, Anastasia Karneeva Design Vitya Glushchenko Masha Gavrysh Translation Ben Hooson Special thanks to Ikuru Kuwajima for all kinds of technical help Photography Benjamin Allers, Sasha Auerbakh, Alexandra Galkina, Ivars Gravlejs, Sasha Kurmaz, Anton Kuryshev, Lena Martynova, Nadya Melekhova, Natasha Polskaya, Sveta Shuvaeva, Igor Fatkin, Stella Art Foundation, V-A-C Foundation, Whitechapel Gallery Cover photo Photo with my teacher Printed at 7BC


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ALEXANDRA GALKINA  

ALEXANDRA GALKINA  

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