The Present and Presence: Repetition 5 - Doubles

Yuri Albert, Letters to Brother Theo, 1992-1994, photo: Dejan Habicht, Matija Pavlovec (© Moderna galerija, Ljubljana)

Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Maistrova 3, Ljubljana

Repetition 5 centers on the concept of the double. The works from The Present and Presence featuring the Arteast 2000+ collection that have been brought into focus are Kazimir Malevich's The Last Futurist Show, Belgrade (1985-86); Ion Grigorescu's films Ame-Animus (1977), Masculine/Feminine (1976), and Dialogue with Ceausescu (1978); and Yuri Albert's Letters to brother Theo (1992-94).

Romanian artist Ion Grigorescu did most of his performances in the 1970s in his own apartment, with the film camera his only audience. At the time, Romania was in the throes of one of the most repressive Eastern European dictatorships, which made the very idea of publicly presenting such projects unthinkable. In his performance art, Grigorescu explored the boundaries of his body, which he saw both as a double, i.e. his self, and as an enemy. Only by reiterating major social traumas was he able to feel alive under the prevailing repression. His work portrays his experience of social isolation, marginalization, and vulnerability (for example, in Dialogue with Ceausescu he assumes the role of both the dictator and himself; in Masculine Feminine he appears as two genders; and in Ame-Animus he grapples with his soul). American anthropologist Katherine Verdey recognized a "social schizophrenia" in socialist Romania, which she described as an ability to experience "a real meaningful and coherent self only in relation to the enemy party."

Seventy years after the first staging of the Last Futurist Show, Kazimir Malevich staged an exact replica of the Saint Petersburg exhibition in an apartment in Belgrade, putting into focus the concept of the copy and the original in art; the artist declared the copy as more important than the original, and copying as an attitude to art. "In our culture a copy is still deemed less valuable than the original," he explained. "Looking at it from a different vantage point, however, we can see that a copy may be far more complex than the original, entailing, in addition to the idea of the original, a new idea of the copy."

One of the most prominent members of Moscow Conceptualism, Russian artist Yuri Albert copied by hand three hundred Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo, only changing the date of their writing and the signature, which he replaced with his own. His reason for doing this was, as he writes, that he had always wanted to be a real artist, but he could only make contemporary art, which in his view was a terrible sin. He felt a need to repent for his irresponsibility, to suffer. In the old days, it was customary for sinners to copy holy texts; by analogy, the artist decided to copy the letters to Theo. He chose Van Gogh because his suffering and death changed art fundamentally.

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