The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2011

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SEPT 2011 Issue

AGA OUSSEINOV In the Middle of Erewhon II

On View
At The Pavilion Of Azerbaijan In The 54th Venice Biennale
June 4 – November 26, 2011
The airy assemblage of contraptions hooked to a network of pipes postures as necessary infrastructure. Or it could represent rigid arguments materialized and haphazardly welded together. With each new weld, the argument abruptly turns in a newly self-confident, misguided direction, then twisting among other arguments with the same fate, it finally breaks off, loses the thread.

Beneath the doomed arguments, this tangle of metal, with enigmatic film clips flickering in eccentric housings, scratched fresco reliefs, a cube shaped globe, and other curiosities, tracks desires seeking fulfillment, desires as inchoate as the calls of birds, which often appear in the hundreds of archaically stained drawings and watercolors that flutter around this installation in its conception. We’re awakened to where it is that we, like the birds, actually live—in remnants of the fleeting present hung on collapsing scaffolds of perspective, confused by lopsided trusses joining sounds, sights, and signs that enter the body through the various holes in the head.

Referring to Soviet “agit-trains” or “agitation machines,” even as it pretends to deliver a strong message that dissolves into twitters in the wind, this shadowy, involuted world also harks back to the artist’s childhood in Soviet Russia. The boy Aga can make no sense of the barrage of bombastic propaganda that, when not spilling out flagrant lies, still projects a world that has nothing to do with everyday life, but the modernistic technology that suffuses it fascinates him. With his day-world slipping in and out of daydreams, the image of this delightedly gloomy submersible vessel is born.

Now the world’s at sea again, signs and things become flotsam and jetsam swirling all around us.

But at least here and now, with friends on board, many more in the booths next door, we’re safe to regress with the artist into a shared dream that it’s some kind of game. We get to turn knobs, press buttons, peer through reticles at Lenin ranting in Chinese and other absurdities in a laughably incomprehensible adult world.

The bathyscaphe is organized around three symbolic, once functional objects the artists calls Periscope, Engine, and Weapon, each flickering with images (the detritus of present or immanent dysfunction). These images (many photographs by the artist’s wife, Irina) flicker in magic lantern shows, one featuring a vintage stereoscope. Fictive mechanisms fail to explain the source of irrationally (perhaps) juxtaposed stills. One film clip shows the feet of tourists at Santa Croce in Florence as they relentlessly erode and efface the carvings on the tombs in the floor. Warning signs blip in the mind.

In front of the entrance, a map of the installation is etched into and painted on the surface of a drafting board; the artist has also carved fanciful drafting equipment. The map only loosely alludes to the mapped. As if etched into ice by an Olympic ice dancer, the line glides, swoops, suddenly stops scratchily as if with the serrated brake on a skate’s blade, conjuring up fractured figures, gently, masterfully washed with tone.

In fact, in the artist’s blissful surrender, his drawing hand going gracefully crazy well represents the installation, though not too literally. The installation in turn well represents the world today—mechania collapsing into amechania (ancient Greek for helplessness); and now this world we’ve run ragged slips into the slipper the drawing hand offers, as poetry once again recognizes the unlikely bride.

After thought has caught up, fusing with sensation in the fertile connection, the love that’s being made to the dark world, as if to any of the dark spots in it, is real and passionate. This artist’s healing humor and physical touch not only purify and justify, but realize Heidegger’s claim that— “in the heart of the danger of technology lies the saving grace.”

Water stops heating up in order to boil, just as a point falling down a slope by its own momentum stops to turn and rise. At this hiatus, the energy turns inward; there’s only a change of heart in the heart of the motion briefly become stillness (the one transparent instant of the eternal now) where lies the saving grace, in the eye of the hurricane. Locate or recall the source where available, decode, then click in the names to reveal the ever more, but never quite focused image in the puzzle, then—quick, before the door closes—slip in to stay and dwell in the one middle of Erewhon and Erewhemos and Erewhyreve forever. (There is a smile of smiles that ends all misery though, alas, not all pain.)


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2011

All Issues