Published to Exhibitions on May 12, 2016

A Face-to-face Confrontation with the Abject

by Beral Madra

A frosty hand partly illuminated with a stripe of light is stretched under the ghostly colored flowers; a museum glass box preserves a running human figure; in a dark night a man is running through an evil wood; insignificant viewers sitting in an open wood space are stunned to look to a spectral light game; a landscape distorted up to an abstract chaos slightly revealing human presence; men conducting a mysterious labor around a well-lit white square platform or is it a nuclear pool; a mighty hexagonal mirror reflects a dark figure looking into a dimly lit bedroom exposed to an evil wind; ambiguous figures deal with weird objects spread in the dark park ground in a night city-scene with suspiciously lit sky in the background.

These are some of the abject paintings of Andrei Gamart, who is having his solo-show in MOBIUS GALLERY in Bucharest. As a first reaction to the impact of these paintings, I will quote Julia Kristeva in her essay Powers of Horror with that crucial question: In the end, our only difference is our unwillingness to have a face-to-face confrontation with the abject. Who would want to be a prophet? For we have lost faith in One Master Signifier. We prefer to foresee or seduce; to plan ahead, promise a re-covery, or aesthetize; to provide social security or make art not too far removed from the level of the media. In short, who, I ask you, would agree to call himself abject, subject of or subject to abjection? (1)

The question prevails for all of us living in the age of Post-history. How should we approach paintings in today’s turbulent and manipulated visual image production and consumption; in today’s discourse on end of history, end of capitalism, end of art? Particularly when we see paintings like Gamart’s full of references to overwhelming and depressive global neo-capitalist culture, to the heavy burden of history and memory, and to the crisis of art?

Since 1970’s, after all Fluxus, Conceptual Art, Minimal Art, Land Art productions, art critics and protagonist artists have claimed the end of painting. This claim is still a discussion and based on a list of thesis starting from Hegel exampled in “Art no longer affords the satisfaction of spiritual needs which earlier ages and nations sought in it, and found in it alone...” (2) goes over to Marcel Duchamp’s urinal exhibited as an artwork and in 20th century, through Modernism and Post-modernism art had shattered into a multitude of simultaneous forms and aesthetics. Last but not least Artur Danto in “After the End of Art” claimed that the commitment to mimesis began to falter during the nineteenth century due to the rise of photography and film. (3)

At each moment of this a century long accumulation the validity, authenticity and legitimacy of painting was negotiated and at each interval when we encounter paintings our gaze and desire is still embraced with pleasure and content.

What makes me negotiate about the end of painting when I try to interpret the paintings of Gamart is their force of mirroring various stages of the history of painting, of challenging our cultural memory as well as their surrealist content reflecting our ambiguous notions and understanding of the world we live in. These paintings with their content and references may indicate end of history, but with their re-configured aesthetics they re-generate a new experience for painted images.

In relation to historical paintings, in Gamart’s paintings one can perceive and associate two themes, namely Hell or Apocalypse versions for example as depicted in Jan Breughel (1568-1625)’s Orpheus in the Underworld (4) and Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) The Last Judgement-The Fall of the Damned (5) as well as the Gothic/Romantic landscapes that invite integration into the nature with the spiritual self, with sublimity, with the presence of God and religious mysticism in paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. It is argued that Friedrich's paintings have influenced a number of Hollywood directors, but converted to mystery, horror and fantasy genre. Through the re-considered mystic and apocalyptic image vocabulary in Gamart’s paintings we are invited to deal with today’s eerie imagery - mainly produced by technical images of global media and Hollywood - metaphorically categorized through the uncanny relics of history.

In today’s paintings the Post-internet generation artists are facing a dilemma of perpetual renegotiation between traditional and technical images. There is still a thirst for believing in the compassionate qualities in paintings and therefore an aspiration to re-interpret the art historical painting. At the same time due to the actuality of technical images with their post-painting, post-historical, post-human implications there is a need to ensure self-assertive approaches to the point of subjectivity and relational aesthetics in paintings. Gamart’s paintings inciting and stirring the memory, calling association to traditional paintings and provoking the intellectual accumulation with cinematographic imagery convinces the viewer to believe in continuity of painting.

The examination of the imagery in Gamart’s paintings and their relation to contemporary art’s quest for dissident political potency reveals another association towards the ongoing debate on Post-history. The images, revealed as dark cityscapes juxtaposing landscapes, as insinuations to surreptitious labor, as scenes of crime or apocalypse, are seen to index a real within the current politics, established power and the constraining Neo-capitalistic forces of the world. In his series “Shifting Presence”(2013), Gamart almost predicts the current unprecedented human tragedy from the Middle East warzone to the Aegean and Mediterranean, which can be elucidated with the words of Villem Flusser in his Post-History : “We have lost faith in our culture, in the ground we tread. That is: We have lost faith in ourselves. It is this hollow vibration that follows our steps towards the future. What remains is for us to analyze the event ‘Auschwitz” in all its details in order to discover the fundamental project that realized itself for the first time, so that we may nurture the hope to project ourselves out of that project. Out of the history of the West. This is the “post-historical” climate in which we are condemned to live in from here on.”(6)

Beral Madra is an art critic and curator. She coordinated the 1st (1987) and the 2nd (1989) Istanbul Biennale, curated exhibitions of Turkish artists in 43rd, 45th, 49th, 50th and 51st Venice Biennale, co-curated the exhibition Modernities and Memories-Recent Works from the Islamic World in 47th Venice Biennale.

She has organized more than 250 local and international artists in her art centres and in other official art spaces in Istanbul. She curated and co-curated over 50 international group shows in different places around the world. She was a lecturer in the Art Management Department of the Faculty of Art and Design of Yildiz Technical University (1998-2002). She is founding member Diyarbakır Art Centre (established September 2002 ; founding member of Foundation of Future Culture and Art; founding member and honorary president of AICA, Turkey (established 2003): 2008-2010 Visual Arts Director of İstanbul 2010 ECOC, conducting the major projects. Lives and works in İstanbul.

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