Conversation between Petar Cukovic and Oleg Kulik
about «Windows» project
Cukovic: Your new works are unexpected. Why this interest to landscape, a purely traditional genre for an artist whose name is mainly associated with radical performances?
Kulik: As for the notion of landscape/paysage the most interesting thing in it, from my point of view, is its ambivalence. It takes us into the deepest backwoods of language, history of art, philosophy. On the one hand, it covers real spaces, on the other hand, it means prefabricated reality, art, genre, simulacre, mental landscape, etc.
On the one hand, it is perception, on the other hand, it is representation. This opposition is of principal importance for me. My Windows is about that first of all. The changes in the landscapes of culture have a history as long and rich as the transformation of natural landscapes. The anthropological dimension of the landscape began with the projection of the ideal heavenly world in Renaissance painting, went through domestication and privatization of the landscape in Fraganar and Watteaux and the British painters of the 18th century. It is more and more conspicuous that the territory of the Divine serves as a background that turns into a backside for the human. Yet, if you still can't call landscapes by Poussin and Lauraine just a landscape, Constable made the romantic landscape into a sort of a total ready-made set in the customary Kantian frame. The floating border between the two worlds is topicalized and transformed into the barrier between the two natures - the Divine (mystical) and the Human (functional).
The English sensualism had a sophisticated game with Kant's frame, and with two planes - the everyday and the ideal. The borderline between them - a bridge, a ravine, a strip of unmown meadow is not striking here. And Kaspar David Friedrich who seated an owl on the border of these two territories, metaphorically speaking, made this pattern trivial, killing it. Here "nakedness of method" is only close to the indifference of surrealism and impressionism to the landscape as such. It is a prelude to the avant-garde where landscape gives way to mental landscapes, streams of light and various hallucinations.
The surrealists treat the landscape as a sign of the second order hallucination which confirms the hallucination of the first order i. e. of the Kantian painting-window. The second hallucination disavows the reality of the first one, turning it into a hallucination. In Magritte the "painting" and the "window" start an equal dialogue of two conventions.
And this is one step away from my "windows".
I have been concerned with one problem for many years. It is the possibility of a dialogue between two conventions, between reality and its representations.
For a long time I have been looking for a neutral landscape, which would stand at the maximum distance from the cultural & historical illusions this genre is rich with.
My work in Montenegro turned out to be great success last year. I have found the desirable type of the landscape, which remains "environment", being at the same time a representation of the cultural, historical and ethnic content of the country. The beautiful Montenegro is landscapes first of all (or has been so until recently).
I found an ideal coincidence of perception and representation in these landscapes. The everyday fades out the romance in them. One can photograph absolutely everything in Montenegro: everything is equally representative. Even the silence and immobility of the views are authentic. The first content to be read in the landscapes marked with taxidermic animals is ecological. Yet I would like to expand the ecological aspect so that it covered the ecology of mentality. But the anthropological dimension of mentality does not look obvious (animals are also capable of perception).
S. Yepishin, a Moscow critic, interpreted my Windows as a certain "session of mesmerism aiming to patch up the horizon torn apart by civilization and the practice of actual art." Horizon is the focus of the ideal and the real, "a line in the consciousness which runs forever." Horizon is a delusion. If you tear it at any point, you find yourself at the absolutely same landscape. Malevich believed that infinite universe is beyond the black square. But there is nothing there. Except the canvas frame.
Cukovic: How did this transition from transgressive gestures to formally quite traditional ones take place?
Kulik: It was evolutional. My performances of the early 90s were a reaction to the cultural layer that was disappearing right under my feet. A Dogman is a dubious figure, which stays outside culture, outside institutions, posing a question what culture and institutions are. I don't think that it is just a problem of post-soviet space and of no other. This problem refers to the place of man in this world. It is not an admission of weak-ness, on the contrary, it is the admission of excessive, destructive power of man. It is hard to be a man, but it is harder not to be one. Deep in my heart I am still a dog, but I'm no longer weak in my mad fury, I'm strong in deep compassion for other living beings. When I was a dog, I was a Bosnian, a Chechen, an artist from Russia and Montenegro, some seal's cub clubbed to death on ice. That is what determined my soft evolution inside the radical project.
Cukovic: What do your "windows" reveal to the spectator? What is he or she to see there?
Kulik: First of all, he or she is to see himself or herself, his or her reflection painted into the ideal, dead landscape without any traces of human activity. It is a paradise, an ideal world of the anthropocentrist. Here he continues to see wildlife. To please him I cleaned the landscapes from wires and pasture fences. There is no wildlife like that anywhere, no matter where you look for it: in the West, in he East, in the North or in the South. Even in Montenegro. It is a dead world. The living world is different. It is dirt, pain, death. It is not the spectator's evaluation that is really important for me in this project, it is the formal doubling of the spectator who is painted into the landscape (where the artist finds a place for him) and observes it from the outside (he positions himself). The spectator evaluates himself as a character and shares the responsibility with the author of the project.
Cukovic: There is no unified, general perspective here, is there?
Kulik: No. Everybody is simultaneously watching everybody. From my point of view the "perspective" of the glass eyes of the stuffed eagle hanging from the ceiling or of the sewn up gorilla are more important. The living can leave the observation area. They have a choice. Yet, when they stop, they lose that opportunity and turn into the hostages of the landscape, which, in its turn, is their hostage. Landscape is a trap on the borderline between the real world and the ideal, i.e. the dead world. The glass surface of the window allows for the focusing of these parallel worlds and for the parallel existence of the two types of spectators, of all perspectives. Glass is not only transparent, it retains the ability to reflect like a mirror.
Cukovic: What part an animal plays here? Is it a victim, is it to remind one of it?
Kulik: Not quite. I regard it as different visages of the Big Other. The dead animal is a symbol and an indispensable part of the ill social order. Ecological problems have become a shell for any social project, just like Microsoft Windows is a shell for any other program.
Cukovic: Your "windows" open out into very pessimistic views. For we cannot bring the dead back to life.
Kulik: No, we can't, but we can save the living. And we can do it in reality, not just in our imagination. We can save this horrible, stinking, unjust real world. The project is very pessimistic if spectators stroll around and feel happy, saying, what a wonderful show it is. If they see the horror of the killed reality in this beauty, then there is some hope for optimism. But I can't say anything depends on me here.
Let us go back to the problem of my evolution. As a matter of fact, I began my carrier in art with the search for a material that would not screen reality. It was glass at first. Then it was my own body, performance, photography, and even computer. And now it is glass again. It helps the eye to evade esthetic obstacles. But I did not understand very well what I wanted to see at the beginning of my carrier. I had to run about in the dog's skin for ten years to understand that I must see pain.*
*Recorded by Mila Bredikhina
Copyright Lena&Roselli Gallery 2019.