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Aesthetic games

By Boris Bernstein

What is going on here? The same figure of Nikita is placed on four, sometimes on three or even two, identical rectangular sheets of paper: the boy is walking, or sitting on the sand, or stretching his arms towards somebody there are no explanatory details, but the lighting, shadow, and the way the figure is drawn leave no doubt of the environment: sunlight, sand, beach. The aesthetic adventures happen in open spaces. The sheets are mounted in simple arrangements on a background of thick paper, akin to wallpaper, with repetitive patterns or images.

The repetition of the main graphical theme has an analogue in the domain of poetry. Nikita repeated two or three times in the same pose can be compared to a tautological rhyme, which, of course, is never vacuous. Its context supplies it with meaning. These rectangular sheets are embedded in the active visual context of the background. The colored background with its patterns and drawings creates new relationships every time due to the supporting or contrasting interaction of the "wallpaper" with the color of the figure. The drawings and decorative patterns of the background are also not indifferent to the mood of the figures. In other words, the metamorphoses of the background create new emotional situations in every one of the works.

In the end, the titles, too, are a kind of context. Each composition in the series has a name in addition to a number: Tango, Rondo, Allegro, Canon, Chaconne, Samba, Tango nuevo... The musical names prompt the appropriate musical associations.

One of the musical titles is puzzlingly out of place: a personal name -- Steve Reich -- takes place of a genre designation. Like Peter Pan from the home series, it disturbs the homogeneity of the sequence. Possibly, it bears a similar semantic load. A personal name in this context is more than just an associative title of a piece; it is rather a pointer, a road sign. Steve Reich is a well-known contemporary American composer, one of the founders of minimalism in music. His compositions usually lack marked beginnings and endings and consist of monotone repetitions of short musical phrases, subjected to barely noticeable variation: instruments sounding in unison periodically diverge and converge again due to different tempos, the basic acoustic background is overlaid with extraneous fragments, etc. It would be an oversimplification to say that Kazanskaya transports the devices of musical minimalism into spatial simultaneity, but there are evident conceptual similarities: the repetition of the basic motif, discreet, often barely noticeable variational shifts, the juxtaposition of heterogeneous visual systems the imitational three-dimensional and the decorative planar.

This is one of the strategies for ascending from purely (or predominantly) representational work to specialized, purely visual, or, as they were once called, formal games in their contemporary version. I think that the approach employed by Maria Kazanskaya is singular in that she never pushes either of the two opposing principles to the limit, but in constantly shifting in either direction to keep the live, mobile balance between "representing the absent" and "proclaiming own presence". Thus, Nikita in The Game of Life, multiplied, changing colors, mirror-reflected, turning from painted blob to line drawing, disappearing within his own outline, still never becomes a purely visual thing among other visual things. He keeps his dominant role, remains the master of the game, and most importantly, he manages to remain the human image of a boy. In a series that has ventured far into the domain of game, there's still a lot of life.