On Labyrinths… Indrikis Gelzis’ exhibition at “Vartai”

The first annoying thing about Indrikis Gelzis is that it is hard to obtain a continuous “narrative” in his exhibition. That is interesting. Gelzis is interesting, because it is hard to relate the exhibited works with concepts. That is annoying. However, evaluating all the exhibits as an entity, one can assume that Gelzis is trying to be witty. On the other hand, scanning all the exhibits once more, one can assume that Gelzis is not trying to be witty. This must be the statement of Gelzis’ generation: indeterminacy.

It seems that the artist sometimes ruminates on how to express the idea materially in an adequate way, and expresses it almost flawlessly, but something like a shadow of this rumination and indecisiveness is still felt. I am talking about the feet (“We Have Something in Common”, 2015). The idea is clear, all is witty, but was it not possible to express this idea in forms slightly purer than this? The chosen form, is it the most adequate, the purest?

The same can be said about “Meeting” (2012). Unexpected, yes, somewhat witty, but it seems that this “formal unexpectedness” replaces the very idea. As in: here, see how original I am, nobody (?) has ever come up with something like this before: Zhiguli is being steered from the inside of the car, but the people are sitting on the outside. It is not easy, standing face to face with some of the works, to get rid of an impression that, after coming up with an interesting plastic solution, the works were not developed any further; or, the aforementioned “discovery” became an object for speculation. This applies to another exhibition of Gelzis, “Blind Sounds”: a drum, a piano, an accordion (not exhibited at “Vartai”), and a live artist laced together.

Inventive and witty, yes, but it all seems a bit too superficial, too aimed at being the decorative “funny” object art, overabundant in the contemporary art market and biennials. As if formal and conceptual solutions, truly actual in the 90’s, were consciously turned into cheapish consumer goods.

Introductory texts accompanying the works add to this impression. Some works, one would assume, are of deliberate punkish idiocy, but their explanations are very deep and serious. The artist’s works, apparently, efface the limits of interpretability… Problems of individual perception are interwoven with the depths of phenomenology… Could it be that the artist contrasts deep philosophical concepts with (some) quite straightforward works on purpose? I would not say so. This is serious, it seems. So we come to doubt: does the artist really know the message that he wants to convey?

Could it not be what we all know as the inferiority complex, when one is trying to appear wiser and more conceptual than one really is? When one cannot play the part properly anymore, mistifications by “accompanying texts” ensue. In other words, a smokescreen is thrown up in hopes that what the work (or thought) lacks will be compensated by “mystery” or “riddle”. I could not say that the Latvian does exactly that. Nevertheless, while checking out his exhibition at “Vartai”, certain doubts arise.

These doubts are supported by the artist’s webpage, where a high (?) institutional rank is emphasised tirelessly. The image of a (young) “successful artist” is attached to every work (“distinguished” institutions where the work was exhibited, names of the curators, etc.), which creates an impression that the conjunctural “prestige” ought to compensate what the works lack… Attempts are made at compensating the weaknesses of works with institutional regalia. As if regalia improve the works by default.

Partly so. For it is all, probably, necessary signs of stratification that enable the system to recognise its certain element (in this case, an artist) and decide its past, present, and maybe future spot in that system. This system of signs is necessary for those who want to be successful in this contemporary art system. One must not exist as an “unidentified object” sans regalia in this system. It is a kind of “passport”, such as military symbols or, more radically, (Soviet) inmates’ tatoos. Thus, by collecting and demonstrating these signs of recognition (both in the sense of “identity” and “appreciation”), Gelzis behaves, we could say, just as every other participant of the system should.

Internet comes in handy when we do not want to (over)criticise Indrikis Gelzis. Getting to know the works presented in Gelzis’ website and discovering a wider spectrum of these works clarifies the situation, and we must eat some of our “accusations”. Firstly, some works exhibited at “Vartai” become more readable, secondly, the entirety of “topics” prefered by the artist becomes clearer. Of course, the disproportion between the works and their introductory texts remains obvious. The texts are fine, most of the works are fine, too, but they do not relate. Deep textual parables, appearing exactly where they are not needed, mislead the spectator.

However, having in mind not only Gelzis’ exhibition at “Vartai”, which, let us say, was not too successful, but also his other works, a few essential ideas emerge. Gelzis’ manipulations with Zhiguli, in “Meeting” and in other videos, as well as “interweaving” two Zhigulis into one, as if they were one and the same Zhiguli and, at the same time, each other’s mirror images, a paradoxical doubling of objects, suggests a “dead centre”, an “impasse”, a “vicious circle”, especially when talking about (post)Soviet history. It becomes a sort of axis of some Gelzis’ works. Zhiguli is a direct allusion to Soviet times. Of course, perhaps it is simply easy and cheap to get them in Latvia? We can see the doubling and paradoxicalisation of the “in front of” principle, which are possible only in media and only as concepts, prevail in quite a few other works of Gelzis. For example (if I am not mistaken) Gelzis captures himself and his scream in one point of landscape and, at the same time, the echo of the scream in another. The sequence of his scream and its echo, closing in itself, is edited into a video, as if your mirror image were as (un)real as you are.

On the other hand, this materialisation is only successful in Gelzis’ works when that which is usually understood as virtual – thought, media, minor visual “corruptions” of media, its distortions – turn into an object, part of an object, and the very idea “materialised”. These tricks are usual in paper or virtual schemes, sketches, or thoughts, when an object and the coordinates that define it are abstracted to certain arbitrary conventions – we draw a “model” of a closet or a shelf and write numbers that mark their measurements. Both the closet and its coordinates function in the same level of meaning, as conventional signs or as equally “objective” symbols. We can say the same about schemes of buildings…

Of course, it is a closet, a shelf or a building that are virtualised in these schemes and sketches. Gelzis turns these conventional systems of signs, i.e., virtualisation, upside down and, next to a real shelf, i.e., an object, turns a (otherwise virtual) system of coordinates into an object in the true sense of this word. The result… really directs one’s mind towards phenomenological oddities and paradoxes. Thus, the introductory texts are not completely “out of place”, after all.

The works exhibited in Gelzis’ “Specifying interpretations on a single individual” (2014) have a similar effect. Here, objects and their shapes “coincide” with “noises” found in the Virtual: sometimes, sculptural objects are shaped as if they were observed on (analogue) TV and a defective antenna had distorted, stretched etc. a part of their image. Spectator’s vision, perception, and cultural experience influencing the former are manipulated by alternating and contrasting the material and the virtual, the real and the unreal.

In conclusion, Gelzis did not maintain the control over his exhibition at “Vartai”; perhaps he chose unmatching works and that is why the whole seems sketchy. The narrative is a bit abstruse. But, if we were to discuss Gelzis’ works in general, I would say everything is all right, more or less in proper places. Personal contents and the wit that emanates from them are successfully combined with the conjectural superstructure that is characteristic or even obligatory in the system of contemporary art galeries and bienials. It is obvious that the artist is prone to “punk it up” a little, but keeps his head, knows what and how he is allowed to say, how not to be rude, he keeps his wit qualitative and in the boundaries of bon ton, weaves some “metaphysical depths” into his works, for official recognition and institutional prestige are important to him, too.

There is, naturally, nothing wrong with that, if not for a “filter” that is imposed on the works of the artists that function inside this system; it can be seen as a sort of pervasive, everywhere and at all times recognisable and comfortable “style”. We can say that Gelzis’ works are standardly good and standardly original. Just what the system needs. Just what an artist, who wants to stay in the system, needs. We can say that it is a playful labyrinth of meanings and forms, which is worthy of recognition, but more or less predictable and safe. Contemporary art of the correct kind.

Originally published in Lithuanian art daily Artnews.lt, 17 02 2015, http://www.artnews.lt/apie-labirintus-indrikio-gelzio-paroda-galerijoje-vartai-27272








Photographs by Arnas Anskaitis

Kęstutis Šapoka
March 4, 2015
Published in Review from Lithuania
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