Azerbaijani artist and curator, Sabina Shikhlinskaya, speaks to Maria Webster about the opening of Metacode exhbition at Yarat Contemporary Art Space.
Baku: Which works in the exhibition do you find the most striking in terms of their narration of the relationship between the individual and society?
Sabina Shikhlinskaya: It is very difficult for me to single out any of the artworks presented at the exhibition in the context of this question, since all the works were collected by the curators and carefully selected based on a rather meticulous, long process. The main aim was to demonstrate the unique connection between antiquity and modernity, embodied by a special visual language (in our case, the language of abstraction and geometric construction of the visual image) and encoded in the compositions and concepts of the works of artists. I think that our curatorial “trio” – Shirin Melikova, Farah Alakbarli and me, managed to shape an amazing exposition. It includes works from both museums and private collections, as well as pieces created especially for this exhibition and presented for the first time to the audience. The works of Azerbaijani artists of different generations and working in various media, famous artists and emerging artists with vivid personalities, revealing in completely different ways the fundamental idea of the project, has created a multifaceted and impressive result, being combined into a single exposition.
Baku: What is the significance of the location of the exhibition?
SS: The “20th -21st Century Azerbaijani Painting” Museum is today one of the most significant exhibition spaces in our city. There are several reasons for this: the unique history of the area it is located in, where at the beginning of the 20th century the first oil rigs appeared and the fountains of oil clogged, marking the beginning of the “oil boom”. Today it is the area of the seaside boulevard, with a fascinating view of the Baku Bay; peculiar architecture of the building which was transformed from an industrial facility into a professionally equipped multifunctional space for exhibitions and various art events, from workshops and presentations to multimedia shows. Since the opening of this Museum and its reconstruction, it has hosted exhibitions that have become significant – retrospectives, personal exhibitions of modernist luminaries and thematic curatorial projects, popularising the creative achievements of contemporary Azerbaijani artists. To present a project in the space of the “20th -21st Century Azerbaijani Painting” Museum is not only prestigious but has already become a considerable part of the success of the presented exhibition.
Baku: What role do you think the Perestroika movement plays in the modern-day art world?
SS: The era of the Perestroika movement was a time of gradual gain of freedom. The late 1980s were that rare moment when alternative art began to use historical discourse in postmodern interpretations. All alternative art of the 1980s had astounding success with foreign art specialists, extraordinary and bright, for the first time it kept pace with world artistic processes but at the same time it still had a certain naivety as a consequence of a long stay behind the “Iron Curtain”. Perestroika irrevocably changed life, but the era of wild capitalism had forced to change, first of all, the attitude towards life itself. Azerbaijan gained its state independence, but this coincided with the most complex processes that happened as a result of the collapse of the USSR in the region and all over the world. At first Azerbaijan was faced with serious difficulties on the way to the successful restoration of national statehood and the implementation of the states of independence. Today, Azerbaijan, being a free, independent, and developing state, creates all conditions for the creative self-expression of representatives of culture and art, taking care of the preservation of its history and the cultural heritage of the nation. All these assets are now reflected in the work of modern representatives of Azerbaijani culture.
Baku: Which artistic medium in the exhibition speaks to you the most?
SS: It seems to me that the main effect that the curators counted on when assembling a collection for the METACODE exhibition, is the creation of a certain effect of a “visual symphony”, when unity is born out of multitude. Even though one of the most difficult tasks for the exhibition is the combination of various medium, the METACODE exhibition presents works of easel painting, graphics and sculpture; collage and textile; digital art – video art and multimedia installations. As an example, in a single art space one can find a cubist graphics and sculptural reliefs by Sanan Kurbanov made in the 1970s as well as an abstract textual composition on canvases of 2017 by Aida Mahmudova, and a lint-free carpet depicting a 2014 barcode by Tarlan Gorchu. Complementing each other, they all create the most interesting effect of visual variety and reveal the theme of the exhibition from different angles.
Baku: How did you decide upon the string quartet for the opening night?
SS: We were interested in the multimedia project show which was created by the composer and producer Gleb Andrianov. It was based on a mini concert accompanied by a string quartet, as well as a lighting effect, video mapping and live performance of the artist, improvising on a white canvas to music. The idea of the production was to convey worldview, embodied in musical rhythms and in visual compositions, and invited to think, comprehend, supplement, “finish drawing”. It was the so-called co-creation where everything is as one – the laws of the universe and the laws of creating art and empathy for the one who is involved as a viewer. The result was very impressive and added another facet to the concept of the METACODE exhibition project.
Baku: In three words how would you describe the atmosphere of the exhibition?
SS: Visual code of the universe or Inconceivability. Excitement. Recognition.
Baku: You mention the works in the exhibition are intrinsically linked with themes of national identity and philosophy – could you give an example of your favourite peice for each theme and how these themes are portrayed?
SS: For the curator, all the art works collected for the exhibition collection are equally important and equally loved. But it is rightly noted that almost all the works of artists presented at the METACODE exhibition reflect the theme of visual language based on historical traditions and peculiarities of the ancient cultural code. Each artist of the exhibition is original, but deep connection with semantic or visual traditional images both from the field of culture and art as well as science, enrich modern practices, filling them with historical content and create samples of contemporary culture in a global context with elements of national identity. Such an interaction of tradition and modernity creates very peculiar samples of works of contemporary art.
Baku: What does this exhibition mean to the young generation of Azerbaijani artists?
SS: Art is one of the ways of knowing the world and yourself. From ancient rock carvings to works by contemporary artists – all of them explore the surrounding space and place of a person in it. Each period in art is important to study and explore because it always reflects time. This is another way of understanding the history of mankind and its culture. Art not only spiritualises a person, but it also carries a huge sacred meaning and is able to change the world around a person which puts one on a par with science.
Being the descendants of the people who have already once created a unique visual language, embodying our national identity: stone plastic, carpets, miniatures, kufic typeface, architecture – its restoration, reconstruction of a set of ancient meanings and rethinking of traditional knowledge in the context of modernity seems relevant.
This was the basis of our curatorial research. I think that for the younger generation this topic represents interest, and the METACODE exhibition will serve as a guide to further study the historical and cultural heritage.
Baku: What does the future look like for Azeri conceptual art?
SS: It is difficult to predict how conceptual art will develop: whether it will completely go into the virtual space, or if it will still exist in the real word and replace the artificial intelligence of human creators? The acceleration of globalisation and the rapid development of technology make it possible to believe that in a few decades art will change dramatically – there will be new forms that we don’t even know about today.
Modern art is becoming more and more interactive every year. Today the viewer can interact with the artist and even participate in the creation of new works of art. Most likely with the development of existing and the emergence of new formats of interaction between the artist and the viewer, this trend will become even stronger.
Baku: What advice would you give to the next generation of Azeri creatives?
SS: My advice is more of a wish to future creators: Explore the possibilities of contemporary art and how the multimedia technologies can be used to its full potential for the cultural development and enlightenment of our society. To study and preserve historical and cultural heritage. To create projects and concepts to create and open artistic space without barriers to access beauty and knowledge for those who care about culture as the basis and future of civilization.
Photography by Ali Rza
Online Editor: Candice Tucker