Aslan Gaisumov: Crystals and Shards
October 11 – November 25, 2018
Aslan Gaisumov (born in 1991 in Grozny, Chechnya, lives in Grozny and Amsterdam) is an internationally successful young artist. He emerged in his early twenties, after participating in the Third Moscow Biennial for Young Art in 2012. After his first museum solo exhibition, at M HKA in Antwerp in 2016, he has participated in a number of international group exhibitions at venues such as Kunsthalle Wien and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, as well as in this year’s Liverpool and Riga biennials. Gaisumov was awarded the Future Generation Art Price by the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev in 2014 and the Innovation Price, in the ‘New Generation’ category, by Russia’s National Centre for Contemporary Art in 2016. His works are in prominent collections across Europe and Russia.
Gaisumov, who grew up during the two Chechen Wars of 1994–96 and 1999–2009, has gained recognition for his visually and conceptually convincing articulations of the country’s colonial history and recent past. Working with the moving image, with objects and installations and on paper, he has established himself as a shrewd, sophisticated transformer of historical wrongdoing – and in particular the void of silence that all too often cordons it off – into crystalline images that unite the corporeal and the analytic, the incandescent and the meditative.
Works such as People of No Consequence (2016, an eight-minute video of a room slowly filling up with elderly survivors of the deportations of 1944, when the Soviet authorities expelled the entire Chechen and Ingush nation to Central Asia) or Numbers (2015, 50 enamelled metal plaques with house numbers retrieved from the rubble of bombed-out Grozny, neatly displayed as a conceptual wall-piece) have established Gaisumov as a biennial- and museum-worthy artist who gets his formal references and presentational devices right, but also replenishes the vessel of contemporary art with a kind of ‘real-life’ content and subtext it is usually starved of: darker, deeper, denser.
Yet what makes it interesting and important for us at Kohta to feature Gaisumov is not how he has captured the art world’s attention or even how he, in his oeuvre to date, has used his selected artistic media to address needs and desires (for knowledge, understanding, respect, consolation) that are outside the scope of what art can realistically satisfy. While such appreciation of Gaisumov’s work remains relevant, another approach – analytical and speculative – has brought us to this exhibition. As he is learning how to turn sparkling ideas into crystals of thought, not least in his lens-based work, he is also feeling the urge to smash those finished constructions, look at the shards on the floor – and decide whether they should be put back together.
The two new works shown at Kohta embody this tension between the quest for perfection and openness to chance, between finished and unfinished action. (The latter is, by the way, also the driving engine of the Russian language, a tool for communication that in Gaisumov’s case is now being replaced by English, where the distinction between the definite and the indefinite is just as pivotal.) The exhibition reflects two different ways of working – oriented towards product and process – and perhaps also a breaking point, or at least a point of intense oscillation.
Keicheyuhea (2017, single-channel, HD video projection, colour, sound, in Chechen with English subtitles, 22’57”) is Gaisumov’s first ‘proper film’. It takes the form of a travelogue, clearly inspired by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami and his professed love for shooting cars in landscapes, people in cars and landscapes through car windows. Zayanu Khasuyeva, Gaisumov’s maternal grandmother, is being brought to the mountainous Galain-Chaz region from which she and all other inhabitants were expelled. It is the first time in 73 years that she is allowed back. The car stops as close as it is now possible to get to Kayçu-Yuxe, or Keicheyuhea (an adaptation of the current Cyrilic spelling of the Chechen name for her native village, which can be interpreted as ‘White Closeness’). Khasuyeva, standing at the roadside and leaning on a too-short stick, addresses the dead quiet valley: ‘Hail, place!’
Fearsome (2018) is titled after the colonial fortress that Russian general Alexei Yermolov founded in 1818 as a base for the subjugation of the Chechens and other peoples of the central Caucasus. Grozny may be translated as ‘fearsome’ or ‘menacing’ or ‘terrible’ (Ivan Grozny means Ivan the Terrible). These enamelled street signs – in Russian, from the Soviet period – which like the number plates were collected by Gaisumov from the debris created by Russian bombs, may or may not be a finished work. They make us think of the story, possibly apocryphal, of the soldiers who, during the Winter War, found an abandoned Soviet truck laden with enamelled signs – in Russian – for all the streets of Helsinki.
The book Aslan Gaisumov: Keicheyuhea will be launched in connection with this exhibition. It is the artist’s first monograph, published by Sternberg Press (Berlin) with support from the Han Nefkens Foundation (Barcelona), Kohta, Zink Galerie (Waldkirchen, Germany) and Emalin (London). The book documents Keicheyuhea and other recent works by Gaisumov. It also contains his new photographs from the Galain-Chaz region and specially commissioned essays by the academics Aleida Assmann, Georgi Derluguian and Madina Tlostanova and by the curator Anders Kreuger.
Installation images: Jussi Tiainen
Still image: Aslan Gaisumov, Keicheyuhea (2017). Single-channel, HD video projection, colour, sound, in Chechen with English subtitles, 22’57”. Courtesy the artist, Galerie Zink, Waldkirchen and Emalin, London.