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Jevgeni Zolotko’s spatial studies

Ellu Maar (1-2/2010)

Ellu Maar analyses the spatial installation Grey Signal / Retort2
Sculptor Jevgeni Zolotko, who graduated from Tartu Higher Art School a few years ago, has already demonstrated his ability to think big with his earlier works. Combining an elaborated philosophical system with voluminous spatial installations, his works are laborious, powerful and assertive. Grey Signal at pART Gallery is Zolotko’s expatiation on an exhibition curated by Kiwa six months earlier at Vaal Gallery. Even in the grey concrete interior of Vaal Gallery, which is often too intense for young and aspiring artists, Grey Signal seemed to assert control over the environment. Grey Signal is an installation made from architectural forms. Through an almost minimalist spatial programme, it represents an abstracted world reduced to basic geometric forms and assembled from the kind of handy materials traditionally used by builders rather than sculptors – wood, cement, clay and foam plastic – all evenly coated with grey paint. Grey Signal not only controls and organises the space, it also wraps the viewer into it; for this reason it is more appropriate to call it installation, rather than sculpture. In the context of Zolotko’s earlier works, it represents the next step – or at least a slight change of course.  
The dominant element in the installation is a tall observation tower surrounded by grey flags. Lying on the floor around the tower are miscellaneous items, such as frames and batteries, and there are various tools scattered about as if work will continue. It looks like an interior still under construction. Videos projected onto the gallery walls show mounds of rubble, a shovel stirring cement, etc. Masses of text slide over the wall, and there is background noise, creating and interrupting associations. In spite of the simplicity of the forms and the grey monochrome, there remains so much visual noise that this description is necessarily incomplete. It simply is not possible to grasp everything visually. If anything, the environment created by Grey Signal is like a top secret laboratory or an alchemist’s workshop. Indeed, Grey Signal could be interpreted as a zone where the action extends beyond any conscious human perspective.
With such cool and abstract minimalism the text is as important as the sculptural installation itself. However, no ordinary text accompanies the exhibition to provide a meta-explanation. Instead, there is a piece of fiction that resonates with the created environment, expanding upon its functional logic and on the experiments carried out there. The viewer is involved in a game: this is not an art exhibition: you have entered at your own risk into an environment the meaning of which will remain hidden from you. The text leads the viewer into the maze of information, a labyrinth with no easy exit. The viewer will be tricked into the trap of the story … and then left behind. Hints are provided to decode the meaning, but they fail to fulfil their promise of bringing clarity. You will enter and the jaws will close behind you.
The world created by Zolotko is bleak, strange, unknown and fascinating. It seems to conceal some kind of secret. Grey Signal includes references to totalitarianism and to Foucault’s idea of surveillance society, with flags and an observation tower that hides the inspector, misguiding viewers and leaving them helpless. Zolotko’s laboratory prompts a series of sensations and interpretations such that any statement may be acceptable, because the aim of Grey Signal is precisely to trigger various associations: confusion and inexplicability may thus serve as the point of destination and key to understanding its meaning.
The story of the text goes as follows. Allegedly, Grey Signal is a laboratory and factory in which a device ‘NIKH’ is used to generate space: “The functioning principle of NIKH is based on the simple fact that moving something from one place to another will always create empty space. The generators of NIKH are attached to the Earth and, as it orbits, they recreate empty space which, among other things, is also essential for their own existence. Surveillance cameras are aimed at the openings of the generators, observing the created space and transmitting a signal through the Black Box, where interruptions will give it a visual form which will then appear on a monitor. Although it is primarily a thought experiment, it seems to mark a turning point in the fantasy, where something important is learned about the world. According to the law of matter, the probable is bordered by what is known and the present is determined by the limit of what is in force. Fighting through the law of matter, the probability will increase that there is still hope for mankind in its seemingly destined position as eternal questioners.”[1]
So, what does Zolotko’s laboratory do? It is involved in spatial studies. When we come to think about it, this appears logical. It seems we have been given the key to understanding both Grey Signal and Zolotko’s entire artistic activity. What we have here is a sculptor who ‘creates’ and regulates space, distilling from it extraordinary qualities and making them visible and perceptible. One can trace similar interests in Zolotko’s earlier works.
At the exhibition 1 reality 1 error, curated by Kiwa in 2008, Zolotko displayed an armchair enclosed within metal mesh – a sculpture that sought to evoke sensations of strangeness and physical impossibility, surprising the viewer with an unexpected combination and violation of the conventional laws of the world.[2] The 2009 youth exhibition N0 Wave, in Vaal Gallery, featured one of Zolotko’s most visually powerful works, an installation with an architectural subtext. In the middle of the lower floor of the gallery a lop-sided cylinder seemed suspended in mid-air between classical columns. The work was accompanied by an interactive sound installation. Here too, the emphasis lay on the way sculpture – a physical object in space – seemingly ignores the laws of physics, transforming a tangible object into an imaginary artwork that disobeys the laws of gravity. Kaire Nurk has written that it is “an image of the number zero, moving through space at a relatively constant speed”, and that Zolotko experiments with the perceived limitations of sculpture to overcome gravitation and other physical laws.[3] The materials of the sculpture are heavy, but the aim is to make the viewer perceive them as objects not subordinated to the laws of physics: something that is possible only because we perceive sculpture by means of our imagination.
We might try to view Grey Signal in the spirit of minimal sculpture – as an object in itself, thus shaking off the habit of seeing works displayed in art galleries as an imitation of the world. Zolotko creates his own universe. He has sought to create an environment that does not imitate any real secret laboratory, but nonetheless serves to generate space in a literal rather than a metaphorical sense. This means that he does something to the space, or he does something to the way the viewer perceives and defines it.
Ellu Maar is an art historian working as a publishing specialist in the Estonian Art Museum.

[1] This interpretation derives from e-mail correspondence between Kiwa and myself.
[2] However, the armchair might also be interpreted as a visualisation of structural violence: the armchair as a point of comfort whose existence relies on the power structures that penetrate it.
[3] Kaire Nurk, Saab ainult interpreteerida. – Sirp 5.3.2010.
pART Gallery in Põltsamaa
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