Vasil Artamonov (1980) and Alexej Klyuykov (1983) are an artistic duo and have been working together since 2005. Their work is located within the context of contemporary post-conceptual art. Though both artists come from Russia, they have been living in the Czech Republic since their youth. They are linked by their revolt against the existing canons in art, politics and public life. They often find their inspiration in Russian constructivism, futurism, socialist realism and the underground scene of post-USSR conceptual art. The work of Artamonov and Klyuykov often cites artistic tendencies or personalities, and in this respect they aim to reinterpret the basic ideas and transpose them to a contemporary situation, which they believe is characterised by disillusion and the dictates of the market system.
This element of protest can be found in a simple but effective form in the video Sowing (2006), a recording of one of their performances in which they sowed wheat around a golf course. The series of events entitled The Way We Helped (2006) was inspired by the popular socialist children’s book Timur and his Gang. However, the central issue here is not a literal illustration of the source, but the problematisation of the accomplishment of good. Their actions are blind, nobody knows whether they are helping someone, everything operates on the boundary of illegality. In the dark the artists climb over a fence, paint a garage door and plant trees in a public space …
Although the primary medium for both artists was painting, in their later works they have moved more in the direction of installations. The definitive form of their exhibitions is the result of a combination of images, sculptures, posters, readymades and video installations. Not only the use of certain media but the deconstruction thereof is a characteristic feature of their work. Fragments of paintings appear in the cycle Photographs of Freight Trains (2007). These images are based on a supremacist language or literal copies of Malevič created on the iron connections on a train. The painting was located on the surface of the buffer, the space of collision and impact. In the installation How Soon is Now? (2007) not the image itself but only its frame forms the centre of attention, onto which they superimpose layers of references to cubism, graffiti and constructivism. The shape of the frame itself becomes significant, its boundaries and open-endedness, and the picture on the frame is a gesture of its status outside the mainstream or a critique of that very mainstream.
Their exhibition (along with Václav Magid) in the Jelení Gallery called Fire in the Library, Demonstration, Earth and others in 2007 was formally based on analytical cubism. Cubist morphology linked with motifs of a symbolic character commenting on the present day created fertile ground for the transposition of this historical direction to the present day. The painting entitled Beehive represents the transformation of a filing cabinet into a beehive, and this uncertainty, liquidity and surfeit appears in other pictures from this cycle.
Over the last two years Artamonov and Klyuykov have freed themselves from direct references to the aesthetic of historical styles, bring linguistic elements into bizarre three-dimensional objects, paint on various kinds of materials such as glass or wood, and create installations. At the exhibition Wisdom (2007) in the Moravian Gallery, Brno, the predominant element was a group of beards of historical figures cut out of plywood. Different combinations resulted in new meanings being created, and the beards on show included those of Karl Marx, Slavoj Žižek, Piet Mondrian, Petr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin.
Feelings of scepticism pervade the work of Artamonov and Klyuykov created during a residential stay in Budapest entitled Estu do Silento (2OO8), in which the gallery space painted in green is filled only by a voice speaking Esperanto and several seats for visitors. In the text the artists proclaim the necessary of quiet, which they believe can only be attained by suspending production and the art market. The work is basically a kind of anti-cultural manifesto, which of course simply by virtue of being exhibited in a gallery loses its significance, as the artists concede at the end of the text. We also discover concerns at cultural and social developments in the series of pictures Dead Hand (2008). The title refers to the problematic of the cold war and the nuclear threat. The paintings have two levels: the first contains subjects such as political caricature, a house in the woods, a theatre, while the second level is the colour black in various intensities. The artists continued this monochrome theme in what is their latest project to date entitled :::: (2009), which used the colour brown as a symbol for archivism, destruction and nostalgia. At an exhibition in Ostrava they sought to return a mythical character to objects themselves, and tried to get by without words, above all without literary quotes and references.
Though Vasil Artamonov (1980) has been living in the Czech Republic for almost twelve years, his work draws strongly on Russian sources. He draws on the form of suprematism and constructivism and the content of futurism and the underground scene of Moscow artists in the 1980s. He is also fascinated by the aesthetic of the socialist era, which is manifest in his early paintings of high-rise apartment blocks (Buildings, 1998) and doctors’ waiting rooms (Seats 1, Seats 2, 1998).
A frequent theme and internal connection to his work is the reconstruction of the past, both in respect of his reinterpretation of the movements mentioned above and the re-invocation of images of lived experience. He uses the cleanest forms he can, transforming real shapes into precise lines and surfaces. However, the surfaces on which he paints tend to be diverse: as well as canvas he uses hardboard, glass and plywood. In the cycles Refurbishment of an Apartment (2005) and What I Remember (2006) we can distinguish a rational approach and precise technical execution. The plans of buildings which the artist lived in or visited at some point in his native Russia and which he has not seen since his childhood acquire a political significance within a Czech context. We can also read into these plans and diagrams a transcription of personal experience, which though on the face of it seems convincing, is in fact nothing more than the nebulousness of memory.
Artamonov’s diploma work Sooner or Never (2006), created in the Jiří David studio at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design, was a commentary on the reading and interpretation of artworks, on the system of their encoding in different periods and the overall structure of art. It is composed of an image, rod and transparency, which at first sight create an encrypted message only intelligible to the artist himself. By gradually revealing the significance of individual elements the viewer arrives at a partial interpretation. However, the message of the whole remains closed. His last work to date was a mural at the NoD Gallery in Prague entitled The Future. 70 Years According to Vanga (2008). In this work the artist layered broad strips graded from black to red from the floor to the ceiling as a time axis representing a prediction of the future of the human race according to the well known Bulgarian soothsayer.
Though they often contain a political subtext, Artamonov’s works are not engaged. There possess a kind of concealed need to express an opinion of the environment in which the artist lives and works, but they are not intended to provoke, change or attack. Since 2006, Artamonov has worked mainly in collaboration with Alexej Klyuykov.
Cap Book – Crew Against People, BiggBoss, Praha 2007