until 30.07. | The Berlin gallery Migrant Bird Space shows since 29th June 2018 the exhibition “Tears of Iblis” by artist Michal Martychowiec in its Depandance in Beijing.
Introduction to the cycle
After all, there is nothing in creation that is not ultimately destined to be lost: not only the part of each and every moment that must be lost and forgotten – the daily squandering of tiny gestures, of minute sensations, of that which passes through the mind in a flash, of trite and wasted words, all of which exceed by great measure the mercy of memory and the archive of redemption – but also the works of art and ingenuity, the fruits of a long and patient labour that, sooner or later, are condemned to disappear. It is over this immemorial mass, over the unformed and immense chaos of what must be lost that, according to the Islamic tradition, Iblis, the angel that has eyes only for the work of creation, cries incessantly. He cries because he does not know that what one loses actually belongs to God, that when all the work of creation has been forgotten, when all signs and words have become illegible, only the work of salvation will remain indelible.
Tears of Iblis is an exhibition cycle curated by Michal Martychowiec with his own art. This body of work explores cultural development in the modernist West and similarly in the post-Cultural Revolution China, and through breaking from historical narrative and tradition of the symbolic language, its result in creating a certain cultural emptiness in the contemporary societies.
The modernist language abandoned the iconographic tradition, with Malevich and the Black Square introducing, literally, a new iconography, which have consequently become the new tradition.
This new vision of the abstract art, but also figurative art which was no longer grounded in history and classical considerations, but in the newly changing world (paradoxically, this ‘newly’ changed world begun half a century earlier with the industrial revolution), and so utilising every day, common, mass-produced object, like in the case of the readymade, was deeply rooted in the newly born materialist philosophy. It was well illustrated by Walter Benjamin, who distinguished two forms of violence: mythical and divine. Mythical violence leaves traces and gives birth to the new. Divine violence produces destruction which leaves nothing behind. If god created the world from nothingness he can turn it back to nothingness. However, in the framework of the then new materialist philosophy, since god was dead, the divine destruction could no longer be possible and became material destruction which on the contrary leaves traces, like ruins, etc. It is in this sense, that Malevich created the Black Square, his ‘destruction of the icon’ (and so destruction of god, the holy, history, etc.) and stated in one of his writings ‘The image that survives the work of destruction is the image of destruction’.
However, the clear historical struggle to be followed is once that the paradigm is replaced with the image of its demise, what is left to us?
Tears of Iblis is constructed with works, that in several instances represent the image of emptiness of
the modernist tradition. Malevich’s gesture of destruction had a value because at the time it created
a transition into a new (materialist) ‘metaphysics’. But breaking from tradition, as history teaches,
simply creates a new tradition, in the same way that abandoning aesthetic (like in the case of
minimalism) simply creates new aesthetics. And so in the contemporary context the meaning of the
Black Square on the ground on which it was meant to function, has been lost, because at this point,
it can only be understood in the context of history (from which Malevich tried to break or which it
rather tried to destroy). And so later, modern and post-modern art followed this new narrative and
consequently, became repetition of a repertoire of the very same ideas, which being deprived of the
actual social context eventually became, no wonder, empty.
Iblis ‘cries because he does not know that what one loses actually belongs to God’, however as much
as divine destruction is no longer possible within the materialist framework, whatever is lost, in the
same sense, has nowhere to return to and so still remains under the cover of this emptiness. All the
works in the Tears of Iblis formally utilise achievements of modernity through which they express
contemporary cultural emptiness born with the establishment of the modernist tradition. However,
under the image of such emptiness, what remains are hidden symbols, history and myths. These
works do not (once again) destroy the ‘icon’ as Malevich did, but rather look for a new icon (the
holy) in the image of what has been lost and destroyed.
In such way, this work aestheticises the modernist language; it does so on the surface, while in
reality it subtly destroys what was not destructible within the modernist materialist framework – it
destroys the image of destruction by turning it into an image which is once again ‘destroyable’,
which can return to ‘god’ (for this reason ‘Tears Iblis’ is preceded with another exhibition cycle –
‘What remains the poets provide’).
Of course, by god here, what is understood is a solid paradigm, which is not based on ever-changing
achievements of science, technology, etc. And so to destroy the image of destruction one has to
resurrect the myth so that the ‘divine violence’ (destruction) can again be possible. This destruction
which leaves no trace is simply cancelling out the destruction of modernity, allowing for new
symbols and other non-materialist figures to be born through attachment to the myth, to old
symbols, to history. After all, what, eventually and always remain indelible of the work of (artistic)
creation, are – the concepts (poetry) and symbols. In other words, the work of salvation, the
Tears of Iblis I – at Migrant Bird Space in Beijing
The narrative in the Tears of Iblis presented at Migrant Bird Space in Beijing is constructed through
works exploring the ‘image of emptiness’ (presented in larger formats) and works which on the
surface, are grounded more in ‘reality’.
The beginning of the exhibition is marked with an existential neon statement, historically assigned to
Buddha. The emptiness in Buddhism cannot be measured through the common Western
understanding, because on the contrary, it is not a state deprived of things, but rather a state which
contains all things. The visual presentation of this idea can be clearly seen through a photograph
created with two historical negatives, the area where one image covers the other does not create
the overlaying of two, but rather cancellation of two, and so the white photographic paper shines in
the same way as the words of the neon. It is the same about a stone, one could say a reminder of
the arte povera movement. It is, however, not only a memory of existing art history but also a
memory (element) of an installation created in 2012 which originally re-enacted an image of an
Further works explore either the empty natural landscape or emptiness of the historical landscape.
In both cases, they become entry points for development of historical and symbolic considerations
(on either personal or universal level).
In this sense, a work from 2012, neon All is history, which closes the exhibition, points to the
important concept of the readyframed. The concept of the readyframed was created in 2016
together with The incredulity of St Thomas project. Analogically to the readymade, which is
constructed on the base of artistic activity being that of a manual creation (painting, sculpting),
readyframed is using photography or film as its base. Any object one chooses has an existing frame
(context) of history around it, and as such is already a conceptual work of art (committed thanks to,
but not by, the historians). The artist doesn’t essentially point to the object, but to the frame. Once
established, the frame functions in a similar manner to contemporary blockchain technology, it is
shared and cannot vanish as long as it remains within the consciousness of the social body. The
concerns of Marx and Engels on the matters of production and division of labour within artistic
practices, so valid to Duchamp, become void.
And so these works, at first meant to be evaluated from the perspective of ‘experience’ are actually
frames for historical considerations, for they hold: references to history, are framed by history and
are to become part of history. In a sense, history is what can save us, from emptiness we face in
these works. This is also true of the portrait from La Chambre de Labastrie series, from which we are
looked at just before leaving the final exhibition space. The woman portrayed in this work essentially
lost her identity and became ‘framed’ through a historical story, and thus became a hero of the
mythology created by the artist. Although, as a person, destined to be lost and forgotten, through
the ‘work of [artistic] creation’ she became part of the ‘work of salvation’, in other words, of history.
Vernissage: Friday, 22nd June 2018, from 4 pm
Exhibition period: Friday, 29th June to Monday, 30th July 2018
WHERE? Room 102, Lily building 17, Vanke City Garden, ShunYi District, Beijing, ChinaZu Migrant Birds Space
Exhibition Michal Martychowiec – Migrant Bird Space Beijing | Zeitgenössische Kunst – ART at Berlin