New Angelarium

New Angelarium
Convinced and curated by Kolesnikov/Denisov
Organisers: The Moscow Administration, The City of Moscow Committee for Culture, 
The Russian Academy of Arts, The Moscow Museum of Modern Art, with the support of: The Design-bureau Yo!rk, Printing-house Creative Studio, Kolodzey Art Foundation
At the time when painting was “the most important” of the Fine Arts we turned to the theme of “angels” with the help of canvas and oils. In the new era of digital images we found a place for the Angels on the banners in the project “The Death of Limonov”. The photo-project “Angelarium of the lower level. New York. New York” has been brought to us from America. In the British Museum we came across a book, the heroes of which were Angels of the Renaissance. In Moscow many of us encounter Angels, not only at art exhibitions, but, if lucky, in reality. That’s why the idea of making a project about Today’s Angels may not be considered accidental.
Having declared our intentions, we had to look more carefully at the visual past of Angels.
The word “angelos”, from which the word “angel” is derived, in Greek means “messenger”. For a long time throughout history Angels were depicted as beings in long clothing with big wings and golden hair. However, up to the middle of the IVth century Angels were represented without wings. And in ancient churches they were depicted wingless, like wanderers with staffs, or like young people in simple tunics, to which, for example, the drawings in the catacombs of Priccilla in Rome testify. The notion of wings came about as a result of the logical conclusions of people of the corresponding time. The sudden appearance of such a noble being could be related merely to the idea of flight from the heavenly heights, for which wings would be necessary. Wings, the most important attribute of the angel, are the symbol of spirit, strength and speed. The first images of winged Angels have an astounding similarity to Nice, the goddess of victory, who, undoubtedly, served as the model for Christian artists.
Also it became clear that Angels are subjected to changes in Time, not only visual, but also functional. In early Christianity and the Middle Ages Angels were severe beings, unwillingly coming into contact with man. Angels of the Renaissance behaved differently – directly communicating with people, they not only adopted their behavioural systems, but with the development of the knowledge of anatomy and spatial and linear perspective, they materialised more and more, establishing partner, and later friendly, relationships with those, whom they were called upon to teach and protect.
In Russia at the beginning of the XIXth century, and in Europe even earlier, they had stopped serving only religion and had descended to relating with people on an everyday level. It is sufficient to recall “Faust” with his “fallen” Angel or “Gavriliada”.
In our time, as it seems to us, Angels have almost completely moved into the field of literature, art and folklore, becoming secular in essence (although, it would be unreasonable to deny in them the presence of the divine essence). We are talking about these Angels. In any case, from conversations with colleagues, it became clear that the majority of them think this way.
History offers us various types of classifications of Angels. For example, the hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysus divides Angels into three large groups. The first: Seraphim, Cherubs, Thrones are the closest to God. The second: Lords, Powers hold the intermediary link, emphasising the divine foundation of the creation of the world. And the third: Principalities, Archangels and just Angels are the closest to the earthly world.
In “New Angelarium” the focus is on a New History of Angels. And the new images should be used in the book, obeying some new logic. It is evident that here the methods of formal stylistics are inappropriate, as are the religiously-hierarchical, national etc. Meanwhile each Angel sounds his own trumpet, because behind each of them stands the author with his unrepeatable view on the subject, unique, like finger prints. And the “harmonious choir”, which we tried to direct with the help xxxx and pages, became a cacophony. But still, in our opinion, the correct decision has been found.
We have arranged the works in the book not as normally done, – in alphabetical order of authors’ surnames, but by first names. Because the name is the Guardian Angel of the one who bears it. The book itself was planned as a certain geocentric model of the world, the content of which consists of 24 Earth hours divided into ten minute blocks – double pages, each of which is occupied by a separate author and his Angel. In total 144. They are all accommodated between the two midnights of the Northern and Southern Skies, where Angel-stars (the coming together of Angels and the celestial bodies is an ancient Semitic tradition in Hinduism, Christianity and Islam) are the visual expression of the “Angelarium” itself.
We express our sincere gratitude to the artists who supported the idea with their wonderful works, also to those, who participated in the realisation of the project.
It is customary to acceptRussian culture, an inheritor of the Byzantine tradition, as having thepriority within the sphere of spiritual matters. Unfortunately, during the lastdecades it has been thus accepted, for the most part in Russia itself, andmainly as being in retrospect. It’s no wonder that in a country with such sharphistorical changes, during the last century, new sacred images exist in themost whimsical combinations which disprove all laws of evolution – like the“Glazunov style”. And there is the paradox: in Europe museums of religious artare being established, dissertations are being made on spiritualism incontemporary abstract art or in the art, let’s say, of Boies, but here anytheme even a little higher than the everyday horizon becomes almost taboo.
On this background theproject of Ivan Kolesnikov and Sergey Denisov “New angelarium”, made for theMoscow Museum of Modern Art, is so much the more noticeable, in it is shown asection of the newest Russian art through the prism of one – serious,responsible and, at the same time, light, airy, inspired – theme. Recognisedmasters and young artists define the appearance of the angels of our time, andtoday no-one doubts that they are not involved in a meaningless or irrelevantactivity. On the contrary: they have hit the mark.
Why should contemporary manthink about angels, these perfect incorporeal heralds – mediators – of theMiddle Ages on the threshold of the XXIst century, in the era of acceleratingtechnologies and of the increasing exchange of information in society, in, asit seems, an extremely pragmatic and secular epoch? It’s not just because ofthe popularity of mysticism which supplements the rational picture of theworld. Life itself leads to such a perception: technologies, growing ingeometrical progression, pushing out manual labour and alienating man fromdirect practical activity, make the world virtual and, in so doing, return toit spectral and supernatural features.
Fresh artistic means, mediaare also incorporeal, angel-like in their make-up: they relate to theincorporeal (digit), to light (video). And, in so doing, they once more remindus of the original angelic character of Art itself, which is, in its nature,“the embodiment of the invisible” (A. Florensky). The artist deals all the timewith elevating, modelling, correcting and reinforcing the boundaries betweenthe world of the visible and the world of the invisible – even if one istalking about the conventional “internal world”, which acts within the limitsof the Cartesian norms, or about the extremely, “photographically” exactrepresentation of reality. By the way, let’s refer to the statements of manytheoreticians and practitioners of photography, which say that the “objective”unquestionable nature of photo-art relates, first and foremost, to thecomprehensible imaginary world, constructed by the union of the creator andlight. What, in that case, if not the image of the angel, can be used as theoptimal metaphor of Art?
The creation of a newangelarium is natural, because the angel was always inseparable from the artist– as known, in the Christian world angels replaced the antique muses whoinspired creativity. It would be good if in the art institutes there would bean examination on the representation of angels, a kind of a test of theartist’s fantasy and sensitivity to the embodiment of the enduring and ancientmythological image – in fact, as in the old Academies. This theme isartistically beneficial as well as extremely personal: it is assumed thateveryone has his own unique angel. The mediator between God and man, he is alsothe interrelating projection, as if the ideal image of each man, the image inthe divine perspective. Consequently, when representing an angel the artistworks in the habitual genre of self-portraiture, but in the given case isencumbered with the transmission of the “internal man”, according to MeisterEckhart. Through how this “internal man” is presented in the works of thisproject we can make a judgement about their creators.
Of course, everyone hassomething to say about angels. They can be the traditional little asexualbaroque winged figures or conceptual textual objects, or a portrait of afavourite dog, which left our world, or a photograph of a recovery servicetruck. The artists cannot but react to the image of the angel as a commonplaceof pop-culture as well (a local audio-example: the popular song of 15 yearsago, long forgotten, but the phrase from it “my heavenly angel” is firmlywritten in the subconscious). From here comes the series of uncomplicated“photo-sessions” of the angel – a pretty girl (sometimes a fellow) withartificial wings on the back. New angelarium, as the army of angels before themutiny at the Lord’s altar, is clearly in confusion – demonstrating, either howdistant we have become from the qualities, the heights, the incorporeal nature,traditionally ascribed to this image, or how close the heavens have become toour mortal world. By the way, we should appreciate particularly the courage ofthe project’s authors who rejected neither the presentation of the images ofthe fallen angel, nor the interpretation of the negative aspect of thephenomenon. Moreover, if the angel serves as a metaphor of Art in general, thefallen angel can be easily imagined as a metaphor of contemporary art, which ismainly occupied with the acquisition of a different, unusual, distorted beauty.
As a result, it can be saidthat a strange new iconostasis is forming, reflecting its time in all itseclecticism and contradictoriness. This is the peculiar “view from above” onhumanity from which the perspective seems rather distorted – but will it notturn out to be the only true one?
144 new angels were created,embodied. No matter how secular or at times even openly anti-religious theymight be intended by the authors, from now they guard not only them – theirmakers, creators, but also the approaches to the spheres of their ownhabitation. This aspect is the key point of the exhibition, its “moment oftruth”. Contemplating the surfaces of the works, looking intensely at thesebeings or essences – as one prefers – we place before ourselves an importantchoice when unravelling the message which these “messengers” bring. Therepresentation of the angel, the posing of the question about angels, albeiteven on the level of metaphor – the question is not only about the reality ofthe invisible, but about the essence of the Creation: about its abandonment,arbitrariness, self-creation and self-regulation or about primarymeaningfulness, wholeness, orderliness and harmony. The philosopher MihailEpstein writes in an essay “The Return of the angels”: “Angels are only traces,similar to “traces without originals” in the terminology of Jacques Derrida, –traces leading to the other world, but by no means testifying to its reality. Angelismis the consequence of the religious deconstruction of the other world, fromwhich remain only signs without that which they signify, only messengers,without the one who sent them (author’s italics – S. P.). Angelism is the deepfoundation-less-ness of the world”. So, do our angels represent themselves inthe spirit of the widely spread contemporary understanding of the image and infull accordance with the basic post-modernist dogma of Marshall Macluen, that“the medium is the message”? Or does the One who sent them stand behind them? TheNew Testament angel, who brought the Annunciation; the angel, who met the Wivescarrying myrrh near the Sepulchre of Christ; the angels, freeing the righteousand punishing the infidels; generally all angels known to religion – what arethe motives and the meanings of their acts if they do not turn to the reason ofall things, to the Creator, to the One who stands behind all angelic legions,to the undividable sum of the angelic Trinity – the One and Indivisible God? Theartist answers these questions not so much for the viewer of this project, asfor himself – or for the highest judge, which, in some way, is one and thesame.
Recognising the fact that thelast lines are beyond the limits of art criticism, I justify it by the utmostpersonal theme: my angel gives me confidence that such an ending is necessary.
Sergey Popov

If the first book of theartists Ivan Kolesnikov and Sergey Denisov “Art Constitution” was directlyrelated to real life and, more precisely, social life, then the second – “NewAngelarium” – has the most direct relationship to spiritual life, because itstheme is angels, in as much as can be judged from the title alone. Although,not simply angels, but contemporary angels, the fruits of the imagination andnotions of artists living in the 21st century and accordingly expressing theirideas in the language of the art of this time.
As in the case of“Constitution” – this is a book and not an album or catalogue, because theintention of the authors is to offer not just looking at pictures, but alsoreading. “New Angelarium” has to be read. Almost one hundred and fifty artistsexpress themselves in its pages not only visually but also the verbally. Theimportance and significance of this second expression is by no means lessimportant than the images themselves. Moreover, the text, on the one hand, canbe understood as the answer to the eternal question – what did the artist wantto say? And this, in the context of the complexity of the language of modernart, its diversity of meanings, and also frequent incomprehensibility, togetherwith the indifferent character of contemporary criticism, at times still moreincomprehensible than the subject of its consideration, is understood as thelive word of man. That same, which was in the beginning. Each double page is organisedso that firstly you read the text (the graphic solution of the page refers tothe Bible), and then look at, so to speak, its “illustration” – the art workitself.
On the other hand – it isexactly that very situation, when the secret is not hidden, but neverthelesscannot be revealed, because no matter how complete the explanation of the workis, it can never exhaust all of its meanings. At best it can serve as astarting point to interpretation or, perhaps, as the addition of new meaning tothat already existent in the image. Because the very notion of an angel’sessence contains possibility and possesses the unconditional right to secrecy.
And although the project ispresented as being secular, but, like it or not, the presence of some preliminaryconception of its main personage gives us the relative hope of understandingand the possibility of dialogue and refers us to the sphere of religion.
And here it must be notedthat decades of atheism in our country, about which today it is customary tocomplain, had their positive result: a freshness of perception of newlyrevealed truths and, what’s more important, of histories – on the one hand, andthe free interpretation of them – on the other. There is the feeling ofourselves, as being, in a sense, neophytes, in the situation of the absence ofan authority, free to create new myths and to reshape the old. And therefore,leafing through the pages, we, following the best Muscovite diplomat of the 16thcentury Ivan Viskovaty, could involuntarily complain, as he did, “theinterpretation of what these parables are, is not written and whoever I ask,they do not know”, because they are created by “one’s reason and not by theHoly Scriptures”. But that is the special thing about the project, thatpersonal “interpretations” are represented in it, although to relate them tothe sphere of exegesis would be too big a liberty, because their subjectivityis what makes them valuable. It is more like some additional layer moving theemphasis from theology to philosophy. Alas, our time, in the process ofunderstanding myths, moves to the fore not religious aspects and not even moralones, but precisely the philosophical.
But mediation through thephilosophical directive leads to relativity and arbitrariness firstly oftreatment and then of interpretation. Thus the significance of “mythological”angelic events, if not refuted, then at least, is moved to the periphery of ourinterest. The myth begins to be cultivated as literature and consequentlybecomes material for art. In that way it moves into a sphere, where everythingis doubtful, where accents are moved and where only one’s own reading of the“theme” is of interest, where the dark may acquire an attractive hue and thelight look more than just dubious. Here the divine essences are idols not yetoverthrown, but already deprived of the status of the untouchables. In essencethis is the demythologising, the depriving of sacredness. It is not an elementof belief here, but an element of game. The bead game, in which the most highlyvalued player is not the one who can find the parallel between the traditionaland the contemporary, but that player, who, manipulating the generally acceptedassociations using “private” ones, can make a free move from the original themein limitless combinations, giving full freedom to the fantasy of the viewer. Thefinal aim is the bringing of all these hypostases into the internallyindivisible. And within the framework of direction, undertaken by the project’sauthors, it is not God, but subjective human existence.
The atheist and one of thefathers of Existentialism Albert Camus once said – “gods change together withpeople”. He meant that it was not man that was created “in the image andlikeness”, but God. And following him all the heavenly servants, as well as thebanished unclean with the Prince of Darkness at its head. It’s all us and it isall in us. And the project “New Angelarium” only confirms the idea of thephilosopher.
And therefore it is all aboutcontemporary man living in a “godless”, secularised world. Our times are timeswithout religion. No matter how much we want we cannot remain truly religious. Because,even if at some time we knew, then now we have forgotten the address in theheavens, but we know that there is no means to avoid death. Non-believers andnon-atheists, stuck in mid-season.
And all these presented“stories”, as if from the lives of the angels, are united in the multiplicityof human voices. Where, from each double page instead of Alleluias, sounds “a lonelyhuman voice, tortured by love and carried above the pernicious earth. The voicemust free itself from the harmony of the world and the choir of nature for thesake of its lonely note” (Federico Garcia Lorca). It’s just that. And it doesnot matter that on a few pages where there should be an author’s text thereisn’t anything at all, apart from the name. Silence (either because you don’tknow what to say or words are inappropriate, it is unimportant) – is alsoexpression, also an answer, also sound. Many of these “lonely notes”, for the“incorrectness” of their sounding, for the freedom of interpretation, from theofficial point of view not only should be rejected, but also may be related tothe demonic and, nevertheless, they are the heritage of contemporary culture.It’s a culture which preserves the traces of earlier faiths, archaeologicalpieces of a myth, not made by us. Useless like the ruins of the Coliseum, butexciting, arousing fantasy.
All these presented wingedbeings are incorporeal and in bodies, asexual and sexy, soaring and banished,evil and good, indifferent and joyful, sinful and righteous, crafty andinnocent, resting and active, aggressive and peaceful, unborn and mortal, andyet more, more, more – all of them in the image and likeness of those whocreated them. Not the “messenger”, but more likely the “morning angel of emptybottles”, born in the depths of the human soul, in which there is both theinfinity of God and the denial of Him. Both belief and doubt. Diverse, mixed,dispersed troops in the situation of an empty Altar.
The tenth level. The last. Notmentioned in any of the angelic classifications, but may be the only one reallyexisting.
And in this meaning – that ofsecularisation, the excommunication from the church of one of the mostimportant divine essences and its transferral into the category of the human –the project “New Angelarium” may be called… atheistic. And why “new”, not onlybecause of its form, but also its content. And how should one know if it is notjust another illustration, by which, after some time, one will be able to passjudgement on the authentic world-perception and worldview of man at thebeginning of the third millennium.
Some time at the beginning ofthe World the Sky did not know the Stars. But, once having given birth to them, it did not have the strength to leave them. Some time ago man did not knowanything about angels, but, once having noticed them in his soul, can no longerforget them. It is boring without them, – for the sky without stars and for manwithout angels, – empty and lonely. Let them remain. And we will hope that“nothing else will happen on the road… to Paradise”.
Liya Adashevskaya

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