Did You Know at Least...?
CATALOG NUMBER: 131
1998, Collection UNO, Geneva
Installation consisting of the pictures In the Corner, Ivan Trofimovich Goes for Firewood, Lies at the Bottom from the year 1969, as well as an explanation board from 1980
Les frontières de la conscience. The Edge of Awareness, 10 May 1998 — 18 Jul 1998 (Organization: ‘Art for the World’, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the World Health Organization who)
New York, NY, United States
P. S. 1, 13 Sep 1998 — 15 Oct 1998
Sao Paolo, SESC de Pompeia, Brasil
7 Dec 1998 — 30 Jan 1999
New Delhi, India
4 Mar 1999 — 30 Mar 1999
13 Oct 1999 — 10 Nov 1999
The installation consists of a wooden structure on two legs like an information board in a park. This stand is 5 meters long and 3.5 meters high from the ground; on both sides are stretched two flat plastic surfaces, hung with the help ropes, that have photographs of city streets on both sides. Texts are arranged in the upper right and left corners. In the center of the stand, there is a rather large hole with uneven, ragged edges.
The installation is located in a park amidst thick greenery, so the same kind of greenery can be seen through the hole in the center as all around the stand.
CONCEPT OF THE INSTALLATION
The theme of the installation is the protection of the environment. This work was originally commissioned, it seems in 1995, as one enormous billboard out of three posters that were supposed to be made by three different artists and erected, accordingly, in North America, South America and in Europe. The order, in turn, was connected to the fact that a company that produced photographs on plastic of gigantic dimensions had just opened up in California. The plastic could be 16 meters wide and infinitely long – as long as was contained in the enormous roll of it. These posters were supposed to be erected near major highways in enormous empty spaces so they could be affixed to large metal frames and could be seen clearly. I thought up the following content for this theme: from two sides of such a stand (tentatively 15 x 30 meters), there would be photographs of parts of the modern city, especially regions in it with a lot of greenery. The overall view of such a place had to be completely neutral so that it would be impossible to identify exactly where this place was located – in America, Europe, Asia – just a clean, modern, green city. In the center of this photograph there should be a large hole virtually taking up the entire middle area so that the surrounding landscape could be seen through the burned and torn edges of the hole, and the sky could be seen through the bars of the metal structure. There were to be texts in the top right and left corners explaining the origin of such a hole. In the upper left:
Anna Pavlovna Gaek: “Did you know at least what would happen?”
In the upper right was the answer to this question:
Ivan Petrovich Chistyakov: “Yes, but I just wanted to clean it a little …”
Having read this dialogue, the viewer should understand that by cleaning – and today everything is cleaned almost exclusively with chemicals – you cannot ‘clean’ and improve nature as much as you can poison and burn it. The billboard is a summons against the use of pesticides, chemical compounds, fertilizers, chemical growth enhancers, etc., that under the guise of improving the productivity of the flora, can at the same time have unforeseen consequences that could not have been anticipated originally. This is what prompted the idea of the question and answer – the person had wanted to clean the park and the street, and instead, it led to their destruction.
But at the base of the billboard, of course, is an optical play and a play on the meaning. There is no park or city, there are only color photographs on a metal frame. Apparently, Ivan Petrovich wanted to clean this same photograph from the dust carried by the wind from the ground and highway with its rushing cars and deposited here. But the scatter-brained Ivan Petrovich didn’t really think it through and didn’t first test this powerful solution. The chemical compound turned out to be too harsh, and to Ivan’s great surprise, it completely burned not only the photograph but also the material it was attached to. The result was this enormous hole. This is a rather sad story, but instructive … First, think about the consequences, and only then act …
I don’t know how this concept would have looked in reality because it was never realized. I don’t remember the reasons.
I did realize a variation of this installation, but much smaller, in the United Nations Park in Geneva. The structure was erected, but this time it was wooden with plastic containing photographs and texts, and a hole had to be cut in the center. In my imagination, in order to express the entire drama and improper handling of chemicals, the hole had to be enormous with burned and ragged edges of some sort of ruined fabric. But considering the warning is written on the billboard – think first, then act – I didn’t want to make a mistake so I made a rough draft first and placed it where the original would be, and only then did I begin to cut out the hole. An unexpected circumstance arose: the hole did not need to be enormous in order for it to ‘work’ as a hole! As soon as it became larger than the optimal size, the space of the park optically burst through the resulting rupture and ‘devoured’ the depiction on the surface of the stand, and the stand itself turned into a frame on legs whose purpose for standing in the park was totally incomprehensible. Therefore so that the billboard would live and ‘work’ in the surrounding greenery and together with it – and that’s why this was not simply a painting in the park but an installation – the hole had to be made smaller than I had imagined. Nonetheless, it functioned very actively: in the first place, because it was oval and in the very center; in the second place, because the viewer was puzzled – what kind of hooligan made this hole in this object that had been painted and erected here and was probably therefore very valuable – but then having read the text, he unexpectedly determined the reason.