Dumdemanim / Kishon Gallery, Tel Aviv / 2010
Photo: Liat Elbling
Dumdemanim. Solo exhibition, 2010-2011, Kishon Gallery, Tel Aviv
The Battle over the Cherry
“Eliminate all enemies in sight, jump over missiles, bend and hit everything that moves, choose a character to start playing and have fun.” Instructions taken from Xevoz Showdown, computer game for children.
At first glance, it seems that the microscopic figures that appear in the miniature installations, paintings and animations by Rimma Arslanov, are adorable creatures. However, it turns out that they are not the kind-hearted Minimoys, living harmoniously with nature, which once helped Arthur and his grandmother save their house from demolition. A closer observation reveals a similarity to the gray dwarfs from the dark, fantastic novel by Astrid Lindgren; the dwarfs which Ronia, the heroine, is warned against by her father, as she first steps into the world.
In the ‘state of dwarfs’ Arslanov creates, she combines fantasy, humor and horror. Her installations contain small stages, on which tiny concrete-casted creatures perform absurd ‘etudes’ of terror and destruction. Their visual outline exposes their essence- a schematic body and a head veiled by a helmet, resembling a phallic organ; an erection of impulses and desires demanding satisfaction. The concrete fingerlings, with their bags on their backs and explosion belts strapped to their waists, conduct themselves freely between concrete walls and ruins. They struggle, fall, rise, stagger, lie, hang, climb, crash, shoot and ‘cry’. Enslaved to a destructive impulse, they fight each other head to head; someone’s head is chopped off while someone else is leaning on a limb of an arm. Their brothers to arms, point their guns- wooden fast food forks, or climb on top of each other’s weapons (bumps of matches pinned to the wall) until their body resembles a broken totem. A few of them lean aimlessly on both sides of the separation wall.
Arslanov does not conceal the essence of her images- galley slaves to power and domination. She presents an outlook on a defected, mechanical existence, born into a system of unchangeable rules. Through images that symbolize archetypical pathology, she raises issues of social-political and sexual aggression. The concrete, a cold alienated matter, a borrowed image of a monolithic approach, assists her with her mission. The roots of the concrete lie in the Modern era, as do the modular monochromatic constructions, characterizing her work; a recurrent pattern of geometric models in gray black and red.
The red color, integrated in the grayish arenas, serves as a counterpoint to the cold concrete. The red is materialized by blood-like glass beads, resembling cherries. The phallic gnomes in her installations are driven by an uncontrollable lust for the cherry. The cherry is a metaphor for a desirable object, a visual reminder to the expression “the cherry on the cake”- a target worth dying for. In this context, one can be reminded of the cherry tree shedding season (the trees are ‘castrated’ to prevent the fruit growth and to enhance the blossom); a short and fragile blossoming season, enabling an ideal window of opportunity for Japanese Samurais to end their lives. On the one hand, the cherry tree reminds Arslanov of a sweet childhood memory from her grandmother’s yard in Tajikistan. On the other hand, it also represents a nightmarish experience from her youth in Uzbekistan.
Another reappearing motif in her work is the creating and annihilating element of fire, which is considered a male force. This element is embodied in the paper cutouts, shaped as tongues of fire. The tiny flames emerge from the geometrical constructions and ruins. In one of the installations, red and gray shadows of bushes appear; resembling the biblical ‘burning bush’- however, a miracle doesn’t occur here. A wooden toy rifle shooting a paper flame, might serve as a comic relief to the Fiery Orchids, part of the violent rituals by the Italian poet Marinetti (in 1909 he wrote the “Futurist Manifesto” and declared war, demolition and contempt to women, as the world’s only ‘hygiene’). Arslanov’s disillusioned and humoristic approach is also expressed in one of her wall works; its construction resembles a comic book or animated explosion. This dynamic structure contains miniature concrete parachutists. Their heads are shaped as a Napoleon hat, while a camouflage net is engraved on their bodies- the phallus serves as a super hero.
Arslanov’s earlier works also combine humor, derived from the gap between a concept and its visual incarnation. One of her previous objects is a bulldozer covered with synthetic, orange fur (Shooffle, exhibited at the Museum of Israel, Jerusalem). Her Shooffle offered
an alternative to its familiar metallic structure, used for ‘exposing’ terrains of wood, bush and mankind. Another earlier piece contained synthetic leather rings placed on top of a furry pole. This object reminded the viewer of a game designed for infants, in order to develop their motor skills. The transition of a practical object into a sexual symbol creates an inner contradiction, echoing the
work Luncheon in Fur (1936) by the surreal artist Meret Oppenheim; a provocative and bold object containing a cup, a saucer and a spoon- all plated with fur. Recently, Arslanov also exhibited several miniature installations in the Baustelle Schaustelle Gallery in Germany. These installations contained tiny sugar soldiers- perishable entities, obligated to chase the red cherries.
In her paintings, Arslanov once again combines a playful aesthetic with troubling connotations. The paintings inhibit schematic, flat images, painted with a monochromatic color scale of gray, black, blue, red and brown. Therefore, their structural array resembles a geological cutoff. The microscopic figures are drawn as an archetype of underground gnomes, frequently appearing in fantasy literature; they lack a gender or physiognomic distinctions and are always eager to fight. The schematic Lilliputians in her paintings operate in what seems to be an underground ammunition plant. Some of them carry black bags (loaded with bodies, according to Arslanov) on their way to build forts. Some characters climb on top of each other, while others are in charge of shooting and guarding. In a geometrical site, schematic structures similar to Guillotines are placed, alongside compulsively arranged bricks, flames and ammunition. The ammunition resembles the Cheshire cat’s smile from “Alice in Wonderland”, as it is multiplied and scattered across the earth.
The context, in which Cheshire appears throughout the novel, implies entropy and disobedience. Alice first encounters him on avcrossroad in the forest and asks him for guidance and direction. However, his answers seem to confuse her more as they are meant tovraise other questions in the heart of the reader; what is the right way to reach a certain destination and is there a meaning. In the forest, Cheshire provides Alice with an answer: “it doesn’t matter which way you choose..Only if you go far enough”. A similar answer lies in the depth of Arslanov’s paintings, portrayed by the Cheshire’s smile series; Cheshire, a cat endowed with the ability to disappear and reappear, a secret agent of the free spirit.
Arslanov’s aesthetic style is derived from worlds that sanctify ‘gaming’ as a human activity, and the eclectic freedom to conduct experiences. In this regard, Russian Constructivism merged the differentiation between an artist and a craftsman into a broad perception of productive action. Arslanov’s images are mostly a model of processed formalistic approaches; combining design, illustration, animation, and comics with tribal and Modern art. She merges tribal sculptural conventions with replicated models of science fiction androids. Her schematic images might also be seen as mutations of the amputated human machines from the German Dada movement, which perceived humanity as an aimless “ship of fools”.
These installations, resembling stage-set models held by black metal poles, take part in the Dumdemanim solo- exhibition at the Kishon Gallery. They offer the viewer an alienated bird’s eye view, hence, increasing the absurdity in the observed situations. The spectator looks upon these events, as If he was Gulliver; observing the treacherous, petty Lilliputians, as they fight their pointless,
The deconstruction of the Dumdemanim exhibition reveals Arslanov’s ability to cast personal characteristics into her work, thus purifying her own essence. The visual aesthetic and effective setting produce a satiric, playful inclination; encoding the violence and materializing the artist as a humorous individual with a clearheaded outlook and moral discernment. Her strategic use of ‘gaming’, satire and phallic images, reminds us that the comedy was developed from phallic hymns (according to Aristotle); obscene songs performed for the god Dionysus, accompanied by dance and phallic symbols.
The phallic image in her work implies a reality in which the idiom- “phallic woman” is used to describe a woman who fights for her
rights. Her persistent preoccupation with phallic symbols is in fact a personal journey, aiming to extricate her from a male-controlled culture. By using a visual, satiric imitation of male rules, Arslanov recruits the present- a male vector driven by impulses- in order to
re-enforce her ‘missing’ feminine identity. She uses an artifice, explored by Luce Irigaray in her book “This sex which is not one”: a
use of mimesis in order to expose the mechanism that fixates the female image as an object.
Rimma Arslanov was born in 1978 in Tajikistan. She grew up and studied art in Uzbekistan. In 2000 she moved to Israel. She exhibits
her work in Israel and in worldwide.
Translated by Dina Yakerson