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"Grotto" Wallworks. Written by Abby Cunnane. Curatorial Assistant

To encounter Victor Berezovsky's wall works in ‘Grotto' is to find yourself outside familiar territory, in a place where the language is perhaps unrecognisable, the landscape strange. The ‘writing' on the walls is unfamiliar, and the walls themselves seem different. Abstract black gesso-painted forms engage directly with the physical space of the gallery, while indirectly suggesting a conceptual space beyond. The artist plays with the idea of a ‘grotto'—a cave-like space without natural light—as host to the primitivist forms, drawing on ideas of pre-history, 1950s psychotherapy, symbolic narratives about support and protection, and optical theory concerning illusions of mass and weight.

 

Berezovsky's recent work continues his interrogation of spaces, both the material and a psychological space. The black forms in ‘Grotto' draw attention to the gallery proper, the empty white walls becoming as meaning-full as the shapes themselves. In relation to the wall they are neither ornament, architectural feature, nor formal minimalist gesture; ‘in classical minimalism, the surface—the skin of the objects—is expected to function discretely as an opaque denial of the idea of skin, as a “perfect finish”, as the silent boundary of the volume.' Berezovsky's forms prove harder to label. They are determined by the character and dimensions of the space they occupy, yet refuse to simply ‘stand in' for other things. They point the way toward something and mark a particular spot. A recent public art commission (‘Junction') on the roof of Toi Poneke Gallery, Wellington , located these signs in the sky; here the horizon line is similarly neglected and they seem to float in an indoor landscape of light and shadow.

 

Both the Michael Hirshfeld Gallery and Conical Inc. (where an earlier incarnation of ‘Grotto' was installed) are recessed, with no natural lighting, and the artist utilises the cave-like potential of these spaces. References to pre-historic or ‘primitive' cave painting are countered, however, by the apparent sophistication of a minimalist aesthetic: once again the forms have eluded tidy classification. What both the pre-historic and minimalist references share is drawing attention to the physical properties of the space. Nothing is actually altered in the room, yet it is brought into the foreground by the presence of the black shapes.

 

Individual shapes may seem almost familiar, almost decipherable. There is the tentacle-like arm of one, while the bulky squatted mass of another suggests a huddled group, or a bundled cloth. A third seems reminiscent of a serpent, or something water-bourne. At the same time they may conceivably represent voids, holes or openings. The ambiguities of perception become the subject, yet the amorphous marks persistently appeal to our need to affix meaning, to translate them. In this way they act like enormous two-faced signs: what some people may see as inky two-dimensional blots, silhouettes or shadows, to others appear as weighty masses. Berezovsky terms them ‘biomorphic', acknowledging their shape-shifting capacity. What is seen is hard to separate from what is felt or projected.

 

Because we can't immediately ‘read' the marks the way words are readable, we closely inspect them for another way to relate to them. In doing so we become more sensitive to our processes of visual and sensual perception. Most of us are familiar with the de-coding of words; even words we don't know the meaning of are readable, and (we trust) translate to something meaningful. In ‘Grotto' the shapes are not words, but perhaps have this in common with them: ‘[T] he word connects the visible trace with the invisible thing.' Like pieces of evidence, they don't necessarily lead to the solving of the puzzle .

 

Ultimately, the forms are felt ; they sit firmly outside the didactic. We are offered no instruction manual, no translation dictionary. I t may feel as if we are sitting in a behavioural psychologist's office, presented with unintelligible objects and asked to name what we see. But this abstraction is not about trying to be obscure, it encourages the opening out of rigidly prescribed meanings. The forms are more than the sum of their visible parts, and ask only for a ‘letting go' by the viewer. This is not to say they are ambiguous; in terms of scale and form they are made to the artist's precise specifications. The experience is all the viewers' own; to reduce it to a string of reference points would be to diminish their potency.

 

Earlier work, such as that featured in ‘Bobble, Mary Newton Gallery, Wellington, 2007, or a window work at Grace, Wellington, 2006, trade in a more personal iconography of signs. These smaller scale forms drew on a Russian formalist aesthetic, where narrative references are reduced to empirical signs. Pattern-like in their simplicity, they alluded to strength and protection, fragility and compassion. Monographic shapes of hands, of a Russian headscarf, or of bowed figures supporting each other were all sources. Over time these forms have evolved into base unit of larger shapes; consistently non-representational, they reveal both the arbitrary character of signs and our innate desire to relate to them.

 

In ‘Grotto' the scale has increased, as has the physical sense of the shapes' presence in the room. Despite the scale, however, their presence is not a menacing one. Rather, by drawing attention to the overlap of physical space and ‘space of mind', they transform the gallery into a kind of meditative no-man's land. This show is particularly timely given the pending re-modelling of the Hirschfeld Gallery; their ‘occupation' is one which draws attention to the small physical space which is to change, but also to the limitless breadth of a ‘mind-space'.

 

Born in 1974, Victor Berezovsky completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (majoring in painting) at Ilam, Canterbury University , in 1995. Currently he lives, shows and works in Wellington as a full time artist. His most recent solo exhibitions include ‘Bobble', Mary Newton Gallery, Wellington , 2007 and ‘Grotto', Conical Inc., Melbourne , Australia , 2006. Victor Berezovsky's current work parallels a body of more figurative work in other media. Following a temporary public art commission (‘Junction') at Toi Poneke Gallery on Able Smith St, with ‘Grotto' Berezovsky's practice comes inside, only to question what really defines that space.

For an interesting extension of this discussion see Heiser, J^rg, ‘Medium and Membrane', Parkett #77 (2006), pp.122-127.

‘Memos for the Next Millennium, the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1985-86', Harvard University Press, p 77.


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