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
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.
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.
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
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
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'.
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.