Critics’ Picks

View of “Jura Shust: NEOPHYTE,” 2019-20.

View of “Jura Shust: NEOPHYTE,” 2019-20.

Moscow

Jura Shust

Fragment Gallery
3-Y Krasnosel'skiy Pereulok, 19
December 14, 2019–February 13, 2020

Slavic mythology meets a globalized illicit industry and sacral rituals move to digital platforms in Jura Shust's “NEOPHYTE,” the Berlin-based Belarusian artist's inaugural show at Fragment Gallery. At the exhibition’s entrance, a wall installation of iron soleplates outfitted with green strobe lights illuminates a display of onions growing in wine glasses—an allusion to Soviet home gardening and to the anonymous web-browsing software Tor (also known as “The Onion Router”). The next room houses more strange things: a crushed bicycle suspended from the ceiling and encrusted with fern fronds and resin; focus group–generated graphics predicting viewers’ patterns of optical attention; mysterious packets wrapped in blue eclectic tape; and a large screen looping the exhibition’s titular video, Neophyte, 2018–19.

Over approximately fifteen minutes, a group of young people, dressed in white and equipped with smartphones, wanders the foggy woods in pursuit of an unknown substance. They then lay blissed-out on the ground, and a done camera slowly pulls back to reveal the urban sprawl of Minsk. Shust’s video alludes to the ritual search—shared among many eastern and northern European traditions and famously represented in Nikolai Gogol’s “The Eve of Ivan Kupala”—for the mythical fern flower on the night of the summer solstice, but more immediately to the increase in drug trafficking in post-Soviet states over the last decade. The rise of the dark net has made procedure quite simple: Transfer money to a dealer and receive in return a map or picture of the place where the zakładka, or “stash,” is hidden.

Shust’s subject is a particularly fraught one in Russia, where any non-condemnatory portrayal of narcotics can be defined as “drug propaganda” and severely punished. The artist himself has said that the show “is just a metaphor,” though its meaning remains enigmatic. It might be a vision of a lifestyle constructed around taboo practices, or of our increasingly networked, information-oriented culture’s inexhaustible search for fleeting, illusory highs.