Critics’ Picks

Oleg Kulik, Deep into Russia #1, 1993, gelatin silver print, 16 x 22 1/2".

Oleg Kulik, Deep into Russia #1, 1993, gelatin silver print, 16 x 22 1/2".


Oleg Kulik

Regina Gallery | London
22 Eastcastle Street
October 10–November 17, 2012

Oleg Kulik’s latest exhibition consists largely of photographs of the artist having sex with different animals. To be fair, Kulik makes these relations somewhat less shocking by becoming an animal himself; in his most famous performances, he is transformed into a mad dog, barking at and attacking bystanders. Video and photographic footage of one such performance features the nude artist roaming the streets outside a Kiev gallery on all fours, barking and lurching wildly at the scandalized audience. In the “Deep into Russia” series, all taken from a 1993 performance in a village called Dubrovky in the rural Tver region of that country, Kulik goes down on the farm—or vice versa, as the case may be—and the small photos give us all the details. Turning a fence into a glory hole, he is fellated by a pig. Crouching on all fours, he allows a dog to have his way with him. A baby bunny wraps itself around his erect penis.

The overall effect is one of confusion rather than grotesquerie—particularly once the viewer becomes cognizant that all of these performances took place in the 1990s and that no new material is on offer. ThThe exhibition’s timing, situated as it is at the opening of the fall art season, thus requests further reflection: Indeed, now that some performance art from the ’90s is being reassessed, it is useful to reflect back on a not-so-distant context in which this work was considerably less in vogue.

Traversing the grayish tormented geography of the bucolic motherland via these bestial encounters, I was eventually led to question whether I myself could ever be so compelled by nature as to risk suffocation by inserting the entirety of my head inside a cow’s vagina in order to imbue that noble beast with a few moments of wanton soil-kneading satisfaction. If such cerebral probing is not indicative of the ultimate purpose of art in all its higher manifestations, I don’t know what is.