Verona, Italy

Victor Alimpiev

Studio la Città

Two screens, one very large, one average in size, were in two different rooms, although both were at least partly visible from a single position. On them the same scene was running, but unsynchronized—or so we might at first have thought. In fact, the footage shown on the two channels was not identical, but both screens showed the same four young women guiding a small group of people up a short ramp; their movement is extremely slow, almost imperceptible, and they hold red banners, stirred by a light breeze, while the protagonist makes small, insignificant gestures. The sequence lasts about thirty minutes. This is To Trample Down an Arable Land, 2009, by Russian artist Victor Alimpiev, which was recently exhibited at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK, as well as in this year’s Moscow Biennial, but was conceived in this “split” format specifically for its presentation in Verona.

With this work, the artist continues his investigation into personal relationships between individuals. In the same show, for example, one could also see My Breath, 2007, in which two women sing a song in Russian about breathing. Yet there were also pieces that connoted a collective, historical, even universal action: In To Trample Down an Arable Land, for instance, the sense of intimacy, the attention to the individual in relation to the group, seems less important than in Alimpiev’s earlier work. For a Russian artist to depict young men and women looking straight ahead while holding red banners that flutter in the wind is inevitably to evoke the monumental rhetoric of socialist realism in the days of the Soviet Union, or the allegorical May Day parades in Red Square; and the work’s title seems to confirm this interpretation. It’s not that Alimpiev has been converted to the easy quotation, to the facile historical reference. But what used to be a subtler sense of the relationship between the individual and the collective has become one-sided. The intimate gesture, repeated by numerous people, normally loses its individual dimension, yet here the opposite seems to happen: The collective significance of the action determines its individual meaning, so that the group gesture—banners, young people, the metaphoric conquest of heights—takes precedence.

Finally, however, what should be stressed is Alimpiev’s great formal intelligence in using slow motion—and, as usual in his work, a slight overexposure: The unusually deliberate pace forces one to look beyond the surface of the movement, beyond the rhetorical aspect of the action, which would otherwise dominate. It is one thing to see the alignment of soldiers on parade at normal speed, but if everything slows down one begins to perceive the gaps, the different faces, the small anomalies, a grimace. What were categories—“soldiers,” “young people,” or “the people”—become individuals once again.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.