Makhachkala, Russia

Taus Makhacheva, The Fast and the Furious, 2011, C-print, 35 3/8 x 23 5/8".

Taus Makhacheva, The Fast and the Furious, 2011, C-print, 35 3/8 x 23 5/8".

Taus Makhacheva

Republic of Dagestan Artist Union Exhibition Hall

Taus Makhacheva, The Fast and the Furious, 2011, C-print, 35 3/8 x 23 5/8".

The most populous republic in Russia’s North Caucasus, Dagestan is bordered by Azerbaijan to the south and the Caspian Sea to the east. Literally, Dagestan means “country of mountains.” Yet, as home to two and a half million residents belonging to some thirty different ethnic nationalities, it has, since the tenth century, also been known as Jabal al Alsinah, or “Mountain of Languages.” Across millennia, the multiethnic/multilingual region has crafted a vibrant carpet of culture. For “Story Demands to Be Continued,” contemporary Dagestani artist Taus Makhacheva, with support from the Peri Foundation, traveled from Moscow (where she grew up) to Makhachkala (where she is now based) to stage this exhibition, which, curated by Alexey Maslyaev (of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art), is structured around the pattern of a Dagestani style of kilim. Filling both floors of Makhachkala’s Artist Union, the show formed a complex narrative engaging the fate of cultural traditions in the post-Soviet era, a time when national and ethnic identities have undergone radical restructuring. But the titular story also pointed to the artist’s personal history, namely her connection to the legendary Dagestani poet and writer Rasul Gamzatov, author of “My Dagestan”—a narrative that Makhacheva, as Gamzatov’s granddaughter, sought to carry forward with this show.

Aiming “to merge the traditional with contemporary art in a common field of semantics and signs,” Maslyaev anchored the theme of this show by hanging a local nineteenth-century kilim at the hall’s entrance. The carpet’s polygonal arrangement evoked the interlocking narratives of history. Both symbol and notion were asserted repeatedly throughout the exhibition as Makhacheva recycled myths and signs vis dialogical poetics. For example, viewers saw, in the approximately minute-long video Carpet, 2006, the artist rolled-up lengthwise in a kilim bearing a pattern intended to symbolize the Garden of Eden—a place scholars historically site in the Caucasus. On another screen, the short video Gamstul, 2012, pointed toward the performativity of man and nature in a Dagestan aul (mountain village). With its architecture grafted onto alpine slopes, the aul is a palimpsest of glaciated gestures—formations, geological and man-made, that have accumulated across generations. In the piece, a male dancer interprets scenes painted by Franz Roubaud in his 1886–98 series of monumental panels known as “Conquest of the Caucasus.” At other points, the masculine body moves to rhyme with the landscape’s terraced buildings and rocky surrounds.

If tangled histories constituted one theme in this show, another was gender and the changing ideation of masculinity in the region. In the three-channel installation Let Me Be a Part of the Narrative, 2012, one feed streamed segments of an old Soviet documentary about Dagestani wrestler Ali Aliev, while the other two featured documentary footage of dogfighting in present-day Caucasus. The various ways and sites in which masculinity continues to be articulated were further explored in The Fast and the Furious, 2011, which, via photography and more video, plunges into the subculture of street racing to examine the social hierarchy of competition, spectacle, and consumer society. Presenting us with a fur-covered “beast car,” the work hints ironically at the emergence of a new Caucasian he-man. The staged video Space of Celebration, 2009, meanwhile, frames two people, each enveloped in odd bride-like garments, flitting between tables in a wedding hall dripping with gold and white—a not-so-subtle commentary on the kitschy revitalization (and reification) of traditional Dagestani aesthetics. But it is the photo documentation of the performance Delinking, 2011, that perhaps best advances Makhacheva’s story: a video wherein the artist painted her face with multiple traditional mehndi patterns—patterns ostensibly not yet woven into her biography—as though in search of authenticity in the era of post-representation.

Lali Pertenava