New York

Stefan Tcherepnin, Glam Flying Fox, 2017, faux fur, synthetic leather, 61 x 68 x 12".

Stefan Tcherepnin, Glam Flying Fox, 2017, faux fur, synthetic leather, 61 x 68 x 12".

Stefan Tcherepnin

Real Fine Arts

Stefan Tcherepnin, Glam Flying Fox, 2017, faux fur, synthetic leather, 61 x 68 x 12".

In recent years, artist and composer Stefan Tcherepnin’s work has featured a number of “Cookie Monsters,” who appear again and again in his performances, videos, and sculptures. These “bad” copies come in a range of colors, with googly eyes askew, and sloppy, sagging fur. I’m told that one might represent the Sesame Street character’s “evil Russian twin,” though each also resembles a bootlegged Times Square costume. In other words, we’re looking at a “poor man’s Cookie Monster,” with more pathos than the original. These monsters, however, also carry with them a more adult form of comedy—confused, crazed, homeless, cracked-out or drunk, silly despite obviously bad circumstances—a kind of maniaAAAARGHGGRHRH. It gets a laugh, or at least a LOL.

In Tcherepnin’s exhibition at Real Fine Arts (the first at its temporary location near Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn) he adopted a distorted form of Sesame Street’s cheerful pedagogy: He assumed the role of teacher in order to introduce a new alphabet to his group of hapless monster friends. On view were twinned pictures held in conversational display contraptions. White-on-white replicas of paintings by Vincent van Gogh were gripped by camera tripods, roughly facing upward toward the ceiling; directly above, photographs printed on Plexiglas hung from marionette handles. These images featured glyphic configurations of red tree roots, a reference to Van Gogh’s contested final painting, Tree Roots, 1890, completed on the morning of his suicide (according to his brother’s testimony). What was this final message, in those painted roots?

The monsters, however, were visible only at the peripheries of these scenes. For example, in VG Self Portrait Silhouette (New Alphabet) (all works 2017), a fuzzy red body looms dumbly at the side of the image, while another casts a shrugging shadow over a forest floor. As light shone through the Perspex, colored light was cast onto the white canvases, suggesting an impossible, quasi-religious commune. A three-part video, Attempting To Be Free, played on a number of different screens around the space and featured searching camerawork, edited to pulse visually as the viewfinder scanned the skies for bats and cloud formations, or the ground for curious activity among insects. Such sequences were intercut with footage of furry monsters gazing at the sun in tripped-out rapture or stumbling around the forest in apparent awe. Animated roots flew together in Blair Witch–style arrangements, though unreadable as such to the uninitiated. Tcherepnin also introduced a new avatar for himself—a flying fox—in a new, furry sculpture titled Glam Flying Fox, which hung in one corner of the gallery. With its furry, cream-colored pelt, this character was presented as a kind of spirit animal. 

What’s going on here, with this retreat to the forest, to the aesthetics of the bucolic or the folkloric that always seem overdetermined? Is it the loss of the rational? Tcherepnin’s project appears to be a psychedelic pursuit for a path not taken: some alternative universe that can only be found by turning away from things, and from the mechanics that organize life. The figure of the artist represented here is the bat, the outsider, one who must insist on other routes and systems of knowledge. Should we learn to read all over again? If Fischli and Weiss’s Rat and Bear, seen playfully roaming the countryside in videos such as The Right Way, 1981, showed the artists dressed in animal costumes while engaging in an existential conversation that asked how we should live together, then Tcherepnin’s project encapsulates a contemporary spirit that is more inchoate and pre-verbal. 

Laura McLean-Ferris