In the Streams
PhD, independent curator
«...nomads, in contrast to the state, do not divide space, staying within the rigid framework, but they are rather divided in the space – smooth, open and unlimited». Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari. Nomadolo- gy: The War Machine 1
To stay in space here and now, without any cover, without any skin, easily relo- cating within streams of fragmentation. To tear apart any harmony or structure. To breach the gestalts of mainstream and the immanence of the common image.
To reflect on the cross-section of time, gaze and body. To switch from simple anatomy to quantum physics. To dissect bodies, muscles, organs, to divide atoms into neutrons and to break them into Boson particles... Such artistic objec- tives imply an artist with an analytical mind and a visual poet at the same time. In fact, Nurbol Nurakhmet’s artefactsare all about a careful examination of the subject and poetics. Nurakhmet is researching the situation around him by placing figures-bodies devoid of any subjective identity as a cover. The figures reveal themselves in different narratives, which can only be deciphered by diving into the stream of the artist’s interpretations and mythologems. The protagonists of Nurakhmet’s canvases, collages and works on paper are usually nude. Nudity is used by the artist as an instrument revealing the very structure of the world order. He is not satisfied with the superficial and decorative perception of historical, political and anthropological phenomena. The artist decides to speak about the existential by depicting people without cover of identity, which is confus- ing the imagination and does not permit the characters to be studied closely. As if wishing to illustrate the Body without or- gans (BWO) theory2, Nurakhmet dissolves his coverless heroes in an endless stream of events and ambiguous symbols.
The exhibition’s ‘skeleton’ consists of several series executed in seemingly traditional media – painting, drawing, lithography and collage. The artist’s tech- nique seems traditional, even academic at first glance. Nurakhmet uses his skills in academic drawing of human body and animals with a very realistic persuasive- ness. This allows him to speak in a clear language, using well-known images and symbols. At the same time, the artist transmits his thoughts and messages
in a poetic form. There are several groups of such imaginary cross-sections that take centre stage of the exhibition.
Blindness, limitation, escapism as the figurative stamp of modernity come to mind when we look at the Censorship (2017) series. The artist speaks from
the perspective of an ordinary person. The constant flow of information de- prives the individual of the possibility of an independent choice and one’s own political gesture. We all are a product of a post-industrial, virtual, network era of BWO. Censorship and self-censorship as products of our time come forth in Nura- khmet’s artistic work.
Painted in a disturbing colour range, the protagonists of the Missionaries (2017) series emerge from the steppe land- scapes. Those are plaster figures of Ve- nus and écorché. The classical figures of the European academic painting school appear in the steppes as substitutes of ancient anthropomorphic tombstones (balbals). The western images and role models spread their ideals and propor- tions gradually dissolving the autoch- thonous archetypes without ceasing to perform their functions. In Nurakhmet’s interpretation, the poetic image of the tragic clash between the coloniser and the colonised create a feeling of uncer- tainty and does not allow the protago- nists to possess emotional capability of self-colonisation. Abay’s Room (2018) depicts a small room with a plaster figure of the Kazakh poet surrounded by the ‘star images’ of the world culture, repre- sentatives of the figurative “figure chain” actively consumed by contemporary art everywhere, also in plaster. The ambiva- lence of the composition is emphasized
by a related painting Waiting Room (2018) showing a room cluttered with unwanted furniture with naked figures, frozen in the expectation of any changes... earthquakes, currency devaluation, change of power.
The flow of romantic cityscapes Wednesday (2018), Thursday (2018) and Constellation (2018) is united by the theme of collective memory in the space of the city. Almaty central squares serve as promenade places, the city’s business card, but they have also witnessed tragic events following manifestations and other expressions of citizens’ wills, injustice and violence. Nura- khmet treats landscapes as bodies, reveal- ing the city’s muscles, opening the idyllic decorations with the help of fragmentation of compositional frames and painterly glazes. The artist’s colour palette switches on the mechanisms of anxiety, which are further envoked by the displacement of compositional centres in the Independence Monument, the Abay Opera Theatre and the Abay monument. In the Constellation the map of Almaty city is reflected in the sky above the Abay monument marking the city streets with locations where political manifestations took place with star-like sparkles.
Disappearing trunks of trees with flashes of snow interlace with the torso of a na- ked headless horseman riding a headless horse in paintings Birch Grove (2016) and Birch Grove. Kenesary (2019). Here the trunks of trees have no branches and ap- pear as a visual metronome defining the chronology. The image of the decapitated rider is devoid of any ethnic or historic references except for the act of decap- itation itself. The nostalgia for the lost heroes evokes universal grief, putting the national tragedy on the epic all-human level. Here the legendary story of the last Kazakh khan executed and decapitated during an uprising against the Russian empire becomes symbolic. Nameless
and headless body of the national hero
is seen as the loss of identity. The nudity and blurriness of identity markers point to the impossibility of restoration of his- toric truth and the necessity to construct romantic myths.
The process of constructing identity from different incompatible elements is de- ployed by the artist in his use of collage. The Soviet epoch, considered as our antiquity, informs generations of post-so- viet inhabitants even after the disap- pearance of the metropolis. The genetic memory presents us with an image of a revolutionary leader with his hand point- ing to the right direction as a marker of high tradition (Active Memory, 2018). The renaissance of the equestrian nomadic culture necessitates ancient myths about centaurs. The artist creates collages of bodies of horses and men, hinting at the possibility of artificial selection and the continuity of culture codes. In the artist’s ironic interpretation, the ancient myth of a centaur turns from a marble monument into a carcass cut by a butcher exposing the whole list of anatomic details (Ances- tors, 2017).
The process of looking at one’s own culture codes through the framework
of the dominant Eurocentric culture is illustrated in the Keyhole series (2018). The outline of the Venus de Milo enclos- es within its boundaries the artist’s own works hinting primarily at the self-coloni- sation of subaltern.
The ambivalence of a human being com- bining the immanent and the transcen- dent – body and soul – is often levelled out by the carriers of these entities.
Nurakhmet peels off the skin from the bodies in the hope of finding the spiri- tual. The futility of the efforts is obvious – the transcendence is elusive, and the corporeality is given (Corporeality, 2019).
Nurakhmet highlights the absurdity of a direct transfer of Eurocentric values into the context of the Great Steppe,
a territory with a different tradition. He presents balbals as a phenomenon of singular antiquity and replaces autoch- thonous symbols with the unified ones. This concern unites Nurakhmet’s paint- ing series Missionaries and his collaged interpretation (Balbals, 2018).
A handwritten book with reflections on the future of Kazakh culture and its place in the global world is Nurakhmet’s medium experiment co-authored by Sabina Kuan- galiyeva. For a few months, the two artists were leading a multimedia fixation of their thoughts and reactions to different events gathering them into a handwritten book-di- alogue about the important counterpoints of the modern socio-cultural situation
in Kazakhstan. The book Qitap (2017) includes texts, drawings, collages and sketches the two artists sent each other. It functions as a personal archive fixating the problematics of the present time through a prism of subjective worldview of two human beings.
The theme of searching for the tran- scendental in the material underpins the whole exhibition and is also present in the triptych Searching for God (2018- 2019). The paintings show slaughtering
of animals’ bodies, which can be seen as symbolic of man’s drive for power and the useless fixation on the phenomena which are beyond human control. In the triptych, the act of slaughtering appears three times and the format of paintings (the central part is almost square and
the lateral parts resemble symmetrically elongated wings) as well as the down- ward looking angle, as if the scenes
were depicted from the ceiling, suggest
a viewpoint of some supreme being watching the hardships of Homo sapiens. The narrative composition translates the dichotomy of polar processes – slaughter of a pig and a bull create an allusion to the food preferences of two dominating religions in Kazakhstan. The central part of a triptych levels out the division com- bining the processes of manipulations with different symbols into a lifeless flesh called upon to become spiritual food.
It is the studio practice that permits Nurakhmet to think of himself as a cre- ator of perfect heroes, to study funda- mentally the material of human bodies, to admire their perfection and to spiritualize the aesthetics of the Classics. The daily work with a model, that has almost fallen into oblivion, allows the artist to under- stand the secrets of a human being as
a carrier of body and soul. The multiple studies of nude figures bring the spectator to the space-time depth of creative action. The presented charcoal drawings transformed into lithographs highlight the central concern raised by Walter Benjamin in his programmatic text3. The artist in his own way tackles the ques- tions of corporeality together with the problematics of an endless reproduction of a mechanised act of creation.
As a magistral to the above-mentioned structural elements of Nurbol Nura- khmet’s artistic searches I would like to outline the main directions of his artis- tic reflection. First of all, his innovative use of the medium is striking. In the context of the ubiquitous dependence on photography, video and the art of direct action, Nurakhmet’s painting, model-based studio work and traditional printing technique left at the periphery of the artistic gesture, appear nontrivi-
al and fresh. The artist uses traditional mediums for his artworks, without making them look too archaic. This is reinforced by the fact that Nurakhmet comes from a culture, which only recently accepted the above-mentioned techniques as means of visual communication. The discourses of the decolonial thought are transmitted by the artist with the help of technical meth- ods of the culture-metropolis. Besides the artist does it with the brilliance of the high standards academic painting school which only aggravates the incandescence of his tragic thoughts. The artist uses
the techniques of painting, drawing and printing, adding his own rhythm, percep- tion of colour, and formal construction. He is interested in the prototypes/al- ter-egos that appear in his works openly or below the surface. The artist draws on the legacy of the Neue Wilde, Francis Ba- con and other protagonists of postmod- ern art dissecting and reformatting their messages. The narrative substrate of the exhibition’s body presents borderless fluxes of feelings, non-informative im- ages-artefacts whirling in the discursive field of nomadic singularities, post-colo- nial and post-Soviet, original and copies, anthropological constructs, cultural
and collective memory and so on. Such dilution of media and articulation, on one hand, questions the problems considered by the artist, and on the other, allows him to weave the main issues of the contem- poraneity through the fractions of the conscious. An attempt to use splitting as approximation to understand the whole.