I don’t like installations by modern artists. Not because they are a confusing pile of objects collected from garbage bins or carefully arranged stones picked from a Mediterranean beach last summer. I can understand the grand idea behind their work. I can also see the artist’s frustrations, sublimations and undiagnosed diagnoses, I can then pity them, but pity is a poor substitute for love. I especially hate installations that are built to include the viewer into interacting with them. Why should I interact with psychoses of Tracy Emin induced by illegal substances?! Were I to sit in front of Marina Abramovich, I would ridicule her ideas until she cried or kicked me out, whichever comes first. I can tolerate stupidity and banality only in myself, not when other people exhibit it.
So, it is quite rare that an artist can surprise me, involve me, and leave a long-lasting impression, especially making an installation based on a New Testament theme.
When a modern artist takes the Bible as his or her source of inspiration, they tend to end up with pompous bluff as far away from the New Testament as a Voodoo practitioner from the Holy Communion.
Not this time.
You are first met by the Last Supper scene.
Because it is a “living” installation, you’d have to read on to understand how it works.
First, you walk around the Last Supper, and look into the faces and onto the hands, and body language of the figures. Nothing new there. And – truth to be told – there can’t be anything new, not after Da Vinci. The bad thing about Da Vinci’s Last Supper was that he said it all and left nothing to be said to other artists. But you still can enjoy the simplicity and sincerity of this sculpture. You can also circle around Judas, taking the place of different apostles and seeing the scene with THEIR eyes. This is an interesting experience, something that only a 3D model of the event can give you. If you know who these bearded men are and what each of them is supposed to think and feel, this “tour” is getting bizarre, because you start getting the feeling of being there. Psychologically, each apostle is done very well, but it is not about the quality of the sculpture itself. It is about the quality of what starts happening in your head.
The two photos below show the scene from the Judas perspective, were he to turn his head to the left and right:
And then, having attended the biblical moment of betrayal and sacrifice, you get to the second part of the installation that yanks you forward 2000 years, right into the present time:
There are twelve mannequins, dressed in ordinary, if slightly outdated clothes, walking towards and then past Christ, who stands facing them in a robe that went out of fashion 2000 years ago. Sometimes you see other visitors to the exhibition walking through the crowd of apostles, who remain frozen in their stroll.
People stop in front of Christ, look up at his face and then walk on.
And as you walk on, you can’t resist the temptation to look back:
No, Christ is still there, and people walk by, the crowd not noticing him, as if he’s not there at all. The modern crowd doesn’t see him, but he’s right there, you can even touch him, and you want to tap some of the “apostles” on the shoulder and say, “Look, there he is, standing, you just walked past, talking on your cell phone, or just looking the other way…” and then you realise these are mannequins. Art. Installation. So you drop a last glance at this crowd as if following you in your movement past and away from Christ, and then the feeling that YOU have missed something important, walked past something vital keeps bouncing inside your head.
I made these pictures last summer, I am still coming back to that exhibition in my mind.
Oh, the artist is Sergey Milchenko. He created one of the most convincing and troubling monuments to the process of losing faith in the modern society. You can be a Marxist, an anarcho-atheist, a catholic, muslim or orthodox, but you’ll be stirred. Of course, if you know – at least vaguely – what the New Testament and Last Supper were about.
PS It is so much bigger than at least 50% of stuff at Tate Modern, I am surprised it is not there. Or MOMA. Or, for that matter in any other decent gallery or museum.