- Evgeny Antufiev born 1986
- Synthetic and cotton textile and thread, bird of prey claws
- Object: 400 x 250 x 80 mm
- Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisitions Fund for Russian Art, supported by V-A-C Foundation 2017
Evgeny Antufiev’s mask Untitled 2015 brings together found materials both assembled by and made by the artist into an object that obliquely evokes the forms of Siberian shamans’ masks. It is part of a group of sculptures and objects by Antufiev in Tate’s collection that collectively reflect the breadth of his process-driven practice, in which he treats materials as symbolically charged and insists on accumulating bodies of knowledge that relate to the practices of carving wood, embroidery, casting metal and sculpting ceramic, in order to be able to craft all his pieces himself, without the support of assistants. The other works in the group are: Untitled 2015, a large carved wooden sculpture that depicts a figure sitting on a tree stump, its face fixed in an ambiguous expression with its mouth open (Tate T15062); Untitled 2015, a crowned head made of textile, bronze and amber that harnesses the symbolic potency that amber carries for the artist as a material that is fifty million years old and has ‘lived’ through momentous historic events (Tate T15061); Untitled 2015, a knife cast in bronze, with its pommel in the form of a sharp-toothed animal’s head with its mouth open (Tate T15058); Untitled 2015, a brass chalice with three faces that look back at the viewer (Tate T15059); and Untitled 2015, a ceramic figure that has the appearance of an eroded old stone sculpture (Tate T15060). The works were first shown together as elements within Antufiev’s solo exhibition-installation Seven Underground Kings or the Brief History of the Shadow in 2015 at Regina Gallery in Moscow, as part of the parallel programme of the 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.
Antufiev is known for exploring the construction of myths and using symbolically charged materials that, through his own particular juxtapositions, are transformed into elements within his own idiosyncratic world order. His immersive installations consist of archetypes within the language of myths: heroes, weapons, beasts, chalices, disguises, which together combine into a narrative structure. The critic Valentin Diaconov described Antufiev as a ‘member of the class of artist-collectors’ (Valentin Diaconov in Evgeny Antufiev 2013, p.11) who, by arranging material in an individual order through a highly individualised logic, creates emotionally and symbolically charged environments. The artist frequently references forms found in his native Siberia, as with this mask.
The tension between the art object and the object of ritual evoked by the individual forms of Antufiev’s sculptures and meticulous display methods characterises much of his practice. Commenting on the first exhibition of these works, Antufiev stated that ‘this is an exhibition about form, and what is more, it is about a flickering, unclear form’ (Evgeny Antufiev in conversation with Anatoly Osmolovsky, 15 September 2015, http://syg.ma/@furqat/miezhdu-ritualom-i-iskusstvom-anatolii-osmolovskii-i-ievghienii-antufiev-o-rabotie-s-matierialom, translated by Dina Akhmadeeva, accessed 22 May 2017). Antufiev’s decision to leave his works untitled is a deliberate addition to this ambiguity. The objects frequently move between these two roles as the works take on new ritual functions when they are co-opted into the artist’s performances. In his own invented absurdist game of bingo, Dead Nation: Bingo Version at the Whitechapel Gallery, London in 2016, Antufiev used his works as props, as well as offering them as gifts to audience members in return for performing certain actions.
Likewise, central to the artist’s practice is the deliberate ambiguity of his works’ temporal origins. Antufiev’s choice of forms and materials convincingly take on the guise of the archaic in an attempt to disturb a linear chronology. The artist has explained, ‘I like it when an exhibition turns into an archaeological object, when you look and try to understand what these objects are for. You try to decipher the symbols. You take on the role of an archaeologist.’ (Ibid.) Antufiev works with materials that carry a long history and a symbolic weight – wood, ceramics, bronze, brass, textiles, amber – and the labour-intensive nature of his practice is evident in his works. In this engagement with materials, craft, folklore and myth, Antufiev has established himself since 2009 as one of the leading artists of a generation of contemporary Russian practitioners that has returned to tradition through the lens of conceptualism. Curator Katya Inozemtseva has noted, ‘Antufiev makes complex narrative structures, testing the very idea of the catalogue, the museum and museum forms of representation, memory, and history and, in the process, changing our attitudes to the collective and individual past.’ (Inozemtseva, in Garage Museum of Contemporary Art 2017, p.86.)
The group of objects in Tate’s collection recreates on a smaller scale the narrative structure of Antufiev’s sprawling installations, which rely on connections made between elements. The works can also be displayed separately.
Evgeny Antufiev, Evgeny Antufiev, Milan 2013.
Katya Inozemtseva, ‘Evgeny Antufiev’, in Ruth Addison, Alexander Izvekov, Nikolai Molok (eds.), Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art, exhibition catalogue, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow 2017, pp.86–7.
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