IRWIN, Michael Benson

Black Square on Red Square

1992–2004

Not on display

Artists
IRWIN founded 1983
Michael Benson born 1962
Medium
Video, colour and sound (mono)
Dimensions
Duration: 3min, 15sec
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Committee 2020
Reference
T15531

Summary

Black Square on Red Square 1992 is an editioned video lasting three minutes and fifteen seconds that can be shown on a monitor or as a projection. It documents an action that took place on 6 June 1992 in Moscow’s Red Square, for the duration of thirty minutes sometime between 14.00 and 15.00, initiated by the Slovenian collective IRWIN and the American artist and filmmaker Michael Benson (born 1962). The footage from the action shows a group of people getting off a bus in Red Square, hauling with them a large, heavy black fabric object; onlookers stand by, including uniformed police. Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Lenin Mausoleum, two of the city’s most famous landmarks, form a recognisable backdrop to the group’s action. The group proceeds to carry the object closer into the centre of the square, unfurling and stretching the fabric until it takes the form of a large black square. One participant audibly declares in English, ‘This is Black Square on the Red Square’. The participants of the action, as well as the onlookers, congregate around the edges of the space demarcated by the fabric.

The action was led by IRWIN and Michael Benson, with the participation of artists from the circle of Moscow Conceptualists: Natalia Abalakova, Dmitrii Ariupin, Maja Breznik, Sergei Bugaev (Afrika), Charles, Eda Čufer, B. Edelman, Fiona Fleck, Juergen Harten, Julia Kollerova, Vesna Kesić, Irina Koulik, Galya Kurierova, Ellena and Victor Sagarev, I. Smirnova, K. Tschouvaschew, Ekaterina Turchina and Dragan Živadinov (list of participants confirmed by IRWIN member Miran Mohar in correspondence with Tate curator Dina Akhmadeeva, April–May 2018).

Black Square on Red Square is emblematic of the group’s self-declared persisting interest in the ‘ambivalent inheritance of the historical avant-gardes and its totalitarian successors, and thus with the dialectic of avant-garde and totalitarianism’ (quoted at http://www.irwin.si/about/, accessed 27 March 2018). In initiating the action, IRWIN brought an iconic symbol of avant-garde modernism – the black square of Kazimir Malevich’s (1879–1935) painting Black Square 1915 – into contact with the symbolic centre of the recently-collapsed Soviet state, Moscow’s Red Square. As IRWIN’s Borut Vogelnik described, ‘In Moscow, we spread out a 22-metre square of black canvas on Red Square in front of the Lenin Mausoleum in such a fashion that, combined with the red of the events the square is named after, it formed a composition, a painting visible from the air.’ (Vogelnik 2014, accessed 27 March 2018.)

1992 was a pertinent year for such a project: in forming this composition, the collective combined the failed ambitions of artistic modernism with the failed ambitions of the Soviet state – which had collapsed in 1991 – in building communism, interrogating what became of those unrealised future-oriented projects. The art historian Gediminas Gasparavičius described the action as the ‘stitch[ing] together of two unrealised utopias: the Soviet state that never achieved communism and an artistic avant-garde that never became a form of life’ (Gasparavičius 2015, p.410).

The action Black Square on Red Square was realised in the context of a series of events, lectures, discussions and actions that took place between 10 May 1992 and 10 June 1992 upon the invitation of the project Apt-Art International, organised by Viktor Misiano, Lena Kurlandzeva, Konstantin Zvezdochetov and Regina Gallery, Moscow, and which aimed to consider the consequences and relevance of so-called ‘Apartment Art’ after the collapse of the Soviet state. During this month-long residency, IRWIN forged dialogues with Russian artistic circles. Upon their return to Slovenia, the collective retrospectively conceptualised their time in Moscow into NSK Embassy Moscow and the first iteration of NSK State in Time 1992–present, the collective’s virtual, non-territorial state. The video Black Square on Red exists in an edition of five plus one artists’ proof. Tate’s copy is number five in the edition; numbers one and three are held in private collections, while numbers two and four are in the collections of the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and The Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana respectively.

Further reading
Borut Vogelnik, ‘Irwin on Malevich’, Tate Etc., no.31, Summer 2014, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/irwin-on-malevich, accessed 27 March 2018.
Eda Čufer (ed.), NSK Embassy Moscow: How the East Sees the East, Loža Gallery, Koper, Slovenia 2015.
Gediminas Gasparavičius, ‘Promises and Premises of Art as a State: NSK Embassy Moscow and its Contexts’, in NSK From Kapital to Capital: Neue Slowenische Kunst – An Event of the Final Decade of Yugoslavia, Cambridge, MA 2015, pp.205–16.

Dina Akhmadeeva
April 2018

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