Taus Makhacheva

Tightrope

2015

In Tate Modern

Artist
Taus Makhacheva born 1983
Medium
Video, high definition, projection, colour and sound (stereo)
Dimensions
Duration: 58min, 10sec
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisitions Fund for Russian Art, supported by V-A-C Foundation 2019
Reference
T15356

Summary

Tightrope 2015 is a colour video with ambient sound lasting fifty-eight minutes and ten seconds. The video is shown as a large-scale projection and exists in an edition of five with one artist’s proof; Tate’s copy is number four in the edition. Other copies from the edition are in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and the Van Abbemusem, Eindhoven jointly with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp. The work originally existed as a seventy-three-minute piece and was transformed into the current edit in 2017, in preparation for its display at the Venice Biennale in 2017. The artist has linked Tightrope conceptually to a slightly later work titled On the Benefits of Pyramids in Cultural Education, Strengthening of National Consciousness, and the Formation of Moral and Ethical Guideposts 2015, a performance staged during the 6th Moscow Biennale and the Kiev Biennial in 2015.

Tightrope features a performance by Rasul Abakarov, a fifth generation descendant of a Dagestani dynasty of tightrope walkers, under the direction of the artist. Abakarov methodically carries sixty-one modernist paintings and works on paper related to Dagestani modernism across a tightrope above a canyon between two hills. He is filmed using drone cameras against a landscape backdrop just outside the Dagestani village of Tsovkra-1, known for cultivating the art of tightrope walking. Taking works from one hill, on which they are arranged on a rack-like structure that keeps the works in a sequential arrangement, the tightrope walker takes the works across and arranges them within a cuboid structure reminiscent of museum storage. Through this process, the tightrope walker reconfigures their arrangement.

The scene shifts between wide angle shots of the action in the landscape and face-on shots of the tightrope walker as he brings works into view. Each of the sixty-one paintings that appear during the film was chosen by Makhacheva from the collection of the Dagestan Museum of Fine Arts and copied for the performance. The selection was loosely based on an unpublished essay by Dzhamilya Dagirova that presented a history of modernism in Dagestan. They include Franz Roubaud’s (1856–1928) nineteenth-century battle scenes, referenced in Makhacheva’s earlier video Gamsutl (Tate T14216) and commemorating the wars by which Dagestan became incorporated into the Russian Empire; examples of Dagestani socialist realism from its soviet period that depict national heroes (such as Yusuf Mollaev’s Rasul Gamzatov Visits Fidel Castro¸ date unknown); and later experimentations, including with pop art (such as Magomed Dibirov’s Confrontation 1998) and abstract expressionism (such as Irina Guseinova-Astermirova’s The Origin of Discrepancies 1992). Spanning a period from the nineteenth century to the year 2000, a self-imposed timeframe chosen by Makhacheva, the selection visualises a certain history of modern art in Dagestan that is simultaneously rewritten throughout the course of Tightrope in the physical act of rearrangement.

Setting up a process that creates an emotionally-charged and tense moment, as Abakarov makes his way across the tightrope carrying these apparently precious objects – some carried in his hands, some attached to two sides of his balance pole, and some pushed along the tightrope by his foot, being too large to pick up – Makhacheva visualises a precarious cultural heritage specific to her native Dagestan. By referencing museum storage, she likewise questions how museums guarantee the survival of artworks, both physically and conceptually, by creating a hierarchy of value.

Tightrope raises questions about the centre and the margin, and the visibility and invisibility of certain historical and art historical narratives over others that are present within museum spaces. Makhecheva’s practice frequently addresses questions of regional and cultural identity, and in Tightrope she visualises this identity in flux, with the narrative which these artworks write rendered mobile by the tightrope walker’s actions. The art historian Madina Tlotstanova has noted that Tightrope, a piece that Makhacheva has exhibited internationally, ‘perform[s] a tongue-in-cheek reverse enlightening function: it is a gesture of a Dagestanian artist “writing back” to the centre, and offering it a gift which cannot be refused. Exhibiting her works as contemporary art … Western museums … also acquire … the additional content wrapped into the shell of her performances’. (Madina Tlostanova, ‘A Museum between Heaven and Earth’, in Shapovalov 2017, pp.79–80.)

Further reading
Kate Sutton, ‘Openings: Taus Makhacheva’, Artforum February 2016, pp. 218-221.
Vladislav Shapovalov (ed.), Taus Makhacheva: Tightrope, Milan 2017.

Dina Akhmadeeva
May 2017

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