Alexandra Sukhareva

Pseudomorphosis

2016–7

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Not on display

Artist
Alexandra Sukhareva born 1983
Medium
Glass, copper amalgam, silver salt, vinyl and metal
Dimensions
Display dimensions variable. Large glass disc – 500 × 500 × 5mm
4 x smaller glass discs - 415 × 415 × 5mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisitions Fund for Russian Art, supported by V-A-C Foundation 2018
Reference
T15072

Summary

Pseudomorphosis 2016 is an installation of objects and text that comprises five mirrors made by the artist and anonymous co-participants in a process based on an eighteenth-century French formula printed in a Russian chemistry textbook of 1948. The mirrors carry a distinctive patterning of a bluish and at times yellowish hue on the glass, the result of the chemical process of submerging glass in a silver salt solution followed by a copper and nickel salt solution. Each object is accompanied by a panel of text, in white vinyl on white, co-written (in Russian and in English) by the artist, the co-participant in the making of the mirrors and an external observer; the use of white on white for the text is deliberately obfuscatory. The mirrors can be displayed standing on a plinth at eye level, or at an angle against the wall. Pseudomorphosis was first exhibited at the Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art in Moscow in 2017.

Russian artist Alexandra Sukhareva is known for her chemical experiments into the capacity of objects to act upon the world and for the world to act upon them, working with toxic and corrosive materials to produce objects including mirrors and chlorine canvases. Whether allowing chlorine-sensitised sections of canvas to be ‘burnt’ by the chemical, or setting up a chemical reaction between glass and metal when a mirror is submerged in blackened liquid, Sukhareva’s relationship with her materials is an intuitive one, where she acts as a facilitator settings up the right conditions for them to become altered.

Sukhareva has been experimenting with mirrors since 2013, exploring the notion that, ‘being more sensitive than us’, these objects have the capacity to sense and accumulate traces or impressions of objects, people, memories and forms of thought onto their surface during their existence (Alexandra Sukhareva, in conversation with Tate curator Dina Akhmadeeva, 13 March 2017). Speaking of her mirror series more broadly, Sukhareva has noted that, ‘silver is one of the most susceptible and appreciative matters – it records very elusive things to inform about them in its particular manner’ (Alexandra Sukhareva, artist’s portfolio, 2016). The resultant marks, created on the mirrors through a chemical process impossible to fully control, are the traces of the elusive made visible. Curator Sasha Obukhova has noted that within Sukhareva’s practice this has included ‘the magic of everyday life, historical trauma, and hidden projections of the personality’ (Sasha Obukhova, ‘Alexandra Sukhareva’, in Garage Museum of Contemporary Art 2017, p.144).

The title Pseudomorphosis refers to the work’s material beginnings and the process by which Sukhareva’s mirrors are made. Pseudomorphosis, in the context of geology, is a process by which a more aggressive mineral replaces another while retaining the original form. Sukhareva refers to it as a ‘romantic’ reaction, referencing E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story The Mines of Falun (1819), based on a true incident of a miner buried during a cave-in and the substance of his body being replaced with pyrite (Sukhareva, in conversation with Tate curator Dina Akhmadeeva, 13 March 2017). First immersing pieces of glass in a silver salt solution, then in a copper and nickel salt solution, these second more ‘aggressive’ metals in part replace the former, while retaining the forms of marks and traces left by the first on the glass.

The marks on each mirror are distinctively connected with an anonymous individual who was present alongside Sukhareva during the process of its being made. The artist has stated that this is a significant aspect of the work to her. ‘The voices of those who themselves expressed their own thoughts, or rather, “recorded” them onto the material carrier – glass – and after recognised themselves in the print or remained puzzled by the result, are important.’ (In email correspondence with Tate curator Dina Akhmadeeva, 12 April 2017.) Sukhareva asked each of her co-participants to think of a wish, or to concentrate their minds on something. The text panels offer a reflection on the image made, verbalising what the co-participant was thinking, Sukhareva’s own response, and a response by a third individual not involved in the making of the work.

In Russia mirrors have traditionally played a central role within superstition and fortune telling, as objects capable of showing the future or one’s fortune, or pointing to another place, as symbolically and spiritually charged objects with the capacity and agency to act upon the beholder. Sukhareva’s practice brings these still-existing beliefs to the surface in the present day, challenging the overly rational character assigned to modernity and presenting as present-day occurrences characteristics – including belief, superstition and spirituality – that have been largely assigned to the past.

Further reading
Stas Shuripa, ‘Space as a State of Mind’, in Alexandra Sukhareva: Being of Mother is the Bone, Moscow 2012.
Alexandra Sukhareva, Witness, Milan 2015.
Sasha Obukhova, ‘Alexandra Sukhareva’, in Ruth Addison, Alexander Izvekov, Nikolai Molok (eds.), Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art, exhibition catalogue, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow 2017, pp.144–5.

Dina Akhmadeeva
May 2017

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