Alienated Bodies: two young Russian artists investigating the Mirror Stage

Russian artists Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova take over Moscow’s Fragment Gallery in a comprehensive exhibition about the body and human corporeality.

Curated by Ilmira Bolotyan, the multimedia show “The Alienated Body” can be viewed until 25 January 2018. Art Radar looks at exhibition and the duo’s prolific careers.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 14 December 2017 - 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, “The Alienated Body”, 14 December 2017 – 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

The fleshy, tactile pieces look like disjointed limbs spattered about Fragment Gallery’s white exhibition space. Everything looks soft, warm and sensual, begging viewers to touch, to play and to imagine what the parts were once connected to. Such is the work of Russian artists Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova in their ongoing solo show about the experience of ‘self’ and the acceptance and rejection of the human body. Paintings of bodily secretions are placed next to skin-like masks and textiles portraying fragmented extremities. Their like-minded collaboration in “The Alienated Body” is not, however, their only relation; both young, prize-winning artists having exhibited widely throughout Asia and Europe.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 14 December 2017 - 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, “The Alienated Body”, 14 December 2017 – 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko: Moulding the body

Born in 1988 in Krasnodar, Russia, Elena Artemenko studied media art in the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia workshop, “New Media: video and art of new technologies”. With an interest in video, generative and installation art, Atemenko is the recipient of the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) Production Programme grant and the Foresight Filmfestival 1st prize. In 2017, she has been selected as the Artista x Artista artist-in-residence in Havana, with her research into generative art and video work selected to represent the “Transartists” community in Cuba. Artemenko now lives and works in Moscow.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 14 December 2017 - 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, “The Alienated Body”, 14 December 2017 – 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

“The Alienated Body” at Fragment Gallery is spattered with what Artemenko calls her Tactile Sculptures. Made of marble, the small, yet sensual fragments attempt to capture a human gesture, a moment of physical interaction with stone as if it were a soft, pliant body. The stones are perceived not only visually, but also physically, as tactual objects, meant to be touched and toyed with, leaving an impression with the viewer that goes beyond a conventional gallery visit. Touching “marble flesh”, she states, allows the viewer to repeat the artist’s gesture that is cemented in the stone, forming a direct point of contact.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 2017, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko, ‘Tactile Sculptures’, marble. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

The Tactile Sculptures also play into the artist’s exploration of Jacques Lacan and his Mirror Stage theory. Leaving the works open and available for human interaction, Artemenko simulates a child’s first sensations of “controlled coordination”, and in doing so, provides the gallery’s guests with a palpable experience. On the Lacanian investigation of touch, the curator Ilmira Bolotyan claims:

Keeping in mind the viewer’s knowledge of the contrasting sensations of touching hard and soft, Artemenko gives the marble an unaccustomed attribution – the artist makes the viewer believe, that the stone can be soft and supple, bodily and sensual.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 2017, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko, ‘Tactile Sculptures’, marble. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Alongside the marble piece, Bolotyan has included another one of Artemenko’s sculptural series: a collection of human body casts, specifically of backs and faces. The works both hang from the gallery’s ceiling and protrude from the floor like a bushel of blooming flowers. These eerie renditions playfully capture the plasticity of the body, devoid of its “support structure”, or subjectivity; yet, despite missing some of the sensuality of the Tactile Sculptures, the casts offer their viewers a mirror of sorts, one that reflects the awkward or intimate parts of themselves that are not often dwelled upon. Boneless and devoid of individuality, the pieces are mere fractions of bodies that have a “hyper expression” and are performative in their body-mirroring. This is a “metaphor”, the artist says, “of the ‘alienated body’, experiencing shyness and timidity” imposed upon the idea of the self.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 14 December 2017 - 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, “The Alienated Body”, 14 December 2017 – 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

In addition to her sculptural work, Artemenko has contributed a video-performance entitled Jerk. In the short film, the body is recognised as a ‘collective’ wherein the participants attempt to flout gravity and float upwards through internal, yet collectivised efforts. Within this collective body, the subject, or the self, is deprived of the possibility of “individual manifestation”, states the curator in the curatorial text, noting that powerless bodies may move only through co-operative gesture. Through this, visitors recognise the fragmentation not only of limbs and flesh, but of the alienated senses of one’s self and subjectivity.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 14 December 2017 - 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, “The Alienated Body”, 14 December 2017 – 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Yamlikhanova: Painting the body

Yamlikhanova, born in Novokuznetsk, Russia, graduated from Moscow State Academic Art Institute after studying painting under Aidan Salakhova and Sergey Ossovskiy. As a regular contributor to the Aidan Studio in Winzavod, the young artist took to painting grand (in scale and content) images of the human body and its natural processes. The skin “carries some kind of feedback”, she says, both somehow separate from the subject, and, at the same time, a central part of the experience of the self. The body and its organic processes provide a public narrative before the subjectivity has a chance to recognise or manipulate it.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 14 December 2017 - 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, “The Alienated Body”, 14 December 2017 – 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

As such, Yamlikhanova’s contribution to “The Alienated Body” is a series of enlarged images of bodily secretions, for example, breast milk and saliva. She claims that painting on this scale brings the viewer to the point of view of the child, and one eagerly learning about the bodies of those around them. Capturing these intimate, dermal experiences on the canvas is the artist’s way of relating to her own body and articulating the ways she has grown to interact with others.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 14 December 2017 - 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, “The Alienated Body”, 14 December 2017 – 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Fragmented bodies at Fragment Gallery

In following the early Lacanian theory of the Mirror Stage, the artists suggest that the body is a mere vessel of flesh and bone, devoid of self-recognition until an infant comes of a certain age. There comes a moment when a child looks in a mirror and understands its own physicality, thereby modelling his or her own image of themselves and those around them. In doing so, the infant becomes an object of viewing from outside themselves, the evolving recognition of ‘I’ or the ‘self’ becoming a permanent feature of subjectivity into adulthood. “The Alienated Body” is an investigation of this theory. More specifically, it is a mirror through which the viewer observes his own flesh, detached from the self and provocatively displayed for public expenditure.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, "The Alienated Body", 14 December 2017 - 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

Elena Artemenko and Elena Yamlikhanova, “The Alienated Body”, 14 December 2017 – 25 January 2018, Fragment Gallery, Moscow. Image courtesy Fragment Gallery.

In “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience”, Lacan suggests that the self is manifested “in dreams when the movement of the analysis encounters a certain level of aggressive disintegration in the individual. It then appears in the form of disjointed limbs, or… organs.” Artemenko and Yamlikhanova have collected these disembodied parts, reassembled them and asked their viewers to find themselves somewhere within – in the end, the alienated body finds solace in its reflection.

Megan Miller

2026

“The Alienated Body” is on view from 14 December 2017 to 25 January 2018 at Fragment Gallery, Bol’shoy Kozikhinskiy Pereulok, 30, Moscow 123001.

Related Topics: Russian artists, body, human body, profiles, gallery shows, events in Moscow

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