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Oriel Arts, London
22 April - 12 June 2009
Reviewed by: Dan Green »
As we watch the capitalist world implode within the current economic crisis and a time of war in distant countries, oil remains the most precious commodity, fuelling our need for power both in the electrical and political sense; without oil our economy and infrastructure would crumble. Art has become a viable investment and a desire for its perceived worth beyond its material value has led to a ‘gold rush’ from the upper echelons of society to bolster their portfolios and cultural identity, particularly by the infamous oligarchs.
What happens, therefore, if the two worlds meet. Artifacts made from crude oil, the symbols of greed and power combined with the priceless creativity of an artist growing in credibility, a suggestion of the pitfalls of power and a nod towards a more spiritual concern and an expunging of unnecessary complications resounds within Liquid Modernity. Light and dark are set side by side and are embellished with humanity; in Molodkins work there are many nuances.
‘Untitled’ fills the first room, two cages built from tubing, one filled with crude oil and the other with fluorescent lights resembling a collaborative effort by Sol le Witt and Dan Flavin; two modernist cubes, one elevated by the priceless commodity flowing through its structure, pumped by several hydraulic machines who’s presence is exacerbated by the violent pop as they force the oil through the rubber ‘veins’ leading to the structure, the other resplendent as it glows with iridescent light. The tension between the two objects alludes to a spiritual concern within the global market, the modernist structures (reinforced by the ‘Fractional Grid’ works, a series of wall-mounted tubing arranged geometrically and filled with either oil or blood) echoing the search for pure form, the black and white ying and yang philosophy of finding a balance between forces in the world. This balance is achieved as the realisation of the reliance of the electrical lights on oil for the production of electricity, the power here perhaps shifted onto the dark side.
As much as oil is the life-blood of economy, it is a product of decomposition, of past life, the blood and oil sat side by side, illuminated by neon light presenting not such a conundrum of relativity but a cycle of progression; Molodkin alludes to the avant-garde, its basis as something ‘that arises from the decomposing old…It’s like the church, only built on oil instead of blood’. Margarita Tupitsyn considers the use of oil and blood to reflect Rothko’s Black on Red and black on Maroon works deepening the transcendental concern, but relating to a subtlety of faith or ‘hidden religiosity’ beneath a controlling body; the church, government, oligarchs. Oil, blood and light as metaphysical metaphors, Molodkin begins to fulfil the Lyotardian idea of the artist as priest; after all, galleries are the cathedrals of our age.
A more sinister aspect to the work is revealed by the seemingly simple geometric structures being based on the cage used to house the deposed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky at his trial in 2005; previously the 16th wealthiest man on the planet his fortune was gained from crude oil, his possible greed and lust for more leading to his attempts for mergers culminating in his conviction and sentencing for fraud. The imbalance this presents with his communist past and his links to government reinforce the ideas of oil leading to crisis; Molodkin was a soldier during the Russian Chechen intervention charged with transporting crude oil leading to a belief that this commodity has led to much of the worlds conflict.
Even when stood at the furthest point of the space, the violent sound of the pneumatic pumps can be heard; these ‘hearts’ permeate the entire exhibition, a constant reminder of the tension present in ‘untitled’. The mention of Molodkins future plans, to turn human bodies into oil, provide a strange taste, seen by Victor Tupitsyn (who created the show) as a way of ‘taking (sic) care of two things: (1) climate change; (2) our uneasiness about life after death’. Molodkin completes the life cycle, turning blood into crude oil in order to heat and light the next blood-filled creature.
Dan Green is a graduate from Nottingham Trent University interested in the journey, spirituality and his desire to be a romantic hero.
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