Step into an art gallery or museum and one thing you can be guaranteed to see besides the actual art are signs reading “do not touch!” But from now until June 23, 2013 visitors to St. Petersburg’s Lazarev Gallery are encouraged to pull, twist, turn and re-arrange artwork on display as part of its “Try Me! Discover Art” exhibition.
The way in which you can get up-close with works of each featured artist differs. The exhibit includes a 2 meter tall re-created iPhone with movable “photos” and a series of mirrors painted with scenes that viewers can insert themselves in just by standing in front of them (think scenes of war-torn areas and even other time periods). But two artists included in the exhibit – St. Petersburg’s Andrey Rudev and Denmark’s Kristine Suhr – work in a brand of art they call “kinetic” – meaning their pieces run, dance, and totally transform according to how viewers interact with their pieces.
Suhr’s works are featured in the first room of the gallery. At first glance, they look like any normal framed works on a gallery wall, save for the fact that the subject matter is multidimensional. They nearly resemble pop-up books, with their flat backgrounds and three-dimensional characters in the foreground. Upon closer inspection, each work includes a wooden tag or knob, inviting viewers to pull or twist. Small, sometimes barely noticeable and painted with nothing more than an arrow pointing away from the work to indicate its interactivity, these add-ons look crude and haphazard but hold the key to the whole work.
“My paintings when I was young were all about people moving,” Suhr says in her artist statement. “I painted people ironing, playing sports, walking on the street. Looking back, now I can see that it was obvious that I would end up making movable paintings.”
Her cartoon-like and incredibly whimsical movable paintings, which she brands as ‘kinetic art,’ depict funny micro scenes painted with acrylics on Birchwood. A twist of a knob on “Gum Chewing Chewer” helps a woman chew gum in one painting, as it moves the character’s lower jaw up and down, chomping a bright pink ball of gum in the process. (Click here to view a video of the art in motion.) Similarly, in “Conversation,” two crudely-drawn characters –painted with simple, almost child-like thick lines and only basic details enough to convey that the two depicted objects are supposed to be people – are able to “converse” when the viewer pushes back and forth on a small lever sticking out of the right side of the frame. Their mouths – more like flaps – move up and down, opening big and wide to reveal a red exclamation point under one and a semicolon under the other, suggesting very primitively the idea of conversation. (Click here for video.)
Suhr says the paintings are like “little movies that have gone wrong, showing the same absurd movement over and over again.” She got the idea for these works by combing her passion for painting and for pop-up books. Having studied at the School of Conservation in Copenhagen, she specialized in paper restoring, motivated by an interest in bookbinding and book art. Wanting to make book art come alive and on a bigger scale, she began her work on these pieces in 2003. She also says she likes the idea of viewers having direct interaction with the art, even though the paintings “work” as visual art even when they are not being directly interacted with.
In the second room of the gallery, visitors can find works of local Petersburg artist Andrey Rudev. As with Suhr’s paintings, Rudev calls his paintings “kinetic art,” as visitors can transform his large-scale works with just a touch. Rudev’s exhibited works are all rock ‘n roll themed.
Take “Records,” a large wooden painting mounted on the wall made to look like an album cover. A young boy and a girl looking straight out of a wholesome family friendly 1950s advertisement sit on the floor near a record player. All around them are record covers from The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Beatles, and more. As viewers twist a knob on the right side of the frame, the records change, depicting covers by other artists like German industrial metal band KMFDM and others. The visual contrast is striking considering the history of rock in the Soviet Union, with all its restrictions and suppression by the state. Yet, the piece portrays two squeaky-clean kids delving into some of the most famous rock groups of the 70s and 80s, with lyrics about sex, protest, anti-authoritarianism, drugs, and other nightmares of Soviet leadership.
Another of Rudev’s works on display is a giant re-creation of The Rolling Stones album cover for “Some Girls,” which featured portraits of the Stones in drag, combined with cutouts of images of Farrah Fawcett, Lucille Ball, and Marilyn Monroe. The cover is split into four rows, and in Rudev’s piece, viewers can slide the four panels back and forth, switching up the faces that appear in the cutouts of Ball, Fawcett, Monroe, and other models and actresses of the time.
The last of Rudev’s pieces in the exhibition is a giant-scale re-creation of a Melodiya Record’s issue of John Lennon’s “Imagine” album. Rudev considers this a visual pun in itself, considering the lyrical content of Lennon’s magnum opus – a utopia of no greed, hunger, and peace – and having the recording branded with the seal of state-run Melodiya. (You can read a brief history of Soviet rock and more about Melodiya by clicking here)
While both Suhr and Rudev’s works of kinetic art have different tones, they both manage to be humorous, though one collection slants toward the simply silly and the other collection drawing its humor from irony.
They’re both on display until June 23 as part of the Lazarev Gallery’s “Try Me! Discover Art Exhibition.”
Kinetic Art, part of the “Try Me! Discover Art” exhibition
Works of Kristine Suhr and Andrey Rudev
Lazarev Gallery, 5/5 6th Line (Metro Vasileostrovskaya)
Open daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.