Andrey Bartenev
Riflemaker London

Published in The Independent

Art Criticism

Riflemaker, London

The old gun-makers of Soho are probably turning in their graves. For in the window of Riflemaker, a former gun shop in Beak Street, is a psychedelic installation by one of Russia’s campest artists. Queues formed outside last summer’s Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale to see Andrey Bartenev’s coloured lake of 50 LED mirrored light spheres where the message “lost connection” circled in endless orbit.
Andrey Bartenev Disco-Nexion

In Soho this has been “remixed/remodelled” by the artist with the words “disco” and “nexion”. Enclosed in a “glass discotheque” of fairground mirrors, this kinetic colour field of lights appears infinite as it bleeds into the darkening Dickensian street and on to the surrounding buildings.

Embedded within each sphere is a tiny heart, “to symbolise the frustration that awaits us all in this world of virtual and passive communication”. And it does, indeed, capture something of the loneliness of the dance floor, where revellers dance together yet somehow remain alone and disconnected; as a metaphor for the alienation of techno-culture it works rather well.

Inside the gallery this mood is echoed in the three TV monitors Disco-Nexion and Disco-Nexion Red and Blue (the titles are borrowed from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s French trilogy of films Trois Couleurs)

Born in 1969 in Norilsk, reputedly a bleak filthy city, in Russia’s Arctic Circle, Bartenev must have had a hard childhood. His grandparents were apparently exiled to this most northerly city for some minor misdemeanour. A psychoanalyst would presumably have little difficulty in understanding his love of display and excess against such a background.

Andrey Bartenev Disco-Nexion

As a student he attended the Krasnodar Institute of Arts where he studied stage design. Since then he has worked in every medium from graphic art to painting and from three-dimensional sculpture to performance art – including a performance with burlesque dancer Dita von Teese – and one with the theatre director Robert Wilson.

With his penchant for the enigmatic and the kitsch, Bartenev seems to fit the bill as the former Soviet Union’s answer to Andy Warhol. “If I weren’t an artist,” he has said, “I would want to be a kind of dancing pianist.

When I’m not creating art, I enjoy swimming in the pool at night. People who know me best might describe me as a Russian from the Moon. They might be surprised to learn that I’m from Venus.”

His collages such as And like Miso Soup, constructed meticulously of hand-cut images from sources as diverse as culinary and porn magazines, are an eccentric mix of geometric patterns of pink and green and orange.

Andrey Bartenev Disco-Nexion

In I’m from another world and everything passes me by, a strange shamanic priestess with a feathered headdress stands amid rows of domestic clutter of shower heads, sprockets and Hoover nozzles next to a rank of soap powder boxes unbelievably called New Abracadabra.

Other collages have been worked into light boxes. Dressed in an exotic piece of head gear, Nick Kamen of Levi ad fame has been collaged to a green rectangle from which sprout a pair of woman’s legs in gold sandals. The result is rather like a gay grasshopper lost in a swirly op-art background. In this essentially camp world of spectacle it’s as if Disney has had a run in with Russian Constructivism.

With London friends such as Zandra Rhodes and Andrew Logan, Bartenev has plenty of chances to be outrageous. But he does seem genuinely to want, in this commodified world, to be iconoclastic and avant-garde.

It’s not that he really has much to say, but that you can’t help but enjoy the way that he says what he does. It’s no surprise to learn, therefore, that his life’s philosophy is “to laugh while your organs allow you to”.

Andrey Bartenev Disco-Nexion at Riflemaker, London until 16 February 2008
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2008
Images © Andrey Bartenev 2008

Published in The Independent


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.