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Russia at Art Paris Art Fair 2013

Charming robotic installations and other funny machineries from this year's guest of honor

by Isabelle Doal in Culture on 16 April 2013

Russia was the guest of honor at this year's edition of Art Paris Art Fair, and thanks to the combination of a dozen Russian galleries in attendance, as well as numerous galleries from all over the world representing over 90 artists from the Eastern European nation, we discovered their distinct artistic take on humor, irony and utopia. Here are a few of the contemporary artists that stood out among other poetically engaging installations.

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Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai's robotic installations borrow a vintage aesthetic in both style and mechanics as well as their gently erotic scenes. Maybe it's due to the artist's education at The Leningrad Institute of Theater, Music and Cinematography—everything but fine arts—that his installations look more like scenes out of silent films, muppet theater or old-fashioned ads. The charm of his "kinetic sculptures" draw from a basic technique of mounting figures cut from paper onto wires and animating them with a kind of bellow or accordion pleat, which makes them move up and down along the wire. One installation features a naked woman, her baby and dog, along with objects such as a basin and towel flung into the air as if they were jumping on a trampoline while another comically gives rhythm to a couple making love.

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The bubble machine by Czech-born Vladimir Skoda is decidedly the most unexpected and delightful find. His strange, round black sculpture is covered with holes, looking like a volcanic planet with its craters spitting rainbow colored soap bubbles. Cosmos-inspired, the work of the now Paris-based sculptor is full of spherical objects, which is his signature shape and almost the only one he is interested in working with. For him, the sphere best expresses the connection between inside and outside and the relationship between the artist and the public. Once a student of the famous French sculptor César Baldaccini, Skoda continues to work with iron and steel which he processes and forges all by himself in a search for a physically engaged fight with the material.

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Like an oversized mobile suspended in a child's bedroom, a massive replica of a human heart hung from the ceiling at Galerie Rabouan Moussion, twirling around gently. "Heart" seems almost naturally occurring, certainly because of its organic dirt material, but also because the intricate network of vein-like branches and trunks doubling as coronary arteries pointing out of the muscle flows so fluidly. Created by Russian artist Dimitri Tsykalov, who is known for creating these kind of anthropomorphic pieces and cheeky plays on material (check out watermelon in the shape of a skull on his website for more proof). Working with wood seems to be another passion of the artist, who proposes novel takes on the oft-stale still-life.

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Elise Morin's large-scale installation gracing the entrance hall of the fair was nothing short of impressive. "Fossil 1990" professes a shape like a dinosaur or tortoise at rest, while a gleaming shell made of hundreds of small circles is definitely more reminiscent of the skin of a fish, both by the range of colors comprising its "scales" and the way they glisten. Up close, the scales appear as small drums, with round frames covering a semi-transparent skin. But the drums are actually embroidery frames and their tops are made of plastic bags. Morin aimed to underline the "plastic track" our lives are leaving behind and to suggest what forthcoming paleontologists are likely to find as the mark of our modern civilization. The piece comments on the impact our everyday life and the role disposable objects have on the ecosystem. For this, Morin has received the support of Electrolux, which campaigns against the 115 million plastic bags used each year simply to throw away a vacuum cleaner bag.

Images by Isabelle Doal.

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