Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin
© 2010, Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin
part 2: FLAT SOLIDS
The beginning of our latest series Photoreliefs can be traced to the nineties. This series unites photography with metal reliefs. Valeriy’s metal sculptures entered our photographic oeuvre in a distinctive, integral manner when we began extending its form and meaning to the three-dimensional world of objects. The earliest examples of that shift are the cluster installations with kaleidoscopic effects and the structural compositions like IOU (1989, see Photoglyphs, part 3) and Pi (1991).
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Pi © 1991/2007, C-prints in aluminum construction, 48 x 36"|
Suffice it to say that we had a rooted interest not only towards words and their engaging “in-word-ness” but also towards Pythagorean number symbolism. Valeriy used the language of numbers as a tissue for his concepts that he literally engraved on his metal reliefs. Naturally, some of them found their way in our photography, as, for example, irrational mathematical constant Pi in the architectonic photocomposition under the same title. Pi is labeled as a transcendental number; it can be carried out to an infinite number of decimal places without ever arriving at a solution (its first 16 millions of digits have passed all the tests of randomness used on them so far). According to the old recipe, the proof of the Pi is in the eating. Therefore, the supposed solution known as “squaring the circle” was one of the most famous problems of antiquity (Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter). Yet, this number is above relation; it is a constant because it holds for all circles, symbolizing a universal synthesizing power.
|Page from To Infinity and Beyond, Special Exhibition Resource Guide for Teachers, The Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington NY, 2008|
As it is known, the infinite is not exhausted by the infinite manifestation, as the Sun is not exhausted with its scattering raying. To further continue the celestial analogy, the universe also can be viewed as a plasma of endlessly recurring decimals. Naturally, that “plasma” has its reflection in the human organism in a microcosmic sense. In that view, inscribing Pi on the human skin seems to extend its transfinite message from strictly abstract to artistic parameters. The static and “archeological” composition of that photograph has some similarity with the Ancient Egyptian block statues. We “flattened” the block and visually reduced the number of the body limbs, giving them an ephemeral look of limbs with no body, and inscribed on them that infinite number.
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Double © 1996, C-prints in metal construction|
The three-stage artistic process – idea, creation, result – reflects the three interlaced layers of existence – intellectual, sensible, and physical – each of which corresponds to a particular level of consciousness. That tripartite process was replicated in the series of Photoreliefs: first, the ideas were born and processed into the photo concepts, which, in turn, “solidified” into sculptural objects. Thus, the inner world received its projection into the outer world, so they were bridged through conceptual, aesthetic, and “hands-on” methods.
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Cameraman © 2008, C-prints in metal construction|
As in the other cycles, Photoreliefs includes several sub-series, such as Flat Solids, Unfolded Reliefs, Circles, Cutouts, and Superstrings. While endowing the images with volume and depth, we also sought to adhere to the rules of photography. The sequence of Flat Solids is based on optical illusion. Although at first glance the works look like three-dimensional bodies, they belong to the same “flatland” of photography: their metal geometrical constructions are actually two-dimensional.
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, H2O © 1990/94, C-prints in stainless steel construction, 48 x 48”|
In the composition H2O, featuring pseudo-water in a pseudo-cube, the whirlpool of the “great deep” is created out of hair, “incubated” in a similarly flat solid. The waterfall of hair increases the illusion of the flat composition that appears as a cube. Here we tried to unite a fluid indefinite form with the precise geometrical formation. The visual images can give us a clue to the abstract thinking and subsequent analogies. In that architectonic arrangement of “liquid," the perturbation of water seems to redirect the whole system, which is only skin deep chaotic. Beneath it, there is an intricate structure of regular periodic motion; in other words, the universal matrix of the “great deep” in its receiving and creative state. Water that always follows the path of least resistance is depicted live, staying in perpetual circulation. Marked with the chemical seal of H2O, the alchemical aqua permanens (enduring water) turns the wheel of the moon calendar.
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Möbius Strip © 1993, C-prints in metal construction|
Rotating with tension and release, the enduring supply of aqua vitae maintains the existence and preserves the ashes of dust from the final diffusion. Following its Möbius Strip, it always returns to its starting point having traversed every part of the strip without ever crossing an edge.
Every living creature plunging into a liquid phase of its formation passes through pre-birth darkness and its chaos. Deepened into the baptistery of its mighty energy, not only one stays alive but also is invigorated by turbulent waters of one’s own “aquarium.”
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Waterfall © 1993, C-prints in metal construction|
The waterfall consists of drops that fall and disappear being renewed over and over again. Such is life – the formation of an uninterrupted new beginning of an uninterrupted inevitable end. In that context, the notions of “beginning” and “end” are just a conceptualization. The cascades of waterfall show the succession of moments that are passing by and immediately reconstruct themselves, waving the metaphorical ripples of waters. On a psychological level, people are involved in the perpetual process of sinking and emerging, entering and leaving, and not without similarity to the waterfall. It seems that each individual is preserved like a single drop of water; each helps to swell the ocean.
Waterfall is one more visual metaphor for the structural chaos of the irrepressible stream of life and the arrangement of that stuff which likes to be uncontrollable. It often happens that symbols attract the things that they symbolize, and vice versa; things evoke their symbols. We seemed to experience it while visiting Niagara Falls not long before we made this work. The shaky law of coincidences helped us to look more precisely at the meaning of this “watery” subject and inspired us to put another individual drop in its deep waters.
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Perspective © 1992, C-print in stainless steel construction, 48 x 48”|
In Perspective, the architectural perspective drawing creates an illusion of three-dimensionality. The face was photographed through the Plexiglas with the drawing of the Quattrocento-like panorama, in which the proportions between the real and the imagined, the face and the architectural structure, became adjusted. Here, the impersonal was configured through the personal and vice versa, creating something of an artistic convergence between a man and his temple. As all old temples were conceived according to the canon of the scale of man himself, our Perspective followed the same rule. As always, man is the measure of all things in both his own life and his environment, no matter what he preaches.
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Was–Is–Will © 1992, C-print in stainless steel construction, 48 x 44”|
Like Friar Bacon's brazen head, I've spoken,
"Time is," "Time was," "Time's past."
Lord Byron, Don Juan, i. 217
The concept of time goes through all of our art in the manner of Ouroboros, the tail-devouring snake, assuming different forms and substances: linear, spiral, liquid, sandy, cubic, and, of course, anthropomorphic. The eternal relates to the temporal physical life as time relates to a clock face – whether it exists or not, it makes no difference for time. It reels itself off through eternity. The direct grasp of eternal ideas is impossible when one is locked within the laws of man’s normal space-time-continuum. For that reason, the creative arts help us to fill this gap with imagination capable for time traveling between the worlds (and the words.) More precisely, the Flat Solid composition Was–Is–Will depicts the cube “locked” within the space-time-continuum. That might be expressed in a variety of ways: verbally, visually, mathematically, or blended together in one unit.
√I = was I = am I2 = will
What is the square root of “I” or the self? Perhaps, it belongs to the past. At the present time, “I am that I am,” to borrow the biblical pronouncement in a humble way. And what about the future? One raised to the second power? Will he or she be squared?
It is worth mentioning that Flat Solid series is rooted visually in Rimma’s three-dimensional concepts. They are generally “clothed” in small cubes, which have text inside or outside. Bearing the elements of poetry set up into the art object, these cubes are like materialized haiku speaking in a language of coded simplicity which metaphorical clarity does not contradict ambiguity. The white cube with the orange “depraved element” is one of the early examples.
|Rimma Gerlovina,Depraved Element © 1974, cardboard, wood, paper, 3 ¼ x 3 ¼ x 3 ¼|
With the removal of the small orange cube titled “Depraved Element,” the perfect shape of the white cube, one of the five absolute Platonic solids, is destroyed. Or if one opens the cube with “my thought” on the lid, what would be the answer to its inward question?
Many geometric figures allude to important symbols that are only partly decodable. Let us contemplate one of them. The cube can be presented in two forms: folded and unfolded. While in folded form, a three-dimensional body symbolizes matter and all that is earthly and bodily because it has stability and gravity. When it is unfolded into a two-dimensional cross, its stability and gravity are “crucified,” to use a conceptual metaphor of one domain to reason about the other.
In many old doctrines with a legitimate perennial paradigm, the cube is associated with the human body that contains a divine spark, compressed within homo-cube. With its unfolding into a cross, that spark is set free. Some things that are physically effective are not physical at all. The same principle is reflected in the Kaaba, the Islamic house of worship in Mecca. Built in a form of a hexahedron, it can serve as a religious analog to the cube. In the Biblical version, each of the six sides of the unfolded cube represent one day of creation; and the last one (the seventh) which is not of that cube anymore, is its mystical crown. For this reason, many pilgrims have mapped out their lives on that unfolded cube, whose fundamental parameters are the same in different universal teachings.
Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Cube Insider © 2008,
C-print in metal construction
The metaphoric impact of these homo-cubes does not inhibit a possibility of their polyvalent interpretation. Neither the brain is the mind, nor the mind is the consciousness – but together, they represent a crossword for their carrier. However, through the thinking process and its “vibraining,” one comes closer to the physical expression of the consciousness. Perhaps the Buddhist koan about two disputing chelae can illuminate that idea from a different perspective. One of them says: “The weathercock is moving;” the other opposes: “No, the wind is moving;” while upon hearing this, their teacher concludes: ”Your minds are moving.”
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Mind-Wind © 1992, C-prints in aluminum construction with pencil drawing, 72 x 46”|
Our photographic twin-like composition Mind-Wind depicts the similar idea: “mind” is written on one forehead, while on the other, it turns into “wind.” Both photographs are printed from the same negative, but the second one is flipped over. With what are we dealing here: “windless mind,” or “mindless wind’? This is one more conundrum to contemplate.
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, The Watching Eye © 1992, C-prints, reproduction in The New York Times Magazine, 9. 19. 1999|
The Watching Eye is also a Flat Solid composition; it reflects both Russia’s religious heritage and its social calamities. In 1999, exactly the day we landed in America 19 years ago, we received a proposal from The New York Times Magazine to create an image capturing Russian cultural and historical traditions for the Millennium Issue – a vision of the past through time, reflected through the creative imagination of different artists. Based on our comment, the title of the editorial article has a political grasp – Big Brother’s Eye, Mother Russia’s Tears. The Soviet State gradually intruded into the consciousness of the common man, who himself had become his own watching eye in communist Russia. Resting on its temporary laurels, Soviet socialism had developed into two simultaneously opposite directions: one towards emancipation and the other towards the infringement of human rights. As Dostoyevsky predicted, “the most horrid crimes against freedom” are committed “for the sake” of freedom. While true, there are more comments on that thread.
In some distant way, our work is a conceptual rendition of Andrei Rublev’s The Holy Trinity, the icon that was counted among the most perfect and precious in Russia. This is not a place to discuss the idea of the Trinity; it seems impossible to solve it, as it is impossible to find the finite digit in the decimal expression of one third. Relation of Unity and Trinity is endless:
1/3 = 0,3333333333333333…
On the “canvas” of the face, two figures are depicted as if they are running down teas, while the third witness is just a watching eye. In Mother Russia, it was always the face of the Motherland (in contrast to German Vaterland). Since each nationality has its own picture of the feminine aspect, the Russian Madonna had distinctly different psychological garments. According to Philokalia her “holiness and purity of soul is received through fear of God.”1 Here we see an obvious stress on penances, hardships of life, and the necessity of endurance, which is typical of Russian iconography. It seems that the Russian character is made of a queer mixture of strength and weakness, perseverance and vulnerability. Red-blooded fervor is often afflicted with inertia. Something in this national soul is very delicate and psychic, though not very healthy. Its intellectual passion is equal to the passionate intellect; historically its great moral resistance has been imbued with the preaching of suffering and hope for spiritual support.
In terms of the politics at the end of the millennium, the brutal communist State has ground itself into dust, but that is a subject matter for sociology and politics of which one can talk continually in a sinister way. To get out of the domineering power of group thinking and the closed curve of the socium that holds many artists meddling in hot social issues, one needs to acquire a more radical understanding than the harsh criticism of society, which is, in fact, its immanent part. Let’s make a generalization at that point. On a higher level, people are divided not by nationality, but by consciousness. Only those who can be characterized by a less developed consciousness are divided by nationalities, not being capable of transgressing its boundary. Wise men geographically poles apart and sages of different faiths immediately understand each other.
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Dust © 1990-91, C-prints in metal construction, 48 x 48"|
In the fictitious cube Dust, “us” is written in red letters on the forehead, acting as a catalyst on that “polymerous” concept of death. The dust per se is a symbol of our mortal atmosphere, and the prophecy on that account in Genesis 2:7 is not very promising. Yet, however grave the appearance of impartiality worn by the eternal, it seems to “meet its end” in human consciousness. Since between birth and death there is life, it is reasonable to expect that between death and birth there is also life, but in a state of immersion, say, in such dust that our own faces are hidden from us. The vitality of life, with its continuous flux of expansion and compression of energy, cannot be simply left behind unless metamorphosed into another form, even one completely undetectable. Dust’s context increases the illusion of volume, bringing it into the square package of diffused particles, a theoretically suspicious combination of shape and shapelessness. Therefore, at this point it is better to condense the discussion of death and earthly dust into a couple of simple thoughts: death is a regression into hiddenness, dust is a cosmic material, and cosmos in Greek means “order.”
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Hourglass © 1989, C-print in metal construction, 43½ x 17¾"|
Watching a flow between the bulbs of a sandglass, one can perceive intuitively how the pivotal “now” operates between “before” and “after,” between our desires for the future and our memories of the past. That is a zero point through which the plus and the minus are processed. All happens as a single act. Even if it were so, this single act is put on a loop, kind of a revolving hourglass. In a horizontal position, the very shape of that device outlines the sign of infinity. Time flows through our “eyeglasses” always too
Following the above-mentioned precepts, we wrote a polylogue about death, while developing it upon the speculative background that has provoked the intensive thinking of many minds.
(A play for polyphonic voices for dramatic personae; no limit to their numbers.)
Hamlet. (Moody) To be or not to be: that is the question.
Whitman. (Confidently) Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born? I hasten to inform him or her, it is just as lucky to die and I know it.
Socrates. (Aside) The business of a philosopher is a continuous exercise in dying.
Eckhart. I was born to and for eternity and because of my eternal birth, I shall never die.
Blake. (Pressing) I cannot think of death as more than the going out of one room into another.
A voice from Amphitheater. (Mocking) A mosquito that dies daily is going through the spinning door between these rooms incessantly, is it not?”
Mosquito. (Full of vital fluids) Bloody fools! I am what I am!
St. Paul. (In a conciliatory way) I die daily.
Kierkegaard. (Sick unto death) For when I am dead, I am immortal.
Sri Aurobindo. (Thoughtfully) When I live or die, I am always.
Heidegger. (Clutching his garters with self-confidence) Why is being altogether being and not nothing?
The Buddha. (Refuses to speak on the ground that affirmation or negation equally raises misunderstanding.)
(The voices continue to grow and multiply interfering with each other. Abrupt sentences in different languages are heard from the distance) …raison d'źtre…
Who will deliver me from the body of this death?…
Mors certa, hora incerta…
Does not an infant die to become a child?…
La vita es sueĖo…
Death is merely a translation back to the soul’s element…
Ding an Sich…
отдать концы в бесконечность…
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin,Void © 1989/94, C-print in stainless steel con-struction, aluminum, pencil drawing, 48 x 41 ¾”|
In the flat solid Void, the “voidness” of that very word seems to fill all of its psychological space. Does non-existence exist? The emptiness holds the maximum potential in its vacuum. It is a zero-point field that contains the least irremovable energy. Perhaps, the concept of the Buddhist sunyata presupposes the same emptiness in its potential wholeness. To put it another way, exhausting all views, sunyata is not itself another view. Emptiness and its mathematical expression, zero, might be observed in a variety of ways, even via its antithesis, abiding by the proposition of the meeting of extremes. For example, zero, which in our works often assumes the form of an egg, conveys its potential in an organic way.
|Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, Egg © 1992/94, C-print in aluminum construction with pencil drawing, 42 x 32”|
The flat half-spheroid Egg contains a nest of hair within the egg as the potential for yet another egg and so forth ad infinitum. The metal relief’s illusion of volume was achieved by its cut-out form, along with subtle cross-hatching in pencil. The embryo develops within the egg when the reproductive cell is fertilized. The egg seems to be a chicken's way of making another chicken. It's different with people, some of them are able getting real eggs from illusory chickens. Analytically, the egg is an organic (or creative) end that hatches its own beginning.
Following the same rules in the development of the series Photoreliefs, we can move from Flat Solids to the next Unfolding Series that continues 3D illusion giving rise to a corresponding deceptive “algebra” of the imagination.