Special Interest Item
This densely worked book presents the rebuses of Afrika that are a continuum of the "spheres of interimagery" in the Russian social structure as expressed in folkloric tradition and in the theories of Mayakovsky and by anonymous artists. " In Afrika's rebuses, one can read the colour, texture, heaviness, light, and sound reflectability of the material...Things return to life, become oxidized, and undergo different transformations...The rebus is surrounded by an ornament which gives them all the character of an icon or of a folk-art picture. A confessional ornament is laid upon well-developed communist symbols.
A catalogue titled "Rebus" held by the Sackner Archive, published by Avant-Garde, Moscow and Paul Judelson Arts, New York illustrates and describes the copper works of Afrika.
The following is an introduction by oleysa turkina and victor mazin and translated by a d haun from "Rebus II: Works on Copper" I-20 gallery, ny (1997).
IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE REBUS The rebus spoke by means of things. The rebus presupposed translation from the language of words to the language of things. The rebus presupposed translation from the language of things to the language of words.
However, there are moments in history when translation is impossible--when things cannot be formed into words, when words lose their components, or when words turn into things. Such an event takes place when a rebus is formed by an insane cryptographer. The rebus ceases to be a rebus. The rebus turns into an unsolvable puzzle. Such an event also takes place when the rebus presents itself to the gaze of an outsider.
Letters and scraps of words take on the status of things. Speech reifies itself. The word becomes an image. The word itself and the leHers become the same as esthetic images, enjoying the same rights as the representations of, say, a mushroom, an ABC primer, or a gallows. If the image speaks, then this speech is metaphorical. The image shouts and remains mute. A conversation by means of images (that is, a conversation by means of fragments of words, letters, and things) reminds us of the fact that we live in an age of total visualization, in an epoch of thought dominated by the right hemisphere of the brain, in an epoch when the screening of a novel displaces the novel itself. Using the example of the appearance of images on copper plates designated "rebuses," it is possible to trace a certain evolution in the artist's activities and in the sphere of esthetic images and in the sphere of the visual as a whole.
The first rebuses were created by Sergei Bugaev (Afrika) as Soviet rebuses of the 1950s, reappropriated and displaced onto different material. Three types of works were generated. First, independent elements started to insinuate themselves into the reappropriated rebuses, the elements distorting the message (Rebus #1,9). The longer the work went on, the more and more such elements appeared. In the final analysis, the changes and distortions of the "original" made it impossible to read the rebus, to translate the graphic syntax into the symbolic register of definite language. On the other hand, the esthetic process of adding to the burden continued because of the images on the copper surface. The logical key to reading was lost, and the rebus turned into an unsolvable puzzle. Moreover, whereas earlier all elements were familiar to the Russian audience, subsequently rebuses appeared which were created initially on an "alien" American basis.
Other rebuses appeared, absent the images, with a smooth mirror-like surface reflecting light and playing with the patterns of geometric forms, depending on the angle at which the light fell.
A third category of rebuses appeared with displaced pictures on the copper surface: including an engraving by Durer and the figure of the crucified Christ crowned by the head of Lenin.
All three types of rebuses came to bear less and less resemblance to rebuses and more and more resemblance to puzzles assuming a multitude of interpretations. Thus, a general tendency is evident in this evolution: Rebuses changed from works read symbolically--even if read in fragments-to the puzzle which appeals to the onlooker with its affective "field," its space of the imagined. The puzzle takes on the status of an esthetic object; in its resistance to being read literally, it is freed from its serviceable function, affording the pleasure of solution.
The observed shift from the symbolic to the imagined reflects the moment in the evolution of a man when, in his eyes, a general shift from the symbolic to the imagined takes place--or in the case of a novel, when there is a shift from the text-story to the actualization and activation of the video story. From the viewpoint of psychogenesis, the shift can be seen as regression, as its own kind of adaptive reaction to the distorting of territory --the change on earth in the global sense by way of telepresence, by way of high-speed airplane flight, by way of virtual reality's entering into life; and in the local sense, by way of the disintegration of the Soviet identity. In addition, this shift is an evolution toward the fulfillment of various unconscious desires and fantasies. What s more, this shift is an adaptive reaction to the reconstruction of a common language. And, finally, this shift is the adaptive reaction to a drastic change in the surrounding visual space. The artist directs his gaze toward the primary image, to the imaginary, to the regressive puzzles. The regressive puzzles are a series of partial objects-or images-not gathered into an integral single image.
The combination of images, things, and remainders of letters, words, and phrases on one surface demonstrates the overburdening of the sphere of visual images in its entirety (Regressive Puzzle, STF9, Rebus #26). It demonstrates the schizophrenia of the surrounding space. In other words, it is not only a question of representation, but a criticism of it. A critique of representation is connected to the mechanism of segregation. A definite representation imposes upon us a certain world view, rejecting the rest of those that might be possible. These are laws by which we live, even if we are not aware of them. Fragments of these laws break through in the regressive puzzles on the surface, emerging from the innermost depths of the unconscious. The letters "l", "v", "o" seep through, first words such as mama, scraps of phrases such as mazafaka.
These works are united not only by the technique involved-that is, various layers of staining with acid on the copper-coated plates. They are connected not only by the regressively enigmatic images, the remainders of words and things, but also by the dynamic of reflecting the surrounding world with its multiple languages, multiple fragments of knowledge, multiple torrents of information, and the absence of a unified picture of the world. It is possible to regard the regressive puzzles as a multi-layered cake - or "palimpsest." The word palimpsest is appropriate here, not only in connection with the semantic multiple meanings, but also in connection with the fact that under one surface another is hidden; on one surface, one or two or three are accumulated.
In this metaphoric-metonymic layering, the spectator finds not visual cliches, but separate images that affect him personally. These images, together with the remains of words, are reminiscent of that moment of personal and general history when speech appeared, when sounds were transformed into messages separated from things, when speech became the most important socializing element in the human community. Regression to this situation of the origin of speech and thought turns into progress of an esthetic kind.
From the orderly visual cliches of advertising, television, and architecture, the artist inclines toward the spree of the phantasmic. The phantasmic sphere is connected to the sensory sphere - to which W. Ben jamin dreamed of returning man in his critique of mass culture.
Evidently art also gives us the chance to return to our own feelings. Under the influence of mass hypnosis through the hyper-stimulating mechanisms of a surfeit of visual, auditory, and conceptual input, what the artist calls "semiotic freezing" or a "semiotic hunger strike" takes place. This freezing of the discursive space puts into operation the visual esthetic as anesthetic.
The artist undertakes efforts to defrost, to start up a certain centrifugal force-drawing images or separate words from the history of art, politics, different languages, profanity, the iconic representation of God's eye, icons; and places all on the mirror-like copper plane. All of this rapidly scatters in every direction from the place where the artist had hidden himself.
The unsealing of the larger sphere through a certain selection and reification of letters, words, and images appeals to a special type of memory, which is eidetic memory. It should be remembered that eidetic memory is this capacity to retain exclusively clear and bright images of objects seen. Eidectic memory becomes vitally important at moments when coherent grammatical structures are disturbed.
Eidetic memory is characteristic of mnemonists, people who remember everything. A.R. Luria described such a one when he referred to the "absolute" memory of Mnemonist Sh. He had an eidetic memory that reified not just semantic units, but also separate sound combinations. Mnemonist Sh. formed from these distinctive "rebuses" ways of "recollection," which invariably led him to his childhood home. Another instance, also described by Luria, involved a man who had lost his memory as the result of a serious wound. Z's sense of grammatical connections, the logical consistencies, was disrupted, but at the same time his vivid childhood memories were exclusively preserved. This man could not compose letters into words, or words into sentences. In order to remember, for example, the letter "sh," he had to remember the name of his sister (Shura). After he had lost his memory, he spent all his time solving puzzles in which his own image rose up after each sound combination. In that way both the loss of memory and absolute memory deprived him of the opportunity to make use of a grown man's discourse. Thus did Mnemonist Sh. and the patient Z. return, each in his own way, to regressive puzzles.
Puzzles appear before the onlooker, allowing him to regress to childhood instruction, to play games with blocks. The word cannot be reduced to the thing. Being overburdened with images delays perception. What is depicted here? Where are these images from? They return to you in dreams.