Public places for common use

The title of this series quite accurately defines the spatial circumstances in which Alla Esipovich’s characters exit: truly public environments, utilitarian in the extreme, thoroughly “groped over” by both hands and eyes. What could be colder, more impersonal and “nobody’s” than the interior of a morgue, a peddlers zone outside a cemetery or an amusement park? They serve different purposes, these spaces, all equally necessary for the functioning of society (satisfying the requirements of various social activities and rituals via corresponding institutions, from the burial to entertainment industries). However, it’s the totally indispensable, common and functionally determined nature of these spaces which leads to their peculiar emotional desolation, abandonment, and rejection- “after use”. People seem to shun places connected with moments of grief and, strange as it may seem, amusement (there’s a whole cultural theme, developed both in literature and the cinemas, centered around spaces “after amusement”: the theatrical troupe or the circus has departed, and the space it left behind is distinctly and uniquely signified). All of this is subtly felt by Alla Esipovich: the impersonality and anonymity of the environments she chooses – and their peculiar, afflicted humanity. Her ever-recurring theme: claustrophobic surrounding in which life is uncomfortable, if not impossible. In the present case the spaces “speak for themselves”; no more is required of the artist (!) than to allow them to do so. This is just what Alla Esipovich does, attending to the presence and placement of the object in the frame and, most importantly, articulating the environment’s emotional emptiness, coldness, impersonality… (In this respect she boldly approaches the “empty cubicles” of Damien Hirst, who signified the space of the business environment in his installations, or the monochromes of Gottfried Helnwein with their atmosphere of heightened eroticism in repellent and antithetical office surroundings). “Cast a cold eye” – this Alla Esipovich knows how to do. However, the realm of space and optics is too confining for this artist.

In order to recount her eternal life story of claustrophobia, fears, anxieties and existential doubt she needs people. Alla Esipovich has her own unique way of working with models, which I’d define as excessiveness. She dresses ordinary people in the most ordinary clothing: Chinese overcoats and jackets from the stalls of flea markets. However, these things are dyed in outlandish fluorescent colors. With this as a starting point, the artist proceeds to take tastelessness to the utmost, lending her models, who are rather unpresentable, to begin with, the appearance of freaks. What’s more, these are artificial freaks: the artist herself seems to emphasize their man-made, “staged” quality. Why does Esipovich inject these “alien bodies”, these costumed mummers, into her unfeeling spaces, not merely inserting but rooting them tenaciously in their spatial environment? For no other reason, I think, than to intensify the message declared at the outset by the choice of space itself. The excessiveness of these native heroes presence and bizarreness of their activities in the frame amplifies manyfold the sense of doubt in the immutability of existence conveyed by the images. Publicly used spaces are not just totally public; they’re also totally functional and exploited. At the time6 they belong to no one in particular: they’re emotionally not acquired: after using them we rush to abandon them. And somehow expel from our consciousness the history of our presence in them. In such border regions only people such as these can exist. They’re part of our flesh and blood, these characters who guffaw at amusement parks, who bid farewell to their nearest and dearest (and are themselves big farewell to) with artificial flowers… At the same time, they’re not us: they’re too grotesque, too costumed, too artificially – fabricated. Are they familiar – or alien? Everyone’s – or no ones? Exploiting – or exploited? Utterly real, materialized to the last wrinkle and button – or unreal, ready to dissolve into nothingness? Such are these little stories. With no endings – as is always the case with Alla Esipovich.

Alexander Borovsky

Head of the department of contemporary art State Russian Museum