Moscowbased duo EliKuka’s recent exhibition “Bad/Good” included paintings, sculptures and works on paper that poke fun at a society in transition from the Soviet era to a neoliberal present. The artists—Oleg Eliseev (b. 1985) and Evgeniy Kukoverov (b. 1984)—have been collaborating since 2007 and have developed two types of work, which were both evident in this exhibition. While their cartoonlike works on paper draw on recent pop culture, their paintings and sculptures comment on a Soviet past.
A bearded man wearing a turban, cardigan and tie appears throughout the work in varying renditions. The image is appropriated from a Russian children’s story from the ’80s, and also serves as the logo of the duo’s band, I.H.N.A.B.T.B. (“I Have Not Any Breakfast Today, Bitch!”) In I.H.N.A.B.T.B. Sneers 80 Times (2011), the artists copied the bearded man’s face onto 80 sheets of letter-size paper hung in a grid on the wall. Their use of the storybook character as a logo reflects the current trend among Russian artists of turning pop-culture icons to their own ends.
The centerpiece of the show was Hard, Dangerous and Dirty Work (2011), a sculpture consisting of a 6-foot-high sheet of corrugated metal, precariously propped up on a bag of cement; on the sheet a hen is drawn in black marker, accompanied by Russian words that make a pun on hard labor and Soviet negligence. Meanwhile, the material facts of the sculpture illustrate the problems named, as the metal seems apt to fall over, and the cement is partly spilled.
Other works offer an ironic representation of the Communist past. The second floor of the gallery was filled with large canvases, each depicting a single vegetable enlarged to monstrous size in an earthy palette. What appeared to be real potatoes rested on the gallery floor. The artists also glued photos of their own faces wearing stocking masks onto round stones. By including themselves within a vegetable landfill of sorts, the artists mock both themselves and traditional Russian staple foods.
Influenced by artists of the perestroika generation, including Gosha Ostretsov (b. 1967) and Zhora Litichevsky (b. 1956), and born at the very outset of that time, the artists of EliKuka have adopted a visual slang that lampoons the Soviet era, representing it as a degrading legacy. While they negate the past, they run the risk of themselves producing trash.
Photo: View of EliKuka’s exhibition “Good/Bad,” 2011; at ArtBerloga.