Whitehot Magazine

Vladimir Sorokin: BLUE LARD #cancelrussianculture

Courtesy of White Box.

By YOHANNA M ROA May 12, 2024

Vladimir Sorokin's premiere US exhibition BLUE LARD #cancelrussianculture at WhiteBox is a groundbreaking, provocative fusion of literature, technology, and visual art that reflects the tumultuous interplay between past and present, reality and reimagination. The show orchestrates a bold dialogue between classic Russian literary figures and the avant-garde manipulation of their personas through cloning—an intrinsic concept in Sorokin's novel "Blue Lard."

Sorokin's painted scenes exhibit a profound and almost unsettling synthesis of the familiar and the alien. The depictions of Tolstoy seated in a field, surrounded by icy blue structures reminiscent of giant blue lard, and Dostoyevsky engaging with clones in a clinical yet chaotic environment, echo the novel’s themes of disruption and the unsettling nature of post-human identity. These visuals, characterized by their hyper-realistic style mixed with elements of the surreal, push the viewer to confront the eerie reality of literary and cultural manipulation.

The seamless incorporation of ‘AI’ in creating these artworks serves as a meta-commentary on authorship and creativity. Sorokin's text reflects a self-aware struggle with the notion of the author's diminishing control over his creations in an age dominated by artificial intelligence. This is mirrored in the paintings where the classical figures, reimagined as clones, appear simultaneously majestic and monstrous, embodying Paul de Man's notion of literary writing as a form of dispossession and dismemberment. 

Vladimir Sorokin, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Self-portrait cloning itself. Digital printing on canvas, 130 x 130 cm. Courtesy of White Box.

The exhibition does not shy away from challenging the viewer’s comfort, featuring unsettling scenes of the cloned writers producing the mythical blue lard. This stoic, unchanging substance, a physical manifestation of their literary output, symbolizes the tangible yet alienating products of their intellectual labor. The exhibition, therefore, questions the commodification of cultural and intellectual production, highlighting the grotesque consequences of reducing cultural figures to mere producers of value.

Furthermore, the dialogue between text and image in the exhibition is especially potent. Sorokin’s writings, rich with intertextual references and stylistic mimicry, complement the visual pastiche of the artworks. The AI’s involvement in producing these images serves as a critique of the current state of artistic production, where technology both aids and complicates the creative process. 

The work Fyodor Dostoevsky, Self-portrait cloning itself portrays a modern man—visibly tattooed and sitting at a writing desk, engaged in the process of drawing a classical portrait of Dostoevsky, who is reflected in a mirror before him. This scene encapsulates the exhibition's exploration of cloning and the reanimation of literary figures through a postmodern lens. At its core, the image delves into the concept of identity construction, both historical and contemporary. The tattooed artist serves as a modern-day clone of Dostoevsky, suggesting a continuity and transformation of identity over time. His tattoos, vibrant and covering much of his visible skin, symbolize the layers of cultural and historical narratives that individuals carry with them. These markings stand in stark contrast to the somber, unadorned appearance of Dostoevsky in the mirror, emphasizing a bridge between the past's monolithic cultural identities and today's multifaceted personal expressions.

Vladimir Sorokin, Pasternak-1 (2024). Digital printing on canvas, 130 x 234 cm.Courtesy of White Box.

The use of a mirror in this composition is particularly telling. Mirrors in art often symbolize reflection, both literal and metaphorical, suggesting the artist's self-examination and the broader cultural reflection on historical figures and their legacies. Here, the mirror does not just reflect Dostoevsky but also reflects the artist's own process of creating, or recreating, a version of Dostoevsky that is informed by contemporary values and aesthetics. This act of drawing, visible in the artwork, is a direct nod to the manual aspect of creation, which Sorokin emphasizes as a vital yet almost anachronistic element in today’s digital world.

This scene is set against a rich, darkly colored background that evokes the opulence of a past era, yet the act of drawing and the presence of modern elements (such as the tattoos and the casual attire of the artist) situate the work firmly in the present. The contrast between the historical and the contemporary is jarring yet harmonious, reflecting contemporary world’s own juxtapositions where the ultra-modern exists alongside the traditional or classical. 

Furthermore, the artwork engages with themes of authenticity and replication. In Sorokin’s narrative, the clones are both a homage to and a distortion of their originals, embodying the tension between reproduction and original creation that is prevalent in contemporary art discussions, particularly in New York city known for its post avant-garde galleries and its cutting-edge art scene. 

The monstrous imagery, a recurring theme in both the text and the visual elements, speaks to the zeitgeist's fragmented nature. It reflects the current cultural and technological milieu's capability to distort, yet preserve human essence simultaneously. Sorokin seems to suggest that in our quest to overcome the entropic decay inherent in traditional forms, we risk creating something profoundly other—monstrous yet undeniably captivating.

"Blue Lard #cancelrussianculture" thus stands as a poignant exploration of identity, creativity, and the limits of control in the post-digital age. It forces us to question the integrity of cultural heritage in the face of relentless technological advancement and challenges the permanence of humanistic values in a rapidly evolving cultural landscape. The exhibition not only showcases Sorokin's literary and visual talents but also cements his role as a critical observer of contemporary cultural and technological anxieties. Extended through May 20, 2024. WM

Yohanna M Roa

Yohanna M Roa is a visual artist, art historian, and feminist curator. She is in the MA Women and Gender studies program at the CUNY Graduate Center. She has a Ph.D. in History and Critical Theories of Art program at the Universidad Ibero Americana de México. Master's degree in Visual Arts from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She has given lectures for the SEAC Annual Meeting, The Museum of Contemporary Art of Mexico and the Latin American Public Art Seminar, Brazil-Argentina. She is a permanent contributor to ArtNexus Magazine. Her artistic work has been studied, published and commented by Karen Cordero for the 109 CAA Annual Conference, 2021, in Revaluing Feminine Trajectories and Stitching Alternative Genealogies in the Work of Yohanna Roa, Natalia e la Rosa: Yohanna M Roa, Textile Woman, Casa del Tiempo Magazine, and Creative industries, Innovation and Women's Entrepreneurship in Latin America, published by the Andes University and UNAL in Mexico, 2022. She has developed exhibitions, educational art, and archive projects for including WhiteBox NY, The Tertulia Museum of Modern Art in Colombia, Alameda Art Laboratory Mexico City, and Autonomous University of Nuevo León México. 

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