Secession opens SLAVS AND TATARS Not Moscow Not Mecca

Secession presents SLAVS AND TATARS Not Moscow Not Mecca, an exhibition on view June 17, 2012 in Vienna.

Communism and Islam are the two grand narratives of Central Asia, claim Slavs and Tatars, and they go further: “In fact, Communism and Islam are the two most important geopolitical factors of the 20th and 21st centuries.” With the exhibition Not Moscow Not Mecca in the Grafisches Kabinett and an outdoor installation at the Secession, the collective formed in 2006 writes the “autobiography” of a region that is little known in this country and that bears many names: from Central Asia to Greater Khorasan, from Turkestan to Ma Wara’ al-Nahr—Arabic for “the land beyond the river”.

With this exhibition, which is part of a cycle of works with the title The Faculty of Substitution, the artists pursue the theme of self-knowledge in the broadest sense. “Substitution,” say Slavs and Tatars with reference to the title, “means the mental agility needed to develop coordination and equilibrium so that we can tell one story through another.” Not Moscow Not Mecca is the title of the show at the Secession—neither, nor. In their ongoing search for a basis for comparison between cultures, between Orient and Occident, between modernity and Islam, Slavs and Tatars discover similarities between things that seem incomparable. These processes of equation lead to an appropriation and reinterpretation of history, a process at odds with the familiar narratives of the powerful and victorious.

So what do the two large watermelons in the pots by Robert Oerley at the entrance to the Secession tell us? “Watermelons are a caricature, the fruit of the Other. In the USA, they are often used as a racist substitute for African-Americans, in Russia they recall the contested Caucasus, and in Europe the countries of origin of the migrant populations, be it Turkey, North Africa, etc.” Watermelons are also pleasant on the eyes, their surfaces seduce with graphic relish, the red flesh entices. They taste good. “And they are harbingers of spring, of summer. Ver Sacrum!” They embody a call to approach the exhibition at the Secession not only on an intellectual level, but also emotionally and sensorially, an invitation that is repeated and pursued by the “syncretistic shrine” inside the building.

The artistic practice of the collective not only extends across the heterogeneous Central Asian region but also across a variety of media, disciplines, and formats, covering a broad spectrum of different cultural registers. In their primarily research-based works, Slavs and Tatars address issues such as antiquity and the past, the marginal and oft-forgotten, presenting the results of their processes of study in the exhibition space in poetic ways.

Finally, in the Grafisches Kabinett, visitors are met by the “collective autobiography of the flora of Central Asia” that takes the form of a setting transferred from the region. Pomegranate, mulberry, sour cherry, cucumber, persimmon, quince, fig, apricot, and melon, this time in two varieties. “We offer many points of entry to the work,” say Slavs and Tatars, “it’s actually like at a bazaar. We put things on display and visitors choose the level of engagement they want.” Based on the idea that fruit acts as a medium or talisman to challenge familiar notions of oral tradition and setting down in writing, Slavs and Tatars open up issues such as the influence of landscape on memory, or the dichotomy between sacred and profane knowledge, confronting them with the legacy of western modernity.

Wiener Secession, Association of Visual Artists
Friedrichstraße 12, A-1010 Wien
Telefon: +43-1-587 53 07
Telefax: +43-1-587 53 07-34
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