A Russian artist inspired by Arabic philosophy
Valentin Korzhov believes art creation is no less mysterious than the understanding of eternity
Clad in black, Valentin Korzhov is working on a cluster of sculptures in his studio near Moscow. Both a warehouse and creative crucible, the space oozes an ordered chaos. During break, Korzhov offers us coffee and spends the next 45 minutes talking about his favourite topic - philosophy. "I'm interested in metaphysics and philosophy, and these questions are so unanswerable that they contain all the other questions inside them. If you look at Aristotle's Metaphysics, it actually carries the entire universe's knowledge known up to that point. As the universe expanded in our cultural imagination, so did the questions." He waits for me to finish my coffee, before adding with a laugh, "Reality and the modern world holds so little interest for me." Korzhov who describes his art as a "communion with eternity and time" is obsessed with finding answers to the 'origin' questions that have baffled philosophers and scientists since time immemorial. His major exhibition 'Round Around,' extended till June 20 at the Cube gallery in Moscow due to corona lockdown, features his latest meditative sculptures that perfectly summon up the cosmological possibilities in art. Dubbing'Round Around' as a "riddle," one critic wrote, "Korzhov's objects have escaped the canvas and become figures in space."
Subverting artistic paradigms
Few artists are as devoted to the idea of leaping into the void as this 45-year-old. The Russian art scene is thriving and artists-thinkers like Korzhov are leading a generation of transgressive new radicals who are rethinking art and its future. Russian art has always been rich, synonymous to the Western world with Andrei Rublev's Orthodox icons, Wassily Kandinsky's vibrantly harmonious symphonies and Ilya Repin's stark social realism but over the decades, new schools have emerged that dared venture beyond the intimate dance of figuration and traditional methods. Many in Russia today are subverting the paradigms of art, a development that makes Korzhov proud. Using novel materials (fibre glass, metal, crystal and concrete), Korzhov's highly stylised and symbolic installations blend science, philosophy, cosmos and idea of time to address a new reality. As you survey his thought-provoking sculptures, you find yourself wondering, 'Are they stars, celestial bodies or a mysterious being that might spring to life any minute.' Korzhov himself has no easy answers to conceptual art, least of all to the complex realities of the universe that forms a major focus of his own creations. I later learn that Korzhov has previously turned images from Hubble Space Telescope into art. "The sky has always been a source of intellectual revelations," he admits. Not for nothing did the Greeks, he gently reminds me, "called it an intelligible body." One of his 2018 exhibitions that occupied two floors of a prestigious Moscow gallery, for example, contained artefacts that immersed viewers in a game of existential thrones. Another, based on Darwinian thought, reimagined evolution. Among his best-known pieces, 'Darwin Vs Darwin' saw Korzhov create fake "limbs as a visual metaphor for human progress."
Working across mediums such as sculpture, video, collage, 3D modelling, photography, plastic and digital art, Korzhov has been billed as one of the most experimental contemporary Russian artists pushing the boundaries in a region that has had a somewhat chequered history with art and imagination. Besides hometown Moscow, Korzhov has exhibited in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Tashkent. In 2019, he showed at the Art Bahrain. I am thoroughly surprised to find that Korzhov is not only familiar with Arabic thought and the Gulf's illustrious literature but in fact, is profoundly inspired by it. "The Arabic philosophers were ahead of their time. They created the conditions for much of the philosophical thought of modern Europe," he reveals. "Ibn Arabi, for example, talks about concepts such as 'primordial matter' and 'substance' and he was widely read by a young German named Martin Heidegger." The Islamic Golden Age is Korzhov's area of interest. He also talks about Ibn Sina, relishing in pointing out the polymath's links with Aristotle. His words have both a strange power of conviction and whimsy when he claims, "If we look at Jackson Pollock's drip paintings and Arabic calligraphy, in a similar manner, we experience a large-scale understanding of 'Being and Existence.' There's order and logic to everything." Korzhov's extensive research in philosophy has encouraged him to speculate that Islam's prohibition on representative art "might have triggered and nurtured different sensibilities towards what we call as 'abstraction' today."
A little thief
Korzhov's own works are nothing short of feats of abstractions. Born in Moscow, he got interested in art early on. For a time, he apprenticed with the renowned artist, Vladimir Sidorenko. Since then, he has been doggedly building on his own philosophical concepts. The groundbreaking British abstractionist Henry Moore - who famously decreed that the sculptor is "a person who is interested in the shape of things, a poet in words, a musician by sounds" - is one of Korzhov's abiding influences. The artist jokes, "I am a little thief." As his half-finished sculptures simmer away in the distance, he explains, "I'm outlining space objects while Henry was outlining chicken bones and elephant skulls!" He concludes, laughing, "Basically, I stole his methods."