Building upon his earlier investigations on the non-linear nature of experienced time, while taking a long view on the Western tradition, sculptor Valentin Korzhov presents his last project, “Thus Spoke Heaven”, considering the question of Nihilism from Plato to Nietzsche and Heidegger. The title of the project is an allusion to the work of Nietzsche, and his diagnosis of nihilism as one of the most serious crises in the history of humanity, challenging the use of history and the value of meaning for life. The Nietzschean Death of God speaks about the impossibility to think about God, and therefore about the transcendence of human life, in the hitherto traditional ways passed down by tradition, since Plato. In this situation of groundlessness, as an abyss unfolds before us, swallowing the whole of reality, we are no longer able to move within the habitual concept of linear time, and are ought to enlarge the past, far beyond the limits of history.
Resolving the crisis of nihilism, per force of necessity, takes us all the way back to the beginning of the European philosophical tradition, and we begin to question the foundations of reason, and accordingly, the institutions of modernity. Bereft of a teleological direction in history, and faced with the inevitability of cosmic contingency, the ultimate question returns: How to create something out of nothing? Korzhov, as a reader of both Nietzsche and Heidegger, approaches the question through decisionism and nonfoundationalism: The history of metaphysics, insofar as it has been concerned with truth and certainty rather than Being, is necessarily the history of the destruction of Being. While the recovery of meaning is not possible once the foundations have been shattered, the Nietzschean Übermensch is prepared to face the timeless universe in its godlessness, becoming one with the primeval chaos of the physical world as it was understood by philosophers earlier than Plato.
In this series of sculptures, silver-plated anthropomorphic representations, resembling the human remains of Pompeii, awaiting their ultimate fate, the artist is deploying a multilayered chain of symbols. These symbols, set against the possibility of concrete historical meaning, oscillate between language and poetry, philosophy and mysticism. The scribblings on the bodies, not unlike the ritual markings in a totem, reveal archetypal symbols of consciousness, but that is only the opening for deeper layers in Korzhov’s visual vocabulary: A numerical system references Plato’s Timaeus, the Bible and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, and other scribblings are also derived from the inscriptions in early Christian catacombs, Roman graffiti and the handwriting of Leonard Cohen and Kurt Cobain. This ambivalence between past and present, embedded in objects that perform the role of archaeological artifacts and futuristic remains simultaneously, is central to the artist’s critique of reason.
Multiple, if not infinite readings are possible, in this complex atmosphere of symbolism and anti-meaning. Yet, Korzhov’s engagement with Nietzsche, throws us back immediately at Plato’s Timaeus and the mythical origins of both reason and the first conceptualizations of the natural world. Born out of Socratic skepticism, modern Nihilism is simply a return to the impossibility of origins postulated by antiquity. “Thus Spoke Heaven” summarizes up to this point, Korzhov’s decade long engagement with the history of metaphysics, the crisis of temporality, and the paradoxes of modernity with its own past. Generally speaking, the search for origins has been understood by the tradition, also as an awareness of our ultimate end; but without a clear beginning in history or time, we remain bound to the immediacy of earthly experience and the yet unfulfilled existential possibility of transcendence. This search for a return to origins was already damned in the Timaeus: Our origins are all around us, all the time.
THUS SPOKE HEAVEN
Centered around the foundational narratives of the Ancient Mediterranean, the exhibition “Breakfast at Cronus”, by Valentin Korzhov, takes a look at the ancient myth of Cronus – the begetter of time – and a number of other archetypal characters, in order to reveal an expanded ground of reality; an appearance embedded in pure actuality. Korzhov's takes cue from Heidegger's notion of poiesis, an act of fabrication or creation that is identical with metaphysics and poetry, as much as with the immediate givenness of a material world, ready to be transformed by us. This revealing is also an opening towards truth or essence that lies at the heart of our technological imagination, and helps something come into being. Yet the eight works in the exhibition – referencing always makers of poiesis, Phaeton, Achilles, Hermes – are not conceived as an anachronistic look at a bygone past, but engages with the meaning of antiquity and origin as the absolutely transcendent: A playfulness emerges between the purely sculptural, and the ephemeral but yet infinitely durable nature of polyurethane and fiberglass, which is not meant to be comical but paradoxical. As a subtle critique of the means-ends world of contemporaneity, rich in points of connection and hierarchies but held together without a center, the figure of Cronus points a finger at human powers that are too large to be controlled, too destructive, too Promethean. As a response, these mythological archetypes are calling on the viewer to allow the divine and ineffable to enter the falsely enchanted world of technology. Salient fragments of debris and plastic are traces of the modern world only ironically, viewing themselves as archaeological remnants of a past world into a remote future; what will remain indeed? As a human history, the world of modern technology is – like all histories – a narrative of decline, whereas the myth springs eternal and continuously returns to the source for renewal, in order to burst again into the world as power or might. In a world emptied out of meaning and bereft of a destination, “Breakfast at Cronus” reminds us that the ground of reality will be always superseded by spectacularly larger forces, deeply embedded in our unconscious, in the natural world, in artifacts and culture, opening a passage to pure, unbridled time – Chronos.
BREAKFAST AT CRONUS
We stand in wonder at the gates of Being, undeterred by the sufferings of the world. From the perspective of the here and now, unrestrainedly Being-in-the-world, how to reconcile these all the varieties of the experience of time? Subject, object, place, world, cosmos, infinity, chaos. If we were to disentangle the difficult correlations between subject and object/thought and being, and their internal contradictions, from the pure reality of things Doing-in-the-world, and the anachronistic dogma of aesthetics, what kind of objects would issue forth? The apodixis of an object would be in itself an ideal form, circling back to the Platonic tradition. The only gateway to escape from the burden of time, of death, is the world of myth – the eternal return: In “Anizotropia”, Valentin Korzhov returns to the origin of Chaos, Hesiod's theogony, where Cronus, a primary divinity, also identified with unending duration, prior to Cosmos, begets Aether, Chaos and the Night as spirit-matter, the bound and infinite, from which everything springs, equipped with 'neither limit nor foundation'. In this world of ancestrality, matter is ready-at-hand in the Heideggerian sense of thrown-ness, and unmediated existence coalesces with truthfulness. These sculptural interventions might not appear logical from the perspective of linear time, but insofar as they have broken the correctness of representation at the heart of the Western tradition, they do not speak of abstraction or figuration, but of present-ness – simultaneously existing in different tenses, in the underlying tensions of the hypokeimenon but without a reference to fall back upon. Without future or past, speaking from a primeval void, these creative acts move through an ethereal space, not grounded in mathematical surfaces or in the regimes of historical consciousness; they're not grounded in general.
The unconscious shines forth from the source of the mystery, throwing us upon the most vertiginous truth: Freedom is a foundation that doesn't found.
explores the dualistic nature of mankind. In a comedic, yet philosophical underpinning, the madness of contemporary man’s plight for simple survival is interpreted by the artist Valentin Korzhov. Sprawled on the floor is a silicon body, mimicking a business man, who’s head is cracked open, exposing his mind and brain which have seemingly escaped via their own freewill. The artist states, “... the brain is poisoned by a shocking dose of dopamine in the chase for bright sensual impulses created by the abundance of civilization.”
Valentin Korzhov further draws a narrative between the Nietzschean abyss which contrasts the beast and the uber-man and nihilism; postmodernism, and ultimately a post-man. There is a juxtaposition between the highest form of man (reason, order, control etc) in the figure’s civil attire and groomed condition, and the lowest form of man (animalistic, instinct-driven or emotive) in the freed brain.
The artwork entices the viewer to question our cultural obsession on generating goals, values and successes, while believing we maintain any sort of personal free-will. The work is part of a larger series called “Darwin vs. Darwin”, which has been informed by research carried out by Korzhov, and inspired by various conversations with a fellow Ph.D biologist. Korzhov explores two epistemic (Knowledge) ideas on human progress, first, with Plato with his argument of the immortal soul, and second, Darwin with his Positivist theory of the body and natural phenomena.
THE BRAIN THAT PASSED AWAY
That the ruins of time, a favorite psychoanalytical metaphor for the unconscious, coined by Freud, is a site, that is, a spatial metaphor, gives a profound insight into the structure of temporality: Time is all what is being shredded by time, and abandoned, the debris of an ancient relic. Yet the content of this vessel, remains unknown to human beings; we have only ever seen the aftermath, and so is with the history of Being – what is sought after is its significance, not its meaning. The interpretandum in Valentine Korzhov's series “Desolation” (we refuse to call it metaphor, for that would imply one thing being the meaning of another, and hereby we are concerned with the possibility of the absolute) is the Platonic dodecahedron, a polyhedron with twelve flat faces, that according to Plato's theory laid out in the dialogue Timaeus, constitutes the shape of real solids (primary constituents – air, water, fire, earth): “the god used it for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven”. The Aristotelian “aether” which is the quintessential matter of the universe (equivalent to our astronomical dark matter) was later considered one of these solids. Through kinesis, the different dodecahedrons – of which there are twelve basic forms and infinite complex forms, stand in agreement with Plato, mimicking the mechanics of heaven with their motions and sounds. A sense of latency pervades through the material – bronze juxtaposed by hollowness – that is yet ready to awake anytime but doesn't. The most salient feature of the dodecahedron, discovered by Pythagoras, however, is that although much theorized by mathematicians all the way to Euler's topological proof, its use has never been found. When meaning has already been lost, how do we reconstitute ourselves? How do you return to the place of origin when the referents have been erased? In the desolation, after time (time is always ending or has ended), when the metaphysical space has been erased into arbitrariness, our voice resounds through a hollow mask.