Reviews & Articles
玩偶屋的故事: 君士坦丁的戲謔世界 ∣ The Story of a Dollhouse: The Satirical World of Konstantin Bessmertny
Oscar Hing-kay HO
at 10:03am on 14th June 2017
1. 微型展覽玩偶屋，裝置：混合媒材，2014 ，藝術圈子像是一個巨型商場，這件事並不是甚麼秘密：裡面有販賣著名牌的大機構；大型藝術博覽扮演向參展人或藝術機構出租場地的出租公司，而且祇做能賺錢的生意。這作品雖然僅佔60x50cm的空間，卻可容納幾十件藝術品，更附有放大鏡用來參閱迷你價格表和目錄。Small Show Doll House, Installation: mixed media, 2014. It is no conspiracy that the art world resembles one large shopping mall where top ten art corporations sell and exhibit top ten art brands. Art conventions become real estate companies that lease space to exhibitors and Art institutions. It only serves people and organisations which it can profit from. Small Show Doll House, on the other hand, only takes up 60x50cm floor space and can display dozens of miniature artworks. The price of each work could be seen with the help of a magnifying glass on a miniature price list. A miniature catalogue is also available.
2. 即興，布本油畫， 2016，波希的畫作中對幾種動物的描繪，引起了這次自由即興——關於形式和敘事的隨興、無拘束實驗。Ad Libitum, Oil on canvas, 2016. A freestyle improvisation triggered at first by the depiction of several creatures in the work of Bosch, then it became a completely unregulated and spontaneous experiment in forms and narrative.
3. 東西之遇：璧合珠連，裝置：混合媒材，2016，這句英國反對蘇格蘭獨立的宣傳口號荒謬地加諸在“東西方”這個被濫用的概念上。Better Together. E Meets W. Series. Installation: mixed media, 2016. Our modern fossil-fuelled civilisation is represented by a completely decayed 1964 Mercedes Benz SL180 and remains from Classical Antiquity in the form of plaster casts and broken marble copies of Greek sculptures.
4. 不害以得解脫，布本油畫及拼貼，2016，關於托爾斯泰及甘地等人倡導的非暴力抗爭哲學，追求社會進步和瓦解國際戰爭集團的即興作品。“Abstain from Violence, Attain Nirvana”, Oil& collage on canvas, 2016. Improvisation son non-violent resistance philosophy advocated by prominent figures like Tolstoy and Gandhi for social improvement and dismantlement of the global warmachine.
5. 兜風，裝置：汽車／混合媒材 ，2016 ，一輛完全腐朽的一九六四年SL180平治房車，跟一些從古典時期遺留下來的破碎石像石膏複製品放在一起，以代表我們這個用化石燃料驅動的現代文明。Ride. Installation: car & mixed media, 2016 , Ourmodern fossil-fuelled civilisation is represented by a completely decayed 1964 Mercedes Benz SL180 and remains from Classical Antiquity in the form of plastercasts and broken marble copies of Greek sculptures.
© All photos courtesy of Macao Museum of Art and the artist Konstantin Bessmertny 澳門藝術博物館及藝術家君士坦丁
(Please scroll down for English version)
“好奇櫃”（Cabinet of Curiosity）這普遍被視為西方最早期的博物館，其實也像間玩偶屋。十七世紀歐洲流行的“好奇櫃”，是個人把各種有趣小東西，包括小畫作、素描、犀牛角、獅子毛，寶石、貝殼，和被人騙了還不知的假東西如美人魚標本等，統統放在一起。這是個航運商貿業開始興旺，也是對科學感興趣的年代，歐洲人突然間發現外邊還有萬千世界，亞洲、非洲、美洲，有種文化、各類奇珍異獸。“好奇櫃”就是個私人空間，把真的、假的，從全世界或以為是全世界收集回來，可以是根據自行擬造的系統，也可以是全無結構體系的錯亂拼合，建構擬似科學的想象世界。真與假並存，現實片斷加上無邊的構想，走出來的是奇異、活潑多姿的半想象新世界。這奇幻世界，未必可看到十七世紀那商貿掠奪、強悍殖民的現實另一面。我們沉迷的，是那歡樂熱鬧的奇幻倣真世界。
不難理解何以君士坦丁鍾情十五世紀荷蘭畫者波希（Hieronymus Bosch）的作品。君士坦丁的作品，是波希名畫《俗世樂園》（The Garden of Earthly Delights）的現代版，當中同樣有各種怪誕人物、動物以至妖獸，進行形形式式、情慾盡顯的交合和交易。那由兩幅半圓形組的大圓形畫，更是澳門這“俗世樂園”，或君士坦丁所謂“最拙劣文化倒退的俗豔之樂”的寫照。其中的《澳門戰役》部份，是從歷史出發，追索澳門兩場重要戰役，利用荷蘭與葡萄牙於十七世紀初的澳門爭奪戰，呼應二千年初的開放賭場的另一歷史性戰役，而在這兩場落實澳門歷史面貌的戰役的另一邊，轉移到更大的文化和社會生活戰役。在不斷重覆地旋轉交替的巨畫另一邊，是名為《貪．愚．畏．惰》的半圓畫，是由《澳門戰役》伸延，更遠且闊地展示人類的貪婪、愚蠢、恐懼和懶惰。在澳門這璀璨俗豔的玩偶屋內，我們看到自己和我們社會的縮影。
The Story of a Dollhouse: The Satirical World of Konstantin Bessmertny
Macao is a dollhouse; Konstantin Bessmertny is absorbed in making dollhouses and playing intently in them.
A dollhouse is a personal simulated world of desires. It is constructed with one's imagination, aspirations and fantasies about the real world. These components are compressed into this snug space: what cannot be acquired in real world is made true in this cozy and sumptuous living room. A dollhouse is a make-believe world transporting viewers into an alternative reality. Without make-believe, a dollhouse would fail to carry viewers to a better world.
In the West, cabinet of curiosity was the early form of museum, and it functioned similarly as a dollhouse. Cabinet of curiosity came into fashion in the 17th century. Collectors put together a range of objects, such as little sketches, rhino horns, locks of lion hair, precious stones, seashells and fabricated mermaids corpses that deceived unsuspecting collectors. It was the beginning of a golden age of maritime trade and scientific inquisitiveness, when Europeans started to realise that there was a world beyond their own: Asia, Africa, America and other cultures along with different exotic creatures. Cabinet of curiosity was a personal space that brought together what was genuine and counterfeit, truly or dubiously cosmopolitan. It could be a well-ordered collection or a disorganised assemblage. It was an imaginary world of quasi-science, where fact and fiction coexist. It was a vivid strange new world concocted out of fragments from reality and limitless imagination. Through it, one cannot necessarily see the seamy side of fierce trade competition and aggressive colonisation. People were above all dazzled by the bustling and magical side of this surreal world.
Macao is like a big dollhouse: a luxurious cabinet of curiosity with a combination of everything from the world. Within it one can see miniaturised replicas of European towns, classical Italian architecture, Venetian canals and gondolas underneath an artificial sky, Filipino opera singers in 18th-century European costumes, and a drastically shrunken Eiffel Tower. These backdrops show attractions from various places. Tourists jostle to take pictures in front of these European landmarks and excitedly record their “travels in Europe”. With a little imagination, it can almost convince. The heady European ambience induces, especially among Mainland Chinese visitors, the intriguing feeling of being abroad, which is not dissimilar to the fascination Europeans held for Asia in the 17th century.
In reality things are not, however, distinctly divided into East and West. Macao was the first Chinese city open to the Europeans, who left their history and customs. Beginning in the mid-16th century, Macao became a boomtown that was, as Konstantin put it, “a large crossroad for missionaries, adventurers, researchers, scholars, poets and artists.” People from different places came together for their own reasons. A unique and refined culture emerged in Macao. There were also trading stories of aggression and greed. This city, where Portuguese architecture blended with Chinese dwellings, was created at first as a place for people to make a fortune. Maritime trade in the 16th century was a risky business, which is similar to gambling. It attracted many adventurers to try their luck to hit the jackpot. Onboard a trading ship, apart from the Europeans who sailed it, there were people from China, Japan, the Philippines, South America and Africa. Some were there for the wealth and power; some were there as missionaries; some were there for the adventure and some had no choice. All passengers came from different backgrounds and had different wishes. The whole world was onboard this one ship. This was an illustration of early maritime trade and also of Macao itself. Several hundreds of years later comes a world that indulges in gambling and entertainment. To Konstantin who came all the way from Russia, it must be the most bizarre experience. Since he came from a rich European cultural and artistic background, this experience must have made a great impact on his way of thinking and creativity.
Konstantin underwent a rigorous traditional European artistic training. His strength lies in his traditional artistic techniques, which are in decline among contemporary artists. Together with his upbringing and academic experience, he possesses strong European characteristics in his techniques and ways of thinking. Important icons and figures from the Western history, such as thinkers, religious figures, royals and politicians, also form the artist’s background of thought. These figures, who represented high-minded ideas, beliefs and political authorities, are impacted and eliminated by the modern society’s popular culture and consumerism. Their existence was rendered feeble or even useless and left behind in history. Macao itself is a show house that consists of a rich culture and history, and at the same time is evolving into a place for fortune making, consumerism and materialistic overindulgence.
Konstantin’s dollhouses are delicately crafted; the craftsmanship itself is fascinating enough. They are however not entirely welcoming, as they are laced with satire. Displaying paintings in a grand living room is supposed to be an act of good taste, yet here the room became a marketplace for art. The scene from “The Godfather” in another dollhouse mocks the reality of wealth and power. Konstantin likes adding ridicule to interrupt viewer’s fantasies, with ugly truths seeping into the extravagance of the dollhouse. They are like criticisms on the glamour, excess and corruption, and the criticisms extend to artists themselves. Konstantin interferes with the elegant scene by adding popular culture and kitsch into the mix, enhancing the absurdity and severity, and his masterly painting techniques further intensify his satire on traditions and the status quo.
In the renowned playwright Henrik Ibsens’s “A Doll’s House”, the main protagonist Nora escaped from an artificial world into a real new world. It was an important personal liberation. However, even if we escape from Konstantin’s dollhouse, the queer discordant contradictory world still surrounds us. That world of absurdity, where real and simulated, refined and vulgar coexist, is just a larger and more complex dollhouse. It is where history, reality and imagination overlap.
Portraits of historical figures, such as Marx and Freud, along with an array of nude women, were jokingly drawn on the body of a temple lion sculpture; simulated film worlds with out-of-sync subtitles; the absurd non-linear movement of time; a once grand automobile with dangerous lighting inside: all of which are fragments put together from everyday life.
Satire is at the core of Konstantin’s work. As the first city that brought together the East and West, Macao also became one of his subject matters. In “E. Meets W. Same Shit”, a Japanese samurai stood in a 17th-century European style room. It is an unlikely encounter; “L’Etat C'est Moi” shows the twisted interplay between sex and power in the East and West, past and present. However not all of his works are harshly critical, sometimes they are only playful parodies, like the gondoliers without trousers.
It is not difficult to understand why Konstantin admires the work of the 15th-century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. Konstantin’s work is a modern version of Bosch’s famous work “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, in which there are all sorts of weird characters, beasts and monsters engaging in different carnal liaisons and intercourses. The huge circular painting that is combined by two semi-circular paintings, is the depiction of Macao as “a garden of earthly delights”, or as Konstantin put it, “the delight of opulent kitsch with the silliest cultural throwback of all times”. In the “Battle of Macao” part, the artist traces back to the two most important battles in the history of Macao. The 17th-century mercantile competition between Holland and Portugal echoes the liberation of Macao’s gambling industry in the early 2000s. On the other side of the two defining battles of Macao is a grander battle in culture and social life. The other half of the circular painting is called “G.S.F.S. (Greed, Stupidity, Fear and Sloth)”, which is an extension of “Battle of Macao”. It extensively shows us humanity’s greed, stupidity, fear and sloth. In this glamourous yet vulgar dollhouse in Macao, we can see a reflection of our society and ourselves.
Link for further info:
Ad Lib──君士坦丁近作展 @ 澳門藝術博物館
AD LIB- Recent Works by Konstantin Bessmertny @ Macao Museum of Art
This review was first published in AD LIB- Recent Works by Konstantin Bessmertny exhibition catalogue, 2016.