Magazine article Artforum International

Slavs and Tatars: Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Slavs and Tatars: Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Article excerpt

Slavs and Tatars



In 1865, Edouard Manet exhibited Olympia at the Paris Salon, and Louis Pasteur patented a process for preventing spoilage in wine. It's no stretch to claim a connection between these two events. Both modernist painting and pasteurization are techniques of purification, the one an expulsion of extraneous elements through progressive refinement, the other an elimination of pathogens through calibrated heating. Pasteurization, however, isn't sterilization. Purge all the bacteria from wine or beer and you ruin the taste. Perhaps this explains why Clement Greenberg revised his theory of medium specificity when he confronted the possibility of a perfectly blank canvas. Modernism, like milk, requires contaminants.

In "Afteur Pasteur," the collective Slavs and Tatars hailed the microbes as "original Other or foreigner." The exhibition's centerpiece was a fully operational street-vendor machine serving ayran, a yogurt-like dairy drink of Mongolian and Turkish origin that, like kefir and koumiss, is making inroads into Western markets as a health food. Purportedly founded as a book club, Slavs and Tatars is dedicated to tracing curious cross-border transits--of peoples, goods, concepts, even phonemes--throughout Eurasia, which they define as the region lying between the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China. The collective's practice is succinctly illustrated by their ongoing series "Kitab Kebabs," 2012-, in which books, in Polish or Farsi, on popular science or ancient history, are stacked and skewered together. An antic spirit of polyglot pastiche cropped up in carpet designs, inspired by Russian Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, that document Turkey's government-mandated conversion to Latin script, as well as in vacuum-formed placards, modeled on Marcel Broodthaers's "poemes industriels," advertising fermented beverages with slogans such as "coo coo 4 kumis."

Slavs and Tatars's nod to Broodthaers presses the question: What does it mean to be "Afteur Pasteur"? To be after modernism? Recall that Rosalind Krauss singled out Broodthaers in her 1999 lecture on the "post-medium condition," which contended that Conceptualism and institutional critique had lapsed into biennial-friendly installation art and a retroactive adulation for Situationism, Fluxus, and other "practices of rampant impurity" (my italics). …

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