Dictionary of Imaginary Places, 2000/2005
Light bulbs, sound, wood, electric relay
Courtesy of the artist and Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin
Almost all Vadim Fishkin's works deal with the phenomenon of space. And they are almost always built on the fact that the place created by the artist is not at all what we first take it for. Its reality is always illusory, and its credibility always turns into a dramatisation. However, this does not necessarily mean that its purpose is to debunk place. On the contrary, it creates places. After all, place is not a topographic concept or a fragment of territory. A place always has its involvement with a human being. It is precisely the human who, subjectivising a place by means of his imagination, makes a place his own. Besides this, a place may not even have any real territory, but be solely a figment of the imagination, a fact of culture. And it is about such places that the work Dictionary of Imaginary Places reminds us.

Serving as the basis for this small installation is the eponymous publication – The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, compiled by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi and first published in English in 1980. All the places mentioned in this book are well known to us, but have no physical existence in reality: they include Atlantis and Shangri-La, the country of Oz and Wonderland, and finally Utopia. Here in Fishkin's work, the names of these "imaginary places" are repeated alternately by two voices – one faltering and deep, and the other high-pitched and irritable. These voices are heard from a small wooden box hung on the wall, to which two light bulbs have been attached that correspond to these two characters: the change of voice is accompanied by the lighting up of the associated bulb. This strange, almost toy-like object, combining something of the radio play and a puppet theatre, gives the work a clear ironic intonation. And so utopia, in Fishkin, meets with laughter.

However, such an encounter is quite to be expected: Mikhail Bakhtin also noted that laughter and utopia were born at the same time – in the Renaissance. After all, it was the emergence of modernity that led to the individual's awareness of his subjectivity and his position at a distance from reality, which, in turn, created the conditions both for scoffing at the revealed imperfection of the world, and for projects to improve it. Vladimir Propp then came along to assure us that laughter emerges from the realisation that there is nothing behind the shell of reality, that it conceals an emptiness. The puppet-like acoustic performance Fishkin puts on in his work leaves us with no doubt: all the places in question are fictitious and an illusion.

And yet laughter remains, even when exposing the illusory nature of the world, something that cannot exist without the real presence of man. Whether this be the convulsive jowl shaking of Rabelaisian laughter, or a mere smile, a human being is always corporeally implicated in humour. Comedy does not exist outside the human, for, in order to make us laugh, the humorous must be visible, it must be given some moral appreciation or have some mental operation performed on it. The art of Fishkin reveals the symptomatology of our age, which, while ironising over utopia, attempts to preserve it, striving to create a humanised place through the recognition of its illusory nature.

Viktor Misiano
artistic director of the project: Viktor Misiano
National Center for Contemporary Arts
Moscow Museum of Modern Art
Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
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