Yelena Vorobyova and Viktor Vorobyov
Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan
Bazaar, 1990 — 2000s
Installation: found objects, colour photographs
Courtesy of the artists
The work of Almaty artists Yelena and Viktor Vorobyov, Bazaar was prompted by the post-Soviet nineties and is one of the most significant attempts to arrive at an artistic understanding of this era. In fact, flea markets became one of the characteristic signs of that time, and their symptomatology involves more than evidence for the social hardships of this transitional decade. Transitional, or epochal points in history, as the nineties are often defined, are usually accompanied by a breakdown of the life foundations that had formerly seemed to unshakable. This experience – no doubt traumatic – has, however, another aspect. The loss of rootedness in the established forms of life allows one to look at them in a detached way: after all, being obvious, they had previously been invisible. Moreover, the experience of loss of place enables us to understand that any place is produced by a confluence of circumstances and temporary conditions, and therefore opens the possibility of creating another, new place. In essence, the goods sold on the post-Soviet markets – crockery, clothing, household implements, books, vinyl records, etc. – were the items that had surrounded people in their daily routine, defining their places. Making these into trade goods was forced by the logic of survival, but this was the way in which post-Soviet people participated in the erasure of the former way of life. The items put up for sale bore the memory of the place they left, but, having become an object of exchange, were intended at any moment to become part of another life, to contribute to the formation of a new place. Therefore, the chaos of the nineties, as well as the Vorobyovs' Bazaar, is also evidence of the desperate and mass impulse towards the creation of a new life that was peculiar to that time.

A special and extremely symptomatic place was the post-Soviet market itself. Emerging spontaneously, virtually unregulated, and with constantly changing participants (buyers could become sellers and vice versa), it bore the defining traits of that fluid transitional era – an era without place. Set out haphazardly on a market stall, or more often just lying on the ground, it was as if these things were located on a common horizontal plane. Earlier, being part of a personal place, they had been subject to structural and hierarchical organisation. Some had seemed more important than others due to their more meaningful practical function or more important emotional, symbolic, and sometimes even sacred significance. Here, during the post-Soviet collapse, all these fragments of the former life turned out to be of equal value. So, on the one hand, the markets of the neoliberal reform period appeared to be a vivid embodiment, almost a caricature, of the liberal idea of desacralisation and the potential equal rights of any market exchange object. But, on the other hand, they had another extremely symptomatic feature. It is in pointing this out that the artists employ their most effective and eye-catching technique – inclusion in the work of genuine objects beside their photographic reproduction. Torn from the hierarchical structure that defines place, things appear for the first time in their material reality, we now see them as they are in themselves. Having ceased to be a part of some place, they themselves became a place, a place-in-itself.

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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