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Taus Makhacheva

Art Here 2021
Richard Mille Art Prize
18 November 2021 – 27 March 2022

Taus Makhacheva (b. 1983, Moscow) practices critically examine what happens when different cultures and traditions come into contact. Oftentimes humorous, her work attempts to seriously test the resilience of images, objects and bodies in today’s world. Mining Serendipity (Dubai-Moscow, 2020) is composed of seven small, shiny brass artefacts connected on an irregularly shaped, fully dismountable jewel which can be assembled in any possible combination. In an intimate setting, the visitor is encouraged to try on the pieces while an accompanying video explains how they might lead to an increased sensorial experience. As “body-orientated artefacts” they function as “an extrasensory toolkit” which implies a range of heightened emotional abilities: increased levels of empathy, non-haptic communication skills, more awareness of one’s physical and geographical environment, a primordial sense of direction, an individual sense of collective memory.

Natalia Pokrovskaya

While playful and performative, the work asks us to seriously question our current relation to objects while calls for new ways of co-existing in the world. Reimagining the idea of psychotechnics – the use of psychological techniques for controlling and modifying human behavior – in the context of social distancing, Makhacheva highlights our increasingly intimate relation to screens and gadgets. It is these shiny objects which, produced from rare earth minerals, mediate and control our experience of the world by extracting data-driven behavioral patterns. Remolding the form while retaining the function, this work exposes the structure of digital landscape, the shared territory we collectively inhabit. It proposes an alternative way of relating to the world of objects and others based on heightened material sensibility. Instead of mining data, the work asks, how might objects harness the “gold dust of emotional geology” to create new modes of collective existence?

“My family is from Republic of Dagestan in the Northern Caucuses, which is a multinational Republic within the Russian Federation, with more than 25 different languages spoken. My close circle worked in the arts and literature, my mother is an art historian. I first studied economics and then contemporary art at Goldsmiths, University of London. Recently I kept thinking of this notion of being attached to a territory, what do being based means for me? I do not really believe in this notion because even when I was based in Moscow or in Dagestan, I would be spending maybe five months a year in one place, and the rest traveling. I have always been in movement. I often read in biographies people based between somewhere and somewhere else, but I wonder where is this? Is it in the middle of the ocean? Now I think of it more in terms of biography, as the place I was born in, because my world, my friends and my conversations are spread all over the world. I spent most of 2020 in Dubai, and 2021 was half Dubai half Moscow. I don't know what 2022 will be like and if I will go back to traveling. During the last March Meeting I was moved by a talk by Manthia Diawara “On de-opacification and the right to opacity” where he spokes that Edouard Glissant doesn't believe in returns, he believes in detours and that you cannot go back to your origin. That illustrates very well my feeling about belonging to a place, and the work Mining Serendipity, which is about learning how to tremble with the world, to paraphrase Glissant again, and learning to feel the world differently.

Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi Photo Seeing Things

Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi Photo Seeing Things

One of my first big biennials was Sharjah in 2013 “Re:emerge: Towards a New Cultural Cartography ”, curated by Yuko Hasegawa, and it was huge for me at the time. Years before I visited the first edition of Art Dubai in 2007 and I went to see the Sharjah Biennial. I was walking around, astonished by it and I thought: I really want to be in this biennial. And then six years later it happened, I guess there is some serendipity in all of this. I kept detouring to the UAE, I did “The Wedding Project” with Delfina Foundation at Art Dubai in 2016, I worked with Lawrie Shabibi, still in 2016 I was part of the exhibition “But still Tomorrow Builds into My Face” at the gallery, curated by Nat Muller. And actually, the invitation from Christine Macel for the Venice Biennial in 2017 came partly through her seeing my work Tightrope in that show. Lucky coincidences are important and I am deeply grateful for all the opportunities I had in my career, but I also have this belief that the work has to do the work, meaning the artwork.

Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi Photo Seeing Things

I started Mining Serendipity during the pandemic, I was sitting at home in Dubai, browsing a lot of Instagram. I love contemporary jewelry, and clearly the Instagram algorithm was showing a lot of it. I also wanted to do something small, manageable, touchable, and something that can transport you to places daily, that can be a tool of remembrance, a reminder of something or somewhere that you want to go to. So, when Stijn Maes, director of the Frans Masereel Centrum in Belgium invited me to create a work for their program “Solitude” I thought, let’s try jewelry. The Frans Masereel Centrum is not a large-scale institution, but they have been so generous with their resources and time, allowing me to fail many times before we arrived - the jewelry studio, Mineral Weather, and I – to the final work. I did everything long distance. Researches, zooms with Anna Pavlova and Alexander Olkhovsky from Mineral Weather, zooms with my project manager Anzhelika Baryshnikova. We were doing tests long distance and I actually have not seen the work until it was completely ready and the first batch was shipped off. That is how I work very often though, even before the pandemic, when I was traveling, I worked long distance with my studio, from the train, from the plane, from the installations, from airbnb kitchen tables, from hotel beds. But the pandemic forced us to face ourselves and the world differently, and for me it opened up a desire for a mindful change to shift from a reactive to an active work.

Another very important aspect of the Mining Serendipity ecology is that the box set as an unlimited, unsigned, numbered edition. It is sold by the non-commercial institution that commissioned it (Frans Masereel Centrum) at production price, with the objective to allow people to have as many encounters with the work as possible and simultaneously avoiding the narrative of a limited edition collectable item. It is important for me that this work is not read as a beautiful glistening trinket for sale, but as a model of different artistic interaction with institutions and audience. Here, you are entering a space of contemporary art at Louvre Abu Dhabi and you are asked to touch and try. When I work, with my studio we like to test the flexibility of institutions, it is a kind of dance. I am very interested in examining flexibilities and pressure points, but also working with institutions using the same institutional language. We have done a mirror in the shape of a neck for this display, because we wanted to avoid the selfie situation, so you can pick it up and look at the necklace only. If you do not want to dig too deep into the artwork, you do not have to, it is just beautiful and light, it is always your choice. These artefacts are territory less, they do not belong to a place, they are meant to travel and to help the wearer travel into different experiences.

What I am excited about in my practice is to try different things. Lately it is methodological experiments, I want to try methodologies, in a way I want to try to be as many artists as I can, and I want to try different scale. My works exist in very different registers. And with Mining Serendipity I wanted to create a mini museum. You can choose whether you want to wear one pendant or many. I call these pieces body-oriented artefacts, which is a phrase borrowed from one of my mother's article. She wrote a lot about traditional jewelry and how they structure your social, psychological and political bodies. I also am interested in the cultural meaning of these objects, they are not just pieces of metals. When I did the research for the work, I looked at plenty of traditional jewelry, and the background of it, I took many references and then digested it. I talked a lot with everyone at the studio, with Anna and Sasha from Mineral Weather, and many more people that one can see in our credits, from these conversations, the shapes that you see emerged. And as a parallel process I was trying to formulate the concept and what we were actually trying to do, this was emerging in my conversation with Andrey Efits, who did research and wrote all the texts that accompany the work. There are many playful layers in this work, which I hope is evident in the texts. Each pendant came together as I was thinking of the ways that people analyze the future. It could be affective forecasting, swarm intelligence and so on, and I wanted to shift and redefine all of them, into something generative that can actually be used to empathize with the world. Some things were made up, like the 1971 Sochi conference on psychotechnics, that we are referencing in the text, because we wanted something like that to exist. That is another thing that I love in contemporary art, you can just embrace a generative lie.”

Interview with Taus Makhacheva, 15 November 2021, Abu Dhabi

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