A Biology of Happiness

“Биоизм” / “Bioism”
Erarta Museum, St. Petersburg 2014



The artist was born in Ukraine, currently lives in Germany, and considers Erarta exhibition an interesting experiment. “European public is more prepared for contemporary art: museums are mostly attended by experts. But in Erarta I noticed a lot of ordinary people who are just curious — says the artist. — Many of them perceive art as entertainment. My works here are not the ultimate goal, but a part of this world, a part of the most ordinary life. And it is very interesting for the artist. Erarta is an excellent venue”.

The exhibition is divided into two parts. The first part features a sculptural group made of acrylic, plastic and fiberglass: a large transparent object floating above small substances. However, it can be interpreted differently: the large object can be an increased model of microcosm, and the small ones are in fact the giant creatures or a model of macrocosm.

Aljosha creates sculptures that remind colorful corals, fancifully twisted molecules or bouquets of nonexistent flowers. And he places them not only in museum halls. The second part of the exhibition presents photographic evidences of what happened to the sculptures on the streets of different cities. Once he placed a blood–red substance under a tank monument in Havana. Another time he fit the bouquet–like bioforms into the hands of Ronald Reagan’s sculpture in Budapest.

«I take my art-object out to the real world; I place them into various and even absurd situations and thereby I deprive the art sphere of its privileged nimbus. People react differently, usually my sculptures die, get broken or stolen. For me art is a personal philosophical activity, and art objects become its byproduct which is, just like everything else in the world, ephemera”, — says the artist.

Text by Olga Safroshina

Thomas Wolfgang Kuhn

Aljoscha - a Biology of Hapiness

Aljoscha – a Biology of Happiness

We are living today in a time of radical change in many fields of human endeavour, a change introduced especially by the natural sciences, which fundamentally affects our understanding of human nature. Above all, the potential of the life sciences, with their findings in genetics combined with information technology, opens a broad range of possible interventions in our biological constitution. Not least the cure of diseases appears to be their urgent goal, but also the general improvement of our living conditions against the backdrop of dwindling and endangered resources. The pursuit of happiness is inscribed in this effort, which concerns not only the individual but also the whole human species. At the same time, this pursuit touches on questions of a moral and ethical nature, which cannot be answered by the respective sciences themselves. Human society as a whole is confronted by the questions of how the means proffered us by the sciences should be used, where their limits and where their opportunities lie.

Art affords a forum for this discourse on what is coming, on the utopias that lie before the threshold of our future existence. New, synthetic life, artificial and technologically altered human intelligence are the salient motifs, the pessimistic as well as optimistic visions which can draw on a rich hoard of historical narratives. The memory of this past, with a view to what is to come, also merges the today often neatly separated strands of science, art and philosophy, as may be seen in the work of Aljoscha. These areas are still organically bound together, founded in knowledge and striving after knowledge, in the ancient Greek term techne. In this sense, the artist Aljoscha is also a scientist who explores still unknown refuges in his work.

The focus of Aljoscha’s work is biology, the doctrine of life, and he directs his gaze upon the future. He himself therefore consistently speaks of his art as a ‘bio-futurism’ or ‘bioism’. Against this background, he sees his sculptures, drawings and paintings as virtual organisms, beyond figuration and abstraction. Comparisons to cell structures, nerve tracts and corals may be found in the literature on his work. Owing to the absence of a concrete reference to the visible world that could serve as the basis for a comparison, his forms oscillate between compositional micro and macrocosm. Parts, however, can enter into relation to each other, as in the universe he has invented for Dornbirn. The parts of colour-pigmented acrylic glass that float through the vast space possess a point of reference to the ground, which may be understood as a starting-point. Metaphorically, this formation could be seen as a seed or a placenta out of which the upper parts of the installation have burgeoned. In addition to this association, the relation constitutes a dialogue between the conditions of the space, its limits and its volume, which are traversed by the floating compartments, into that in which the unfolding of the work takes place.

This extensive installation inevitably reinforces the perception of the room’s industrial characteristics. Perception naturally changes specific to the work, as comparison with other exhibitions in the former assembly hall shows. The static and solid architectural form of the building counters the open structure of the floating parts whose extension is accordingly limited and contained. In contrast to the surrounding form of the hall, the similarity of the parts to a spreading cloud of smoke or colour in a clear liquid symbolizes the ephemeral character of the fragile structures, which could be seen as not only sculptural but also painterly.

And in fact Aljoscha’s sculptural works are created through painting. In the course of minutely detailed work on his paintings, the artist became aware of the spatial extension of pigments and colour fields, which, like a kind of skin, work to form space. This insight was followed by Aljoscha’s making sculptural structures entirely of acrylic paint, which are formally closely related to his drawings and paintings. These, like those, consist of incredibly fine lines and micro-structures that form into more complex shapes. The structures may be spherical or funnel-like, or they may have tentacles extending beyond into space. The use of other materials followed later – for example, acrylic glass, whose transparency both captures, concentrates, amplifies and reflects light and alters the perception of the spatial parts and airspace in the background.

It is by no means a trivial circumstance when these installations are brought into highly functional and aesthetically charged spaces. Beyond the white cube of the art galleries and museums lie spaces like the Gothic church of St. Petri in Dortmund or the ballroom of the Bernath Palace, located stylistically between the Rococo and neo-classicism. Here Aljoscha’s works gain an unforced sacral, sublime effect. Conversely, the present exhibition raises the question whether, beyond the given architectural disposition, Aljoscha’s installations endow the space in which they appear with a spiritual charge.

This spiritual facet is not an accident. Aljoscha himself, who looks upon his works as living beings rather than pure art, brings religious aspects into play. Thus, for him, the close connection between art, religion and philosophy becomes visible in such spaces with particular forcefulness. At the same time, these spaces, even more than the white cube, are potential stage spaces, which not only serve ritual acts but also in which the contained things possess a performative quality. The artist as creator of his own worlds and, to date, inexistent things bears as such a similarity to the common notion of a creator God, although to equate the two is forbidden. Humanity, however, and here the sciences again enter into the matter, has advanced far into the realm which, not so long ago, seemed reserved to divine powers: the creation of new species, artificial insemination and genetics. Pygmalion and Frankenstein here stand alongside one another, and with them the happiness or unhappiness of the demiurge.

And what is that – happiness? Aljoscha has treated this subject from the point of view of biology. Thus the title of the exhibition comes from a 2012 study by the scientist Ladislav Kóvac. In his essay, Kóvac considers the evolutionary function of happiness for human beings. Happiness, in his view, does not exhaust itself in a state of flux, of self-oblivion. Nor is it about the absence of pain and possibility of continual artificial stimulation of the reward centre of the brain. Kóvac describes even boundless consumption and the possibility of the immediate satisfaction of all needs as false paths. What he holds to be fruitful within an evolutionary context for an experience of happiness is a conscious perception of one’s life and actions, the sharing of feelings in fellowship with others, and the capacity to recognize past experiences as valuable and so to give the future a kind of ‘positive charge’.

Against this backdrop, it becomes clear that Aljoscha’s bio-futuristic outlook is far from being a profane and materialistic vision of the future. His work, anchored in the present, offers in essence the possibility of concentrated reception, coupled with reflection on that which is coming or may come. This happens in a place that serves not only the exhibition and viewing, but also gathering together, exchange, communion. Here the circle closes on the works: the viewer sees them not only as individual organisms but also as species of collectives. These appear to be subject to no ideal geometrical-hierarchical calculation, but rather organically grown and potentially growing agglomerations, in which each part bears responsibility for the tectonics and shape of the whole. If Aljoscha then also dreams of living furniture or a space flight with biologically constructed ships, this could mean actual extensions of the human body in sense of Marshall McLuhan, who, incidentally, assigned precisely art a prominent place in his media theory. To begin with, however, in Aljoscha’s pictures, objects and installations lie an optimistic parable for the idea of living-together.

This idea becomes palpable in Aljoscha’s actions, in which he ‘infects’ public space with his objects. These subversive interventions of the peaceful kind range from the resuscitation of toppled Lenin sculptures in Ukraine to museum spaces in London or Cologne. It is exciting to see how far these ‘intruders’ are actually perceived as foreign bodies at the respective places. In the case of the metal statues of the Russian politician Lenin, in which acrylic structures occupy cavities like symbionts, the material contrast is evident. In terms of content, place and object are united in the spirit of utopia, the original idea of improving life. And it is fascinating how fittingly a small black object complements a marble sculpture of 1881 by Alfred Gilbert. Mother Teaching Child in the London Tate Britain Museum shows a seated woman with a child in her lap. She has spread out a scroll, which she is studying together with the child – the perfect basis for Aljoscha’s object, which he smuggled in here in 2011 and which served temporarily as a new object of meditation for the pair lost in study. Aljoscha has shown other objects in natural surroundings or in urban niches, but also, in 2015, in the Natural History Museum in Sofia, next to stuffed exhibits from the animal world, as naturally as if they belonged there. All this is transgression in the direction of a link between art and life, a concept of romanticism in accordance with which aesthetic actions have been formulated that have had a lasting effect on the world.

Apropos this point, an anecdote that bestowed a certain media presence on the artist. In February 2014 Aljoscha took part in meetings at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev. As he stood on one of the barricades, not cobblestones or other improvised weapons but instead a small art work flew from his hand over the ramparts, a work consisting of a rubber boot, alive with some of his sculptural objects in red. While the gesture itself is reminiscent of the 1960s, when as part of peaceful protests flowers were stuck in the barrels of rifles, Aljoscha’s explanation of this action is disconcerting. The idea, he says, was that the ‘beings’ in the rubber boot should have a non-partisan view of the situation. If on the one hand the action fits perfectly into a utopianism that reaches out from real life and reminds us of the political and social upheavals in Eastern Europe 100 years ago, on the other hand, in his report on Aljoscha’s action, Federico Gambarini recalled Nikolai Gogol and diagnosed the workings of a ‘subversive humour’. This humour arises out of the gradual deviation from a presumed everyday reality and culture following a tradition which ranges from Fyodor Dostoyevsky to Victor Pelevin and has similarities to the visual strategies of Shirin Neshat. 

It is in this spirt that the interventions in museums and in sculptures, like that in Düsseldorf involving the memorial statue of the former Minister-President Johannes Rau, are seen by the artist as gestures of a cautious relativizing of power, whether that of large-scale politics or that of sublime art. To offer one’s own art in 2010 for the price of 99 cents at an Aldi supermarket sharpens the acuity of the critical eye to the pitch of self-irony, for the art system is part of a larger mechanism of global economics and, as such, is faced with the toughest resistance to invisible spiritual content. After only thirteen minutes in a basket at the discounter, this bizarre object was purchased by a lucky Chinese customer. Useless? By no means!

exhibition catalogue Kunstraum Dornbirn 2017



A Biology of Happiness

The catalogue is unfortunately out of print.

Editor: Kunstraum Dornbirn, Thomas Häusle
Text: Thomas Wolfgang Kuhn
Interview: Thomas Häusle und Herta Pümpel
Design: proxi design
Details: German/ English, Softcover
20 x 26 cm, 92 pages
Verlag für moderne Kunst, Vienna
ISBN: 978-3-903228-66-5