Gulnur Mukazhanova - Un-Conscious
18 September—20 November 2021
Opening: Friday 17 September, 6—9 pm
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Fabrics of silk and velour stretch tautly over canvases, luring the viewer into Gulnur Mukazhanova’s solo show with Galerie Michael Janssen. Titled “Un-Conscious,” the exhibition will be the artist’s first showing with the gallery to date where the artist will present a series of felt paintings and collages, both of which are produced exclusively for the exhibition. “Un-Conscious” offers a survey into the artist’s almost decade long inquiry into post-nomadic identities. The works together explore how felt and collage can become a conduit to subvert ancient practices and visuals that remain in circulation and likewise to meditate on cultures in flux through employing the language of abstraction.
Central to the artist’s practice is research into and a processing of Kazakh society, where the artist experienced the Soviet collapse and subsequent capitalist embrace as two abrupt transitions and migrating orders. Since emigrating to Berlin, the artist has honed her observation on post-nomadic identities. Though the term “nomad” today is often used in reference to the digital nomad living in alienation or isolation from communities, the artist’s oeuvre grasps the tension between the rooted and unrooted by observing visual practices developed in nomadic communities in Kazakhstan. Here, the digital and the traditional are held in tight balance within the artist’s works, where she takes up ancestral felting techniques that are practiced within the region. Mukazhanova instead ushers these techniques into the language of minimalism where large-scale, monochrome oranges and mustards point to a period that sought to throw-off the archaic and elude figuration. The felt recalls the performative practices of the mid-20th century, German artist Joseph Beuys, who famously employed materials such as fat, felt, sauerkraut, and honey by pairing them down to their essential elements for profound contemplation. Mukazhanova’s works similarly tap into subconscious processes by selecting significant cultural materials, such as felt or carpets, yet presents them with new, unconventional methodology.
The series Post-Nomadic Reality that features in “Un-Conscious” is informed by the traditional tuskyiz, hand embroidered wall carpets that typically are ornamentally patterned. Mukazhanova breaks apart this word to get at its essential meaning: tus to dream and kyiz to felt. Like portals or screens, Mukazhanova’s works in this series invite the viewer to dream of another world where hopes and desires can be sublimated into the unconscious, but also create a space where new identities can be assumed. This is further punctuated in Mukazhanova’s triptych, Untitled (2021), where three large-scale felted paintings contain curved windows. The felted materials of gray, red, and yellow, however, give the image plane a surreal quality where reality and fantasy can merge. Though the tryptic might be reminiscent of the celestial and historically used to narrate linearly, it is transformed beyond recognition while retaining its referent to the divine.
Where Post-Nomadic Reality features fields of color emptied of pattern and ornamentation, the series Moment of the Present focuses exclusively on isolating that pattern with pins and needle work through the practice of collage. The artist uses lurex, brocade, and velour to deconstruct traditional print. This practice of cutting, shaping, and collage unravels modes of superficial conviviality. Originally, these fabrics are exchanged during weddings or celebrations. The artist isolates the precarity evidenced in the fabric’s superficial ritualistic function that might cover over darker cultural norms. For example, in Moment of the Present #25, (2021), hundreds of pins hold together golden petals. From afar, the shape appears to be lush and ornamental, though peering closely, one can see how it might collapse at any moment. Stability, and likewise beauty, are held together by fragile threads.
“Un-Conscious” opens on Friday September 17th during Berlin gallery week and will be on view until November 20th. This exhibition expands on the online exhibition of the same name that offered a glimpse into the artist’s sensitive and bold works.
Text: Vanessa Gravenor
Gulnur Mukazhanova - Un-Conscious, Installation views, 2021, Galerie Michael Janssen, Berlin