Snake Changing Skin
Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov’s solo exhibition with Fragment gallery titled ‘Snake Changing Skin,’ reflects on the ability to grow by shedding a part of ourselves. All animals shed their skin throughout their life. Humans leave behind a mostly invisible trail of dead skin flakes, while snakes actually shed a whole layer of skin in one go. It is said that they do this for two reasons; the need to get rid of parasites in their skin which may be harmful to them, the other reason is that it is needed for the snake to grow. It will reach a point where it’s not possible for the snake to grow any further before it leaves the old layer behind.
Fedotov-Fedorov has been continuously moved by creatures around him. He studied bioengineering and philology, before moving into the art world. Remembering his childhood in Moscow, he describes how he turned to other species for support and guidance. As Fedotov-Fedorov notes, “dealing with the exclusion I encountered as a queer and often sickly child, I played mostly with insects, and spent my time watching cartoons and biological movies. Slowly, it became easier to think that I could be an animal rather than human. This exhibition is about loneliness and otherness; about interspecies connections, disassociation with your own body, and trying to become someone else.”
The particular interest in creatures of any kind held by the artist has influenced his practice dramatically, and observing the insects’ and animals’ motions and interactions has thoroughly animated his art. In his video work ‘Snake Changing Skin,’ for example, in which a figure, unclothed and masked, stands on a beach, his body continuously twisting and making writhing movements. Hesitant and vulnerable, the creature’s movement is shaky, as if it’s new to the world, like a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis. The movements Fedotov-Fedorov has been working with in his video work recall dance sequences from the likes of Simone Forti, who constructed bodily gestures that arise from a matrix of improvisational gestures and share a deep curiosity towards remapping the divisions between human and animal life. She too has been creating her improvisational scores through responding to natural phenomena such as ants, dry grass, or lizards via movement, and sought encounters with them continuously. In a way one can call this type of art research-based, but compared to traditional research-based art, theirs is not didactic but rather somatic. Scholar Claire Bishop points to a comment by British artist Mark Leckey in her recent Artforum article on the current superabundance of research-based art, and the un-sensous encounters with overloads of information, that “research has to go through a body; it has to be lived in some sense—transformed into some sort of lived experience—in order to become whatever we might call art. . . .” Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov is an artist who, above all, feels his way through his research and his work. The results are less fact and more fabulation than his previous career would have allowed for.
His paintings and sculptures further show his attempt to interpret and rewrite the plasticity of divisions between human and animal, and abandoning categorization or correlation. In the gallery, Fedotov-Fedorov’s creatures gaze down onto us from all around, often tucking their face behind a mask. The mask, an object that can serve many purposes, seems to function as a prop in the artist’ exploration into the other or non-human experience. Our understanding of how we connect to and understand our own and other life experiences can be aided by philosopher Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological theories emphasizing the body as the primary site of knowing the world. Merleau-Ponty notes that the lived body is not identical with the material entity bounded by the skin. He famously noted that a blind man’s cane can become an extension of his self-embodiment, and as such can Fedotov-Fedorov’s masks become an extension to trouble the distinctions between oneself and the other.
Though the artist offers his viewer a biographical lens to see his work through, his practice continues to expose a proclivity towards what has recently been coined ‘eco-phenomenology.’ Exploring fundamental questions about the structure of the human concept versus that of nature or animal, the philosophical theory offers “a method towards openness to and an appreciation of the existence of any particular entity as an instantiation of the inexhaustibly meaningful being as such.” Again, Fedotov-Fedorov does not explore these philosophical issues didactically, rather his creatures appear to us as in a dream -or nightmare-. They derive their regenerative power from being liminal, floating between past and present, cute and terrifying, life and death. Are we as humans capable of perceiving the unique character of another creature and performing it? And by performing it, can we become it? As inhabitants of an industrialized and urbanized world, encounters with non domesticated creatures might feel uneasy, foreign, even uncanny. Fedotov-Fedorov’s work offers that the distance between us and the other can be bridged by embracing the inevitable discomfort of liminality and in-between-ness, like a snake changing its skin. — Jeanette Bisschops