Today’s article comes from Slovakian curator and art critic Richard Gregor, who takes us through a recent work by Veronika Rónaiová/Julián Filo that features the members of the band Pussy Riot. Two days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he will free Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alyokhina, 25, who were jailed after performing an anti-Putin “punk prayer,” at Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral in February last year. In a press conference earlier this week, Putin said, “I feel sorry not because [Pussy Riot] went to prison, but because they committed that provocative act, which degraded women,” but as Gregor remarks on this painting, “The force of the work is all about being inappropriate.”
Some years ago Veronika Rónaiová inherited several paintings done by her father, the famous Slovakian painter Julián Filo (1921-2007). Because their life-long relationship was good, and because of his great influence on her art, she felt that many things between them remained untold, so she started a risky and heretical dialogue with him by adding a new layer to some of his paintings (this series contains 5 paintings in total). In Shape of the Gesture (1989/2012), originally painted by Julián Filo only black-and-white, one can see the artist’s double self-portrait standing in some kind of anonymous sacral space with the Shroud of Turin in the back—and here the viewer must bear in mind that even the simple admission of being religious might have cost you social status during Socialism. More than 20 years later, his daughter Rónaiová added a little portrait of herself to this scene, repeating the same gesture as her father. There are several models of how one might interpret such a painting, discussing, for example, the Electra Complex, etc., but perhaps the most important part of this work appears on the opposite side. The arches of a Gothic vault provide evidence that the whole scene is happening in a western church and the three members of Pussy Riot are marching right inside. The inspiration for this painting came at the moment when these three young Russian women were arrested. In East-Central Europe this was a very intense moment, not only because of the erratic behavior of the Church, but also because of the feeling of solidarity with this group’s courage in the epicenter of the former Eastern Block’s hegemony.
The force of the work is all about being inappropriate, mentally and physically. One painting serves as a platform for three different events in three different times and also shows the relationships at different places. Somehow, all of the actors don’t belong to this scene—Filo and Pussy Riot to the (western) church, Rónaiová and Pussy Riot to Filo’s painting. So who then is relevant to this timeless SANTA CONVERSAZIONE and where it all happened?
We must bear in mind that this art piece doesn’t want to be a political act in the meaning of radical gesture. That privilege is left to Pussy Riot themselves. Here its more about a universal reflection how personal and symbolic it might be to enter any kind of sacred space, and that we all need to do it some time.
Richard Gregor is the current vice-president of the Slovak Section of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). His book Haberernová’s Eye: Post-Informal Figuration in Slovak Visual Art of the 1960s was published in 2013. Currently he is the director of the non-governmental Centre of Visual Art – CEVIUM.