A MOMENT OUTSIDE OF HISTORY
 
Natalia Sergievskaya, art critic
 
 
One of the primary leitmotifs one can trace throughout the history of human civilization, is the acquisition of knowledge or meaning - and its subsequent slipping from memory. Cultures have searched, created and claimed truth, and have created characters and formulas in order to embody this truth's expression and/or to facilitate its transfer to their contemporaries and descendants. Often, successive civilizations have used the most important symbols of their predecessors as aids to express their own ontological concepts.
 
In his project "Jetztzeit," Bee Flowers explores the state of modern society which has inherited the symbols of many cultures and civilizations. He uncovers meaningful symbols in the contemporary destruction of the organized, internally consistent cultures of the past. The artist reveals a special space - one filled with events existing at a particular moment, but ripped out of their context of time and history and, accordingly, no longer fitting in their systems of internal and external semantic meaning. One of the most important philosophers of postmodernism - Walter Benjamin - has written on this perspective on events. In contrast to scholastic notion of "Nunc stans" (everlasting now,) he coined the term "Jetztzeit," which can be translated into Russian as "moment outside of time / history."
 
All elements in the works of this project are assembled by the artist from known sacred, mythological and historical images, which were created in their day for the symbolic transfer of knowledge of the 'Truth.' It amounts to our vestigial memory of cultural archetypes created in the past.
 
However, in these works they appear before us as "sterile formulas" - impersonal, devoid of any context or description of the figures, placed within a minimally indicated space, mere "fragments of memories," deeper than which we cannot go. Familiar iconography is transformed into formal rituals, but even to these characters themselves the meaning of their rites is lost forever.

In his paintings, Bee Flowers reflects the state of contemporary society's cultural memory - a memory from which the coordinates of value systems have been extirpated.
In the movements and gestures of the depicted people there is an aesthetic inertia, and an echo of a true pathos, but one from which that real, deeper meaning - which was to transmitted to contemporaries and descendants - has been completely and irrevocably lost. The movements of the characters in the paintings contain echoes of a bygone form of communication. Bee Flowers is drawn to the history of art as a repository of forgotten narratives, fragments of which now form the basis of the mysteries or rituals, played out by his characters.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The loss of the image's inner meaning allows the artist to forge changes, to perform castling moves within the compositions - he easily lets his characters exchange positions and combines characters from different historical compositional formulas in a single work , and exchanges roles of women and men, thus denying even the enlightened viewer the opportunity to read the meanings of the original images, and forcing him to assume new values.
 
However, the space of Jetztzeit as created by Bee Flowers is not just a string of empty shells, compiled at the whim of the artist. It is not of senseless mannequins and not of the distorting mirror of history that the author speaks. Any void requires filling, and the works of Jetztzeit draw in new meanings that are of our own time. But contemporary civilization can fill them only with the images transmitted by the mass media: those are the core values and the only the fundamental meanings which modern society has on offer, and which it tries to pass to its descendants. Therefore, in these paintings the attributes and symbols inherent in the iconography of the consumerist society emerge - advertising images, society ladies, sports motifs, etc. Even outwardly impersonal characters in the project are obviously akin to the ideal human being of mass culture: of unfading youth, sexually uninhibited and dispassionate.
 
The dissolution of the historical in the timeless, the "high" in the "low," the passionate in the indifferent, the personal in the global and the sacred in the (mass-) mediated - all of these levels of interpretation of the paintings by Bee Flowers are expressed and reinforced by the very technology of their execution. The very notion of "painting" remains valid insofar as the canvas is stretched on a frame. At the same time, the main thing - the image - is prepared in 3D-program files and are transferred from the computer memory (and thus, from historical memory) onto the canvas by way of digital printing.
 
 
BETWEEN HISTORY AND AMNESIA

Alexander Evangely 
Published in DI Art Journal
 
 
Bee Flowers presents us with the first cycle of works from his project Jetztzeit. The characters that inhabit this new series of paintings are emphatically virtualized - they represent a humanity from which death has been purged, which amounts to much the same thing as a humanity without life. Apparently, this is the only mode of existence in the condition that is Jetztzeit - outside of time.
 
Jetztzeit, as intuited by Walter Benjamin, becomes the conceptual basis for the project, and an intellectual basis for the 3D visual concept developed by the artist in the course of the past several years. The art of Bee Flowers has swiftly evolved from collage, through medialization, to the complete virtualization of the image.
 
The current phase in his work started with the project Liberation, where the artist used the war in Iraq to open up the problematic of the explosive intermingling of civilizations and the fierce gender challenge this has involved. Gender has been understood by Barbara Kruger as a social construct, while Bee Flowers has ironically engineered sexual attributes into weaponry, and transformed gender conventions into sadistic manipulations. Simultaneously, both the underlying theory and the aesthetics become conductors of political meanings, as well as forms of their critique. In the sexual assault on the Abu Ghraib prisoners, strands of the political story converge into revelation.
 
His next 3D project, Maybe it's True, conveys a medialization of reality itself by folding both terrorism as a non-discussable challenge to reality and the internal workings of the media process into a joint space. The project discloses a remarkable commonality of the languages of terror and the media - in both cases, we are dealing with terrorist communication, that is to say with messages that do not presuppose a reply. Unanswerability means the elimination of critique and the change-over to a passive mode of reception.
 
Bee Flowers' current project Jetztzeit presents the viewer with an internal reflection of history, which in his project comes to look deceptively like medialization, that is, like a total rejection of history itself. Time's work, in fact, does not cease, but is carried out differently. It establishes itself as a non-linear and simultaneous projection of different eras and their differing imagery - not in the manner of time passing, but rather like time in a state of singularity.
 
The post-modern condition is probably best understood as a situation of greatly accelerated modernism. The acceleration of history is possibly the central aspect of our current times, which accounts for the production of images and their quick filling of the gaps between reality and the awareness thereof. With Bee Flowers, history is lived in the present, and the present is assembled like a temporal puzzle of events and images, bound together by the internal logic of culture. The project presents modernity as a time-producing mechanism, and the time that is created is more neurotic than historic. It is devoid of the memory needed to impart distance to events. Memory - cultural memory - allows for the existence of history. Amnesia, however, is now central to everything occurring within the modernity-producing mechanism that we know as 'mass culture.'
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bee Flowers' works clearly refer to pre-existing images, though these images are not manifest. An experienced eye, however, reads sections of the works as references to classical images and subjects, including cultural models of masculinity and femininity, and simultaneously perceives the overall context of cultural reception which is unable to digest them. The project points at amnesia as a fundamental symptom of our times. In Benjamin's topos, history feels like hollow importunity. The artist becomes a conductor and a researcher of this contemporary obsession.
 
Art history serves as the main repository of the subjects that are lost and now re-invented by modernity. This repository of images is alienated from Bee Flowers' person, and from today's Everyman, and hence remains untainted as a narrative mechanism and iconic archive. Within the project, we observe the present as a kaleidoscope, as a place where modernity is randomly assembled from fragments of traditional culture, faded hierarchies and interconnections, and broken meta-narratives whose continuity was only ever possible within temporal linearity. Bee Flowers's subjects seem like a computerized version of something familiar, yet escaping definite recall. This is the key aspect of the Jetztzeit iconography. It comes about through the partial quotation of classical subjects and models, a process which refers to our fragmented cultural memory, and is part of the activities of the artist as a diagnostician of contemporaneity.
 
Historic logic is a logic of replaying and reproducing historic trauma, a neurotic logic. While an event is still subject to current, ongoing analysis and reflection, it recurs and perpetuates but does not separate itself from the present to become the past. Gradually, however, distance grows, and events accumulate meanings, while taking root in the space of culture. In Bee Flowers' works, we see this complex analytic reflection - contemporaneity's workings within the space of culture and history.
 
 
TIME ETERNAL

Julia Kvasok 
Published in Art Journal Academia
 
 
"Walter Benjamin used the term Jetztzeit ('now-time') when referring to a moment without history, a moment outside of time: a sort of secularized version of the Scholastic nunc stans ('everlasting now.') The present is disengaged from history's causality, and from history's diktats: today's actions are no longer predetermined by earlier events. However, when allowing the historical continuum to collapse onto itself, signs and symbols are separated from their meaning, familiar iconography is gutted from its original content and the historically accumulated ideals of society are voided." - wrote Bee Flowers in the text accompanying the exhibition of digital paintings at Contemporary Art Center MARS - 18 huge paintings, one per wall.
 
The idea of the unraveling of the world into a crowd of countless clones continues to stir up strong emotions, forcing one to draw an almost moral distinction between the concept and the structure, the super-idea and the packaging. This makes it all the more interesting to follow the works of Bee Flowers. Especially if this artist, a Dutchman, senses to an almost religious degree of subtlety three components of being: structure, texture and color.
 
Having settled in post-Soviet Russia, he has at some point even created his own Sots-Art, which differs from our own by sheer force of elegance. And now, in the current phase of his work - a time of sacrality. Looming from a restrained, gray-violet palette are the ritual prayers of Brueghel, the cinematic phantasmagorias of Magritte and the small-scale absurdity of Pivovarov.
 
It seems Bee Flowers and Walter Benjamin have more in common than suggested in the earlier quotation. The thinker and critic was one of those brave men who rejected art as mere illustration. He opened the bottle releasing the media-genie, and died as a result of Nazism - that cowardly and selfish cult exploiting the new media magic. In "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" Benjamin bequeathed the semiotic gene, which floated in the air like an atomic bomb, to worthy heirs. And, as if fulfilling the wish of a companion, Bee accompanies his exhibition text with a meaningful epigraph from Joyce's Ulysses: "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken."
 
The process of awakening and emergence from the swamp of reality into the realm of "pure language" (for "no poem is intended for the reader, no image for the beholder, no symphony for the listener." - Benjamin, "The Task of the Translator") - is not an easy one. Especially so, as it turns out, when touching upon mythology, both Ancient and Christian. In recent memory, three strong efforts in art come to mind: AES + F inserted the plasticity of the ancients into teenage computer games, Vrubel and Timofeeva filtered the Gospel through a syndicated newsfeed in works featuring lowlifes and Chechen fighters, and Konstantin Khudyakov created, as if through an incubator, the ideal martyr. I omit the numerous earlier artistic exercises within the computer industry's ironic thrillers, or, at the other end of the continuum, the meditative immersion into the depths of Eastern and Western religious traditions by means of modern technology. Still, all these things focus on the distancing from, or connecting with, the myth and its own authenticity, or aura, about which Benjamin himself first wrote in regret, but which he then rejected in the name of a new, independent contemplation.
 
"Work was for him to extract fragments from their original context and re-build the way they illustrated each other and were able to defend their right to exist in that freely floating form. In the end, it was something like a surrealistic montage. Benjamin's ideal for a work, which would be for it to consist entirely of quotations, arranged so skillfully that it might do without any accompanying text, could strike someone as bizarre in its extremity and, moreover, as self-destructive." - writes Arendt.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
"The authentic image may be old, but an authentic idea - only new. It belongs to the present. That present itself may be poor and beaten, but whatever it may be, it must be firmly taken by the horns to elicit a response from the past. This bull's blood is to fill the vessel till beyond its rim, for the shadows of the dead to emerge." - says Benjamin.
 
"Quotations in Benjamin - despite the huge differences - are comparable in weight only to Biblical quotations in medieval texts, where time and again they displace the internal consistency of an argument," - adds Arendt.
 
"Quotations in my work are like wayside robbers who leap out armed and relieve the stroller of his conviction." - confirms Benjamin.
 
Much time has gone by, and the talking movies that shocked Benjamin have been replaced by computer games, tearing reality to shreds. And not by accident does the double-edged way of seeing, discovered by him and his contemporaries, now become wholly transparent in Bee Flowers' Icons, where, instead of living matter, we see polypropylene organics, and where the covenants of painting are melted into design and ancient proportions sponge-polished to a gloss. The heroes of the new "surreal collages" are blissfully perfect. As if Bee "rules," he pulls his humans ashore and elevates them above their magic predecessors: Magritte's sea people, the mystical animations of the Soviet Surrealists - disposing thus not only of reality but also of the "authentic curvature" and the fragmentation of the mystery. Mystery is no more. Hands, feet, head, posture - it's all there. Bee grows plastic mystery flowers in full vacuum. And he smiles as La Gioconda, not bearing teeth.
 
"In the way that fashion evokes costumes of the past, the now searches the past for its roots, and models itself on past archetypal events and personalities. These works explore our vestigial cultural memory by conflating the iconography of contemporary entertainment with the archetypal images that are grafted in our consciousness. Thus, a visual and conceptual framework is created that serves as a compression chamber of cultural tendencies.
 
Models of being and of behavior from past and present are seamlessly joined. The world of mediated, simulated reality becomes that of the everlasting now, and the media moment becomes a moment of religious exaltation. Contemporaneity is represented as existing in a space divorced from history, where tradition is transformed into re-enactment, where historical images and personalities become prefigurations of contemporary media events, and where fixed meaning is challenged through the fusion of value systems." - Bee wrote in an accompanying text.
 
"Benjamin's method is something like a modern version of ritual incantations. The spirit they evoke today is the spiritual essence of the past, which has undergone Shakespeare's "sea-change," such that the father's living eyes have turned into pearl, and his living bones into corals. To quote, for Benjamin meant to name, and for him the truth is brought to the light of day by name rather than speech, and by word rather than by sentence." - Arendt.
 
In Bee Flowers' Icons we see flat planes competing with 3D-volume, reinforced-concrete compositions with wandering perspective, steely eyes with gentle folds. For Benjamin, as for Flowers, the essence is seemingly to avoid anything in any way even resembling empathy. Bee's Icons are somehow reminiscent of von Trier's films. Only without that Danish "yes" or "no." But with the same task - to feel, or highlight - by healer's hand, or x-ray beam, the gene of mythology that is pulsating in time (or perhaps frozen in space.) It is as if Flowers draws yet another final line under the world.
 
ETHICAL SPARRING: VIOLENCE / HUMILIATION

Anton Uspenski, The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg 
Published in DI Art Journal
 
 
The project "Liberation!" of the Dutch artist Bee Flowers was inspired by a specific event - the release of photographs of prison abuse at Abu Ghraib. The artist has described these as 'the perfect conflation of two constituents of Julia Kristeva's Abject: horror and the female.' The result of the artist's efforts is a series of digital works firmly rooted in the history of postmodern art, with a multi-layered structure of cultural and historical codes.
 
One immediately notices the kinship of these collages with the art of Richard Hamilton. However, with half a century gone by, the aesthetic of consumerist abundance that permeated Pop Art has made place for an ethical sparring of violence / humiliation. The announced connection to Kristeva is clearly more than incidental, for it provides not only the philosophical grounding for the work, but also a positioning for the artist himself. Kristeva's term "Abject" introduces the concept of the repulsive, which corresponds to either the incompletely embodied (unformed fetus) or the over-incarnate (decaying corpse.) Which is to say an intermediary state between Subject and Object. And Bee Flowers too aims to keep to a neutral space between the common notions of the subjectivity of the artist and the objectivity of the philosopher.
 
In earlier projects Bee Flowers has used photography to register the social contamination of images; a contemporary metabolism that takes place between art and society; a rhizomic connection rather than one that occurs in a cause and effect manner. This ubiquitous information infection has become a means of communication in its own right. With great intensity, through states of ‘connect/disconnect,’ a multiplicity of image-variants are pushed through what Barbara Kruger has called the 'ironing media.' This relates especially to images for screen, display and monitor, where the tail wags the dog and, through forced gender mutations, GI Jane finally attains those masculine traits which feminists call phallologocentrist. Bee Flowers cites the words of a prisoner at Abu Ghraib "beatings don't hurt us … the worst insult [is] to feel like a woman." The deepening rift between the Western and Islamic worlds regarding gender roles becomes the central theme of the project. One recalls Camilla Paglia's famous conclusion about the end-direction of the vectors of gender preferences in democratic Western societies: 'gay' for men and 'butch' for women. The construction of a vulva and a soldier's knife into a single object underscores psychoanalytical theories regarding masculin properties in the female - the vagina, that 'unhealing wound' in which death is always present, assumes the characteristics of a weapon. Bee Flowers turns to a demonstrative 'serving up' of bodies in his work, while seeking to avoid the projection of the male gaze upon passive women. Through a conscious withdrawal from any one of the geopolitical camps that are party to this debate, the artist means to avoid a determinable gender position.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The artist operates with images that fall within the Lacanian category of the 'obscene' - those that testify of an interest in Horror as a means of preparation for the unimaginable or unthinkable. At the mundane level, the fear of injury, and the forestallment thereof, happens for example during piercing or tattooing procedures, which though painful and partly irreversible, are in fact completely controlled procedures. Like vaccinations, such decorative modifications yield a sense of protection from more significant injury. The viewer, when watching violent news reports, substitutes the possibility of experiencing actual tragedy with mere representations. Art that employs images of Horror becomes one of the tools of initiation of the Western consciousness, alongside the daily dissemination of violent news through the mass media. Like "abjection" has enabled the alienation of the infant from the mother's body, the images (re-) presented by Bee Flowers are inseparable from the growing phases of the infantile civilized society.

To work with found imagery, the artist has chosen collage as his medium. Or, more precisely, a form of digital polyphonic (or cacophonic) montage. The usage of space brings Roland Barthes to mind, saying in 1970: "in our time visual means are coming to a fundamental collapse, making way for a kind of multiple space, the model for which is not painting ('the canvas') but the theater." Today, fragmented space emerges by montage in graphic editing programs with the capacity to synchronously virtualize and to 'iron out' images. Through art, a socialization of the viewer takes place, which makes art a tool in the cultural evolution of personality. Bee Flowers distances himself here from that area of contemporary art which Borovsky has termed 'mainstreamtainment.' The author’s aim to counteract a unified point of view and to obscure affiliations to one or another side, connects with the self-identification of the project Liberation: how is one to tell original from parody, when the presented form leaves no traces of montage between artistic and documentary images?
 
LIBERATION - PAGES FROM RECENT HER-STORY

Julia Kulpina 
Published in Academia Art Journal 
 
 
The duality of the modern world, with its disharmony of opposing cultures, gradually pushes one towards the sense that a longtime war has raged in absence of a clearly designated front line. A war, separate battles of which have flared up long before they were understood as parts of a unifying phenomenon. A number of well known events at the onset of the new century have made comprehension necessary, and the need for a peaceful resolution of conflicts between interlinked civilizations urgent. Yet there have been severe challenges to the process of peaceful interpenetration of cultures.
 
The events at the Iraqi prison facility Abu Ghraib make for one such a striking challenge. The photographic evidence of abuse and humiliation have elicited the strongest reactions worldwide, and one feels urged to investigate the root causes of these events. In one of the photos - the one where female soldier Lynndie England holds a prisoner on a leash - the Dutch artist Bee Flowers saw a projection of the ideas of Julia Kristeva - a direct illustration of two components of the Abject: Horror and the Female.

According to Kristeva, Abject first and foremost signifies the border between the Self and the Other, the border that prevents different entities from dissolving into each other. But the Abject also disrupts the identity of the Self which was formed within an existing order. Socially, it emerges as the opposite to what religion, morality and ideology regard as positive. According to Kristeva, the Abject has since time immemorial been linked to the female: women in all cultures were thought of as bearers of the foul, the sinful and unclean. Woman, in such manner, became the object of religious, moral and ideological exclusion.
 
Gender hierarchy and gender-typical behaviors are proscribed by institutions of social control and through cultural traditions. The gendered consciousness on the individual level then perpetuates the existing system of relations within the domination/submission oppostion. Traditionally, a significant means of preserving the gender hierarchy, apart from direct violence, is control over the female sexuality, to which end Eastern as well as Western societies have developed a rich assortment of tools. The stability of binary thinking, within which the woman finds herself assigned a status of defective ‘otherness,’ has been successfully challenged only in the Western world (and only so in very recent history) where the definition of a woman's identity has now shifted towards her capabilities to independently affirm herself in professional roles.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Kristeva points to the importance of developing means to legitimize the ‘feminine’ beyond categories of either the elevated or the repulsive. After all, 'abject,' 'unclean' and 'foul' are not qualities as such, but merely denote a situation of exclusion in relation to a border determined by the Subject. If we follow Kristeva’s argumentation through, in the photos of Lynndie England with Iraqi prisoners one indeed sees more than just the obvious fear for the ‘other,’ one sees a mutual and unconscious fear of an alien culture. Here, the inversion of the gender hierarchy, the violation of the traditional positions within the dominant/submissive opposition, reveals the ‘female’ as a functional and effective weapon within this specific cultural context. Symbolically this is expressed by Bee Flowers in the combination of a dagger and a vulva.

Bee Flowers also created the image of the Lynddiebot, a collage personality, a female warrior representing a fragmented contemporary identity patched together from a variety of influences and role models. The Lynddiebots are joined by female soldiers, equipped with highly pronounced female genitals and breasts worn as parts of their armory. These soldiers are the new American weapon, drawing on the fear of the ‘vagina dentate.’ In those works, where Lynddie becomes the central figure, two cultures collide and the works are saturated with references and guiding citations from the history of the feminist movement that has altered the Western world during the past several decades, as well as cultural features of Islamic societies, standing in contradiction and oppostion to those changes. Illustrations of Western and Eastern social models are reduced to imaginary, but no longer unthinkable, ‘inside out’ situations where the traditional gender hierarchy is either reversed or amplified. These cultural contradictions were also emphasized when one of the Abu Ghraib prisoners remarked that “beatings don’t hurt us … the worst insult is to feel like a woman.” Bee Flowers points out how this misogynist statement blurs the border of the opposition oppressor/oppressed and complicates questions of morality and guilt.
 
Bee Flowers’ work is ideologically neutral and incorporates multiple viewpoints at once: the artist sets up a line of intersection of cultures by collaging both space and ideology. Interestingly, Kristeva has also referred to the Abject as being perverse, since it does not fully correspond to either the prohibited or to the law, but instead circumvents these both, confusing them in order to utilize them, but without acceptance of either.
 
 
IDEAL CITY

Luis Gottardi 
Published in Ojodepez Magazine
 
 
The clusters of large apartment blocks in Moscow, which form the central subject of this series by Bee Flowers, are called 'microrayons'. Sharing design & historical DNA with public housing and high-priced, free-market condominiums in many parts of the world, microrayons became a universal form of housing in Russia. Land, being government-owned, available, and plentiful, resulted in these units sprawling radially from the core of the city to its periphery. The architecture and design was not due to costs or other market pressures, but from an idealistic Communist vision of what a city and nation could be.
 
This Utopian vision of a functional cosmopolitan worker's collective would be facilitated, in part, by design, materials, and layout of the housing. Homogeneity in design was supposed to eliminate competition and individuality, creating a viable alternative to Capitalism. Instead, it resulted in density increasing as one neared the edges of Moscow, left dead industrial areas nearer to the core, caused high transportation/ supply/ maintenance costs and alienation. The early five-story version of these structures were referred to as 'khrushchovkas', derived from Nikita Khrushchev who initiated their construction around 1954, having released thousands of political prisoners from the Stalinist era, creating an instant housing crisis in Moscow.
 
As the Industrial Age progressed in the 1800's, the great migration from agricultural communities to the cities accelerated. Owners soon realized the value of skilled workers and began providing housing for them near the factories. Robert Owen built housing for the workers at his cotton mill in New Lanark, Scotland, around 1800. In 1817, Owen made a proposal to the House of Commons in England to build large apartment blocks in the form of squares, as "functional communities". Later, he would originate Socialism, and start a community in New Harmony, Indiana, that failed after a few years. In 1849, his son, Robert Dale Owen, published his seminal book Hints on Public Architecture. In 1851, Titus Salt, an industrialist in the town of Saltaire, in Yorkshire, England, was the first to employ architects, Lockwood and Mason, to design worker's housing, in the form of small Italianate villas. In NY, and most other cities, public housing meant the tenements that Jacob Riis photographed in the late 1880's, and that still skirt the edges of many major cities around the world.
 
Karl Ehn oversaw the rise of massive socialist worker's housing in Vienna from 1919 to 1933 referred to as 'worker's fortresses'. From 1919-1930 there was a flowering of Revolutionary Soviet Modernist architecture: Konstantin Melnikov and his landmark Rusakov Club, and Ilia Golosov's Zuev Club for Tram Workers. In 1928-30, Russian Moisei Ginzburg designed the Narkomfin building to house workers for the Finance Commisariat. By 1932, individual architectural practice was abolished in the USSR. The influence of Ginzburg's Narkomfin design on Le Corbusier, who saw it on a visit to Moscow, can be seen in his subsequent early experiments with public housing in Russia, Holland, and Austria. These efforts culminated with L'Unite' d' Habitation, the prototype for the large Soviet structures comprising the microrayons. The first Unite' was built in Marseilles in 1952. Three others followed in Nantes, Brie-en-Foret, and Berlin. They were envisioned as modular, self-sufficient neighborhoods. 
 
Most photography of this type of housing has been documentation of either the architecture, or of the residents, as in Bruce Davidson's 100 E. St, (1970), a documentary work in NYC reminiscent of the Photo League. Lewis Baltz's work has dealt with industry and housing advancing into open USA landscapes since the 1970's. Robert Adams' work from the same era has focused on the encroachment of development and land use in the American West, as if covering the aftermath of a lost war on Nature and Humanity. The exteriors of the buildings began showing up in the art world sporadically in the mid-to-late '90s, mostly from the so-called "Struffsky" or Dusseldorf School.
 
Andreas Gursky did his famous "Montparnasse, Paris, 1993". A singlet on the topic, in which he shows a block of over a thousand apartments in a very flattened, formal, Mondriannesque space from his usual high, omniscient viewpoint and large-scale print.
Thomas Struth delved deeper into the subject with work in Shanghai and Europe in some ways similar to Gursky's, though far less operatic and from a variety of viewpoints. Gabriele Basilico used the architecture of Beirut as a metaphor for the resilience of its residents in the early 2000's.
 
Like the Struffsky-ites, Bee abandoned chiaroscuro in Megastructure. He chose a severely-restricted almost monochromatic palette and range of tones, reminiscent of the painting technique known as grissaille, popular in Northern Europe in the 15th & 16th centuries. The occassional bit of red stands out. These faintly glowing embers among the ashen grays and pale chromatics are like distant candles flickering in the gloom.
 
There are elegiac strains in these pictures of gigantic, uniform monuments to a failed idea, marking the confluence and passing of Modernism and Communism, anxious, with emotional shadows and only traces of the nostalgia for the Soviet era found currently in Postmodern Russian art. The artist brings us a studied contemplation hinged on largely colorless, cold, drab, austerely gray cosmopolitan outposts, looking more like fortifications than homes, simultaneously longing for, and contemptuous of, the recent past and the failure of its passionate ideology.
 
Most, if not all, of Megastructure is seen from the ground, giving the work a more egalitarian, humane, natural-looking, involved, inquisitive & less illustrative feel than Gursky's. The microrayons look oppressive, anonymously modular, everpresent, and enormous... nothing like the architectural maquette-like look of Gursky's building.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The artist's formal consistency gives an uneasy noir feel to these communities, one of isolation, insulation, and other social outcomes of the microrayons. Winter is an endtime season, a period of transition, reflection, rethinking recent history, here stripped of all pretense.
 
People are anonymous, tiny figures, all bundled up, threading their way between the snowbanks along wet, possibly muddy walkways as they come and go. In most pictures where they are found, they are not discernable as individuals, and often alone or in small groups. Only in one picture do we see people engaged in obvious leisure time activity, an image of children playing in the snow.
 
These pictures show the buildings, both as individual units and in clusters, and the context in which they exist: service areas, roads, and highways ringing Moscow sometimes in close proximity to these structures with their half-shell noise barriers, looking more like a lyrically organic visual shield against the ubiquitous microrayon.
 
The infrastructure around these buildings is carefully included: There are small nondescript buildings that look like shops; others are probably management, security, heating units, or electrical stations, roads, bus stops and a bus. Here and there, a smokestack punctures the horizon. We even see ground broken, awaiting the construction of another microrayon. 
 
Megastructure is divided into five chapters. The first dawns with fuzzy, mirage-like images, bringing to mind Sugimoto's 'Architecture', opening up to revelatory reflections and the distant microrayons through train or bus windows, as if the viewer is arriving. Treelines with the apartment buildings in the background, snow piled up in the foreground. Ground broken for the construction of a new structure. Access roads leading to the complexes. A feeling of an idea(l) taking shape as one approaches. A poetic, instead of objective, approach.
 
The Second Chapter, comprised of single images, brings us closer still to the clusters. Here there is exploration of construction sites, roads, infrastructure, people coming and going, even billboards. We learn what is around these buildings - their context.
 
In Chapter Three lie multiple, interrelated images, very interlude-like, some receding and fuzzy. Transportation in the form of roads, people waiting for the bus or train, gas pumps, a row of semi truck-trailers. A building towers majestically in uncorrected perspective. A bus. Some lights on in the buildings in the distance: a sign of life.
 
The Fourth Chapter leaves the artifacts of stitching various frames together and correcting perspective in a panorama digitally. Self-referential to the process, here the ersatz veracity is deconstructed yet simultaneously heightened by including entire microrayons, and connecting neighboring ones. The enormity of the microrayons becomes readily apparent. More undeveloped and developed land is shown, colors become more noticeable, and the tectonics between the snow and buildings is clearer. Construction cranes rise like skeletal beings above the land. The forest of structures is revealed.
 
In closing, Chapter Five, at dusk, brings color back. Rich darkening blues intensify as line softens and softly blurs. Lights are on in the units, signs of life inside. In the last picture, as we depart, we see one last blurry shimmering apartment block through the window, much like we did at the beginning. 
 
Spiritually, there is a similarity to James Joyce's Ulysses. This series could be seen as taking place in one day, marked by arrival in a bus or train, followed by a prolonged, labyrinthian walk around the buildings, and departure in the evening. The buildings, like the people in them, look the same, but the philosophy and the times that shaped, enveloped, and guided them is now gone. Time and ideals expire, paradigms shift, and the spirit lags under inertia until it redefines itself, adapting and coming to terms with the present.
 
The repeating representations of these units, looking like Super-Sized apiaries clustered around snowy, barren landscapes, blurs the line between utility and aesthetics. It would be easy to construe Megastructure as a Germanic, Becher-esque typology of microrayons & infrastructure en situ, but it is not anything of the kind.
 
Bee's appproach rejects the operatic, analytical, omniscient, explanatory viewpoint for a more direct poesis, a dialectic between the ideals of communism and its outcome. He has expanded our experiential menu via successive approximations, similar to movements in classical music- not by serving us on a silver platter, but by being our guide, taking us past snow-banked roads and fields, through a forest of manifestations of an ideal.
 
It is always Winter in Megastructure. Snow-covered ground, numbing cold, the dark tracery of tree-limbs and grey skies predominate in these pictures, a still and sparsely populated frozen landscape punctuated by these huge blocks of apartments, whose moment has come and gone, the artist shifting and redacting their codification as they become recontextualized in the Post- Soviet era, from the status quo to a monumental requiem for an ideal.
 
 
 
 
THE HISTORY OF AN ILLUSION

Lia Adashevskaya
Published in DI Art Journal
 
Living in a typical multi-story building on the edge of the city, and periodically admiring the elegiac view from the window of my room - showing the blue forest at a distance beyond the fields behind the row of garage facilities - it never came to my mind what a poetic story of bankruptcy can be told by looking at my house, and at the neighboring twin house, and at this field, and at the forest, and at the garages and at everything I see practically every day, while hurrying to the bus stop or to the nearest supermarket. It's not surprising it never occurred to me - fairy-tale characters do not know that they live in a fairy-tale. They just live in accordance to the plot and in ways predetermined - a life for the edification of others.
 
Generally, these typified buildings and the monotony of our microraions with their could-be-better infrastructure, pernicious influence on health, pluses and minuses, all of this and many other things, have already been talked and written about many times. But what is good about art is that one picture can replace a thousand words. The photographic project "Megastructure" by the Dutch artist Bee Flowers, not only reflects upon this, but also on the impactful failure of the great anthropological Utopia concerning the equality of all people, or at least of all people in one distinct country. This utopian idea is incorporated into architecture, and is thus corporally realized in ferroconcrete blocks of faceless multistory buildings. Megastructure deals with an illusion which was destroyed by human reality, and with the people who have to live among the remnants of this illusion.
 
The artist's detached rational outlook on the world of the 'sleeping districts' within the megapolis becomes the expression of a whole world of ideas. The work is not tied to a specific locality, and does not resemble the notes of a traveler attracted by the exotics and the otherness of an alien country. And though such approach could have been the starting point for the project, at some point the topography of a specific place becomes part of the conversation in general, and evolves into a discussion or meditation on mankind's global problems. And the past, lingering in the present of a single country - of one city, of one microraion - is suddenly projected into a possible future.
 
Perhaps the first thing to catch our attention is the collision of the natural world with the human world - civilization. This happens at that level of consciousness where man correlates his actions with his aspiration for happiness. But man's happiness is not part of nature's functionings, and from this conflict of interests sounds a theme of assimilation, of hostile take-over; the conquest of nature, its submission and, seen in perspective, its destruction. This will be the consequence of man for himself - a lifeless desert filled with archeological trash of iron, glass and concrete. And indeed some pictures show something similar in feeling to such dead, ghost-populated cities.
 
However, let's go back to the Utopia of equal and equalizing justice. The equality of all people is taught by religion and the communists and democrats alike. But the most indisputable convictions can be the most dubious. Why could these views not just limit themselves to the realm of ideas? (which is in fact what religion does when shifting its focus to a space and time after life.) Problems arise when ideas try to subdue human reality, to restrain it within the framework of a rigid theoretical scheme, while winnowing out all that will not fit. And what a sharp border it is indeed that outlines the city space in Megastructure. Rising like sentries, the high rise buildings seem to stand watch to ward off external "enemies" - not so much guarding the space inside the microraion, or the city, but the scheme itself, the idea that gave rise to it.
 
Reality, ever revolting and trying to break free, tests the imposed scheme for strength, and at some time sooner or later, that scheme will fail. A frame imposed too rigidly will always be destroyed, while ambiguous and adjustible systems are potentially more vital. Herein, by the way, lies a principal difference between Christianity and Communism. Communism collapsed like a house of cards. The idea of general equality, of peace with no envy, went bankrupt. And this happened not through pressure of outside forces, but from within. The Soviet phenomenon, manifested through the power of state-corporal embodiment, that is to say actual socialism, turned out different from its imagined variant. The resulting reality was in fact the opposite of the anticipated: instead of collective creation, we saw pathetic-emotional confluence; total loneliness, alienation, isolation in one's own cell. A joyless and pedestrian existence.
 
In retrospect, the construction of socialism within the idea of communism seems as some collective artistic action. An ideological-aesthetic experience whereby viewer and actor (or manufacturer and user) were in essence the same person. The dissolution of personality in a pre-individual community.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It's interesting here to compare the fine arts to the architecture of the Soviet period. Stylistically, ideal socialist realism leans on Academism, and later on the Peredvizhniki movement, while the architecture of the Soviet State was stylistically oriented towards Modernism. And architecture in this sense was essential to and reflective of the processes of rapid modernization taking place within the country. Therefore, it was architecture, and not the fine arts with its humanistic inclinations and human nature, that was the true manifestation of the State's ideas. Similar processes occurred in the West, too, but were met with much stronger resistance, due to the deeper roots of individualism, while Russia, with its inclination towards community, adherence to national roots (autocracy - Christianity - folk culture) turned out to be more susceptible to the processes of modernization, collectivity, and communal life (with all the world). Therefore, for example in France, mass construction of typified housing is not popular, and today only the poor live in housing blocks, and the microraions are high crime areas. Here in Russia, construction continues along these very lines, although now with attempts to introduce variations through superficial cosmetic modifications.
 
However, there are links leading from this architecture to the Soviet fine arts as well: late-period Peredvizhniki and Academism is marked by a minimalism of the picturesque and of formal properties. This minimalism, or universalism, is the point of intersection of architecture and the fine arts. In both areas, formal refinements were not popular. This also points to another widespread theme of socialist realism - the birth of a collective personality. However, when pure socialist realism was abandoned around the mid 1950-s and the fine arts came to concentrate on the individual, it was architecture, as part of the ideologically sharply aware mass culture, which took the lead baton.
 
In Bee Flowers' photographs, this confrontation of the individual and the collective is shown through the contrast of the individuality and singularity of a blade of grass or a color-accentuated detail vs. the oppressive monotony of the architecture. Their facelessness is their depersonalizing aggression. The artist reverses the hierarchical order of things, giving monumental meaning to the smallest parts - that which is considered secondary now becomes the principal. Still, the fragments of the Soviet discourse continue to function. Whether the Great Construction perpetuates due to inertia or by deliberation is another question. In the world of ruined and bankrupted illusions, life goes on. Life within the decorations of a staged play.
 
Megastructure employs a complex space-time solution. The project is divided into five parts. Early in the morning, we approach the city, walk there for a day, and then leave in the evening. On one side it seems a one-day excursion starting at the dawn and ending with a sunset. And on the other side it seems like traveling in historical time. A city emerging from the sunset and then disappearing back into the twilight. The history of one illusion.
 
Bee Flowers plays with stereotypes and images of mass consciousness. In this case, it's Winter. Russia, in the imagination of the rest of the world, is first and foremost associated with Winter. But in the context of the aforesaid, it might alse appear like a reminder of the Cold War. And like a fading of forward striving, futuristic energy. But Winter is a dream, and not death. The remaining construction sites may be filled once again with workers and their superintendents. Therefore, Winter itself may be interpreted as a prelude to the birth of something new. Only what will this novelty be like?
 
Also, the Soviet Utopia turns out to be very topical in the situation of today's globalized utopia. Globalism - and virtuality - reach towards the future. It is interesting that when the whole world is now infected with these ideas, Russia seems asleep. It has already lived through all of that. Interestingly, in the telling of this sad story about the failure of the communist utopia, Flowers applies almost no special effects. No distortions, no sudden foresights, just an unbiased view of a man walking down the street. Everything is left as it is. Only the technique, by impression reminiscent of grisaille, a favorite of the 15th and 16th century artists throughout Europe, gives a feeling of something that has sunk into oblivion. Yet all this is without obsessiveness, preserving the graphical objectivity of black-and-white photography.
Hyperboles were unnecessary; holding up a mirror sufficed; the reflected image demonstrates the absurd. Thus, reality as it is becomes the metaphor. The paradox being that a metaphor itself signifies an escape from reality, from speaking forthright and directly. The artist overcomes brutal realism. It's at once a drama of ideas and a "human drama."
 
Bee Flowers actualizes the problem of modernization and globalization, the difference between a concept and its realization, and he joins within the space of one project the small and the great, the idea and its reality, but does not offer a solution. He is speculating and… admiring. The rational detachment in the view cast on the landscape enables the artist to see the peculiar topographical beauty of Russia. A country of big spaces, big conflicts, big ideas and big delusions.
 
CATEGORIES OF ILLUSIONS

Irina Rekhovskikh 
Curator Yaroslavl State Art Museum
 
 
Illusions of Space, Illusions of Time
 
Throughout the 20th century, the model for understanding spacial dimensions has been continuously changing. Euclidean geometry and its related three-dimensional buildup of a picture provoked questioning and doubt, if not outright protest. The introduction of time as a category or co-ordinate of multi-dimensional space leads to new, complicated visual design laws and simultaneously opens up new possibilities for artistic development.
 
The space of the artwork stops being objectively intact and the subject's emotions no longer remain merely internalized feelings. Areas of interest within contemporary art include new ideas and terminology related to mathematics, philosophy, and psychology. This type of art changes objects and words little by little into meaningful symbols, a unified text into fragments and contextual content, and also changes the dynamics and relationships both between the museum and its art works, as well as between viewers and the artist.
 
Balancing on the border between new realities and traditions, the collage format remains a conduit of avant-garde ideas from suprematism to pop art, from one-dimensional images to plastic movement or performance.
 
It looks like there is no area that cannot be examined with the help of the fragmentary imagery of a collage, which by nature is deprived of unification and a centralized meaning. Collages in all of its various formats (photo-montage, computer graphics and assemblage) permit the artist to informatively and visually saturate the represented image, leaving it open for dialogue and multiple interpretations.
 
The Project
 
Bee Flowers' project, "Grand Illusions," was initiated by his interest in public and social phenomena and with it, he converts everyday life into meaningful symbols and semantic spacial structures.
The artist was born in The Netherlands and his attraction to Russian literature and music first brought him to the Russian department of Amsterdam University, and at the end of the 1980's, caused a desire to travel to the Soviet Union.
 
Bee Flowers saw a country the socio-political structures of which had transformed the nation's image into an elaborate myth. The speed of the changes of that history and ideology were submitted to, allowed the artist to not only become an enraptured witness of epochal transformations, but also to connect his life to Russia for a long time. His interest in sociology, history and comparative religions determined the main tendencies of Bee Flower's artistic activity.

The Illusion of Tradition

The artist solidifies evolutionary dynamics related to the societal state in his own, unique manner, and therefore, only after careful examination does it become apparent that he is actually continuing along the developmental path of Western European pop-art. The artist permits himself to use only the technologies within pop-art that disclose how to expose the interpretations of mass consciousness, which is predominantly through repeated and flashing images; both those that are common today and those already fading from mass consciousness.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Bee Flowers puts together a manipulative space and a sensual expectation for interpreting the subject matter. By gathering fragments of the illusory version of everyday life and by placing the resulting collages in a museum context, the artist, using traditional presentational elements, jolts the viewers and involves them in an historic transformation by offering them not a myth, but rather its underlying meaning.
Heroes cannot return…Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova were bright examples of both male and female cultural icons representing an entire country and a lost epoch. We have accepted society's changes in meanings and trajectories.
 
Semantic Illusions
 
The text within collages does not actually transmit any direct information, but rather is a fragmented set of hints. Bee Flowers is very sensitive to wording. You see the comparison of the two epochs not only through visual references, but also through semantics, including the structuring of archetypal slogans.
 
The totalitarian epoch (by nature) required the entire community's participation. The word "Youth," when reiterated and accentuated in a familiar typeface, is instantly recognizable as coming from the cover of a once very widely read journal. Types of almost romantic illusions were completely woven into all activities of the masses. Some examples we see are: "Thanks to the great Stalin for our happy childhood!" or "Life is better and life is more joyful now," and "Go forward with determination." And, who could forget "Everybody to the elections," "Yes, yes, yes," "All rise," and "Enthusiastic and continuous applause." Several of these phrases can identify an entire epoch, for those who understand and remember them.
 
Today, we see other slogans into which we read a different meaning. They are bright, brief, simple, superficial, and ready- to- prompt- at- any- time- of- the- day slogans that are meant not for society as a whole, but rather for individuals, who can each on his own be carried away by the carnival-like revelry of advertising billboards with catchy terms such as "super," "give in to shopping," "Miss Tourism," "sales," "round the clock." The personal pronouns 'we,' 'us,' and 'all' have disappeared, while the social density gradually thins, and a sense of emptiness takes presence in more than just a culturological context. The lyrics of rock band "Leningrad," remind us that "no one is sorry for anyone, not for him, not for you and not for me." These words are already shot with loneliness, and drenched with both fear and a weak-willed readiness before some automated sacrifice.
 
As usual, Bee Flowers, while exposing societal problems, is purposefully standing aside. His task is to allow for everyone else to speak. The artist attempts to avoid direct interpretations of the contents of his works, and to permit the viewers to develop their own associative connections.