APPROACHING THE MONSTER

I’ve never seen Masha Sha working on her drawings. Solitude is one of her basic requirements. “We should draw not on purpose,” she is always saying, while usually creating a large number of graphic sheets at a time. Masha does not divide her art by genre or medium, and this exhibition is the first to display her videos, graphics, and objects together. But there is no need for affirmation of what the works themselves make obvious: the power of the stroke and the charge in the lines of these primarily abstract things is perceptible even on a physiological level. The graphics try to behave as paintings here (a rare occurrence!), taking over large areas and using the space entirely – Masha typically uses rolls of paper in dimensionless pieces for her drawings. The technique for creating her works could be called “action drawing” after Jackson Pollock’s “action painting”. Since that time, the artist who flings himself across the canvas has been described over and over, tradition has created a persistent modernist myth from his splatterings, and while in fact everything may have been completely different, it is now impossible to separate forethought and spontaneous actions.

The genealogy of Masha Sha’s art is European, of course. In her works, the observant eye will recognize Egon Schiele, Cy Twombly, and Georg Baselitz. Although Masha has been living in America for five years now, she consistently emphasizes that she considers herself a Petersburg artist. She belongs to one of the first “golden” classes of young artists from the Pro Art Institute, of which almost all the graduates are visible on the current art scene. She started doing video before she knew anything about video art. In 2005 in Never Ending, there is a shot of a character with a bandaged head – the artist covers her face and becomes anonymous. In the 5-minute video Interpretation 7 (2014) – “interpretations” with changing numbers form a cycle – the author’s plasticity, still devoid of personality, becomes refined and harmonious. Both Masha’s videos and drawings are performative, and her work on drawings is also a performance recorded by no one. While in Interpretation 5 (2006) she choked on black goo leaking out of her mouth and the artist was literally puking paint, painting played the role of disciplinary training.

The body becomes the main theme in Masha’s art – in drawings it is represented by the particular pitch of a line that can be drawn in pencil more than once, erased, and repeated. As a result, separate strokes weave together, several similar lines form a figure (but not necessarily), and frequently the image takes up little space on the large page. If an organic form is marked by an arching line, opposite is a different one wounding it, reminiscent of spikes or sharp needles. The pages also have recognizable images almost on the verge of realistic reincarnation: the crumpled bed forces us to recall Vrubel’s last paintings, and the scary mouth twisted in a scream invokes Picasso in the mid 30’s.

Among the motifs that are repeated throughout the works, we find images of fingers, feet, and wrists. The body that the artist is dropping on the viewer here is a modern one, in the very least because it is fragmented. Separated into parts, storing the energy of pain and grief – this is how it appeared even for Francis Bacon, whose images are now firmly implanted in visual culture. In Masha’s drawings, the body recognizes itself again with all of its breaks, ruptures, and holes.

The drawing technique that Masha Sha practices has taken much more from a self-forgetful way of putting lines on paper than it has from the automatism of the surrealists that turned into a venerable artistic method. Art’s original function as a demarcation of space has been preserved in the art of drawing to this day, and Masha is one of those artists who is aware of all these primitive properties. A hand drawing itself – not even as a special artistic challenge, but for the sake of self-awareness – also harkens to very ancient and primal images.

However, any sheet that emerges from her hands shows the evidence of the artist’s struggle with the form, even to the extent that the thin paper is torn by the pencil more than once. Before us is an electrical impulse transmitted through the graphite conductor (here we may recall the nickname or chosen name of the psychiatric hospital patient famous for his drawings – The Electric Pencil).

In America, Masha discovered the culture of outsider artists, who admire her attitude to art, and Masha’s drawings, made to break the rules, are close to art brut. Her heroes include James Castle, a deaf handyman on a farm who is now a recognized and studied American folk artist. The main value of insanity is the inability to evade the force acting on the artist, and to stop drawing.

Masha Sha’s art perceptibly demonstrates the process of exploring a form. The author, who does not think of video, drawing, and sculpture separately, measures this process using an aggregate of works that express one of the plots of her internal mental story – or what is called gestalt.

Maybe the disparate strokes are the outline of the monster in the title of the project. Obviously, it has nothing in common with the movie monsters of mass culture. This is a monster that is inside practically every one of us, so we need determination in order to approach it. Here it would be easy to refer to studies, interpretation of mythology, and psychoanalysis, if we did not watch the main character of her latest video: the artist Masha Sha chooses each step carefully, as if she is playing hide-and-seek with the monster. And the drawings? They are sketches for his portrait.

 

Pavel Gerasimenko