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Elena Akaeva. Performance Art at the Junction of Gesture and Ritual

turquoise ether magazine14/08/23 10:29374

Author: Jenya Stashkov, art critic, artist

The practises of modern performative art are constantly changing and evolving. Separated from the visual arts, performance goes through the fine line of absorbing the structural diversity of avant-garde academic music, marginal theatrical experiences, and practises of extra-clerical spirituality. Of course, performance (as a phenomenon) is broader than all of the above and, first of all, is a way of inventing ways of human communication, strategies and tactics of human actions, options for being, and possibilities of survival in the liminal zones of the social space available to us. Performance is the new messenger. The artist-performer offers you to use a new type of communication, a new telegraph" or “a new pigeon mail”.

Elena Akaeva is a minimalist performative artist. She works with a simple and paradoxical action. Her processuality is the processuality of a meta-reference to the great narratives of the past. In her practise, Elena explores the affected maxims of the Western European tradition in conjunction with a critical look at the social realities of modernity. This is an interesting method of work that excites the imagination and is compositionally close to the serial technique of Austrian post-war composers and the experiences of early Japanese buto dancers. However, Elena Akaeva, inheriting seriality, minimalism, and the conventions of a certain theatrical mannerism, is primarily a social critic and researcher. Her task is to bear witness to reality and to question the culturally oriented conventions that probably became the causes of Russia“s monstrous full-scale invasion of Ukraine and its monstrous consequences. This combination of a unique author”s strategy, reinventive optics, and an artistic approach gives interesting results.

On November 23 and 26, 2022, Elena Akaeva’s “Seed” performance was shown in Nuremberg, Germany, at “The Hidden Kitchen” gallery as part of the “Our Home Ukraine” exhibition. The performance was a multi-hour search by the performer for a mustard seed in a huge mass of black earth. This performance is based on an excerpt from the New Testament parable:

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20

The metaphor of a mustard seed as the personification of a devout faith capable of turning mountains (an analogue of the mystical Force © from Star Wars) is combined here with the practical impossibility of finding it even with a set of fine-mesh sieves. The mustard seed is so small that it will probably slip through the smallest sieve. Mustard seed is difficult to distinguish among the clods of the earth. Here the performer, Elena Akaeva, gets closer to Sisyphus by rolling a stone uphill. But there is a huge difference here! Elena Akaeva in a black feminine dress certainly focuses on her gender identity. And the very practise of sifting the ground is closer to the ideas of traditional women“s practises. Why would she look for a mustard seed? Let”s put aside our magical optimism and agree that an ordinary mustard seed is absolutely devoid of supernatural properties. However, this performance is not only a criticism of imaginary self-soothing and futile practises; it is also a conversation about self-complacency and about entering the space of an obsessive ritual. This is a question about the consequences of despair and possible options for self-salvation. Elena shows us a dichotomy: vanity versus hope; black versus white; male versus female; faith versus despair. The “Seed” performance is a hermetic ecosystem made possible because of the enormity of reality and because of the cruelty and chaos of our world. Performance does not give us unambiguous answers; it models situations based on uncompromising grounds and assessments of modernity. This is a fascinating and frightening experience that I advise everyone to experience.

Elena Akaeva is an amazing artist who creates environments of intense experience with an extremely minimalist set of artistic environments. And the more valuable its practise is and the more healing it is for us, tired and confused people who found themselves at the end of the first quarter of the XXI century.

George Morieli

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