What is visual art? It is lines and colors. These two basic components generate anything on the canvas, paper or wall. During the era of classical art, only artists used to have that knowledge. An ordinary viewer was just tacitly looking at pictures and murals, scrutinizing images created by artists. The reaction was genuine and at times even naive. One could say: "True to life indeed." But how did the artist make it possible? That was the rub.
The 20th century focused on identifying, showing, and explicating all the available art tools, lines and colors being of paramount importance. American abstract expressionism contributed a lot to that good cause. Jackson Pollock merged line and color into one act. Pollock's technique of pouring and dripping paint gave both lines and colors to his action painting. (Lines and colors used to be the backbone of his works.) Mark Rothko abandoned lines for good. His pictures have not a single line in them—only colors. The early works of Cy Twombly on the contrary contained only lines. As soon as the viewer was shown what visual art was made of, reflexive consid erations started to emerge. Something that used to be perceived as ugliness by many (like Picasso, for instance) had an antithetic side to it with elegant lines and dramatic juxtaposition of colors.
Why am I writing this? In order to give you some clue about the value of the works by Alisa Yoffe. Alisa has a masterful command of lines. The accuracy of her pictures reminds of Henri Matisse. Her steadiness in making those lines is fascinating. Let me ask you to try and draw a long line (just for fun) and you will see your hand tremble and the line run away. If you venture to draw something, it will simply get lost along the way.
Steadiness is a valuable asset with a contemporary artist. It never comes easy. Drawing a line is not much. You need to feel strong about doing that since real masters are standing behind. Yoffe is a wholehearted artist whose productivity is amazing. She never shies away from extreme sizes and is ready to work with any surface from A4 to a building wall. Her production speed is astonishing— she might churn out a series of works for her solo exhibition within several days. No throes of art, no doubts or fears. Almost every piece is a success. No shoddy workmanship. When an artist hits stride and achieves such a degree of accuracy and precision, there is no way to stop him. This is what we call artistic drive.
However, skills and gifts get you only halfway through. Another halfinay is hardly comprehensible. The world must see itself in what the artist produces. It should look at those wor'ks indeed. Any managerial effort would be lost if the artist failed to capture the zeitgeist of our times. (Zeitgeist is basically the core object of research with real contemporary artists, that's why they insist on being called contemporary).
Alisa comes up with her extravagant suit composed of (basically) neutral geometrical shapes placed provocatively in the "right" places. A black triangle in the groin area, a couple of lines where the stockings are. Thus, she reveals her gender and highlights a set of associated feminist issues. Geometrical shapes become symbolic, act like shoulder marks: one can see who you are from afar. Interestingly enough, Malevich avoided triangles, but since Alisa applies only black and white colors, this is an explicit homage to him.
A suit is not a picture. Rather it is an action, a gesture. Alisa puts it on as she goes to a museum. It is impossible to escape her there. Such a slight shift of meaning but what a staggering effect! An act of protest without breaking the law. This what true artistry is: suspense is there, but no room for police that could violently turn an artistic gesture into brutal politics. Alisa is a true heirto Moscow performance art of 1990s. She not only dramatizes the performances of those years like Voina, Pussy Riot or Petr Pavlensky but creates new conditions for perceiving a gesture freed from open confrontation with law enforcers. In my terminology, this wouId be postactionist practice. Present-day art processes provide other examples that confirm a distinct trend.
My last thought to share would be somewhat more complicated. Why is drawing and graffitism in general so topical today? After all, we find it exciting to look at black and white, rather hard-line and high-contrast images. The answer would be fair rather than Obvious. What is going on in the present world? People are frantically setting up borders, raising barriers, dividing territories, wrapping up in their national norms. They are rather awkward in how they do that. Sow through creativity, through an ability to draw lines an artist expresses those processes, makes them observable and most importantly reveals their genuineness. Look ata double-headed eagle by Alisa Yoffe, and you will have an insight into contemporary Russia, its prospects, and outside perspective. A true contem porary artist is talking about our time.