«What's the Address?»: a search for a place and/or a place to search. About the exhibition of Alisa Yoffe in Nizhny Novgorod
Essey by Dmitry Shatalov-Davydov
Movement: migrant vs nomade

The movement is what a visitor bumps into when he enters Alisa Yoffe's exhibition at the Futuro Gallery. The movement of the viewer through gallery rooms; the movement concealed in Yoffe's works – they create two co-redusable and crossing lines-series. For instance, the first work, «I'm the driver», while opening the exhibition, invites you into fast and comfortable ride (the depicted car is BMW, a representative from one of the exemplary automobile concerns).

Alisa Yoffe I'm the driver 2019
From the conscious movement of one to the mass movement of many – we encounter all that in the «Gypsy» piece, where nomadic motive is represented as a painting inside the painting (a print copy of Jacques Callot's engraving from the «Gypsy» series from 1620s is reproduced in that work) as well as in the movement of restaurant visitors itself – they come and go, every space that is occupied by someone is a potentially liberated space. That movement means, on one hand, freedom of sliding on the surface and, on the other hand, absence of any assignment, as long as all material objects are being used temporarily and belong to no one in particular. Also a restaurant has a notable name - «5642 Vysota»
Alisa Yoffe Gypsy 2019
The next location is an instancing of a surface the movement goes upon, a carpet made in bright pink colour is a copy of a carpet from the Turkish XVI century carpet from the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin. The long hall with a carpet demonstrates quite an extensive geography:leaving «Gypsies» (and a legend of Jaques Callot escaping with gypsy camp to Bohemia), a visitor turns up in the territorially adjacent Ottoman Empire represented in Berlin museum as another sign – the sign of Turkish expansion stopping under the walls of Vienne (and transition between expansion from the East to expansion from the West). The carpet is a surface of movement, its basis and at the same time a designation of inevitable stopping. Stopping before the «Broken face» - one of the many (but the most noticeable) objects standing still (the face is broken and turned upside down, but only the opened eye stays in unaltered position, all the other parts are mixed with each other).
The view on the main hall of the exhibition «What's the Address?» by Alisa Yoffe
Pause, stasis, peace of the Broken face are far from final though. Face's state of being upside down marks changes of initial roles, turn-around of the movement, relocations in space. All this is included in the work «I'm the passenger» placed at the end of exposition and combined with the work «I'm the driver» (they form a conceptual organic ensemble together).
Alisa Yoffe I'm a passanger 2019
This completely superficial description of dynamism included in every Yoffe's work leads to anessecity of analyzing the meaning of the present concept. A motif of a migrant and a nomad is not foreign to a modern intellectual. Changing situation in terms of migration in Europe, long work considered to rethinking of a migrant phenomenon (it's appropriate to mentionCamus with his auto-biographical novel andHouellebecq with a metaphor of islamization of France here e.t.c.), economical and social instability tied to migration rates – those are the points that can make bring closer the figures of an artist and a migrant. There is another figure – figure of a vagabond, a nomad. While a migrant performs an escape, tries to hide from something that pursues him (as Walter Benjamin searched for an emergency break of history, saving himself from totalitarizing practices of social life and mass art) and is driven to some kind of goal, to a place where he could become settled (showing the teleocentrical dynamics that is compelled by it's nature), a nomad moves not due to some external and presumably catastrophic reason, but because the movement for him is a way of living. Migrant is not free in his movement (that's why we nominate it as an escape), meanwhile nomad actualizes his freedom whenever he traverses. Migrant in his movement stays sedentary (as if he was keeping homeland ground under his soles), he is forced to escape from usual sedentity and searches for a similar one; his aim is to stop the movement he was dragged into. Nomad is free and his freedom lies in his possibility to relocate in space, not appropriating any part of his literally, but appropriating the whole space through abnegation of property. This discource tends to be quite Deleuzian – it's possible to find both mentioned figures in the second volume of «Capitalism and Schizophrenia». [1]

The same logic can be found in another metaphor byGilles Deleuze and FelixGuattari: a warrior and a soldier. Consideration of this metaphor seems relevant to us, because in the previous analysis of movement in space we omitted the fact that every time space turns out to be populated and limited (an ontological conflict comes from that - between the nomad who does not accept any borders in his freedom and the settled one, who has domesticated the space, set the borders, replacing the freedom with Kant's autonomy of a subject). The warrior is fully free in his manifestations of militancy – he subordinates only to his inner ethics of honor and dignity (this is how an image of a wandering knight appeared, such as Gallahard or Percival), whereas a soldier is an element of power actualization having to follow strict orders (a soldier also wears uniform and is nameless)

It's apparent that Alisa Yoffe appeals to this two figures in her works, favoring the figure of a nomad. And if the first work - «I'm the driver» - still doesn't essentially differ the migrant from the nomad, just identifying a concept of movement and freedom connected to it, the «Gypsy» definitely touches both figures. The whole work is dedicated to movement, relocating in space, however, visitors of the restaurant and gypsies from Callot's reproduction display two different types of movement. The visitors come at a restaurant temporarily, temporarily reside there, but their motif – migration, purposeful relocation in space in order to find a point (or points) of sedentity. In fact, their sedentity is constant: you can tell by the variety of external attributes marked by the painter, where they have been before entering the restaurant, but a restaurant is a temporal location for them to visit and, without a doubt, to leave just to come back to sedentity. Migration is a movement with a purpose of stopping, a movement aspiring to removal of itself. And gypsies on Callot's reproduction embody an alternative – they are not sedentary, they do not seek for a home or a promise land, for some point they could attach themselves to. Their movement is non-final, because it aligns with their existence, after all. Nomads are the movement as a continuity and an infinite changing linked to it. The painting forces a viewer to choose– which figure is more favorable – a curious migrant going on a trip to return home or a freedom-loving nomad, who treats movement as a way of existence and who can't have any point of sedentity at all.

Alisa Yoffe Gypsy 2019 Fragment
It's obvious that the name of the exhibition itself («What's the Address?») raises the same question, whether address exists as a fixed discrete point, stop, sedentity or the goal of art is to neglect the fixation on that discreteness, questioning and removing it. But even such pose of a question concerning cruciality/essentiality of address (sedentity, place e.t.c.) by that allows this place to exist. Probably, the question posed by Alisa Yoffe is the question about artist's status. An artist is an Odyssey whose fee-loving temper, special worldview and tendency to challenge gods make him alienated from native Ithaca, who wants to come back [2] (D. Fowles in «Mantis» probably hints that answer) or an Orpheus willingly, by chance or deliberately neglecting the Eurydice (i.e. any possible sedentity).

It's worth to disclose the two forementioned images and combine them with the history of aesthetics. It's known from antique history of aesthetics that the poet always played a dual role (and it's discovered, the most obviously, in a series of Platoon's dialogues). From the one hand, a poet (in this particular case we will consider an artist under this term as well) broadcasts the will of gods in insinuating and dark manner. In his works, first and foremost, he seeks to find and catch something unspeakable, the true entity of god's creation (i.e. to find the origin, the arche and try to signify it), of sacred matter, and then express it with a help of means available to a human being (i.e. produce, collect and vocalize something that Aristotle describes as techne). At first sight, both tasks seem quite opposed to each other. Platoon notes this in «Fedrah» telling a story about the god Thoth who offered king Tamus to teach Egyptians alphabet. The reaction of the king is remarkable, he calls Thoth's gift a pharmacon (meaning that in small quantities it's a cure and in large it's a poison. Pharmacon is a name of contents in the serpent-entwined cup on the statue of Aesculapius, half-god of medicine and poisoning) [3]. Traditionally, this passage is considered to be a discussion between the correlation of speech and writing. Vocal speech is alive, in constant formation, while the writing is dead and makes everything final and irrevocable [4] However, it's possible to see here the dualism of poet's position we mentioned earlier. Arche is ineffable, the idea is inexpressible, there are only ways to describe it partially, try to approach it. The whole authentic art in its freedom always seeks for possible arche fixation. And yet, fixation without preserving makes no sense – and here the writing becomes a cure as an instrument to formalize, describe, express and preserve things grasped by poet's imagination. But the grasped and the formalized (produced) becomes accomplished like one of many things, and this is where Thoth's archness plays out. It's possible to mention here the quite radical interpretation ofHölderlin, who is known to contrapose the tradition of Heraclitus to the tradition of Parmenidus: Heraclitus, who writes about endless formation and inexpressibility of existence, becomes a concentration of authentic Greek philosophy, while Parmenidus, who approaches everything from a point of the law (logos an nomos), makes everything completed, finished, constant, leading away from the search of origin and authenticity.

This particular discourse leads us to the circumstantial analysis of two wandering archetypes – Odyssey and Orpheus. From our point of view, Odyssey is a myth about lost authenticity, about the moment, removed and forgotten long ago, when arche was caught in its fulness, but some traumatic occasion made an artist to neglect it and lose it. So Odyssey remained in harmony on Ithaca, his sedentary point, but his harmony was interrupted by a traumatic Occasion making him turn away from the origin and go to the conquest of Trojah. The Ending of Occasion should have reconciled him with an origin, let him return, but that's not happening, the occasion in its lasting can't finish (because occasion is based on lasting itself, it's removed and took place when it's finished). The whole Odyssey's journey is an attempt to deliberately return , it's not a nomadic freedom of sliding on the surface, but a pursuit of a goal that is desired but every time is unobtainable or impossible to achieve. It's remarkable that only reconciling with the Law (accepting defeat to Poseidon) lets Odyssey come back home and remember (because the return to Ithaca happens literally in the beginning of the poem, but the hero doesn't recognize the area and sails off again).

The Orpheus demonstrates another pole. Going for dead Eurydice (i.e. the one that became concealed, hidden, nocturnal), the poet Orpheus travels into the heart of night itself (Hades domain), where he captures the very entity of the night (he founds an arche expressible in the very entity of this night). The captured arche, an origin (night Eurydice or, let's speak more precisely, her part that is always hidden by daylight) then is brought to the surface, to the border between the darkness and the light. And that's where the alternative appears. Orpheus traveled with a certain purpose – to bring back a day Eurydice, the one he knew, the one he was given. But being a poet i.e. the spokesman of the concealed, hidden, sacred, will of the gods, Orpheus captures the darkness in the very heart of darkness that would disappear if he comes back to light. The line between the light and the shadow is a line where he still possesses an arche, escape to the light is a producing of day Eurydice, the successful ending of his journey. Orpheus gaze that happened is by no means accidental , because it's a last gaze the poet needs to catch the darkness as a darkness without any following generation of darkness. Of course, that gaze made impossible to produce any day Eurydice known to Orpheus, the night Eurydice dissolves under that gaze, retreats and disappears. The poet Orpheus desperately attempts to bring the night Eurydice to the arche domain, but this goal is unreachable. In that sense the gaze of Orpheus represents the second figure connected to movement – it's a movement of a nomad, sliding on a surface, seeking to capture arche and end it's wayfare, however realizing that this capturing is impossible in a temporal sense (Eurydice would disappear in time). Nevertheless, in the very moment of that gaze some kind of capturing takes place yet. The gaze of Orpheus is an eternal gaze of a poet trying to catch arche and denying the end of anything, the conslusional formalizing, i.e. production, it's a principled denial of any finalization, the acceptance of movement, peering into an arche without any accomplishing of that movement, of that capturing. J.L. Nancy gives the similar interpretation in his foreword to «Awaiting Oblivion» by Maurice Blanchot [5].

So we highlighted two roaming figures of an artist – Odyssey, gravitating towards his aim of returning to an origin and authenticity, whose return happens on behalf of gods (and thus the production occurs and Odyssey's Ithaca reveals itself during his re-concealment with the Law), and Orpheus seeking the same but eventually denying the possession of an origin and of the production itself, preserving only this continuity and longevity of the initial path to that production and a moment of capturing arche. It's obvious that Odyssey is closer to a migrant – he has that point that will bring his travels to an end, while Orpheus' travel to night Eurydice and an attempt of capturing her in her entity every time turns out to be impossible, and from here comes his abnegation to produce a day Eurydice, Orpheus personifies the movement as the process of grasping addressed only to itself, because arche and authenticity exist in the first place but yet inexpressible.

«What's the Address?» is a question about this two figures — is this about finding lost, abandoned, sacred, place or is this about the impossibility to find it due to deliberate neglection of production and place.An ambivalent position of Platonic pharmacon is the meaning of the name of the exhibition, and an answer to the question is an impossible choice between the production as a finalization associated with chance, fate or god and denying any form of production as an impossible finalization as it is taken off and basically has no origin, place or authenticity. The absence, which nevertheless is clearly tangable and can be captured, so it references to deficiency, absence, origin, address which can't be found.

The stop

The movement by itself without the possibility of its ending presumes impossibility of occasion. An occasion presents something finite that has the beginning and the end. It's necessary for an event to be comprehensible. At last, Derrida's metaphor describing an event as a book is quite relevant – the book, as well as an event, is the completion of something fundamentally incompletable, always some partial, teared out fragment of existence (the meaning Derrida puts into Platonic «Fedra» comes from here). I.e. an occasion needs to end in order to be completed, and needs to start in order to end.

An occasion in the past is completed, neglected, already non-existent and lost longevity. An occasion as the future event is pure uncertainty because it contains incompleteness (absence of the beginning and the end), but yet in the present it takes place, it exists.

Lars fon Trier gives quite convenient example of an occasion in «Melancholy» (concerning that this is an occasion of a finalization of the whole story and an occasion of the view from the outside on the finalization of the whole story, as a phantasm of the mentioned finalization). Bumping into Melancholy every time acts as a possible occasion moving on the scale from unlikely turn of events to inevitable, and every time the possibility of not happening of the mentioned occasion is included in that turn of events. But the occasion happens in the moment when there is no witnesses able to tell us about it (except the viewer against a screen, who, including the fact of playing Wagner's overture «Tristan and Isolde», accepts the moment of complete end as many things – as beginning, end, impossible occasion, final of a film-show and escape from a phantasm - «everything is an artistic fiction») [6] Facing the Melancholy is those tear, those fold that sets the beginning and the end of an occasion (as a poison in the aforementioned Wagner's opera), and besides that on the other side of the occasion i.e. for the viewer who is basically not participating in the occasion, it includes some strict timing. The fate of occasion is to become completed and removed from sight, something that is no more exists as a committed and finished act, but the occasion itself is an eternal process of self-formation (a purpose, beginning and end are external and brought later on). In that sense, the melancholy acts as a defensive reaction to the possible occasion – as a grief after something, that exists now and can be lost.

And something happens during the exhibition too – we are talking about nomads and migrants, relocations in space. Something fleshes out, but for the occasion to be born something must happen, it needs a tear, a stop point. The biggest work placed at the exhibition – the «Broken Face» and Turkish carpet predecessing to that work both act as such stop point.

We already pointed out that the «Turkish carpet» represents not only a way to the «Broken face» (the carpet, as it should be, lies on the floor against the central exhibit in the hall), but a cross-mixing of two cultures – the West and the East, of two movements emanating out of two separated cultures, so that it continues the line emphasized by the «Gypsies» panel. Nomadic and sedentary expansions collide here too, moreover, in that narrative nomad and the settled one switch places: so the Ottomans advance till the XVII century, and then the inverted expansion begins. The carpet is the division, mix and interfusion leading to change of roles while preserving the mediator that indicates that shift. In that case, the initial carpet embodies such a mediator, while it's digital copy is placed on the exhibition (triple mimesis takes place here). However, the placed object itself just indicates the basis that is concealed under the procedure of copying, under the mixture of nomadic and sedentary traits, of the West and the East

Alisa Yoffe Turkish carpet 2019 Fragment
The motionless eye in the mixed parts of malformed, broken face takes the role of such a basis – this is a final the carpet leads to, this is an object referred. If the history is really narrated then the eye becomes something that the narrative is addressed to, something helping the narrative to go on. The eye is any form of perception-capturing («perceptio»), concerning the fact that we talk about the visual art. An eye unites the unfolding history, an artist and a viewer; the basis, process and result. Only the eye is capable of dividing the process into the components, marking the beginning and the end i.e. determining something as an occasion. That's a reflective side of it. The eye is thesufficient reason of a product. The work is produced, which means it is done in a way so that it could be visible, but, at the same time, it also something that encloses – the expressive resources are limited, the night Eurydice is inexpressible (as referring to the metaphor of gaze of Orpheus brought up in the first paragraph). And finally, an eye is something that catches and observes the production as a product (finished, formalized and completed) – as a those day Euridyce, ready and understandable. The unity of history (and a history is nothing but a history of an occasion i.e. the narrative unfolding the happening when it is already removed, non-existent), of a basis (an artist) and a production (a viewer).

And such an eye is definitely unhealthy. We determined its reflexive part with caution for a reason – long ago before Freud, Schopenhauer wrote about the danger of analyzing history as a history of reflexion while replacing the spirit with the blind will. Freud and the whole psychoanalytic tradition justified this infirmity of the mind. So the eye is not conscious (not only conscious and not only subconscious e.t.c.) but obviously the psychical in all possible forms. And in case of the «Broken face» the question of form becomes even more open: the face is broken, all lines are distorted, everything remains in mixture, in migration from one place to another, marking this turn of events as a catastrophe, pointing at an occasion reflected by that face. The only expressed compositional component that remains constant is a widely opened and geometrically penciled eye. In fact, the whole exhibition becomes a history of an eye. There is a lot of possible references – cinematographic (Cronenberg's «Crash») and philosophical (to the self-titledBataille's novel and the whole deep tradition of the history of conscious and non-conscious in both philosophical and psychoanalytical traditions).

The eye as a base is something that makes the occasion possible. When (time), where (place) and why (collision) are necessary for the crash to happen. To happen means to be percepted, an occasion needs to finish and become history (gain the end and the beginning). The eye is a reflection in the cat dish saucer with a milk poured, and the saucer itself which triggers the libidious journey ofBataille, the camera fixing the moment of a real car accident that leads to injuries and abruption of organs in Cronenberg 's movie, something that allows to contemplate the worldwide catastrophe in the «Melancholy». The eye is something that gives a fundament, a possibility for capturing, triggers the mechanisms of fantasy as well as the ratio. The eye as something that is (existence) and possesses the possibilities to capture-produce.

The eye as something that produces is the gaze of Orpheus in the moment of possible appearance of product on the line between the light and the darkness. This part of artist's work allows to find, collect and express something perennially flowing, volatile (as a space in which the eye is located in the «Broken face» - the only constant thing is trying to snatch something incredible and, while having it snatched , to express it). Let's call it a production.

And finally, the eye is the thing that captures the work of art – the eye of a viewer recognizing some sort of finiteness, end, given. This is the final episode of transformation of liquidity and volatility of speech into the writing, preserving something, finalizing it as written and saved [material].

So, the eye is that unites, lets us realize the compilation: of an existence as a somethingness as a whole – a possibility of something to be; something that gives a concrete form to such a somethingness (production), i.e. produces, and something that is able to see the somethingness in a form of given particularity i.e. as a production.

Alisa Yoffe Broken face 2019 Fragment
However, as any point can be represented as a straight line, an eye is also not something completed closing the question about the address. That's not a place nor the reason and at the same time all of the above. This is phantasy and reflection (production and product), and a possibility of non-phantasy and non-reflection (pure existence, the space of immanency). Apparently the «Broken face» with the only «unbroken» eye left becomes something that turns upside down and changes roles: me-driver opening the journey becomes me-passenger. The triad of being-production-product includes that mobility, that possibility for the meaning to become signified, and for the signified to become the meaning. An absent organ can be no more referable to the body and symbolize pure absence as a quality of it's being (as a healthy leg can refer to it's possible loss due to hypothetical accident, and an artificial limb can be perceived deliberately as a healthy leg). Me-driver and me-passenger are equivalent in that case – they start the chain-driver-passenger in which the centre – «Me» - becomes a necessary basis (the possibility for something to exist), getting removed every time in the process of production (me-driver: the driver sets the movement, controls, gives a form to an ability to exist, makes the production) and in the product (me-passenger: something that captures the occasion as a movement). «Me» merges with other possible substrates – automobile, paints, the whiteness of the background, falling after all into pure potentiality described by a question of possibility of any denotation of a place (What's the Address?). Driver-passenger and passenger-driver – these are two series of the movement of a nomad or a migrant in space divided by an image of an eye on the broken face as a sliding truth about existence, about the basis of seriality - «Me».

But the relocation itself turns out to be a series – two figures, largely opposed to each other (a nomad, a migrant) become conjugated and relative. Odyssey can't return to Ithaca (god's mercy can't happen), Orpheus can't refuse the expression of an arche and not to gaze upon Eurydice, being satisfied with the produced day Eurydice. A nomad sliding on the surface who denies any basis, origin, place faces the necessity of their neglection just to stay a nomad, making that necessity a basis (thus becoming a migrant who always denies the sedentism); a migrant seeking for a place, basis, origin, can not discover it over and over again (it's beautiful, but it's not Ithaca) and in that way be like a nomad, endlessly sliding on a surface without becoming settled. Nomad-migrant, migrant-nomad – two serialities keeping each other in movement, two serial entities set by one elusive question «What's the address?».


[1] Deleuze G., Guattari F. A Thousand Plateaus. Moscow, 2010 pp. 639-640

[2] Fowles J.R. Islands // Wormholes. Moscow: AST Publishers LLC, 2004, pp. 495-498

[3] Plato. The Phaedrus // The Dialogues. Saint Petersburg: Azbooka-Atticus Publishing Group LLC, 2000. pp 428-429

[4] Derrida J. Plato's Pharmacy // Dissemination. Yekaterinburg: U-Factory Publishing, 2007. pp. 71-219

[5] Nancy J.-L.The Gaze of Orpheus // Blanchot M. Awaiting Oblivion. Saint Petersburg: Amphora Publishers, 2000.

[6] Žižek S. Event: A Philosophical Journey Through A Concept. - Moscow: Ripol Classic, 2018. pp. 35-40


The essey was published at site syg.ma
Original publication is here
English translation of the text is by Ivan Loginov

Photos by Ilya Bolshakov and Ilya Smirnov

An author would like to express his gratitude to the administration of 9B Gallery, FUTURO Gallery and personally to the creator of the exhibition Alisa Yoffe for provided materials