The Fries Museum in Leeuwarden will exhibit works by Taus Makhacheva (Moscow, 1983) from 27 March 2021 to 6 March 2022. The majority of the works in this extensive solo exhibition will be on view in the Netherlands for the first time. The exhibition includes a living archive by The Unbound collective, and films, objects, installations and new work she will make especially for the Fries Museum. The exhibition explores the traditions of history making and its encounters with everyday life.
Because Makhacheva is primarily inspired by the social fabric, she begins each project by engaging in conversations with people from a variety of worlds. She gathers stories and recasts them in different forms. Sometimes they are staged as a festival that offers a momentary loss of selfhood and a space where the fool becomes king and overthrows power. Other times they are a carnival that lures in spectators, where magicians, ventriloquists, and acrobats question all the visible and invisible boundaries we take for granted. Or the stories are recast in spas, relics or sites of ruin. A lot of her work draws on daily life in her native Dagestan in the Caucasus region of Russia, and reflects on rituals, celebrations and the extraordinary in the everyday, with playful and humorous overtones.
The highlight of the exhibition is the work Charivari (2019), which will be shown in the Netherlands for the first time. The installation is reminiscent of a circus, with trapezes and performers’ costumes. The title refers to the closing act, when clowns, acrobats and other performers all enter the circus ring at the same time to show off their skills. The installation is a colourful mix of sculptures, impossible-to-wear costumes, and absurdist audio stories by Alexander Snegirev which describe a Borges-like reality featuring a talking horse, synthetic bears, a sheep inside a gymnast inside a lion, along with other tales that humorously describe the human condition in its various aspects.
Makhacheva: ‘As a child, I loved the circus, and even dreamed of becoming a clown. Unlike other cultural venues, in Soviet times the circus was where you could make ambivalent jokes, there was certain freedom of expression. And I am often drawn to works that address serious issues, concerns and fears in a playful manner. We live in turbulent times. In a sense, a person is always in a state of a two or three-point earthquake. Many lands and landmarks are disappearing, but very few new ones are lingering on the horizon. Societies are torn between different value systems, trying to grasp what development means and how to move on. One must either hold on to petrified wood or become pliant. In the Caucasus, it seems to me that the concept of flexibility is perceived in two ways. On the one hand, this society with its bubbling self-irony is very flexible, but on the other, it fears that certain types of flexibility can destroy the rigid shell of its identity.’
the unbound collective collection
The collection presented in the exhibition came together through a sequence of accidental meetings and subsequent gatherings of people, most of who are from creative circles in the Caucasus region of Russia. Thus was formed the association which is informally, and ironically, named The Unbound. This group initially thought of itself as having purely friendly, informal potential. Writers, artists, scriptwriters, designers, historians, musicians, curators and even laypeople who are not averse to spending time on something of artistic and anthropological interest, independently assembled a network for exchanging information. During the exchange of images, video clips, observations on popular culture, stories, urban legends and other enlightenments, a kind of collection of images of and testimony on as yet unknown forms of life met in the critical search for and classification of the high points of the contemporary Caucasus.
Another intriguing installation Aerostatic Experience (2019) evolved from the story of the hot air balloon Le Flesselles, which made its one and only flight in Lyon on 19 January 1784. Inspired by the methods used to teach costume design at Lycée La Martinière Diderot in Lyon, Taus Makhacheva made a metaphorical replica of this first hot air balloon. Combining students’ expertise in dressmaking techniques with materials from various eras, such as crinoline, she addresses rigid structures which were, at the time, often criticised as instruments of oppression but also celebrated as markers of private space under protection. Suspended in the air, the balloon looks like a patchwork of irregular shapes, recounting in sewing stitches a history of technology and fashion, of tools and bodies.
Taus Makhacheva lives and works in Moscow, Russia. She has a BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths (2007), graduated from the Institute of Contemporary Art, Moscow (New Strategies program, 2009), and holds an MFA from Royal College of Art (2013).
Makhacheva has received the following awards: New Generation – Innovation, State Prize, Moscow (2012), Future of Europe Prize, Museum of Contemporary Art, Leipzig, (2014), 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art Foundation Prize, Moscow (2015), Kandinsky Prize, Moscow (as Super Taus, 2016), and was named ‘Cosmoscow Artist of the Year’, Cosmoscow Foundation for Contemporary Art, Moscow (2018).
Selected exhibitions include: Yokohama Triennial (2020), Lahore Biennial (2020), Lyon Biennial (2019), Kaunas Biennial (2019), Liverpool Biennial (2018), Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (2018), Manifesta 12 in Palermo (2018), Yinchuan Biennial (2018), Venice Biennial (2017), Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art (2017), Shanghai Biennial (2016), Kyiv Biennial (2015), Sharjah Biennial (2013), Moscow Biennial (2011).
Makhacheva’s work is included in museum collections around the world, including the Centre Pompidou (Paris), Tate Modern (London), Pushkin Museum (Moscow) and M HKA (Antwerp).
The Fries Museum is co-financed by the Abe Bonnema Foundation, the Province of Friesland, the Samenwerkingsverband Noord-Nederland, EZ/Kompas and the BankGiro Lottery.
Charivari was commissioned by YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Aerostatic Experience was commissioned by Lyon Biennial with production supported by SAM Art Projects, and The Unbound collection was commissioned by 6 Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art with production supported by Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow.
Press release text by Anne-Sophie Scholtens and Kristina Chernyavskaya with excerpts by Sabih Ahmed, Melissa Burntown, Yoann Gourmel, Suad Garayeva-Maleki and Andrey Misiano.