Igor Tishin is one of the brightest and most talented artists of the new wave of the Belorussian art marked by an active search of its new identity. Tishin was born in 1958 in the village of Vasilpolye. Being a graduate of the Minsk Academy of Arts, he underwent the formal training in monumental Socialist Realism and was inspired by the legendary Belorussian modernists Marc Chagall and Chaim Soutine and the Russian avant-garde. In 1997 Tishin received an art grant in Switzerland where he got a better opportunity to get acquainted with modern and contemporary art. In 2000 the artist moved to Belgium – the country of comic books. Eventually the artist develops his repertory of melancholic and burlesque images.
Tishin’s unbridled creative energy overflows the boundaries of established aesthetic norms and produces a fascinating mixture of visual cultures, inspired by art and literary movements such as monumental Socialist realism, Constructivism, Dada, ‘kolkhoz’ visual culture, ‘cosy’ Surrealism of Marc Chagall, Expressionism of Soutine and Bacon, the Laboratory of Russian Futurists, Sigmund Freud, contemporary comic strips, poetics of the Absurd by Daniil Kharms, works of Gilles Deleuze and Franz Kafka, cinema, old photographs and family albums, letters, graffiti, newspaper clips, early childhood memories. Igor Tishin treats reality with gusto of a collectioner in the disguise of either an antiquarian picking up the valuable objects disposed of by the civilization or a writer recording and reconstructing the shreds of other people’s conversation and voices.
Wild, absurd and sensual aesthetics with no rules and hierarchy is the outcome of a complex ‘laboratory’ study of imagery and textuality of our epoch. Tishin renders personal and collective visual memory by clashing together two main media of the Soviet culture – the monumental painting and photography.
Thus, the monumental art of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque with its claim to mimetic representation constructed the fictitious space in relation to the beholder by elongating the figures of cathedral frescoes to bring them into perspective when viewed from below. The Constructivists of the Soviet avant-garde experimented with unusual viewpoints using a newly invented hand camera and employed techniques that dramatized the construction of the image in order to redeem our vision and to create new optimistic representation of the world. Their ideas were widely exploited later by the Soviet propaganda and the extreme viewpoints and tilted horizons can be found in paintings and panoramas of ‘Stalinist baroque’ of the 30’s and 50’s. Finally, the digital technology accomplished, albeit virtually, the utopian ideal of world creation by randomly transforming a three-dimensional image.
The very creators of artistic styles whose personalities never cease to attract Tishin, despite the monumental rendering of their representations, remind us of carnivalesque victims of history (Leni Riefenstahl in ‘Le Chapeau Rouge’, Natalya Goncharova in ‘Futurist 1 and 2’, Daniil Kharms in ‘Poet’, Vladimir Mayakovsky in ‘Poet’, series ‘Francis Bacon’).
Along with the painting Tishin works with photography and space. By using photography as a basis for painterly interventions, he masterly and with great ease combines the real and the imaginary. Varied levels of representation enter into a confab producing a mysterious and perplexing effect (Series ‘The Path of Alice’, 2008).
In the photographic series ‘Light Partisan Movement’ (1997) Igor Tishin initiated a new interpretation of the partisan theme in post-Soviet Belorussian culture. The partisan resistance of the long-suffering Belorussia made a substantial contribution to the victory of the USSR in the Second World War The partisan narrative was elaborated by the Soviet cinema and literature and was closely associated with the image of Belarus in mass culture. With the demise of the USSR this subject was temporarily abandoned and then – in the 2000s – underwent revision. The new Belorussian culture strives to find its new national identity in the ironic image of a partisan, a woodland clandestine dweller defying all systems and political regimes. This partisan protects his spiritual heritage in the thickets of Belorussian woods and marshlands, biding his time, playing a game of hide-and-seek or offering clandestine resistance.
In 1997 Tishin organized the exhibition ‘Light Partisan Movement’ in a derelict house of Minsk ‘partisans-tramps’ where he placed his installations and photographs. The exhibition was financed by Soros Fund and the artist was later summoned by the secret service. Three years later a contemporary art magazine titled ‘Partisan’ saw the light in Minsk. The front cover of the first issue carried one of Tishin’s ‘partisan’ photos and the magazine published an interview with the artist. And a few years later a festival of Belorussian art ‘Partisan Art’ took place in the French city of Clermont-Ferrand where Tishin was invited as ‘the grandfather of the partisan movement’.
The subject of a body as a focal point of subjective experience and cultural and historical transformation stands out in Tishin’s work and places it in the discourse of modern philosophy and humanities. In his early works ‘the body’ is obtrusively fragmented, splintered and insistently presented in the forms of fetishes – women’s feet in shoes, palms of hands and distanced, ‘appropriated’ women’s faces. Tishin quotes philosopher Gilles Deleuze, ‘A fetish is not a symbol; it is like a fixed and frozen sketch’.
In more recent works the artist strives to create a sensation of integral and unified body in the making – in the spirit of Deleuze’s ‘body without organs’ trying to overcome its structural disembodiment.
In his series ‘1932’ the body is represented as a historical product of communication and illustration in different epochs and cultures. In modern humanities and, in particular, in contemporary interdisciplinary ‘body studies’ the body is viewed as one of the media carrying the traces of history. ‘In this way a human body is viewed as a palimpsest covered with inscriptions, a perfect tool for reconstructing societal norms’, ‘as an object and memory of historical evidence of brutal or structural violence’.
It is as if Tishin literally illustrates this popular post-structuralist metaphor by staging in his paintings the gestures, postures and costumes from different epochs, by covering the faces of his heroes with inscriptions and signs. In some of his paintings the text is applied to the entire painterly surface and flattens the plane of the painting by bringing the narrative component to the foreground (‘The Unfinished Portrait’, ‘Poet. Daniil Kharms’). Sometimes ‘the print’ is reduced to multi-coloured brushstrokes, just as the historical memory – to traces of collective affectation.
The body is also a place where language disappears, it is the centre of the inexpressible and inconceivable ‘other’, where all signs lose their meaning. When the historic interpretation of the body is seen by Tishin through the art of Rodchenko, the mystery of the body beyond the language and history is tied with the art of Soutine and Bacon and he further develops their theme in his ‘Sketch Books’.
This ‘other’ of historically manipulated body transforms into sexuality in Tishin’s art. Not in cultural and historical sense as Michael Foucault saw it, but rather in a magical meaning as we know it from the art of Georges Bataille, Roger Caillois and other Surrealists. Sexuality is concentrated in the hypnotic gaze of his figures as a primeval creative force which remains, in the long run, the moving force of history.