New YorkAlyssa Davis Gallery
December 21, 2018 – February 24, 2019
In the story of the Tower of Babel, God punishes the Babylonians for pridefully attempting to build a tower tall enough to grasp Heaven. He fatally confuses them by introducing varied language to a homogenous global tongue—unable to interpret each other, the builders descend into chaos, abandon the tower, and scatter across the earth. For testing the boundary between humanity and divinity, the Babylonians are ordained to struggle to achieve anything through the impediment of multiplicitous language. In Viktor Timofeev’s solo-show, God Room, at Alyssa Davis Gallery, we are given a view of a world he constructs where humanoid figures roam. As in the story of Babel, Timofeev’s humanoids are fated by their inability to understand each other, and so they converge in acts of violence within games of recognition.
Timofeev’s show can be divided into three elements: a group of six drawings, a two-channel video, and a mural spanning one room’s walls and ceilings. The works in God Room appear to quietly heed and accuse one another, some pieces endowed with an implicit sovereignty which other pieces play out within their narratives. The subjects of the drawings, red and blue humanoids depicted within complex architectural spaces rendered in greyscale, seem to be governed by the logos of the other works. The video piece, titled Abecedary for A and B, is divided among two rooms: one monitor looks over empty waiting room chairs from high up in a corner, the other monitor stationed atop a desk with an office chair where viewers can interface with it. The former half of the piece consists of an infographic with text on its screen, the coded language for which is generated by a program at the other screen. In the infographic, motifs and forms from the drawings are distilled into eleven icons, accompanied by text. These icons include images of a fetus containing a second fetus, a bisected maze, and a toilet. The monitor for the other half of Abecedary in the next room, surrounded by the mural God Flower 6AB’s twisting iris leaves, displays the twenty-six characters of the Roman alphabet arranged in a grid. Each letter is divided into four quadrants that rotate at timed intervals, a process resulting in permutations of entirely new alphabets. Clicking on any of the letters takes you back through past combinations of quadrants, allowing the formation of new characters to also measure the passage of time. Like a sluggish heartbeat, characters are transformed every three seconds, as the program cycles through the alphabet over seventy-eight seconds. Each time the program completes a cycle, a new ephemeral language is constructed and another is lost, remaining only in the archives of the alphabet’s past iterations.
Six colored-pencil drawings, mounted on the wall adjacent to the two rows of waiting room chairs, depict two groups of humanoid figures in various states of conflict. These forms are differentiated by their coloration—as either blue or red—and they seem to function as units of life carrying no individual identity. Their movements are rarely individual, and they seem to be propelled by each other’s momentum, guided by a power external to themselves. These two populations navigate impossible architectures and catastrophic landscapes, marching through spaces that, in some instances, appear to be composed of the same biological material of which the humanoids are made. In one of the drawings, (5A + 1) / (99B + 99), a large, grayscale humanoid (a color codified to signify an architectural, rather than human, element) merges with the structure through which the two populations crawl. In A / (B-1), a closeup of the surface of an architectural intersection, the structure is revealed to be composed of smaller interlocking humanoids. These drawings meditate on the porous seam between subject and governance: the basic units of this biopolitical system flail against each other, and simultaneously, uphold the spaces where their frictions are enacted. It is not clear what sparks the populations’ rise against one another, but their static existence in this drawn-out state of conflict seems to define them. Perpetually moving towards a horizon of sustained discord, the humanoids evoke cells of a degrading body attacking itself, and remain looping in misrecognition of each other and their unity with their surroundings.
We can imagine that the two populations in the drawings are subjects of the information synthesized by the Abecedary pieces, their responses to their environments seemingly prompted by the internal workings of the video. However, any legible order to these logics is obscured by the artist through multiple means. The text we are given to decipher the ‘A/B’ world’s narratives are virtually untranslatable, as the characters are continually destabilized, transforming incrementally by updates from the second half of the piece. God Room is striking in the palpable frustration produced by the relationship between these two groups of work, and the impossibility of its reading. The emptiness of the waiting room seats, and the unoccupied center of the room they are oriented around, creates the sensation that you are waiting for something here, and that you could do so infinitely without knowing what it is you are waiting for.
Godflower 6AB’s plantlife (appearing both alive and decaying) decorates the walls of a room that feels like God’s administrative offices. In the empty office chair, one can imagine that an omniscient force passes judgement over its world, decreed in the ever-shifting language it formulates through an algorithm pulsing away at its monitor. Abecedary’s language construction evokes the story of Babel; the God of the A/B universe residing in the algorithm that “degenerates” its alphabet, confounding the humanoids of Timofeev’s drawings with a discontinued language from behind this desk. As a continuation of the frustrated viewership throughout the show, it is fitting that the chair behind the desk sits empty. It’s as though the God whose actions seem so tangible in these works is forever absent from His bureaucratic earthly form, with no source to look to for clarity or meaning . As viewers we encounter the Abecedary pieces as something like an origin mythology or scripture for the world within the drawings. Comprehending its truths, however, is continually foreclosed by discontinuities in its code, an authentic representation of the ruptured world it illuminates.