Marina Reshetnikova – a Post-Exotic Artist

LAMIC (Université Laval)
Chaire du Canada en esthétique et poétique


A famous poet once described being bilingual as like sitting on the top of a mountain and being able to observe both of its sides at once. The inner world of such a person is twofold, played out in stereo, its contours shaped in multidimensional relief.

Taking the metaphor further, one might justly describe the work of bilingual artist Marina Reshetnikova as nomadic. The nomadic artist is able not only to retain within their field of vision a multitude of different peaks, but, by constantly changing their fields of reference, they are able to feel and express the multidimensional and polycentric nature of our world.

A bilingual person is in many ways akin to an exile: their world is defined by a tangible divide between the ‘here’ and the ‘there’, the ‘before’ and the ‘after’. However, the nomad is constantly both ‘here’ and ‘there’, their space and time merge into one, so that they inhabit a fourth dimension. It is towards achieving this nomadic state of being, that so many great artists, going back to Malevich, have aspired. The artist stops for the night, but only so that he may resume his journey once more the following day.

Marina Reshetnikova is a nomad in both contemporary senses of the word. On the one hand, her nomadic experience stems from the fact that she has been continually uprooted, both geographically and culturally - initially within her native Central Asia and Russia, and latterly within the ‘New World’. On the other hand, it describes the artist’s rhizomatic way of thinking, which is, in its essence, open-minded and subject to change, and thus has nothing in common with armchair cosmopolitanism or pretentious claims of universalism.

Surveying the extraordinary diversity of Reshetnikova’s work, both in terms of her use of media and materials, and her style, the critic struggles to ascribe any single unifying interpretation or description. One can, however, say that her language, while alternating unpredictably between the figurative and the abstract, the narrative and the hermetic, the gestual and the geometric, the playful and the meditative, is always contextual, delicate and apposite. A cinema and theatre set designer by training, Reshetnikova has harnessed her ability to work with various media, reinventing herself variously as sculptor, installation artist, photographer and, of course, painter. In each of these incarnations she hones her relationship with the given medium to perfection, in each case creating the sense that the particular medium is the most natural expression of her art and the one with which she feels most at ease.

Possibly the best way to grasp the essence of Marina Reshetnikova’s rejection of studied coherence and to understand the fundamental value of variety in her work, would be to view it as a post-exotic phenomenon. Reshetnikova has succeeded in eschewing the somewhat easier path of exoticism. Had she been less demanding, she might easily have capitalised on the years spent in far-off Central Asia to make use of ethnographic material in her art. However, having rejected that route, the artist has engaged in what appears to be a much more complex challenge, harnessing the multiplicity of identities that define her. Rather like the characters in an Antoine Volodine novel, her identities give birth to works, which are extremely dissimilar, indeed at times, dissonant. And yet, one may still find words to identify unifying characteristics amid all the disunity: namely elegance, mastery, harmony and light…

Translation by Dan BRENNAN, UK