In the dual exhibition ACCESSORIES OF REDEMPTION, Rimma Arslanov (born 1978) presents the two series of her newest paintings that stimulate an intriguing dialog: The Dream of Armor in Essen and Curtains and Wounds in Dusseldorf. Though without any thematic similarities in the first place, the series share a close conceptual origin. Besides the stage (as a location for display) serving as image space, Arslanov’s paintings’ central interface lies in the transformative sounding of thresholds within the merging of contrasting qualities. In painting, opposites such as rigor/softness, sensitivity/violence, or beauty/ugliness do not exclude each other but rather enter a liaison complicating clear demarcations.
In The Dream of Armor (Essen) series, central themes and motifs depart from Rimma Arslanov’s preoccupation with illustrations of richly decorated medieval armor and weaponry. In contrast to the notions of defense, attack, and protection from harm connected to those armaments stand their delicate, artisan and detailed ornamentation that Arslanov understands as accessories. This paradox dynamic of violent, warlike encounters and graceful, gentle beauty of decorative features traverses the paintings of both series – appearing as scenes of theatrical performance. Partly in darkish, partly in pastel-colored sceneries, deserted armors are developing an independent existence. They are transforming into surreal figures that meet in an unfulfillable act of love and killing. Such a shell, primarily used as a shield and for defense, becomes a fragile, potentially skin-like surface that can no longer hold up resistance. Instead, such a state allows the intrusion by lance-like thrusting of some parts (The Dream of Armor #3) or whole limbs (The Dream of Armor #1) through the half-round openings of the other’s body. More half-round cavities, from which sometimes an arm or a colored disc peep out, can be found within the inversely constructed roof shingles. Thereby, these architectural image parts become loaded with a voyeuristic gesture.
The moment of spectacular escalation during battle is marked by limbs twirling through the image space. Thus, such a moment shifts between sensual body choreography and the instant of falling onto the battlefield. Whether sensuous rapture or cruel death, this scene’s ambiguity remains unchanged due to missing facial expression. Such makes those figures with heads looking like palmettes anonymous performers of an erotic act open towards violence. It is not without reason that the French expression le petit mort, meaning the small death, addresses the peak of sexual intercourse – a threshold moment allowing for the brief escape from the own body. True to its dramatic composition, the series ends with armor shells intertwined and dead still (The Dream of Armor #4). They seem to have lost, long since, their defensiveness and, increasingly, become one with their dark underground in wrenched poses and fragile beauty.
Whereas the Essen works powerfully operate with figurative forms and motifs, the paintings of the series Curtains and Wounds in the Dusseldorf exhibition capture rather surreal staffage. The spectator’s viewpoint stays unclear. These works play with the shift and interleaving of architectural, topographical, sculptural, and ornamental elements. By doing so, they create wonderful imagery in which memory and imagination entangled are following their logic. Though space and perspective always remain recognizable, the classification of these imageries or their transmission into reality is hardly given. In relation to the decorative elements – the accessories – the paintings are unfolding their dimension as signifiers next to the recurring motifs of violent and yet sensual permeation (Curtains and Wounds #10). In this series, Arslanov develops her very individual accessory as a swung luminous object with delicate outlines taking the center of two paintings (Curtains and Wounds #2 & #3).
The filigree, luminous object raised on a plinth appears to be a protagonist on a stage that is released from the curtain dominating the image. Therefore, a view of a mountain landscape becomes uncovered. What has been sounding through the half-round apertures in The Dream of Armor, is here articulated through the curtain as an opening and hiding accessory, a visual principle of display and concealment. Explicitly in combination with the hard, metallic armor surfaces taking up skin-like qualities such as permeability (as in The Dream of Armor), the curtains evoke parallels with the skin due to their soft, rose palettes. Golden, ring-shaped fibulas with plant decoration are piercing the gently falling curtain loops; they are leaving cracks and sagging them down heavily (#3). A bodily and mental vulnerability is here dealt with through the pictorial metaphor of the fragile cloth. Without falling for a violent visual language, the reticent paintings of Curtains and Wounds are drawing, by means of a poetic-sensual aesthetic, a tension between the soft colors and the pervasive gestures. The latter, for their part, might even trigger uncanny and disgusting associations (Curtains and Wounds #10).
Both exhibitions are enhanced through installations of objects that, in turn, stand in relation to the objects depicted within the paintings and that take the painterly formulated opposites into a sculptural level. Such occurs, for instance, through a white molding combining tender and round shapes of a plant decoration with architectural exemplariness. Or, another example, two monumental wooden cuboid furniture that rests frangible on the spikes of the decorative forms of flower buds. Those installed objects demonstrate the proximity to an architectural form language building a central reference point for the artist in her painterly and sculptural work.
Text: Julia Reich, translation: Franziska Wilmsen