INTERVIEW: Christopher Eamon on Rearview Mirror exhibition

Added on by Alex Mirutziu.

A video of a Lithuanian officer reenacting the way he used to shoot missiles from a Russian base; an imprint of a dirt road; footage of a Serbian woman swaying to David Bowie's "Young Americans.”

These are some of the powerful images from the Art Gallery of Alberta’s newest exhibition, Rearview Mirror: New Art from Central and Eastern Europe, which portrays contemporary life in the region after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Featuring the work of 22 Central and Eastern European artists, it includes paintings, video installations and sculptures examining pop culture, everyday life and appropriation. Guest-curator Christopher Eamon, a New York writer and independent curator, hopes it will break old stereotypes of the region. Stereotypes that it is "banal … uniform. That it is lacking in some way." The new generation of artists, such as those featured at the AGA until April 29, he says, are “completely different than a clichéd concept of the East.”
Why should people come see this show?

I think they should see it because it's showing a different angle of the Eastern European art scene. It's hopefully going to be a revelation that dispels a lot of myths. It showcases the younger generation, who have really thrown off the historical shackles 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.
What surprised you while you were putting this show together?

What I should have known is that each of these regions has totally distinct cultures; many of them speak very distinct languages. In terms of art, some have very deep avant-garde tendencies from the beginning of the century and some have none. We really have a totally diverse and divergent area and very quickly I learned that I am not making a representative show of the region […] What I am doing is, hopefully, showing how reality on the ground dispels the idea that there is such a thing as the East as we knew it.
What did you learn about these artists?

Appropriation — which has been very prevalent in Western contemporary art for decades […] Some of the artists from the East in this exhibition take that idea so far that they literally steal things, and that is fascinating. It kind of pushes the envelope.
What are some examples of things from this show that have been stolen?

There are sets of keys. There are staplers. There are all kinds of objects stolen directly from commercial galleries in the West. The art team Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkacova literally went and stole objects from commercial Western galleries. It is a comment on social disparity, actually. There is also an artist from Bulgaria, Ivan Moudov, who stole pieces of artwork from a gallery, but I am not going to name them because he might get in trouble.
Is it the region that ties the show together?

No. There are many artists from the region that are excellent. What really ties it all together is their approach to art-making. It's the pushing of the boundaries, the experimental nature, and I am calling it 'post-conceptual.' It is idea-driven. That is what is bringing them all together. 


A painting of a painting. Ukrainian artist Taras Polataiko, who is now based in Lethbridge, photographed pictures of work by Constructivist Kazimir Malevich from an art book. "They are glossy, so the light is reflecting back to the camera," Polataiko says. 


A work by Polish artist Anna Kolodziejska

An video installation of Elvis's last concert before he died. A clip of obscure American musician Daniel Johnson singing about a ghost follows. "There is a lot of pathos in this," Eamon says. "It's about death and loss. One is an anti-hero and one is a hero."