Sound installation, works from the MMOMA collection. 2016.
Elena Yaichnikova: Your display in three rooms is based on the concept of interzone. What does it mean?
Ivan Novikov: Interzone is a novel by William Burroughs. It is also where many of his stories take place. It’s a space where everything is permitted, a space on the periphery like Tangier after the war. After studying the MMOMA collection, I saw that its true highlights are works by artists of the interzone. What I mean by that is that there is a visible zone, which can be mainstream or avant-garde—as avant-garde can also be in vogue—and then there is the interzone, the space of all other art relegated to the margins. If you remember Ilya Kabakov’s metaphor with the tram of history that one needs to catch—there is the majority of artists who run after that tram, and there are those who try to build their own railroad. It can be out of choice or it can be a personal drama. I am primarily interested in the works that testify to the fact that art is the space of freedom.
E.Y.: So what you propose here is a critique of art history.
I.N.: It’s a critique of avant-garde that used to be associated with innovation and has become a dogma, and of course a critique of art history. Art history is essentially a modernist and scientific project dating back to the 19th century—a project that creates hierarchies and pushes the interzone to the periphery. Here is an example: until mid-19th century female artists could not go down art history; they were in the interzone as they had no access to art education, which does not mean their art was less significant. In fact, that happens to any Other art, including that of the former colonies.
E.Y.: In this project, you look into the interzone of three periods in Russian art: from the avant-garde to the Second World War; the postwar period; and from perestroika to the early 2000s. What is happening to the interzone today?
I.N.: The interzone has a huge liberating potential, which contemporary mainstream culture and big institutions try to appropriate, be it in the most friendly and nice way. Even transgressive art is presented as mainstream and is tamed, just like avant-garde ceased to be radical when it was assimilated by the dominant culture. Today, it is okay to live in your studio, and even outsider artists get “discovered” and exhibited. I do still hope that art can be free and that its main task is to create a space of freedom. I understand that Malevich and Duchamp are important artists, but I believe the most important breakthroughs happen in the background and due to the artists we tend to call secondary.