Sometimes art is where you find it — and what you make of it. Artenol photo illustration
The art of rubbish
By Zinovy Zinik
Two hundred years after the creation of “Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus” by Mary Shelley (1816) and a century after the appearance of Gustav Meyrink’s “The Golem” (1915), Zinovy Zinik has invented an equally formidable monster for the modern age in his new novel, “Sounds Familiar, or The Beast of Artek.” Although Gothic and surreal in its tone, Zinik’s narrative is based on real-life events. Zinik’s neighbor in London, taxidermist artist Gill Russell, served as the basis for the main female character in the novel. In this essay, Zinik muses on Russell’s working life, her personal and artistic struggles — and finds in them parallels to the trials and tribulations of many contemporary artists today. — EditorBritish artists are seriously dismayed these days. They cannot fathom why one decent artist sells for millions of dollars while another falls into oblivion. At this year’s numerous shows, auctions and art fairs, a new breed of millionaire from places like China, India or Russia has purchased works of art for mind-boggling sums of money. These buyers are guided by none of the accepted aesthetic or commercial criteria familiar to curators or art critics. The sums involved are so unpredictable that people become dizzy, losing their sight and sense of perspective. I was told by one dealer close to a few Russian oligarchs that these nouveaux riches are guided solely by personal advisers who have their own corrupt reasons for prompting their bosses to buy this or that artist’s work. The word for “advice” in Russian is soviet, so what’s happening now should be called the sovietisation of the Western world. And I’m only half-joking.
In my paranoid view, the current atmosphere of chaos and disarray in the art world has been deliberately created by the former KGB apparatus, now in power in Russia. They, in cahoots with the Chinese politburo and India’s steel magnates, employ shock tactics of buying works of art without any discernible logic, completely at random, in order to induce panic in the West, the enemy camp. To confuse and destroy its aesthetic system, weaken its social fabric and undermine its moral values, these art-Bolsheviks are laying the groundwork for a new proletarian revolution, with artists as its revolutionary vanguard. Because modern artists are the new proletariat, aren’t they?
Since the liberal 1960s, British art schools have produced so many artists that nobody knows nowadays what to do with them and their superfluous products. These deprived masses of painters and sculptors lead squalid lives in shared accommodations and communal dwellings, places that are miserable, dark and damp, frequently without heat and reminiscent of workhouses. In these conditions, they struggle daily for a morsel of recognition on empty stomachs, biting their nails and paintbrush handles in fits of envy and rage. They are, of course, ripe for rebellion, ready to destroy the capitalist art establishment. But, surprisingly, very few of them rebel, and those who do resort to a kind of punk ideology: they turn their attention to rubbish heaps in order to show to the world that modern art is nothing but junk.
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Gill Russell picks up materials for her creations off the pavement or in dead animal repositories, where one can find furry and feathered victims of road accidents or harsh weather conditions. She is a taxidermist artist.
Ms. Russell and I met in a gymnasium. I had been told by my wife to go to a gym for a minimal physical workout. “You should flex your muscles from time to time,”my wife advised me. “Otherwise, you’ll soon be unable to raise even a glass of whisky in your hand.” So I decided to go the nearest fitness center, the one behind my local pub – once a boxing club, now a grotty place for bodybuilders. There I was met by the corpulent but elegant Gill Russell. An amateur weightlifter, she earns additional income as a gym instructor.
Gill explained to me that she is fascinated by the artificial mix of organic and non-organic matter, the material she uses for her avant-garde art projects. In her life, she said, the muscles of her body are in close contact with steel weights and other instruments of fitness torture; in her sculptures, feathers and mummified flesh are set against the cast-iron nails that she obsessively collects. As visual aspects of the Crucifixion, the nails are crucial for her imagination. The non-organic objects come from London scrapyards, but organic materials are harder to come by. The travails of the taxidermist should not be underestimated in our age of political correctness and animal defense leagues.
Read the rest of this story in the Winter 2016 issue of Artenol. Order yours today
Author Zinovy Zinik interviews taxidermy artist Gill Russell about her work in her London home. YouTube video