• Tatyana Kondratenko

Tamara Sokolova: an exhibition project "Some are Such. Others are Such", 2014


tells about the momentous personal exhibition of "", which took place in 2014 in , (Minsk, Belarus). She also describes the way of the transformation of artist’s conceptual and plastic approaches basing on the example of sculptural works created over the past decade.

Personal project of Tamara Sokolova: "Some are Such. Others are Such", 2014 / The main hall of the Azgur Museum / © – photo: Aleksandra Kononchenko

″I believe that the limit of interpretation lies in the work itself. My duty is to make the work tell what it would like tell say by the means of new language or new power by placing it into the choir of unexpected voices; by endowing it with a loud voice and putting it into a new space with its nuances, where the work is at risk of not being recognized″

Massimiliano Gioni: The limits of interpretation, October 2013

″I also recall something about the portrait of Stalin, which gazed somewhere on the left and up and did not want to pay attention to me, despite all my childish efforts. I recall the portrait of Lenin as well, which passed through me at all″

Dmitry Prygov: Monads, chapter Leave your bewilderment, 1993

Both quotes were used in the concept of the Tamara Sokolova’s project "Some are Such. Others are Such".

The operational field of Tamara Sokolova is a Euclidean space and the tools are basic geometric figures. Her sculptures and objects are cubes with slotted through-voids, orthogonal constructions, which resemble the details of unknown mechanisms, and compositions, constructed of modular units. They belong equally to minimalism and conceptual art. Like any minimalism, these works are laconic and rationally comprehensible. Despite all these qualities (and maybe perhaps because of them) the sculptures of Tamara Sokolova appeared to be a real tool of transgression in the project, which became an arena where the relationships between power and strength were encoded by the artist. But at the same time the very idea of an ‘exhibit item’ was called into question.

Personal project of Tamara Sokolova: "Some are Such. Others are Such", 2014 / The main hall of the Azgur Museum / © photo: Sergey Zhdanovich

In 2014, a significant personal exhibition project Some are such. Others are such was carried out by sculptor Tamara Sokolova in the Memorial museum of Zaire Azgur Museum in Minsk. The exposition of the project took place in two halls. The main principle of the spatial organization was ‘the scene in the scene’, in other words, according to principle of recursion, as the critics call it today (C. Egenhofer). ‘The big scene’ was the institution (museum), and the incorporated scene was the stage – podium itself where some of the art pieces of the artist were exponated. ‘The big scene’ ( the ‘frame’) which is an institutional figuration is the Museum of Zaire Azgur, a soviet sculptor, the representative of Social Realism, the author of monumental and easel sculptures of portrait genre. Accordingly, the museum collection consists of his sculptures: the portraits of heroes, leaders of political parties, and cultural figures of the past which were collected in the halls in great numbers. They were installed on the floor and on the shelves very tightly due to the amazingly extensive heritage of the sculptor who created almost one and a half thousand works. Tamara Sokolova’s project was built into the permanent exhibition of the museum that consisted of Azgur’s sculptures with all their usual affectation, gestures, pathos and theatricality (as they were created for propaganda). Such originally given theatricality was reinforced in the project in all possible ways by using stage-podium and stage light. The works of Tamara Sokolova appeared as actors, and the works of Azgur were the spectators. Most importantly is that there was its own drama, that is, an experiment with two visual modes: minimalism and socialist realism. In order to better understand the idea of this dramaturgy and this experiment it is necessary to get accustomed with the Tamara Sokolova’s works and to follow the genesis of the works shown in the project.

Regained from the chaos

The creation of orthogonal figures of Tamara Sokolova, as well as the works of Donald Judd or Max Bill stems from the need for clarity, simplicity, as something won from the chaos. These searches for clarity were Tamara’s reaction to the ‘turbulence’ of the 1990s during the collapse of the Soviet Union. ″The more complicated, confusing became the life around, the purer and clearer the forms had to be″, she says. The movement to the simple orthogonal forms was caused by the psychological mechanism of compensation, that is, it was a real search for the support in the Symbolic, as it is understood by Lacan and Foucault.

© Tamara Sokolova, sculptures Ladder, Embrasure, Window, 1996 / © – photo: Aleksandra Kononchenko, the second hall of Azgur Museum, 2014

, , which were created in 1996 have all the characteristics of the ‘concrete art’: the rationalization of the construction principle, organized and easily understandable relation between the parts and the whole, weight, strength and ponder ability. As it was noted by Max Imdahl, the aspire for evidence, the openness to the consciousness, rationality was programmed for a concrete plastic. A rejection was also the ’embedded’ or inner purpose of Tamara Sokolova, as well as the detachment from the environment and the establishment of her own identity, distinct from the others. The work based on intuition is the base of her investigation, not the theory. At the same time, the intention remains subjective and spontaneous and the reliance on the artistic environment, manifesto or program is not possible here.

Generally, evidence is a dangerous thing. Often, the ‘evident’ is only a facade. Usually it is the simple forms which are the carriers of the ‘floating sense’. The form making in the works of Tamara Sokolova is sequentially simplifying during 1997-2004. This struggle with the subject and with imitation was occurring consiously and intentionally, but it was slow and seemed to be spasmodic at the same time. It is the issue of the transition from subject plastic to non-subject, then to a concrete plastic, and finally, to minimalism. This transformation in the work of the artist began in the second half of the 80s when the process of figurative ceramics was simplifying, which tended for more laconic and eventually abstract forms. In the 90s, Tamara Sokolova started to create abstract orthogonal shapes which obtained the status of objects rather than sculptures. In the late 90’s transformable objects appeared which consisted of modular units.

You can notice the ambivalence of these searches which was directed to the mutually exclusive goals. The watershed (or value-line) lies between those works that claim physicality and materiality, and those that overcome physicality and claim metaphysical categories.

© Tamara Sokolova, various works:

This conflict is much deeper than a simple confrontation between subjective and non-subjective. To mention the words of Imdahl, some objects of Sokolova are ‘identical to themselves’, that is, they don’t mean anything else, except what they truly are [Embrasure and Window (1996), Ladder (1997)]. And here there is an analogy with the searches of Carl Andre, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, Norbert Kricke. At the same time, there are works, which redirect to non-material phenomena, such as and (1994), (1995), and (1997). These works are definitely ′relatives′ of ′Coloana infinitului′ by Constantin Brâncuși. And, finally, there are such that redirect to ′other bodies′, which are Bridge, Yellow Dog and Twain (1995), (1997).

© Tamara Sokolova, various works:

What makes it difficult is that described directions are facing different sides. This multidirectionality presents in the work of the artist simultaneously and it is the result of a big task that she solves: to cover, introject, ‘touch with her own hands’ the history of European art of the twentieth century, which is known only conventionally and that we ‘missed’; as well as to compensate the experience which the belarusian art never had. That is why bridging the Gap with Vitebsk avant-garde may be seen. However, it relies not on the theory and practice of , but mostly on its ‘western transcription’ and on the works of such artists as Donald Judd and Carl Andre.

The chains

Within the project Some are such. Others are such the objects composed of modular units were presented on a specially constructed podium in the main hall of Azgur Museum. It is the objects-transformers, they can be combined, stretched, put together in different ways for every time. The mechanism of unit division and joining of all the parts together is important here. The works Multiplication, Alternation, Phenomenon are regular repetitive compositions, actional chains, which have a linear direction. They are unfolding, occurring, making a forward movement, which is originated not by the elements themselves but by what is between them, by their intermittency and sequence.

Special structural units have the power which arose due to their alternation. They lose independent value and become ‘monads’, but not in the sense understood by the Pythagoreans (in other words, not as the primary divine beings). The ‘monad’ here has the same understanding as it is in functional programming. It is considered to be an entity which hides functions with the ‘side effect’.

© Tamara Sokolova, Phenomenon 3, 1994.

The concrete meaning of the Sokolova‘s sculpture becomes clear in the example of works Phenomenon 1 and Phenomenon 3 (1994). The side effect (i.e. the plastic value of a single item) of Yavlenie 1 is hidden. The whole unity only exists: the function which emerged between the elements is movement. Phenomenon 3 does not have a chain and the element cannot be called to be a ‘monad’ as here the ‘side effect’ speaks in a loud voice.

The emptiness and corporeity

One common characteristic of the works of Tamara Sokolova is that they contain emptiness. The unique technology is that the artist creates geometric planes with fire clay. Firstly, she rolls the layers of clay, then cuts them out and designs the volume. The works of clay are burned and covered with various enamels, which conceal the materiality of clay so that the sculptures look like cast-iron or lead. Anyway, the appear to be heavy, massive, weighty and pressing. But in reality these ‘Lead’ shapes are hollow. They encapsulate emptiness, absence. This characteristic becomes the deterninative during their perception. Being aware of the emptiness, we begin to think about the Sokolova‘s sculptures not in terms of a form or volume, but of a surface which locks the volume. The absence hidden inside becomes important, not the conjugation of forms itself. Therefore, we are dealing with the dialectics of presence and absence, which is the base pair of entire structuralism. Psychoanalysis based on structuralism (i.e. Lacanian psychoanalysis) speaks of comforting presence or disturbing, mysterious absence. Moreover, Lacan called the absence to be wide-openness and gaping. In this regard he wrote: ″The unconscious is that chapter of my history that is marked by a blank or occupied by a falsehood″.

This dyad of the presence and absence is particularly important while considering the voids inside the ‘wells’ of Tamara Sokolova. The wells, which were exhibited in a separate hall of the museum – are ‘open sculptures’. It is a volume opened to space that freely flows into and fills it. An obvious division between ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ spaces takes place here. The negative space here is the emptiness inside the well and the positive one is the emptiness inside of the object. The emptiness also appears in many other works Sokolova: in lattice structures made of wood, which refer us to pracyise of Sol LeWitt, and in the graphic seres of (Through, 2006) where on the graphite-filled surface the spaces or emptiness are left. Considering the emptiness, the referrence can me mabe to Heidegger and Lacan, but the surface which is the second player in this field is, of course, the category of Deleuze. Therefore, the basic figures of the twentieth century philosophy are linked together in the same phenomena. Hollow orthogonal objects of Sokolova deploy the viewer to reflection on where the all the ontologies begin – the problem of being exactly in those categories, which have been characterized by post-structuralism in the second half of the ХХ century.

© Tamara Sokolova, graphic sheets selected from a Hindurch series, 2006:

As it was described above, when it comes to fireclay, there is a number of technical difficulties connected to the emptiness inside, which is almost impossible in this kind of material. It is the result of ‘matter overcoming’. In other words, it is about the overcoming of the natural qualities such as plasticity, pliancy, strength that are characteristic for fireclay. Such category as ‘perfect performance’, about which Tamara speaks, is very important for the understanding of her works as it turns us to the idea of substance. And here the attention should be paid to the importance of the material itself in the practice of Tamara Sokolova.

The clay of Sokolova seems to be indifferent to those ideas that it embodies in contrast to the way the lead of Santiago Serra or copper of Anselm Kiefer work. It is even antagonistic. Indeed, isn‘t it paradoxical that the clay – that is the earth – becomes a medium for Heidegger‘s philosophy? This paradox is inhanced by the ‘matter overcoming’, its raping, which is executed by Tamara Sokolova at three levels. They are the imposition of the unusual characteristics (hardness) to fireclay, the simulation of other materials (iron) and the creation of the illusion of heaviness in the light forms.

© Tamara Sokolova, the work presented at the group exhibition She can not say the Sky, 2011:

An unexpected somersault is seen in the recent works of Tamara Sokolova: theming and strengthening are revealed instead of ‘matter overcoming’. Matter is not the medium here and does not undergo allegorical overcoming. For the first time it is presented as a ‘signifier’, ie as an allegory. The thin and elongated of clay, which were shown at the exhibition " (2011) are the items-materials. But at the same time, being taken together, they become a transformative object since they can be shifted and composed to each other in different ways. It’s like a ‘halfway stop’. Sokolova′s sticks are like language phonemes: they present nothing by themselves alone, but contain the potential, the possibility to become something, the ability to construct the meaning.

The power

The sculpture of social realism is directly connected to power; it was created in order to assert power. If the fact that the sculpture is a language is mentioned, the plastic of Zair Azgur’s may be called to be the Encratic language, that is, the language of power. Bart writes about such language as the language of repetition in its very essence: ″All official institutions are the machines which constantly produce one and the same structure and one and the same sense. Stereotype is a political phenomenon. It is the very personification of an ideology…″ .

The ideologized character and the constant repetition are the unchangable attributes of Azgur’s sculpture. Moreover, the important feature of these works is that like portrait works they were created on photographs. That is, there was a relation not on the living forms, but on the ‘trace’ on the one hand and on the ideology on the other. Therefore, they were the representation of the second order. In contrast to them the works of Sokolova, as it was described earlier, do not rely on any external bases (ideology) and do not copy anything. Being the objects of a particular art, they represent only themselves, the surface and the emptiness which is carried inside. In this sense they are ‘real’ as do not imitate other bodies and, all the more, do not imitate another imitation.

Personal project of Tamara Sokolova: "Some are Such. Others are Such", 2014 / The main hall of the Azgur Museum / © photo: Sergey Zhdanovich

The whole mise en scene, which Tamara Sokolova creates in her project is a direct ‘print’ of a state we were immersed in during the Soviet period. That is why the ‘visual conflict’ which is created here does not cause rejection. On the contrary, the absurdity, the impossibility of such existence is surprisingly understandable, it even seems to be recognizable. However, this scenography arguably emotionally affects only the audience of those born no later than 1980. The younger spectator comprehends it perhaps only intellectually. But in both cases the metaphor of power reveals from the confrontation between the two artistic systems, which are so obviously hostile to each other. It is the relationship of forces, which operates in the apparatus of production, in the family, in the institutions and permeates all the social body the same way as it was in the 60s or 70s. Types of domination or ‘hegemonic effects’, as they are called by Bart, connect all the local clashes and homogenize the socium. They are uninterruptable, unavoidable, unbalanced, heterogeneous, unstable and tense. That is, they are precisely such as it appeared in the project Some are such. Others are such. This project showed the power as a force that is constantly carried out from numerous points.

The spectator appeared to be included in the created field of forces and the game of inequality relations. He became a part of the spectacle. After all, it is exactly as in a play, as the sense of processuality inevitably presented in the project Some are such. Others are such as well as the sense that ‘something is happening’. The spectator was irritated, he became an ‘incidental’ victim of the inversion, which was made by the artist for the concepts of ‘the object of observation’ and ‘observer’ in relation to her works and the sculptures of Azgur.

Tamara Sokolova ‘stepped back’ in the project Some are such. Others are such. She suspended from her objects and sculptures and took to them a dual position of the author and the ‘user’ at the same time. She dealt with her own works as with the tools, building a new dialectical constellation, where each entity was determined not in itself, but only in opposition to the others. Azgur′s Museum appeared to be a container in this constellation, which was filled up to the top by the outlandish historical surrogate. The halls of the museum turned into a theater from the repository, where the spectators were dead and exalted at the same time. The wells harboring the emptiness and the transformable objects of Sokolova turned to be the main action heroes. They subjugated the surrounding space by causing the ‘shift’ in it and filling it with the new semantics simultaneously.


The author:

Project name:
personal exhibition "".

Date of project realization:
May 27 – July 12, 2014.


The number of presented sculptures:

Names and the period of the creation of presented works:

Main hall:
, 1994; , 1994; , 1994; , 1995; , 1995; , 1999; , 1998.

Additional room:
, 1996; , 1996; , 1997; , 1997.

sculpture; chamotte, enamel, in some cases: fireclay, copper, fuming.

Current location of the works (2015):
the author’s property.

Key publications:
, magazine “”, No. 8 (p. 8–9), Minsk, 2014;
, Mastatstva magazine, No. 6 (p. 5), Minsk, 2014.

Other presentations (until 2015):
2015, "" (documentation of the exhibition shown), Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland.


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    Egenhofer, Sebastian. Unselbstverstaändlichkeit. Exerzitien über die Konventionalität der Kunst. über Rosemarie Trockel in der Kunsthalle Zürich. Texte zur Kunst, 2010 – S. 240-244

  • 2

    M. Imdal. The experience of another vision: articles on the art of X-XX centuries (the original: Max Imdahl, Gesammelte Schriften in 3 Bd., 1996). – K .: Spirit i Litera, 2011. – 488 p.

  • 3

    Black Sun Yu Kristeva. Black sun. Depression and melancholy (the original: Julia Kristeva, Soleil noir. Depression et melancolie, 1987). – Μ .: Kogito Center, 2010. – 282 p.

  • 4

    Bart R. Selected Works: Semiotics: Poetics (original: Roland Barthes, Le division des langages, 1973). Translated from French. / Comp., red. and intro. art. G.K. Kosikova. – Moscow: Progress, 1989. – 616 p.

  • 5



  • Tatyana Kondratenko
  • Tamara Sokolova
  • Karina Shlykova
  • Konstantin Selihanov
  • Alesia Beliavets
  • UNOVIS (Hardeners of the New Art)
  • Zair Azgur Memorial Studio Museum
  • Mastactva
  • Mastactva (Art)