– Autumn/Winter 2017

'The Issue of Corporeality Through the Prism of Tactility' in Rustam Khalif's Art

Yuliya Sorokina

Rustam Khalfin, Untitled, c.1990–2000, black-and-white photograph, 10 × 15cm. Photograph: Larissa Andreyeva. Courtesy the Astral Nomads Digital Archive, Almaty

Rustam Khalfin (1949–2008) was an artist, curator and one of the founders of contemporary art in Kazakhstan. His philosophy was based on a certain nomadic world view: it was obvious to him that nomadism should be the form-building, cementing solution of a new collective identity in the young nation. To this end, he introduced new formal elements of modernist art into local art processes, and constantly attempted to modernise and conceptualise an archaic artistic environment rooted in Socialist Realism. He pioneered a number of essential artistic elements – the concept, the curator, installations, environments, performances – in the art communities of Almaty and far beyond, across

  1. The phrase 'The Issue of Corporeality Through the Prism of Tactility' is Rustam Khalfin’s. See R. Khalfin, ‘Nulevoi Uroven’. Glinyanyi Proekt (project brochure), Almaty: LOOK Gallery, 1999, p.2. Unless otherwise noted, all translations mine.

  2. Yuliya Sorokina and Svetlana Shklyayeva, ‘The Eurasian Utopia: The Legacy of the Nomadic Modernist’, Third Text, vol.29, issue 6, 2015, pp.511–25.

  3. ‘Nomadic modernism' is a term that I use to reflect the nature of Khalfin’s creativity as a local modernity.

  4. Malevich used to say to the students of the State Institute of Artistic Culture (GINHUK): ‘It will be a school, not a job in the field art, which you will be doing later, developing your OWN additional element.’ Malevich o sebe, Sovremenniki o Maleviche, pis’ma, dokumenty, vospominaniya, kritika (vol.2), Moscow: RA, 2004, p.310.

  5. Lydia Blinova, ‘Hand and Eye’, in Rustam Khalfin (exh. cat.), Almaty: Soros Foundation, 1995, p.9.

  6. Keith Moxey, ‘Visual Studies and the Iconic Turn’, Journal of Visual Culture, vol.7, issue 2, 2008, pp.131–46.

  7. L. Blinova, ‘Eroscope ili Aktivnyi Eroticheskiy Ob’ekt’, in Rustam Khalfin, op. cit., 1995, p.25.

  8. Bayan Barmankulova, in Rustam Khalfin, op. cit., p.9.

  9. Sergei Kalmykov (1891–1967) was a pioneering Almaty avant-garde artist.

  10. Ignutov was a fictional character-artist.

  11. Rustam Khalfin in ‘Parade of Galleries’ [press release], Kasteev State Museum of Arts, Almaty, 1997, p.2. Another notable intellectual influence was Valery Podoroga and his writings on the phenomenology of the body.

  12. What Khalfin understood by this, I think, is public actions of vanguard artists – for instance, the Futurists and OBERIU (Ob'edinenie Real'nogo Iskusstva), as well as Viennese Actionism itself.

  13. As we know, Beuys claimed to have escaped from a burning Luftwaffe aircraft during the Second World War.

  14. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Nomadology: The War Machine (trans. Brian Massumi), Semiotext(e)/The MIT Press, 1986.

  15. In the name of the gallery we may trace a hint of the main weapon of the nomad/warrior/hunter, the bow and arrow (in Russian the word ‘bow’ is spelled and pronounced luk) as well as a play on the English word ‘look’. This shows two ways of approaching the topos of the project.

  16. R. Khalfin, in ‘Nulevoi Uroven’. Glinyanyi Proekt, op. cit., p.2.

  17. ‘Northern barbarians’ was how the Chinese referred to the nomads they fenced off with the Great Wall of China.

  18. Victor Misiano, quoted in ‘V. Misiano ob iskusstve Central’noj Azii’, an unpublished interview from 2005 in my personal archive.