The cultural position of the artist duo Marta Volkova and Slava Shevelenko is determined by their Russian origin, their political social commitment, humor and professionalism.
The oeuvre of Marta and Slava occupies an important place in the complexity of contemporary society. Since 2017, the year in which Donald Trump was elected President of America (but actually earlier: after Wikileaks), everyone has become aware that the truthfulness with which history unfolds to the individual is extremely precarious.
In the past, people in the West were amazed at the ease with which lying dictatorships in the Eastern bloc, the Soviet Union and China used the then current media to communicate their own unique version of history. Dictatures that have contributed to an important part of the personal history of Marta and Slava.
This public bewilderment has since evolved into a kind of generally applicable reality. A kind of indignant acceptance.
Within this context, the works of Marta and Slava play a shameless game of fact and fiction with which they stage an “official” history and then intertwine it with their personal history. They use humor to make it clear to the public that history is a manageable phenomenon and applies to those who want to believe it. That humor – which is mainly expressed by language elements – makes that science bearable, but the indignation is no less great.
In such a situation it is the autobiography, the personal history that remains.
In addition, the work is based on the professional way in which both artists were trained at the St. Petersburg Academy. The ability to combine different style elements from art history with more contemporary elements from contemporary visual culture supports the smile, the humor, but also shows a wonderful mix of academism versus autonomy, originality versus copy, authenticity versus cynicism, art history versus political reality.
All in all, Marta and Slava are skilled, critical and clever storytellers in a time when storytelling has become dominated by manipulation, trickery and deception. It hardly seems to be about the original imagination that stories can have. Their work takes us back to the wonder that takes hold of us when we can fully surrender to the temptation of the story without the idea that we are being cheated
Text: Erik de Jong, head of fine arts, MAFAD (Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts and Design).