Waiting For The Barbarians | Egor Fedorichev 26 Oct – 03 Dec 2023
Waiting for the barbarians
25.10 – 03.12.2021
– What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
– The barbarians are due here today.
– Why isn’t anything going on in the senate? Why are the senators sitting there not legislating?
– Because the barbarians are coming today. What’s the point of senators making laws now? Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
– Why did our emperor get up so early, and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate, in state, wearing the crown?
– Because the barbarians are coming today and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader. He’s even got a scroll to give them, loaded with title and imposing names.
– Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today wearing their embroidered, scarlet togas? Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds? Why are they carrying elegant canes beautifully worked in silver and gold?
– Because the barbarians are coming today and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
– Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
– Because the barbarians are coming today, and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
– Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion? (How serious people’s faces have become.) Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly, everyone going home lost in thought?
– Because night has fallen, and the barbarians haven’t come. And some of our men just in from the border say there are no barbarians any more.
– Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? Those people were a kind of solution.
Konstantinos Kavafis «Waiting for the barbarians» (1904)
The empire of the Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafis (1863-1933) is a neglected world defined by a stage of decline where a sense of bitterness is weakened by the habit of decay. It is based on the opposition between Hellenes and barbarians, fundamental to the Greek and Roman civilizations.
Thus, for Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), the relationship between the Greek and the barbarian – master and slave – is the basis of the structure of ancient society. “Barbarian and slave are identical concepts.” A slave “by nature” is a “tool” of the master. A tool (artifact) is incapable of development, that is, of free movement towards its own goals: a slave exists thanks to the execution of will from the outside. Nature – like a free citizen of the Empire – does not need an external stimulus for growth and movement.
K. Kavafis reverses the relationship between the barbaric and the Hellenic. From now on, the barbarian leads as if free “by nature” – he turns into a legislator in the “metaphorical” empire of Kavafis. Ellin, in turn, turns out to be incapable of freely setting goals and designing his own future. The empire turns out to be existentially dependent on the presence of barbarians on the horizon of its planning. This dependence lowers the Empire to the level of a slave dependent on external factors and raises the barbarian to the height of a master who attracts the gaze of the unfree.
There is evidence of this transformation: the events of today – from military operations in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, distracting the population from the problem of the strategic crisis of European civilization, to projects of bio- and gender transformation, leaving the average person with the only alternative – accepting their “artifact” (slave) nature through voluntary-forced transformation of one’s own body and identity.
The leading allegory in the art of Egor Fedorichev is “the state of the air before a thunderstorm.”
“This is a space of stopped time, a feeling that something will happen, although there are no physical prerequisites for this. That’s why I turn to the landscape – to a thin, even ghostly horizontal line in the distance, dividing two different spaces,” says the artist.
The works of Egor Fedorichev put the viewer in the position of the Hellenic Kavafis – a man whose gaze is fixed to the horizon line, waiting for an event from the outside that will design his life, future, and identity. Just as Kavafis’ Hellenes do not notice the folding of time, so the viewer does not notice the compression of pictorial space.
“We look at the horizon and wait for something to appear with the rays of the sun, and this appearance is inevitable, it is felt. While we look fascinated into the distance, into the very silence of the distance, we do not notice how the space is shrinking from the edges, as if it is overgrown with a completely different matter. Something is slowly compressing the space of the landscape in its claws,” says the artist.
He uses industrial bitumen (refined oil) symbolically – it is the frozen thousand-year history of organisms, and the exhaustible resource of the earth, and the shaky basis of the world economy. Bitumen strokes are applied to the landscape as inevitably and imperiously as the civilizational crisis invades the Roman era and the modern landscape. The bitumen layers are not a symbol of the abundance of oil wells, but an expression of the existentially dangerous situation of the modern state: where fundamental strategic changes are required, the “Hellenic” continues to investigate the distance and wait.
MYTH Gallery, St Petersburg
SPHERE Contemporary Art Foundation, Moscow
About the artist:
Egor was born in 1988 in Omsk (Russia). He entered Art Industrial College (Omsk), Russian Academy of Theatrical Art (Moscow), Institute of Contemporary Art, (Moscow) and The Rodchenko Art School (class of Sergey Bratkov, Moscow).