Evgeny Antufiev was born in 1986 in Kyzyl, Russia, and lives in Moscow, Russia. They graduated from the Institute of Contemporary Art, Moscow, in 2009, winning the ‘Kandinsky Prize for the Young Artist: Project of the Year’ during their studies. Their work has been shown at MOSTYN Museum, Llandudno; Emalin, London; M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp; Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow; Manifesta 11, Zurich; and Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia.
Here’s a true story: In a not-too-distant past a child went with their mother on a voyage to Italy. There, they were gifted a toy. The child scrutinised this stuffed figure, the intensity of their stare burrowing into the miniature body until it finally exploded, its toy viscera scattered all across the café floor of this foreign land.* An alchemical moment of transformation from one state into another: and what kind of magic and potentiality lies secreted within us?
It may seem in bad taste to ascribe prophetic meaning to this personal anecdote, but let’s throw caution to the wind. As this incident in the café implies, Evgeny Antufiev is an archaeologist and rampant collector: of materials, of things, of myths spoken and unspoken, that they often configure into installations whose storytelling seams are ripe for the (un)picking. Through their handmade artefacts that often resemble relics of local and global cultures past, they craft their own mythologies through a semi-anthropological approach mixed in with a good dose of kitsch aesthetic.
In their practice, Antufiev privileges organic materials that have accrued symbolic weight through their continued use by human civilisations: animal bones, brass, copper, bronze, ceramics, furs and hides, stone, amber, wood, and feathers. These materials are then coaxed into recurring forms and motifs – cups, vessels, vases, burial urns – gathered together to create tomb- and mausoleum-like environments laden with the enigmatic mysteries claimed by any such ritualistic act. Masks proliferate. For Antufiev, whose practice is informed by their native Tuva, a province in Southern Siberia rich with the archaeological remnants of Scythian warriors and where shamanism is still ingrained in the fabric of everyday life, things are never just what they seem. Rather, they are portals, open invitations into other realities, modes of mythmaking.
‘I love all dead nations.’, Antufiec has proclaimed in the past. We all die one day; and whether it takes decades, centuries or millennia for nations, tribes, communities to wither and disappear, is just a question of time. Yet Antufiev is after the traces that are left behind and that run a common thread: cults of death, memory, time, eternity. Their work bears a distinct gesture of care, love and intimacy conveyed through the artist’s touch. The patchwork elements that make up their hand-stitched shamanistic avatars, with mask-like faces frozen in enigmatic half-smiles and laughs, look to be splitting at the seams but are held together, just.
To return to the question of bad taste, Antufiev nurtures deep affection for items and trinkets – stones, statuettes in kiosks – that others might easily discard and dismiss. For them, kitsch emanates from archaic objects and is transformed by time into a thing of beauty, ‘these objects that are saturated with colour and meaning, a black hole that sucks everything into it.’ As such, Antufiev rejects hierarchies. The artist offers a reminder that the anonymous things we encounter in archaeological museums all have their roots in individual, base quotidian stories, hence the desire to reinvest a personal entity into everything, to the point of museifying scraps of letters, gold jewellery and photographs of their own family members in their exhibitions. The benign smiles of their anthropomorphic half-creatures seem to hint that if we just give up the ghost, more myths and stories lie in wait.
* The artist’s mother’s recollection in ‘Who’s Evgeny Antufiev?’ on the occasion of their first exhibition in Italy at the Collezione Maramotti, 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jappmfLlRc (last accessed: 05/04/2018)