Slavs and Tatars is a collective whose installations, lectures, publications, and multiples focus on relationships between Western cultures and the Eastern world. At MoMA, the group presents the new installation Beyonsense, which takes its title from a translation of “zaum” — the term used to describe abstract language experiments undertaken by artists and authors in the early 20th century— celebrates twists of language across cultures, histories, and geographies. The project was developed, in part, from their study of the Museum’s collection of more than 1,000 Russian avant-garde illustrated books. For the show, they have designed a reading room of an unconventional sort, featuring their text pieces and artist’s books, which incorporate a multitude of languages (Farsi, Russian, English, and Hebrew) and scripts (Latin, Cyrillic). The suspended light fixture is inspired by a work that the American artist Dan Flavin made for a New York mosque. Stressing an attitude of discourse and hospitality within the museum setting, Slavs and Tatars encourage visitors to linger in the space, leaf through the publications, and encounter the installation.
Slavs and Tatars, whose members are active in Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East, work in a variety of formats and pin their practice to a defined geographic region of Eurasia—the vast expanse stretching, roughly, from the former Berlin Wall to the Great Wall of China. Living and traveling extensively in the region, Slavs and Tatars first collaborated in 2006 on projects that explored expansive historical and cultural narratives and the stereotypes and prejudices that cling to these topics. Islamic mysticism, the decline of Communism, the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and agricultural traditions in the Caucasus are among the diverse issues they have investigated, freely transgressing cultural registers and humorously blending academic tropes with pop vernacular. To communicate the many threads of their inquiry, they create inviting environments—combining bold graphic design elements, traditional craft objects, and sometimes food—where visitors can pause and experience their work.
Project 98: Slavs and Tatars, 15th August – 10th December, MoMA, 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019. www.moma.org
Slavs and Tatars
Brick and wheat turban with fabric lining
Photo courtesy the artists