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Gallery1- Irina Danilova
Gallery1- Irina Danilova

presentation, artist talk
June 3, 19:00
studio.ra contemporary art
Via Bartolomeo Platina 1F – 00179 Roma (Italy)  + 39 06 43417800 | +39 349 1597571
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Text by Yulia Tikhonova

“My job as an artist is “…to make words and numbers very, very special.” Robert Indiana, 1972

The above words by Robert Indiana who attributed special meaning to numbers, can be applied to the practices of Irina Danilova, a Russian-born, NYC-based artist, passionately working with number 59*. If for Indiana, numbers signify either a color, or a season, for Danilova, the number can be a framework for durational performances or repetitive quantity or just a graphical shape. If Indiana installed his sculptures of numbers permanently, Danilova’s installations and video works reflect artistic discoveries in progress. If Indiana fabricated by seamless industrial methods, Danilova mounts her installations in a do-it-yourself manner. From all the numbers, Danilova only uses 59 for her works, and the artist has found its repetitions in daily life for the last 18 years. After graduating from Kharkov Art Academy, Ukraine, Danilova started to peruse conceptual practices, which she continued upon her arrival in NYC at the School of Visual Arts. Here, in 1995, she started Project 59, which became her “idée fixe.” The artist can repeat after Indiana that she made a special number for herself, and inspired and mystified the audience by its significance.

When Danilova arrived in NYC, she decided to learn about her new home: the American society, its history and politics. She was determined to become a part of the community. The artist said, “Soon after arriving from “the best in the world country” into “the best country in the world”, I created several projects that reflected the process of adaptation to my new environment and migration experiences.” With the Cold War politics still fresh in her mind, Danilova responded to the powerful image of the American nation in her installation and web-project “National and Geographic,”1996-2000. The artist made her own version of the American flag, which counts 59 stars. By her estimation, in the year 2059, Americans will elect their 59th president. So far the President’s name never started with the letters D, I, S and so on… and there have been no presidents from the states of Al, AK, AZ, CO… and so forth. Danilova hung a version of the American flag with 59 stars on the wall, with printed portraits of the past presidents. She left a number of stars blank to include the faces of future presidents. In her video the artist asks us to be fair in the next presidential elections, and to vote for a candidate who comes from the omitted states. This project coincided with the election years and before Barak Obama became a president, last names that started with “O” and candidates from HI were available for consideration (by Danilova’s system, where race and gender are aimed by association). In “National and Geographic” the number 59 was used as a framework for the artist’s subjective reading of American history.  The idiosyncratic interpretations of the American flag by Jasper Johns come to mind, and so the words by the art critic Michael Crichton about Johns: “The numbers exist only in the imagination. We write them every day, we use them all the time, but they remain stubbornly abstract in a peculiar way.” Danilova treats her 59 like an abstract concept, when she uses it to determine the number of repetitions. Each project has 59 parts, and every action is repeated 59 times. 59 serves her as a vehicle to execute her observations about U.S politics or life around her. This idiosyncratic self-limitation to a random format provided Danilova with a conceptual framework, and allowed her to step in feet of many artists in NYC.

Danilova limits her actions to 59 repetitions in the performances 59 Breaths (1995), 59 feet under the water (1998), 59 Seconds Video Festival (2005-2008), US59 (2005-ongoing), 59 Dollar bill (1995-ongoing), 59 self-portraits, (1995). These actions continue her interest in durational performances. During the 80s, every four years on the same day, Danilova performed “Meaning of Life” -a performance which included shaving off all her hair, preserving braids, and exhibiting them as a wall installation. Her four years restriction came from the Olympics Game schedule, which was popular in Russia.  The artist’s haircut is a gesture, which symbolizes loss. Her repetition subverts time, whereby re-enacting the same action over and over, the artist negates the years passed between each action. Her creative power is stronger than the passage of time. In these works, Danilova continues traditions of the Russian Conceptualists, a group of artists, who adopted idea driven art practices to the absurdity of socialist reality. Alike to these artists, Danilova uses repetitive actions mimicking the demands of the Soviet officials.  Similarly to Soviet identity, Danilova’s work is self-produced, low-cost and communal – involving the assistance of her close friends. She finds her materials at hand, and she re-uses her medium. Upon moving to the U.S, Danilova enriched her work by the inspirations taken from the Western art.

A recent immigrant, Danilova was eager to walk the streets of New York. She needed to comprehend how this friendly city was pictured as an enemy by the Cold War propaganda. Danilova calls this project City Drawings. She treats the fabric of urban environment as a sheet of paper for her movements. She traces her walks by using her mobile phone with implemented GPS technology. So-called locative media, which includes location aware mobile communicative devices, leads the artist through her zigzags passage along the city streets. When traced on the computer, her travels’ outline makes the numbers 5 and 9. To place her movements into the city context, the artist superimposes her driving, riding or walking traces on to the city map. These prints are pictorial representation of her movement in the urban environment, her subjective readings of the space, led yet again by the 5 and 9 “rule.” Danilova was inspired by a variety of visuals achieved in this project, when she decided to walk in different cities: Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago to name a few. There, she takes public transport or drives a car. The outlines of 59 depend on each city’s streets configuration, producing straight lines, but sometimes, the numbers turn out uneven and curvy. The City Drawings are a playful and a personal mark on the urban geography. The artist remembers her first years in NYC when she felt her emotional and physical isolation. Through these walks she contributed to the cultural history of each city, and became a part of life.

In her recent exhibition Tracking Signals High and Low at the Active Space, in Brooklyn, Danilova added a sculptural component to her installation.  She used a rope to connect two parallel walls, on which she draws the numbers 5 and 9. The artist crossed her rope several times through the holes in each corner of the numbers. Reminiscent of Duchamp’s 16 miles of string, her installation reads like a playful intervention into the space, and an additional way to visualize her physical movement. Danilova’s persistence in the use of locative media was recognized by the Vilcek foundation, as an important effort to talk about her immigration experience through the framework of conceptual art. Her work is captivating by proving that the creative approach transcends borders and nationalities. The artist embraces today’s reality and its mobility in the context of post-Soviet migration. When thousands of Russians came to the US after the dissolution of the USSR, the artist feels a part of the multi-national artists’ group that is assimilating within their new cultures.

So, there are many layers under the numbers in Danilova’s work. We wonder, what is her reason for treating number 59 as a significant concept. I was surprised to learn that there is nothing special behind the 59. There is no romantic story of meeting her husband in this year, or something like that. When Danilova started this project in 1995, she flipped the two last figures of the year and created the number 59. Since then, the number became a part of her conceptual language and a guideline. With confidence as every artist holds, Danilova makes us wonder and look for a meaningful reason behind this. It’s also a power of the artist to turn a small detail into a wonderful and important concept, which inspires the viewer. Danilova does this well.

Yulia Tikhonova

Gallery4-Irina Danilova
Gallery4-Irina Danilova


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Yulia Tikhonova

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