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EXPLOITATION
Anton Konukhov
January 27 - March 13, 2022
Standing there surrounded by works from Anton Konyukhov's newest series, you realize that the conditions for your perception have been pre-set. Although Anton employs rather elementary methods of making an impact on the viewer, they never fail: recognition, luster, and smiles… They are the same methods advertising professionals use to create an attractive image. They've done their market research, and they know what people – and that means you and I – like; they know how to grab our attention. But art had developed its own manipulation toolkit long before marketing came on the scene.

The exhibition title "Exploitation" aggressively underscores this manipulation. Anton's role in this is dual: he is the manipulator and the whistleblower at the same time, painting himself into a corner like a post-structuralist artist might. You use language to criticize language; criticizing institutions, you end up inside one or you yourself become one; and when you criticize manipulation, you expose the manipulator in you.

Konyukhov is not afraid of his double agent role – in fact, he plays it fully and with gusto. There is a trap set for the viewer in exactly the place where the exploitation is exposed. The mirrored surfaces pull your gaze in, the optical distortions beguile you to come nearer and contemplate yourself in them, and the smiles all around make it difficult to not smile yourself. With this framework in place the artist simply lets us take the environment in, smiling benevolently as he nudges us towards narcissistic self-indulgence. Amid the many mirrored surfaces we get to choose the one that gives us the reflection of ourselves that we like best, and the artist will endorse our choice. This is a restorative kind of narcissism: it is sometimes good for you to look at yourself and enjoy what you see. The artist takes advantage of this. The more we stare at these pieces, the more we stare at ourselves. But suddenly the tables turn -- while seemingly looking at ourselves, we are actually looking at the artist's work. The borderline between the viewer and the work begins to fade: when we respond to the artist's work under these preset conditions, we are also responding to our own reflection, to ourselves. And now it is us who have painted ourselves into a corner.

The theme of exploitation reaches its ultimate intensity in this show, so much so that it becomes impossible to ignore the artist's manipulations. And yet we find ourselves unable to feel like whistleblowers in this world of smiles, which welcomes us and lets us simply face ourselves, engrossed in pleasant self-absorption.

Kirill Eltsov