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Sof'ya Shpurova 'Low Human Activity'

01.11.19 - 13.12.19

Preview: Thursday 31 October 2019, 5.30pm - 7.30pm

For ‘Low Human Activity’, Russian artist Sof’ya Shpurova will present a new series of paintings and ceramic sculptures, which derive from an accumulation of influences that span her native country’s connection with historical icon painting and mysticism, as well as other overtly personal references that often depict the artist as a central figure in her work. Shpurova has an appreciation for contemporary paintings’ often complex discourse, its material properties, as well as ceramics’ alchemical transformational qualities. She acknowledges time and issues of multiple temporalities in painting as an integral element to her thinking and methodology; her practice demonstrates a commitment to working at a slow pace, sometimes reworking old paintings through pentimento in many layers. This is Shpurova’s first solo exhibition anywhere in the world.

An extract from an interview with Shpurova by Alastair MacKinven and Andrew Hunt follows. The full transcript is available here.

Alastair MacKinven: There is a stylisation in the way you paint yourself, a stiffness of rendering, and you also enlarge your eyes. This reminds me of Russian icon painting. Do you have an interest in this genre? When you paint yourself are you turning yourself into an icon?

Sof’ya Shpurova: I like introverted techniques. Appreciating Russian icon painting came to me when I had some time away from them and a certain distance associating these works with the church. The more I subsequently looked at them, the more I realised how strange these paintings are; they seem to lack influence, and this resonates with me, because they are really trying to be their own thing. Paradoxically, the artist’s influence is diminished, because there were so many rules about how to make Russian icon painting: you could almost say they are artworks made with no purpose to be art. I think I have a similar attitude to this process, but to suggest that I’m turning myself into an icon seems a bit too literal to me.

Andrew Hunt: Your interest in Russian religious iconography connects to your personal family history, for example you use your collection of your mother’s postcards from her youth to make paintings with encrusted surfaces containing decayed icons. Can you tell me about this imagery?

SS: The reason why this iconography resonates is probably due to the fact that I’ve looked at these images so many times without wanting to. The fact that these pictures were so precious was annoying for me when I was growing up. My mother used to collect all kinds of postcards; there are piles of them in my room in Moscow. I took them because I like going through old things, imagining that I’m an archaeologist. These images have a double history because the postcards are old, while the images are even older. I like decaying objects, and with these icons it’s crazy to think of how many different people’s hands they have been through; how many prayers they have heard.

The most fascinating thing related to painting of course, is the element of time and what this temporal register does in each work. Time, in terms of rhythm and repetition creates such beautiful things, for example, seasonal time and plant growth, precious stones forming in the earth in geological time, death and rebirth, and so on. Similarly, painting is affected by time in so many ways, through its process of making and the history of the medium, as well as the era in which it was painted. It’s a very important tool. Old icon paintings have amazing surfaces for all of these reasons.

AH: Why did you choose the title ‘Low Human Activity’?

SS: This is the phrase that I use to currently describe the paintings that I make. Hopefully it’s also quite a humorous statement. To me, it implies a painful awareness of being human and also an irreverent insult to the act of painting.

Alastair MacKinven is an artist based in London. He has had recent exhibitions at Reena Spaulings in New York and at Maureen Paley in London (the latter with Behrang Karimi). He was a tutor of Sof’ya Shpurova while she was a student at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Andrew Hunt is a curator and writer based in London and Manchester, and is currently Professor of Fine Art and Curating at Manchester Metropolitan University.

  1. Installation view of 'Low Human Activity
  2. The clay-veined girl holds trem-bling skin (me as a retort), Oil on cotton, 2019
  3. Sad resting garden, Glazed ceramic with oil paint, 2019
  4. Spaceship, Glazed ceramic, 2019