Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Pinocchio Library

Petr Belyi has been nominated for the Kandinsky Prize, the Russian equivalent of the Turner Prize. His wooden library, alongside other works by contemporary artists, is being shown in an exhibition at the Louise Blouin Foundation in London curated by Oleg Kulik. Belyi studied at the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg and in the graphics department at Camberwell College in London, before returning to live and work in St Petersburg. Much of his work explores the legible and the illegible.

Belyi's library comprises several distressed wooden bookshelves, which might have been rescued from a ramshackle Russian estate. Old scraps of paper are peeling from their sides, and you might expect to see spiders scurrying back to cobwebs between the books, if a contemporary art space wasn't such an unlikely place to find a spider. Strung on scarcely-visible wires from the ceiling, the bookshelves are reminiscent of the ladders in Louise Bourgeois' etchings, which float, never touching the ground or permitting human ascent. But Pinocchio's shelves are less equivocal. In size and stolid construction they echo 1960s tower blocks, rather than the miniature, delicate creature I imagined Pinocchio to be. The rough-hewn planks representing reading matter seem at home within the wooden barack structure which the architect Boris Bernaskoni has created to transform this Western white cube into a more fitting environment for Russian art.

Olesya Turkina and Viktor Mazin write in the Kandinsky Prize catalogue:

The books from Pinocchio's library point to the form and material of a wooden log, they pass on that memory from which the hero was born. The library preserves the knowledge in which a real boy is conceived.

Imprisoned in the wooden books, Pinocchio represents inaccessible knowledge, the melancholy law of provenance. It's as if Pinocchio's father, with a knife in hand, never came, the father who would have carved, would have given him form, pulled him out of imprisonment. The book-log preserves the secret.

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