“Okay, Proxyah is dead, gotta move on…,” writes artist Viktor Timofeev in an email about what instigated the end to a project and exhibition series that has been running since 2013. “On the one hand, its liberating to allow yourself to have a deep shelf of lived-with material to work with, but on the other, sometimes that same material can feel like a burden, and it’s nice to have an idea or a work just stay behind.” Following its final iteration in a joint exhibition with Joey Holder, called Lament of Ur, a corrupted hard drive and its subsequently lost project files meant the interactive exhibition, video game and performance project steeped in complex logics came to an end Sazarus was born.
Marking a social, conceptual and geographical shift, as Timofeev moved from his base in London to The Netherlands’ Rotterdam, the new series follows advanced themes of “alien planets, estranged relationships, foreign logic, new experiments.” Begun in 2015 and now in it’s fourth volume, realised as the If I could go to sleep, would you count the hours? (SAZARUS IV) exhibition at Leicester’s Two Queens, running March 3 to May 23, the show takes its title from emo rock band AFI’s song ‘At A Glance‘ and follows previous versions shown at Vienna’s Jupiter Woods, and Glasgow’s Voidoid Archive, among others. The ongoing project consists of exhibitions, videos, performances and texts. They expand from a computer-game developed by the artist, and materializes in the English city as an installation that includes a reproduction of a mural from Riga in Latvia and an interactive virtual reality animation of a desolate scene populated only by cockroaches and patrolling drones. .
In light of the new show, Timofeev talks to us about the evolution of the work and how it grew out of a one-off performance and an encounter with the work of performance artist Simone Forti. It was also inspired by “the idea of an obscured logic generating the work, like a hidden or false god, and an audience witnessing this process from within” that happened while watching people interact with his previous project Proxyah computer game project.
** Can you talk us through the project a little bit as a whole?
Viktor Timofeev: At first it was a title for a one-off performance, then was the title of an installation, then a performed computer game and now another installation, so it gradually grew into this iterating work I have been occupied with for the last year. One of its main themes was sparked when I watched people interact with the Proxyah game – or actually when I watched other people watching other people who were interacting with it. The idea of an obscured logic generating the work, like a hidden or false god, and an audience witnessing this process from within became really interesting and clicked into place when I visited the Yvonne Rainer exhibition at Raven Row. Her and Simone Forti’s generative choreography and dance construction pieces blew my mind.
Maybe it seems obvious but it was a very precious moment that I think happens only once in a while — I felt productively shattered in the face of discovering something totally new but totally relevant, and ashamed that I hadn’t found it sooner. So the first iteration of Sazarus was a take on this and was a performance: two performers (at first myself and a friend, and afterwards instructed to strangers) took turns interacting with a specifically-designed game and making semi-automatic drawings, within a closed bracket of time.
** What attracts you to video games as an artistic medium?
VT: There’s lots of territory to explore. Though it does already have a substantial history, I definitely feel free to define what the medium means to myself in a broad way. And even though I‘ve frequently used game engines, the resulting work isn’t always a game in a traditional sense; it’s a way for me to assemble some programming or think about behaviour without a definitive end result… kind of like sketching in real-time. As a result, I’ve made generative works and videos using game engines, which I don’t consider game-related at all. Though can see how that is inextricably linked to it, which is also fine.
VT: In terms of strength, I think games give anyone a chance to remodel or re-stage a world in any way they desire. Accessibility of game engines make it easy to draft up a space with non-realistic physics, scripted behaviour or a rich narrative following an idiosyncratic logic entirely of one’s own making. It is an opportunity to speculate on the outside world, run away from it, criticize it, reflect it, etc. It is a space to make a wrong right, or a right, wrong. This aspect of it is something I find really exciting and empowering.
** All you work feels quite intricately connected, following a very complex logic of symbols and signifiers, is it one that you fully understand yourself?
VT: I definitely have a strong interest in pictograms, characters, isotypes; generally methods of communication that attempt to have a scope beyond the standard written language, and particularly the ambiguities and problems that arise when systems of communication are streamlined, or ‘optimized’ in an attempt a find a base, universal common ground.
In past work I’ve made my own symbols and modified existing ones, considering different kinds of notation and how they might look cross-pollinated — math, logic, public signage, fictional, Unicode, etcetera. What attracts me the most to using a closed vocabulary of symbols within a work, is the ability to craft somewhat of an ecology — a space where symbols can have a relationship to each other and to nothing else external (such as the written language). These symbols are also often broken-down within the work itself (or an accompanying guide), their elements dissected and ‘charted.’ So I really try not to preserve this kind of secret knowledge of a fictional alphabet when using it within a work. But it has grown into somewhat of a fallback for me in terms of a recurring visual language.
VT: It is absolutely conscious. But I hope that this intensity can transcend beyond a ‘violent’ scenario and connect to viewers on another plane, in which it’s possible to pick out base themes, such as relationships and communication failures. For example, in the excerpted video, a barren landscape is populated by a group of cockroaches and patrolling drones. The video cuts between first-person shots from each group – from the ground and from the sky, looking at each other’s movement. A relationship between the two entities is formed that implies an existence of a symbiotic relationship, one of constant observation and mutual interest. There is nothing violent that happens between the two groups outside of observing each other, but nevertheless there is a sinister thread that runs through the video, setting up a tension isn’t really alleviated.**