Art-Science Calendar of Events NYC

This calendar is an initiative of the Art Science Observatory, in collaboration with SciArt in America, Beautiful Brain, Ligo projects, Dactyl Foundation and other art/science organizations.

Yelena Yemchuk, Notes on Fantômas

It was characteristic of Shakespeare to unconsciously associate flattery with dogs and sweetmeats, and this might say something about how he felt about flattery. In Yelena’s work, for example, zebras are associated with knives. What a pattern like this might mean is something I won’t try to answer, except maybe to gesture at the zebra’s black dagger-like stripes as a kind of answer.  In an Italian film version of The Master and Marguerite, a criminal is a Frenchy in a stripe shirt, such a character also appeared in “Dreamreaders.”

The Surrealists, enamored of Freud, sought to know the meaning of such apparently arbitrary connections in dreams. The complex problem would-be pattern solvers face (and why we find Freudian concepts difficult to apply) is that the translation of the meanings of signatures is an organic process not a machinic one.  Algorithms, for example, are not suitable metaphors for the patterns artists employ. In organisms (people, for instance), a rule such as “if x then y” must have an x and a y that do not depend upon identity relation. Any kind of vague likeness of x to something or chance proximity of y to something else will do to evolve a connection. I see this kind of pattern formation occurring in Yelena’s imagery. It guides her, Muse-like, as she designs the compositions. Beginning with a single figure, the others take their rightful places on the plane, spinning a web of relations, that partly because of their alchemic origins, are tinged with duplicity and intrigue. Why is x associated with y in Yelena’s work? because x happened to be nearby when she first saw y and they sort of look alike too, so it makes sense. It’s almost insanity, but it’s not. These kinds of associations, often mistaken or just plain superstitious in character, sometimes reveal true affinities that no one would have been able to conceive before. This is how we learn new things and how language grows.

Language is formed by processes that link up disconnected things based on coincidental likenesses and chance proximities, the metaphoric and the metonymic, the accidental icon and contingent index. Recent neuroscience tells us our brains apparently work in this way, at the neuron to neuron level, the neuronal group to neuronal group, as well as the thought to thought level. We may have believed that logic and reason is linear and rule-governed, but actually, at the most basic physical level of cognitive processes, it is these poetic kinds of associations that are generating, through a permissive selection process coupled with innumerable iterations, the law-like sense we call coherent thoughts. We may say that iterations so numerous are corrective, that is, tending toward truth (as Pragmatist Philosopher C.S. Pierce would say), through the Law of Errors, but the product nevertheless remains unpredictable due the poetic flexibility of the selection process. Yelena’s work explicitly lays bare this kind of artistic process that is the essence of language itself.

Victoria N. Alexander, Ph.D.
Dactyl Foundation
New York, April 30, 2008

Artist’s Bio
Opening reception
Studio visit

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