Manumission

Manumission, a performance by Igor Josifov, executed in computer-simulated space, can be regarded as a miniature video essay on the inexorable human alienation in the immenseness of this world.

The action takes place in a single fixed scene: right from the beginning two identical masks/faces are shown in a frozen frontal fashion. This presentation associated with the body as a “form of identity” takes its time, putting us in a somewhat uneasy state of expectation. Soon, however, the masks/faces are set in motion, each gradually moving in different directions. Little by little the silence is disturbed by soft noises, which portend a face-to-face encounter, but the masks/faces never meet each other, as there is a dark line between them, dividing the scene into two sections. Movements are sped up in a somewhat mechanical manner, accompanied by stronger sounds of motion, which give the space of action an intimate quality. The “final act” acquires a grim intonation with the masks’ dramatic removal. The act of transformation/metamorphosis is brought to a close by the expressive unmasking with an uncertain ending and outcome. The central motif is the act of transformation and liberation of the human “captive mind” and soul. The leather belts of the mask, which itself brings numerous primaeval and modern associations, show simplified symbols of the two major religions – Christian and Moslem – giving the performance individual features (“Macedonian lifestyle”) as well as universal qualities of a metaphor of human efforts to overcome internal inhibitions that encumber or prevent dialogue.

The performance, which is carefully thought out and has a message to convey – “to raise the awareness of the people” – also contains a less comprehensible side with the penetration of irrational elements. The ending has a cathartic and liberating effect, but it also leaves you with a feeling of new-found distress. The simple visual form involves more complex stimulations; the mask that “functions” in a contemporary type of society is reminiscent of an animated modern Janus and can be associated with the comment that “the tardy face of Homo Ludens needs transformation in order to discover himself” (Oto Bihalji Merin, 1970).

The artist makes use of the mask presenting it as the oldest form of alienation, as the basis of the modern representation of Man as a creature that has lost all immediacy. The “heads,” shrouded in intimidating mystery, suggest a specific relationship between the mask and the face, and also between the individual and this nightmarish world. In this way the work of art establishes a dialogue with the viewer (Bruce Nauman), pointing to its relation to several models ranging from primitive to contemporary art (for example, the mechanical head of Raoul Hausmann, the Dadaist; the surrealist and expressionist art of Bacon, Lüpertz, Reiner and Paolozzi; the action Purging from Sin (1973) by the Dvizhenie (Movement) group, or some of Beuys’s performances). The work of this young artist is perhaps the closest in its sensibility and has been influenced the most by Marina Abramović and her unique explorations into the “borderline states” of the spirit and body.

Igor Josifov’s performance offers elements of transformation and liberation that can get through to the individual’s conscious, but it gives no answers nor does it take definite points of view. We are left with the feelings of both “having freed ourselves from a burden” and of psychological tension (whose roots can be traced back to Freud’s psychoanalytic school), asking ourselves the question: “What is the essence of human nature concealing behind the mask (not even Laurie Anderson’s clever analysis provides a clear answer), Man’s goodness and hope, or his Kafkaesque metamorphosis into a gigantic insect?”

Vladimir Veličkovski, Ph.D.