The present circumstances – a panic fear of the smallest inhabitants of our planet, viruses – are urging us to reflect on the question how we will coexist further on. Surely, recurrent outbreaks of disease are associated with the fact that there are practically no places on Earth free from human presence. Having such a large and nutritious population as humans right beside, viruses eagerly spread to us from wild animals. They won't be defeated. Reach an agreement? In case you find a language. The language, which is not a system of signs, but a means that helps to feel the logic of another, to stand in their shoes – and develop a new connection with the outside world based on this knowledge and experience.
Undoubtedly, the context in which I find myself greatly influences me and my perception of the "Assemblage" project by Anastasia Bogomolova. While looking at how Nastya's naked body touches trees and stones, how spikes and gnarls grow out of her body, I see the abyss between the world of people and the world of nature. The artist herself admits that her interactions with forests are traumatic, she takes pictures not far from touristic trails and even in the studio she does not feel comfortable alone with natural materials. (In fact, a tree skeleton without a special treatment brought to a house or museum can become a source of many insects). Moreover, it doesn't matter whether it happens in the Ural forest or the Swiss one, in a forest belt or a windfall.
It is interesting that the project started with images of idyllic dissolution in the environment and resembled Ana Mendieta's "Silueta Series", with the only difference that Bogomolova's body became that very silhouette and turned into a "female sign". The project was initially? called "Periods" and was a pretty convincing story about disclosure and movement of a restrained female body towards its relaxation and satisfaction.
I still think that "Periods" was successful as a separate statement, however, the artist herself considers it to be a harbinger of the questions she asks herself now. In this sense, we can say that "Assemblage" began with a practice whose goal was to regain one's body, re-appropriate it – self-realize. Nonetheless, even then the project had two parts. In the second part, the artist's body was not disclosed, but built into natural landscapes, it mimicked them, however, it revealed itself through nakedness. A pale naked human body against the backdrop of an impenetrable forest space looks extremely vulnerable: it is attacked by insects, scratched by branches, burnt by the sun or tormented by humidity and cold – it looks like an organ removed from its protective frame made of muscles, bones and skin. This genderless "baby" expelled from its mother's womb can only press into gorges and cling to trees hoping to remain unnoticed. Albeit alive, it is forced to pretend to be dead – such a "language" agrees with the nature's logic, likewise it is logical that now we are trying to deceive the virus and pretend that the number of humans is few.
"I don't know how to talk with nature," Nastya explains – "No one knows how." And I will add for her: "I can only interact with it. " It seems to be the only way – finally, to turn off the familiar sign system and switch to the natural: pretend to be a tree, a stone, a patch of grass and hope to feel their way of "thinking".
In painting art, there is a saying "to follow your hand," which means to start a painting with a brush movement, not an idea, and see where it will lead. The same method Bogomolova applies here – only let's call it "to follow your body". It emerges at the moment of frustration, from the awareness that it is impossible to establish a contact, completely mimic, move into a plant or stone. This state can only be documented. "I lost from the outset," says Nastya. On the contrary, I think she accomplished a difficult goal – moved away from the colonialist view of nature, admitted her fear of it, let it inside, albeit metaphorically, allowed the spikes and gnarls to "grow" through the tender human flesh, as the grass grew through the body of photography in her own project "To Grow from the Grass I Love".
"Assemblage" is a fraud project: it is easy to interpret it as an invitation to talk about physicality, femininity, or, please no, about body positivity. In fact, it is talking about the experience of a non-human language, where photography is only documenting. The main thing – that is the experience between the artist and her forest companions – remains behind the scenes, as, for example, it happened in one of the artist's dreams, where she married a tree. Judging by this dream, the forest began to reply to Nastya. We look forward to the continuation of the project.