Konstantin Bessmertny presents his largest exhibition to date – Ad Lib – at the Macao Museum of Art
Russian-born artist Konstantin Bessmertny has resided in Macao since 1992, becoming a fixture in the local art scene. In November 2016, his artistic vision came to fruition with the advent of an exhibition that was finally put together after a very long time.
Macao Magazine (MM): What is the objective of the exhibition Ad Lib. What are you trying to achieve?
Konstantin Bessmertny (KB): The objective of the exhibition is per usual: a challenge for the artist. Life is getting one challenge after another: the bigger the challenge, the more interesting the life of the artist.
This exhibition is the result of many years of work, probably five or so. One of the works dates from almost 13 years ago, and the last one was exhibited in London 10 years ago, but most of the works are recent and reserved solely for this show. A few years ago, I began convincing Macau Museum to allow me to vandalise their space, and I’m happy to use it now.
MM: Can you tell us about the project 365?
KB: 365 was meant to be mere discipline. It started as a simple exercise where I would begin every morning with one sketch, photography or whatever else using the same-‑sized paper. I cut the papers and arranged them on their corresponding dates. The 15th of September marked the end of Mid-‑Autumn Festival holiday and the beginning of my work. The first week of the exercise was sort of an adjustment, but after some weeks, I realised this could be a sort of project, and so I started working on it as an artistic project.
In the end, it was quite interesting to me, and I’ve received suggestions to organise it as a limited edition show. This is the second time I have had all the pieces together in one place, and I feel like I should start another one.
MM: Is it hard to stay creative for 365 days of the year?
KB: No. I have a large sketchbook, and I do sketches every day. Even at night time, I have it close to me. Sometimes I even sketch with my eyes closed so I don’t forget the next morning, and then during the day, I go back to it. It’s very easy for me to create every day. The 365 project is just a way to better organise and present pieces as a collective artwork.
MM: Your works have many historical references. Which historical moment has had the most impact on your work?
KB: I don’t have just one moment. I like history: I read books and listen to audiobooks in the car. On the way here I was listening to a piece on the liberation of slaves in Russia and the United States of America.
If I had to pick one historical reference regarding Russia, it would be perestroika, because it was a recent event and a nice period in the country’s history. Sometime ago I had difficulties understanding Gorbachev’s policies, but now I think he could be the most progressive politician of the 20th century.
MM: If there were a fire in the museum and you had only one minute to leave, what work would you take with you?
KB: I would probably take the doll house. Not that I like it, but I spent and wasted so much time on it that I would be valuing my time. The car I couldn’t take because it’s too heavy, and the paintings I would have to dismantle. The doll house is the smallest and the easiest to carry; at the same time, it is the most complicated piece in the exhibition.
MM: Since the opening, what has been the public reception so far?
KB: I am so used to empty spaces in museums that I was impressed with the response. I have seen a lot of people, especially young people and teenagers, so I’m happy. I think they are looking for something that I managed to touch upon which is a compliment that gives me confidence in what I’m doing.
MM: Was the Macau Museum of Art open to the content of your work featuring a lot of political figures which can be a quite sensitive subject?
KB: Yes. Despite the variety of subjects, I never felt that I had to censure myself or received any external censure. I had some doubts whether some works could be exhibited, but at the same time, even I have my limits. For example, I can’t insult politicians or celebrities, and I don’t want to vandalise something that might be sacred for others. As an artist, you work on the frontier dividing acceptable from unacceptable. I try not to get as close as possible to this line because there are many other honest ways to do your work without inciting too much attention crossing those boundaries.
MM: Do you have any artistic references or inspirations?
KB: In life, there is always someone who comes along and kind of guides you. I have a big gallery of characters and artists who inspire me. I am always discovering more, for example, I recently discovered an aspect of Salvador Dali’s work that I found interesting, and it makes me wonder whether he is one of the most underestimated artists of the 20th century.
MM: What’s next for you?
KB: Sometimes you don’t want to share your plans because you don’t want to spoil and ruin them, but I have a lot of on-‑going projects: one is on hold in London due to Brexit, and I would love to do something in Moscow, Beijing and Shanghai, which are all on my list.
TEXT Catarina Mesquita and Mariana César de Sá
PHOTOS António Sanmarful, Cheong Kam Ka and courtesy of Macao Museum of Art