Recycling Symbols

It’s one of those things that can’t be unseen: The lowercase ‘f’ in Facebook’s logo bears an uncanny resemblance to the Christian cross. Arguably, the social media giant now occupies the place religion once held in Western society, and the two symbols’ similarity became an inspiration for artists Andrey Blokhin and Georgy Kuznetsov, a Russian duo better known under their collective name, the Recycle Group.

Exploring parallels between spiritual and virtual reality, the duo’s first United States solo show “Heaven Carrier” at Richard Taittinger Gallery features a large sculpture of the Facebook logo rendered as a cracked marble artifact at the far end of the space, mimicking a cross’s placement in a church apse. Contrasts between ancient imagery, like Greek friezes, and symbols of technology, like cables, further extend the prevalent themes. For instance, a statue carrying a tablet zooms around on a motorized scooter. Dressed in classical robes, he could be Moses presenting the 10 commandments on a stone tablet, but as Blokhin and Kuznetsov explain, the figure’s frenzied movements are his efforts to find a Wi-Fi signal for his electronic tablet.

The show currently on view expands on their 2012-13 exhibition “Paradise Network” at the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow, which included a colossal faux-stone Facebook logo and an arched gate made of wires. The pair has been rapidly on the rise ever since winning the 2010 Kandinsky Prize, awarded to groundbreaking contemporary Russian artists. Having just completed a residency at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, they are currently preparing for an installation at the Venice Biennale, which will be their third time participating. We spoke to them in New York a day after their opening at Richard Taittinger.

RACHEL SMALL: So first, how did you meet?

GEORGIY KUZNETSOV: We grew up in the same company, because I [started off] working with painters. We spent a lot of time in residencies together—different residencies in Moscow, everywhere. As Recycle Group, we’ve been working for about eight years. Our first project was called “Recycle.” After the opening everybody started to refer to us like, “Who is this guy? Oh this is Recycle.” That’s how we got our name.

SMALL: When you work together, who does what?

KUZNETSOV: We just find some idea and then play with it, like ping-pong.

ANDREY BLOKHIN: It’s like a game.

KUZNETSOV: Yeah, you take one idea and you start to rotate it, find parallels [that make sense] with the materials. There is no border between one of us creating idea, and the second one producing, or something. It does not work like that. It’s more like a dialogue.

SMALL: What’s an idea of an example of an idea that you’ve both had and developed together?

BLOKHIN: When we started planning the Facebook that is hanging [in the show], and what it will look like. It’s, “Okay, we need for it to look like something from history [that] cracked. What kind of technologies can we use there? Let’s think about that.”

KUZNETSOV: We experimented.

BLOKHIN: [We tried] plastic—”Oh this plastic doesn’t work.” It’s always an experiment with the material.

KUZNETSOV: Some ideas wait maybe two years before we start working on them.

BLOKHIN: Some ideas we can’t work on until later.

KUZNETSOV: Yeah. We don’t have any new technology to produce it. And if we find some interesting technology, it’s very important to make [connections] between the idea and material. The material is a second language.

SMALL: With the Facebook logo, how does the material relate to the technology?

BLOKHIN: Styrofoam. Plastic. Cardboard. 

SMALL: And how does that relate to Facebook itself?

KUZNETSOV: [laughs] Silicon Valley. The Facebook cross [the lowercase ‘f’] is like a signal. It’s not just about Facebook. It’s about all social media.

BLOKHIN: The virtual world, also. We are all working with the symbols, but also there are different kinds: Skype, email, different things. It depends on the art piece. [The logo] of Facebook resembles a cross—that’s why it is hung at the far end of the gallery.

KUZNETSOV: Did you know that Facebook has 10 main commandments? And if you follow these commandments, Facebook will maintain your profile for your whole life. We’re trying to find the parallels between virtual reality and spiritual world, like religion. Years before there was Internet, everybody went to the church to ask a question about something. But now you can just use Google. [laughs]

BLOKHIN: We live in this beautiful time. Now we have superiority.

SMALL: How do you think it affects humanity? Obviously there are good and bad parts, but with what attitude do you approach it in your art?

BLOKHIN: It’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s just a fact. We just want to make traces.

KUZNETSOV: Because [what if] the next civilization doesn’t have any traces from the previous—

BLOKHIN: —the previous civilization.

KUZNETSOV: —to understand what we meant by “virtual reality…” We don’t want to teach, or to explain, “This is bad. This is good.” That’s too strange. We’re just going to show [that] some things can have parallels with other important things. Some of these parallels can be fine and some of them can be idiotic. [Like the human statue downstairs], “Ah! Where is Wi-Fi network? Do you have Wi-Fi?”

SMALL: With the theme of recycling, you literally recycle the Facebook logo; you recycle these ideas.

BLOKHIN: It’s always close to all that we are doing, this theme of recycling. We are recycling materials; we are recycling ideas from past, future. And, the materials we use are recyclable.

KUZNETSOV: Recycle is like a reincarnation, the big circle of life. We use some ideas, make the circle, and recycle this idea. We give some old idea new life or try to understand some new idea and [combine] something new with an old material or an old sculpture until it looks like future archaeology.

BLOKHIN: It’s [from the perspective of] future archaeology, like old civilizations, unburied, like ancient Greece.

SMALL: They obviously they didn’t teach you about these new technologies in art school, because the technologies that you work with didn’t even exist yet. Are you always open to learning about new ways to work? How do you find technologies that work for you?

BLOKHIN: The experimental way.

KUZNETSOV: Experimental way, yeah. We have a slogan: “We don’t make mistakes, we make variations.” That’s why every result is a good result.