This is not the first time Petr Bystrov, an adherent of his own philosophy of 'excess and lack, unwieldy triviality' (a quote from a conversation with A. Evstratov, 2008), has addressed the subject of money. Bystrov creates art objects from materials purchased from construction supplies shops, using a signature technique that he named staple-engraving. When depicting banknotes with 100 denominations (rubles, yuan, dollars, euros, etc.), he uses a wide range of media, abandoning the rigidity of readymades in favour of graphic and pictorial expression, which is why strokes of bright paint and handwritten inscriptions pop up here and there across the wooden money.
Indeed, a banknote cannot be rendered exclusively in staples, wires, shreds of fabric, that is, materials of the same origin. It has many layers. The image itself is only an external, superficial level of political symbols designed to tell the world about the pride of a particular nation. Only watermarks, embossing, textured inserts can breathe life into a piece of paper with a numerical symbol. Using a range of materials, Bystrov conveys the most precious feeling banknotes provide – the feeling that they belong to you.
The public and visual aspect of the One Hundred Percent show possesses a side hidden from a superficial glance, which is a new series of portraits. Bystrov often creates images of his cultural idols. His gallery includes the portraits of Daniil Kharms, John Lennon, Semyon Budyonny, Mikhail Lermontov, Karl Lagerfeld. This time the artist has made engravings based on his family members and friends. Being exhibited next to banknotes does not devalue these images – on the contrary, it illustrates a simple dialectic of the essentials. We need close people, we need money, neither makes much sense without the other.
A former member of Radek Society and School of Contemporary Art – radical youth art projects of the 90s, – Bystrov has long been examining the relationship between labour and value, gesture and meaning. In 2006, at Radek Society's LIE show at the Marat Guelman Gallery, Bystrov and his associates publicly exposed, as an exhibit, the budget of the entire show. How much does a work on paper affect the viewer, and how much does it translate into in monetary terms? What about objects made of wood, tin, crayons, and acrylic?
Money has long been divorced from labour. The randomness of its correlation with the expended effort makes money a close relative to art. It too can look simple, yet rich, like sudden luck of a gambler. Bystrov's spiritual mentors, the artists featured in the early Jack of Diamonds exhibitions in Moscow, knew this. They painted playing card faces and self-portraits depicting them as strongmen and pugilists, not disdaining the commercial intelligibility and terseness of the sign. A sign is an architectural element of a building, a part of its facade. The materials of Bystrov's staple engravings are ultimately architectural too – their solidity alludes to everyday inhabited spaces, whose value, again due to the pandemic, has increased many times over.