Dmitry Bulnygin's exhibition Meat-free Oven is built around the artist's fascination with the physical body and its diverse manifestations. By scrutinising animalistic forms protruding from peeling wallpaper or making ceramic objects with folds, Bulnygin distorts and disorientates human vision. Folds and textures hint at some storylines and create the effect of pareidolia, pacing the thin line between reality and illusion.
The mediums utilised in the works – ceramics and papier-mâché, tree bark, old wallpaper and husks – are themselves independent images that allude to various ways of casting. The task seems simple and clear – to replicate the object by reproducing its shape. But a subtle interplay is concealed there: the technique implies extremely close contact with the medium. The intimacy of this contact sparks an almost erotic tension. It is palpable not only in the ceramic sculpture Eternal Love (2022) which portrays a union of two frogs under a piece of fabric but even in the folds of the draped objects of the Like Rags series (2019–22). An implicit visual image arouses secret desires and fantasies of the subconscious.
Yet meat is conspicuously absent from Meat-free Oven – there is no body under this carapace. The title of the show emphasises the artist's break from the concept of the sacredness of art; Bulnygin scorns it and plays with it. The ironic term 'oven' has roots in Moscow conceptualism and was used by artists when describing works that claim to be 'spiritual'. But at times this irony itself spills into a sacred dimension. So, the draped figure with a tree hollow in place of a face is either a resident of a communal apartment that came out of the bathroom in a towel – or the Mother of God. The constant flickering between the absence and presence of the spirit underlines the illusory nature of any artwork – being a plaster cast of reality, a fragile papier-mâché veil thrown over an elusive meaning.
The play of contrasts between the living and the dead, the solid and the hollow gives rise to contradictory associations: on the one hand – the gravity of thoughts about death and extinction, and on the other hand – the enthusiasm for the reproduced relief and the energy of existence.