EXHIBITION
ABOUT
Syntax Gallery is pleased to present a new series of works by Kirill Lebedev (Kto). Idioms and collocations have been a long-standing subject and familiar source for Kirill. In the new project, he plays with idioms containing numbers, as well as artwork titles, making them a little bit more prominent and exaggerated by adding '+1' to the well-known phrases and, as a result, subverting the established collocations and inviting the viewer to insert their own meaningful, familiar, and quotidian numerals. It is akin to sports competitions where a coach encourages their athlete to do one more circle, one more jump, urging them on with 'you can do this'. It is this 'you can do this' attitude that the artist explores in his practice.

Kirill Lebedev, working under the pseudonym 'Kto' (Russian for 'who'), has a huge advantage both over those who occupy the cosy spaces of institutional and self-allocated art spaces and over those who practice art on the streets, immersing themselves in unsafe urban environments. Kirill's area of interest by far surpasses the limited problems solved by traditional and street artists alike.

His rare gift – excelling at combining post-conceptual discourse and risky interventions in the urban environment – has allowed the artist to 'unearth' the specifics of communication with a 'professional' viewer and a casual passer-by. Attention is captured through the system of symbols that Kirill Kto uses to replace the tangibility of artwork regardless of the genre. He puts the canons of contemporary art alongside those of street art to the test by involving elements foreign to both semantic systems to flout the rules of the game.

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For citizens, Kirill Kto put together a set of symbols to replace the traditional, already familiar tags of graffiti artists. In place of his name, he draws a sign or a figurative structure, which has gradually become the equivalent of his signature. His 'self-climbing ladder' pops up in the most unpredictable places: in small boarded up courtyards on the outskirts and on the streets in the heart of Moscow, and the alert gaze is drawn to the familiar lines that point at the presence of the (anonymous for many) artist. The signature, too, elicits recognition that emerges as a physical intrusion into the tangibility of the urban environment – we are talking, naturally, about the almond-shaped cuts on building wraps and mesh that cover the city's facades. These eye-cutouts penetrate into the texture of the city's body concealed beneath its demure covers, recalling Lucio Fontana's experiments in their production mechanics. The multifunctional problem of the quasi-signature involves, among other things, critique of contemporary metropolitan urbanism, aesthetic commentary on the street artists' practice, and the issue of expanding the display boundaries of traditional artwork.

While for the city the artist suggests serialisation of a uniform technique that permeates every area, every district, nook and cranny, the galleries receive works that could be easily displayed outside – aphoristic and absurdist, verse patterns against the bright coloured backdrop. Communication with the viewer is instantly privatised, keeping the potency of a rally petition. What could be a version of a direct visual appeal to thousands of metropolitan residents tones down the artist's voice but seems to serve as a matrix for future interventions. At the same time, the flexible shape whose features point at its compatibility with museum walls embarks on an endless journey through the geographical expanses of overpopulated Moscow. And it appears that, instead of composing missives and proliferating visuals, Kirill Kto consistently tests the very premises of art's active existence.

Aleksandra Obukhova


ARTIST
Kirill Kto is a cult figure in Moscow's street art subculture, and has contributed to it not only through his diverse artistic practice, but also as one of the few theorists and curators of street art. Lebedev was involved in street art as part of the Zachem? collective (2002-2009) and No Future Forever collective (2005-2009). He co-organised Pasha 183's posthumous solo show Our Work is a Feat! at Moscow Museum of Modern Art (2014); initiated and oversaw the first street art prize in Russia, Street Contribution (2013); and co-curated the Wall project at Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art (2010–2013). Lives and works in Moscow.