Katya Muromtseva at XL Gallery

Katya Muromtseva at XL Gallery

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A black line unfurls across four white walls, its loops accumulating into tangled human figures. Some appear to embrace; others lunge at each other’s throats. It is impossible to tell where one form ends and the next begins.  

This is Ekaterina Muromtseva’s Difference in Time 2020–21, an installation that consists of that site-specific mural, five videos, and a floor-to-ceiling acrylic painting. Born in Moscow in 1990, Muromtseva based the work on interviews with her peers in the first “post-Soviet” generation. “When was it,” she asks, “that you felt yourselves to be a part of history?”

Muromtseva, who studied psychology and philosophy before art, shapes these transcripts with a subtle sensitivity, displaying the videos at eye-level on tripod-mounted tablets that evoke human bodies. Shadowy line drawings are overlayed with scrolling interview excerpts. We encounter exhilaration, frustration, and shame at one’s ignorance: a man stealthily tagging antigovernment slogans on the streets of the capital without telling his wife; a ticket to Ukraine on a train that never departed; realizing the value of the Olympics as state propaganda. But by presenting the accounts as words rather than sounds, Muromtseva allows one person’s story to bleed into someone else’s. This infuses the work with Hegelian hope: Only through consciousness of one’s place in history can a society approach freedom.

In the painting, Muromtseva renders embattled human and animal shapes both mesmerizing and disorienting, a wreckage of spirals against throbbing shades of red. She evokes the scale and composition of nineteenth-century history painting but challenges its conventional didacticism by refusing to tell one story. Instead, she is helping us write our own.


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