Irina Koukhanova's Artist of the Year show at BoxHeart constructs a society where proud rebellion confronts subjugation | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Irina Koukhanova's Artist of the Year show at BoxHeart constructs a society where proud rebellion confronts subjugation 

The symbol of a bird, with scythe-shaped beak and coal-black feathers, is flawless, crisply communicative and richly evocative

Panoptic Landscape is Irina Koukhanova's assemblage of individual but connected works in varying media. Viewed singly, they're sometimes stirring, frequently jocular, and often potent. Experienced together, they construct a society where proud rebellion confronts subjugation, meeting it head to head, subverting it behind its back, delighting in success and grinning at failure as it kicks against the pricks.

In this BoxHeart Expressions Artist of the Year show, Russian-born Koukhanova explicitly references her native soil as well as Italy in titles; her imagery also draws from German Expressionism and classical Greco-Roman sculpture. Depicted are the trappings of industry, machinery of war, suggestions of architecture and maps of city planning. Lines and angles are sharp and stark, thick dark scratches on creamy ivory paper; hydrostone pieces are muted white, with sculptural relief.

Human forms appear briefly and secretively, mummy-wrapped and faceless, bound by sheets and sightless. The figure chiefly populating this world is a bird, with scythe-shaped beak and coal-black feathers, a crow or raven. It's a flawless choice, crisply communicative and richly evocative. Corvids are known tricksters, imps and keenly intelligent jokers combining honed senses of humor with extreme acumen and cleverness, as well as a will difficult to break. It's the perfect spirit animal to embody oppressed, yet irrepressible, citizens, standing straight to meet the boot that tramples them.

The birds are shown at play, at mischief, and at odds with their surroundings. In bronze sculptures, they sport with the fruits of luxury — literally, lying supine to balance artichokes and pomegranates on their talons like a circus seal spinning a beach ball — or straddle hobby horses. They battle nets and ropes, don disguises and stand sentry. They get defeated, temporarily, and cackle back to triumph.

There are glimpses of the world that lacks life, but which often bears evidence of its existence: banners wave with no one to salute them. The "White Landscape" series offers deserted streets, with objects abandoned in a hurry. The "Cradle" works present lush, smoky clouds swelled red with blood, the soft roundness of their forms contrasting the harsh slashes of charcoal and black that surround them.

Crows caw and peck; they preen, prance and flap. But most of all, they fly, and as the occupants of a world downcast by oppression, they give us hope of rising.



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