The preceding text presented "ethos-plastic art" as an artistic method which defines inter-subjective space of dialogue developing through the Author's ethical (before finding sameness) appeal to the Other. In this case the material surface of an artwork is the key to accessing a gradual disclosure of the plastic form, rather than to its seizure. Valery Yevdokimov's works reveal the autonomy of the artistic image, free from genre and typical characteristics that turn plastic art into sculpture in the form of a memorial, indoor and/or chamber sculpture, monument, and so on. While rethinking the formation of artworks in the meaning of semantically oversaturated material surfaces, I will try to show how the image regains its identity in plastic art through visual perception and social function, rather than in the form of a symbolic representation of aesthetic and ethical relations. The image's ability to be a window into reality – some kind of knife edge which cuts out holes in the space between worlds – structures our experience, and makes it iconic.
Levinas's "exteriority" and "epiphany" of the Other are not sufficient to give an in-depth description of the autonomy of the artistic image or ethos-plastic art because, eventually, this tradition develops ethical generality of the law which is connected with the existence of alienation of others but does not take into account the conditions of fine art, nor does it answer the following question: "What is the image of a form in development?"
I believe, there is another method that is philosophically related to creative tasks the sculptor faces. It is the "Strong Program" in Cultural Sociology by Philip Smith and Jeffrey C. Alexander. These scholars have outlined an approach which implies strict analytical separation between culture and social organization. Having declared autonomy through culture affecting the operation and transformation of social life, Smith & Alexander use ideas of structuralism, hermeneutics, and cultural anthropology with, above all, an interpretative model of "thick description" as provided by Clifford Geertz. According to Geertz, codes, different types of narrative and symbols that determine human behaviour, create "textured webs of social meaning". At the same time, expansion of the interpretation to reflect large-scale, non-symbolic relations and the study of the inner meaning of cultural phenomena would suggest a transition from analytically-recreated autonomy to its real development through the performative function of language and its agency.
Cultural sociology also examines a visual image that has received a new, interesting interpretation through this "Strong Program". Jeffrey C. Alexander proposes dynamic texture of a sculpture performing dual function as a starting point of artistic image in his article "Iconic Experience in Art and Life" (2008). On the one hand, the material surface provokes the viewer's attention while preventing his or her attempts to identify plastic characteristic of form – as it goes beyond itself and thus compels a viewer to keep eye contact with it. On the other hand, the morphology of the surface both conceals and hints at the existence of some other depth of meaning. The most important point of the textural interpretation suggested by Alexander is perhaps its difference from the semiotics of image. If the semiotic approach is looking for associations between the signifier and the signified which is found beyond the image, material surface asserts the attitude to implicit meaning within its own texture by being able to distance itself in a particular way. Jeffrey C. Alexander analyzes Giacometti's "Standing Woman", and defines its sculptural surface as the environment that is autonomous, specific, profound – the one which creates iconic meaning. The perception of the environment is conditioned by movement deep below the surface, however counter-intuitive it may be in the view of the logic of genres and types of sculpture. The scholar calls it "iconic meaning" and "immersion in the materiality of social life": "As the artist draws us into this deeper level, the aesthetic object becomes a symbol – not a specific referent for some specific thing but a signifier that points to all 'such things'. It becomes a collective representation, an ideal-type of object, person, or situation. By its very uniqueness, it triggers a process of typification. Esoteric aesthetic objects become iconic by drawing us into the heart of the world." It is noteworthy that here "the heart of the world" and "iconic objects" do not represent important things surrounding us or their social organization as identified with religious context – but material texture that can uniquely transmit an image in the form of an icon, which is the main source of simultaneous rather than religious experience. It is the movement of perception "to the depth of" material surfaces of different objects that turns images into icons. This is the reason why Alexander defines iconic experience by terms of "subjectification – materialization" – a dual process of empirical establishment. Viewer commits an act of assimilation as they they bring an image-icon from the outside world into the sphere of inner experience and impression. They grant the device of their own perception to the image. This transfer results in the counter-process of materialization or temporary transition from being a perceiving subject, to being a perceiving object that is the icon: "One becomes the thing, existing inside it. One lives and breathes the object, looking outside to the world from inside of it. Its texture is your texture", writes Alexander. Beyond debate, the scholar does not tend to overemphasize this feature of iconic experience being aware of how "mystical" this way of reasoning is. Although the subject of iconic experience "disperses" in a work of art, the image continues to serve as a mediator on the level of meaning. Using material texture of the surface, the image produces an iconic lens through which referential meanings are rendered, and thus refers to the objective world existing beyond its borders. However social space exposed by the image differs significantly from the organization of social life that is viewed without iconic influence. Therefore, the interrelation of "viewer – image" is complemented by a new bilateral relation of "image – world". Alexander uses both communication vectors as pillars of social-cumulative function of the image: "Iconographic experience explains how we feel part of our social and physical surroundings, how we experience the reality of the ties that bind us to people we know, and people we don't know; and how we develop a sense of place, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, our vocation, indeed our very selves."
After a short insight into Jeffrey C. Alexander's image theory I would like to address some ambiguous questions and problems arising from the analysis of texture of Valery Yevdokimov's works. Above all, to what extent does the iconic experience serve as the basis of the sculptor's plastic and compositional solutions? It is also worth paying attention to how total imperative evolves into ethos-plastic art of sensory sensitivity of the eye, tied up with artwork's texture – that presents ontologically significant depth, with the help of neomaterialistic interpretation of ethical categories. The sculptor, guided by the nature of the image,tries to show viewers this depth of surface and eventually lays the basis for a common figurative space of iconic meanings behind the plastic development of the form. Such a radical perspective makes me reject biographical and institutional prerequisites for artistic and industrial creation of a sculpture, in favour of its "thick description" in a specific, volatile environment.
A monumental composition called "MYSTERY" (1997-1998) is made of granite, and installed in Sweden – it hides behind its material realization simultaneous iconographic development of several evangelical stories. We usually associate the iconographic canon, especially in terms of Orthodox church art, with strict adherence to the text, its rigorous interpretation and its depiction in icons and murals. However, we recognize the iconography of "The Crucifixion" in the sculpture's silhouette, the torso reminds us of "The Descent From the Cross", a sacrificial movement and sinful waste of horrifying procession, "Bearing the Cross", are seen from the back as they prominently show through as some kind of a scar and, finally, the top of the sculpture is crowned with a tilted head which hints at the "Ascension". The composition covers evangelical events with material texture, slowing down the flow of real time and immortalizing it on a granite surface by traces of general synchronized picture of the global tragedy. When does the period from the timespan of New Testament texts turn into infinity? It happens at the moment when Jesus's physical part losts its tangible sensitivity of a human being and thus rejects the weakness of the body. The body finds its theologically reasoned ultimate aim and becomes a telos or a figure of speech in the form of a prayer that reproduces moral imperative of the Eucharist to be collectively repeated through generations as a wording of death for all mankind. We see iconically expressed mystery of the Eucharist, and idealized type of a situation transferred from the text into depth of the sculpture by plastic gesture and material properties, rather than scanty narration of Sacred history. As the time stops it exposes the Eucharist as a "doctrine of transubstantiation": the essence of bread and wine transubstantiates into the essence of the Divine Body and Blood while features of bread and wine that are perceived by our senses remain unchanged. It means that "Mystery" is based on recursion, according to this iconic meaning of formation. As we scrutinize the texture of the sculpture found on the coast and against the stone cliff, we, "divers" of Salvation, are going down to the depths of light gray fine-grained rock, and then to the transubstantiation of the "throne"… In the heart of the secret world we come back to initial surface that is dynamic and vibrating. Our ability to render all attention and give all concentration completely to New Testament Love again and again is one of the repeated divings.
The composition "INFINITY" (2001-2011) was also created in Sweden, made of granite, has a spiral form and encircles the landscape of a small picturesque town of Gerlesborg. The architectonics of the sculpture are integrated into the environment – thereby fixing them infinity, like the confirmation of a potential for development that has an end in a specific phase of infinite establishment, rather than as an integral process that cannot be measured. The polished surface of the spiral, as if a tuning fork that moves on smooth texture, structures the materiality of social life on the level of standard of tonality and pitch. This iconic meaning "instrumentizes" the space as evolutionary reproduction of life that has been gathered in an ideal typification of organic origin in DNA strands. It's known that the basic unit of DNA replication is a gene which could be described, with a certain degree of conditionality, as a plastically-expressed mechanism that works from the depth of the sculptor, rotates the spiral around the axis of its own history and, at the same time, allows local ecology and culture through its form. The material surface of "INFINITY" appears to be an icon of biological and cultural evolution of "extended phenotype", i.e. genetic ability to go beyond its carrier and affect the environment with the help of replication, rather than that of species and individuals. Here is the reason infinity gets an ethical dimension. Moral law finds itself where the question about changes that a human being brings into natural self-organizing systems originates.
A marble sculpture called "Eternal Path" (1995) places the viewer in a rigorous, reserved, but elegant composition of personal development that turns a student into a teacher. The mentor completes the path of earthly learning just like Jesus on the cross, while sacrificially implementing their teachings. Such primary interpretation defines the visibility of the vertical power structure, rigid hierarchy of teaching that is traced back to different practices of oppression whether it pertains to the forms of control and government regulation of education in schools or universities, or the pressure of religious law that rigorously follows covenants of the authority in the interpretation of the word. But we are going to follow the texture of marble relying on iconic meaning of interpretation which originates from the cross as social burden and ethical imperative of a direct political action that acknowledges responsibility, tolerance, social equality and diversity of the Other. Thus the composition reveals itself as a plastic equivalent in the spirit of libertarian pedagogy under the motto "raison d'être". An intersubjective dialogue is established between conditionally outlined figures which actually offers "horizontal" communication at the pace of "reasonable conditions of coexistence". There is no place for a teacher's condescension or excuses for his or her own existence through "donating" knowledge to a passive learner, but there is a place for an educational format with the potential for emancipation.
For example, Paulo Freire, the famous Brazilian pedagogical philosopher, and critic of the institutional approach to the educational system, writes about it in his book "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" (1970): "A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside school, reveals its fundamentally narrative character. This relationship involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patiently-listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified. Education suffers from narration sickness." […] '"Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information. It is a learning situation in which the cognizable object (far from being the end of the cognitive act) intermediates the cognitive actors – teacher on the one hand and students on the other. Accordingly, the practice of problem-posing education entails at the outset that the teacher-student contradiction must be resolved. Dialogical relations – indispensable to the capacity of cognitive actors to cooperate in perceiving the same cognizable object – are otherwise impossible." *
The polished marble surface apparently protects an ideal typological situation of teaching from the threat of big narratives just like a solid framework. The process is played out in iconic scenes of trust and mutual decision making. Heads that face each other plastically reproduce a deep image of care for direct interaction, and the development of aspiration for critical knowledge in the draped texture of one whole body along with gestures of pulling, touching and shared gratitude.
Situations, objects and personalities related to iconic "rebuilding" of social life of other art professions are no less important to Valery Yevdokimov. The sculptor uses iconic experience of ethos-plastic art to show the autonomy of cultural statement in the spheres of classical music, concert performance, and the Russian national idea presented in non-ideological space of portraits depicting philosophers, writers and clergymen. Nevertheless, since we are dealing with both specific topics and entire professional worlds that produce lots of referential meanings, we cannot, unfortunately, address these questions in the text. These require a separate study.
* TN: Translation by Myra Bergman Ramos.