Medicine, market


Zaur Tsugaev
Mother’s portrait, 2021

Plastic, print, leather, plywood
Cards: 5.3×8.5 cm each; inlay: 35×29 cm
Courtesy of the artist

Since his first projects, Zaur Tsugaev’s work has been connected to photography. His early artistic experiments include black- and-white impression shots of residents of Grozny (One on One, Contemporary Art Center, Grozny, 2014). His new work, a portrait of the artist’s mother made from real bank cards featuring individual designs, is based on a 1960s photograph for a school wall of honor celebrating students’ accomplishments.

Ukrainian author and postcolonial thinker Oksana Zabuzhko, writing on the “pre-Kodak era, the era of the Cold War and of Soviet photographic material, in fact, of everything Soviet” in her novel The Museum of Abandoned Secrets, describes the faces of the time as “caramel brown, speckled with the regular smallpox of the ‘waffle’ raster that no Photoshop could cope with today. When scanned, these images lose their power, like poetry in translation.” Bank algorithms could not cope either. Only after the artist’s manipulations could the photograph be printed (the image had to be converted to black-and-white and dots added to enable the scanning of the background).

Contemporary artists address the banking system in various ways. Canadian-British conceptual artist Janice Kerbel, posing as an architecture student, staked out a London bank for a year and half. During this period she devised an elaborate scheme for a bank robbery and later exhibited it accompanied by floor plans and detailed descriptions of engineering systems and security posts (Bank Job, 1999). The Swedish artist duo Goldin+Senneby (Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby) found fame thanks to their project Headless (2007–2015), which linked modern financial markets, and in particular offshore zones, to the secret society founded by French philosopher Georges Bataille.

In Mother’s Portrait Zaur Tsugaev raises the question of family economics and intergenerational care, and hints at the worries of many artists’ parents regarding their children’s financial prospects. The fact that during the making of the work Tsugaev turned to Sberbank—an organization which embodies Russia’s financial system—also leads us to consider that soon not only financial transactions but genetic ones could come under the control of corporations and the state. 

The signature on the bottom right card in Portrait, where the artist’s signature would be on a painting, has been replaced with the name of “the creator of the creator” of the work, Zaur Tsugaev’s mother.