Thinking Collections: Telling Tales: A Survey Exhibition of Kyzyl Tractor Art Collective, a signature program of Asia Contemporary Art Week 2018 and Focus Kazakhstan, is a landmark initiative celebrating the art of Kazakhstan through four thematic presentations in London, Berlin, Suwon, and Jersey City.
This unprecedented survey reunites Kyzyl Tractor collective, known for their feverish experimentations in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, after almost two decades of working separately and, occasionally, together. The exhibition highlights each artist's individual practice and contextualizes their work from all periods in connection to one another. The group is acclaimed for reorienting nomadic, Sufi, and Shamanistic philosophies as a new artistic language in juxtaposition with the region's seismic socio-economic and political shifts.
The show comprises two monumental sculptural works – one newly conceived and another a reproduction of an older destroyed work – alongside numerous archival photos of Kyzyl Tractor's earlier performances, sculptures, paintings, drawings, found objects, and other paraphernalia. On October 14, the opening day of the exhibition, the collective will reenact one of their legendary performance rituals entitled Purification.
Constant nomadic movement, a common narrative of the 1990s, is present in most of Kyzyl Tractor's performances. Sacred materials such as wood, wool, felt, and other textiles found in the steppes of Kazakhstan are frequently featured, along with instruments like the Shan-Kobyz, dombra, and drums. The principles of the spatial-structural composition school and dervish, nomadic, and Tengri heritage are visible in the first ten years of their performative practice.
Established in the early 1990s by Vitaliy Simakov, a college professor and member of the spatial-structural composition school, Kyzyl Tractor's name and members have fluctuated throughout the collective's existence. The first known title of the collective was Shymkent Trans Avant-Garde and then sAA, a verbal expression short for salem, meaning 'hello' or 'peace be upon you'.
Central to the exhibition is an installation of over 45 paintings made by Moldakul Narymbetov – an artist, baksy (shaman), poet, philosopher, and former lead member of Kyzyl Tractor – from the 1980s until his recent passing in 2014, which are on loan from the Eurasian Cultural Alliance. Hundreds of other works in the exhibition are by current key members Smail Bayaliyev, Said Atabekov, Vitaliy Simakov, and Arystanbek Shalbayev and were gathered directly from the artists' studios, archives, as well as private and museum collections in Kazakhstan and Central Asia.
The title Thinking Collections: Telling Tales references the curator Leeza Ahmady's thesis of"seeing the artist as the first collector" beyond an art market lens; it is also the guiding conceptual framework for Asia Contemporary Art Week 2018.