Slavs and Tatars – A look into princehood

By | December 2, 2015

If you have read Machiavelli’s ” The Prince” or “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, you will be familiar with the concept of instructions to educate new rulers in the art of leadership. The genre of guidebooks goes back to medieval times, with princes being instructed in how to effectively rule their country, lead their troops into battle, and deal with their subordinates.

The current exhibition by Slavs and Tartars “Mirrors for Princes” at the Institute of Modern Art presents the work of an art collective founded in 2006. The focus of the collective is on exhibitions, books and lecture performance relating to the part of Eurasia east of the former Berlin Wall stretching to the west of the Great Wall of China.

The importance of grooming the mind and body is evident throughout the exhibition, addressing the concept of governance as first self-governance. This is the approach taken by the artists, presenting objects of grooming and self-bettering as the fundamentals in creating a successful image of a prince.

Three aspects of grooming are addressed by the artists: hair, jewellery and mirrors. (You will find many, many mirrors!) The grooming of hair is symbolic of the grooming of the mind. The use of prayer beads aims for balance between religion and state, and the insightful use of mirrors challenges our perception of reflection and inner self. Keep an eye out for the intricate wall sculptures utilising light and mirrors to create images. I especially like the attention to  the organised precision of placement of the art works, emphasising the significance of order to a prince.

The centre of the exhibition is the ancient Turkic text “Kutagu Bilig” from the 11th century. As you wander through the space, a chorus of voices fills the air. The words overlap and bounce off each other like beads strung together. Among the giant set of orange prayer beads you can listen to the recordings in six languages from the regions that the work has been shown: German, Polish, Arabic, Gaellic, and Uighur (the original language of the text), and an Australian Aboriginal language of Yuggera (a unique and rare recording made in this language!). The text places special emphasis on body and its distinguishing organs – the heart and the tongue, that are able to empower or destroy an individual.

The exhibition this year has been on display in Zurich and Edinburgh, and will be heading to Houston in January 2016 after its Australian premiere exclusive to IMA.

Exhibition is on at the IMA, Brisbane, until 20th December 2015.

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