MICHAEL MURPHENKO

A Metaphor of Social Races

Kostyantyn Doroshenko [curator's text]

"Clearly, humanism as a theoretical and moral problem
can and should be studied and discussed.
But there are different kinds of humanism"
Den Xiaoping1

This project was created and first presented at XXIV World Congress of Legal and Social Philosophy in Beijing. The very topic Global Harmony and Rule of Law combined two different self-sufficient values, each of which being by all means dominating in the minds of a certain group of people.

Absolutization of the rule of law is difficult to reconcile with harmony globally, if only because there is no global legal tradition. What should be considered the source of law – God-given scriptures, human-made laws, customs or precedent? Attempts at unification are bound to result in global disharmony.
For "Whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat" (Carl Schmitt)2.

Insectoids and Reptiloids

For a man who realised some truths about the structure of the planet, a new perspective opens up on the humanity and the world. "To say it in the words of the famous 'geologist' Thomas Berry, nature is not a “collection of objects” but a “communion of subjects”," quotes Tu Weiming3, professor at Beijing and Harvard universities. But true geologists truly can create bold theories and unexpected constructs. Some were developed by the Kyrgyz scientist Ilyas Sadybakasov. He has studied the Himalayas4 at length and made geological discoveries about their structure, which are highly regarded by the international academic community, but he also created an extravagant geohistorical and social metaphor dividing humanity into insectoids and reptiloids5. What is meant here is not some kind of fantastic theory about the evolution of Homo sapiens from lizards or insects. There is also no need to fear the danger of racism, even though we are talking about races, it is not ethnic races, but social: two types of social mentality, two models of civilisations, influenced by geography.

According to Sadybakasov, reptiloid nations have historically been seafaring peoples. They dig canals wherever they can (Suez, Panama). Intelligence, personal development, and progress, which facilitated survival, and later, comfort, are indisputable values of the reptiloid worldview. Individuality is its central theme. Personal rights, including the right to go to heaven after death or at least the right to claim that God is dead. This is a world where time is more important than space and the rule of law facilitates and suppresses voluntarism at the same time, thus substituting harmony.

The insectoid world-view originated on mainland, at a time when it still seemed endless. There, survival, and later, prosperity, depended on the community, on what Confucius calls "mutuality"6. This is a beehive, a community, a hierarchy, a ceremonial. An individual is but a cell in the social body, а "the self is recognized not as an isolated individual but as existing in society along with other human beings"7. This world discovered karma instead of a single God. It owns space and cares little about time, for haste and unrestraint are detrimental to harmony.

Ilyas Sadybakasov's concept is both vast in the style of the epical / poetical Kyrgyz worldview and structured to the extent of schematic perfection of the mandala. It acknowledges the overlapping of influences and interpenetrations between insectoid and reptiloid nations, economies and cultures, and marks zones of social mutations populated by reptiloid insectoids and insectoid reptiloids, as well as other complications and collisions that could be compared to the intensity and the surprisingly indicative entanglements of the Kyrgyz epic about Manas the Magnanimous.

However, for the artistic exploration of the world the image comes first, with its power to unfold in the perception of the viewer, for each person - in a unique way. This is what Michael Murphenko is using, by taking Sadybakasov's hypothesis as a seductive proposal of an artistic game.

Modern history

The rhetoric of one of the creators of our modern world, Ronald Reagan, contains a number of claims that work in favour of Sadybakasov's metaphor. The 40th president of the USA explained the same difference from a geopolitical standpoint: "Although the Soviet Union is a traditionally continental country endowed with natural and energy resources, having common land frontiers with Europe and Asia, it has a powerful ocean fleet, which is completely unjustified by any defence needs. The fleet is designed for offensive operations, such as shutting off sea routes which enable the functioning of the free world; operations that would make it impossible to help the allies of the free world by sea.

Unlike the USSR, the US is a maritime nation by necessity due to its dependency on the import of vital strategic materials from overseas. Over 90% of the goods we trade with our overseas partners are transported by sea. Free movement along sea routes is absolutely vital for our country. This is why the task of our navy is to support the unobstructed use of sea communication lines worldwide, which is a significantly bigger task than shutting off those communication lines in strategically vulnerable spots. For us, controlling the seas is absolutely essential"8.

Boasting the fact that intellectuals found followers of the doctrine to be like "Neanderthals whose mental evolution stopped at the stage of the grasp reflex"9, Reagan insisted on a reptiloid postulate: "Collectivism suppresses the noblest motives in an individual"10. This juxtaposition as formulated by him can be regarded as classical: "Up" towards total personal freedom, the age-long dream of mankind; to a total personal freedom consistent with the rules of society. "Down" towards the totalitarianism of an anthill" 11.

Meanwhile, Den Xiaoping, the architect of the PRC's economic reforms, dismissed discussions on "abstract human essence and humanism"12 as counterproductive and suggested international cooperation based on Confucian 'mutuality': "In my opinion, when settling international territorial disputes, instead of negotiations on sovereign rights one could try to jointly reclaim disputed territories first. When dealing with these issues we should look for new ways of settling disputes based on acknowledging reality"13.

Joseph Raz, professor at Columbia University, raises the question of acknowledging reality today, in times of globalisation and global financial crisis, when the economic situation in Reagan's and Den Xiaoping's countries has significantly changed and reptiloids and insectoids have acknowledged the improbability of mental victory and the reality of customary diffusion: "Is it acceptable that international organisations whose office holders are drawn disproportionately from a few powerful countries should decide about the good sense or otherwise of the practices of countries all over the world?"14

Right and rights

Ilyas Sadybakasov's hypothesis is touchy from the point of view of political correctness. Its wit also lies in the fact that, from the point of view of political correctness, it cannot be denounced: being an insect is no more and no less respectful or offensive than being a reptile. Besides, "we already know to what dangerous extremities we are led by prophylaxis in every sphere: social, medical, economic or political. In the name of the highest possible degree of security, an endemic terror may well be instituted that is in every way as dangerous as the epidemic threat of catastrophe" (Jean Baudriallard)15. This is even more true with regard to the territory of thought.

A mind not bound by stereotypes reacts in a creative way. During our conversation, Lyudmila Glukhareva, professor at Russian State Humanitarian University, remarked that even if Ilyas Sadybakasov's theories may at first seem dissonant with the unifying theme of the XXIV World Congress, the legal practice can benefit from the observations of the Kyrgyz scientist in terms of legal psychology.

Mohammad Khatami, who was elected Iran's president from his post as a director of the National Library, has once said that "God addresses the true individual ahistoric essence of a person. Therefore, at their core, all God-given religions are not different from one another. Differences arise from variations of religious norms, laws and codes of behaviours which regulate the social life of people and the administering of justice in a society."16

Today this statement is being developed by Joseph Raz: "…contrary to much current rhetoric, the rights are not absolute, their just interpretation and implementation requires sensitivity to cultural diversity and to the validity of other ends"17. He warns: "In the existing climate, they [the human rights practices] lead themselves to reckless activism, which ignores the fact that rights impose duties and that the case the existence of the duties has to be established beyond pointing to the value of the right to the right-holder"18.

19 years ago, Jean Baudrillard has already exposed the speculative ramble of human rights, of their turning into superstitious abracadabra: the "right to live" is an idea that sets all pious souls atremble, but when this idea evolves into the right to die, the absurdity of the whole business becomes obvious. For, after all, dying (and living too) is a destiny, a fate - be it happy or unhappy - and certainly not a right.

Why not demand the "right" to be a man or a woman? Or, for that matter, a Leo, an Aquarius or a Cancer? But what would it mean to be a man or a woman if it were a right? What makes life exciting is the fact that you have been placed on one side or the other of the sexual divide, and you must take it from there. Those are the rules of the game, and it makes no sense to break them. No one can stop me from claiming the right to move my knight in a straight line on the chessboard, but where does it get me? Rights in such matters are idiotic.

Through cruel irony we have reached the right to work. The right to unemployment! The right to strike! No one can even see the surreal humour of such things any more. Occasionally, though, black humour does get through here and there, as when condemned to death, an American claims the right to be executed despite the efforts of umpteen human-rights organizations to obtain a stay of execution"19.

Tolerance

Ilyas Sadybakasov's concept provides an indisputable basis for tolerance. The grotesqueness of its conceptual framework makes it impossible to insist on the superiority or rightness of any part of humanity. Within the insectoid / reptiloid discourse, such a discussion immediately turns into "the ape question" (George Gurdjieff)20.

It has become obvious that the economic globalisation has no power to homogenise mentalities. At the World Congress on Legal and Social Philosophy, themed Law and Fairness in a Global Society, which took place in 2005 in Granada (Spain), Juergen Habermas warned: "… As to the specific form of the new global order: the hegemonic liberalism does not strive for a law-governed, politically constructed world community, but instead of such a cosmopolitan legal order it strives for an international order of pro-forma independent liberal states acting under the protection of a superstate guaranteeing peace, and complying with the imperatives of completely liberalised global markets. According to this model, peace would be guaranteed not because of law but because of the ethical values of the imperial power"21.

To argue for the rule of a single legal order, or a moral, for all mankind is just as productive as the never-ending attempts of people "to find out, no matter what, whether they evolved from apes or whether the apes evolved from them"22. Joseph Raz leads the discussion in a new direction: "The difficulty is to make practical sense of the right, to acknowledge both its universality and its sensitivity to cultural variations. The current practice of international human rights is deficient in this regard. It is more likely to invoke cultural differences to condemn them rather than to acknowledge their validity"23.

Tolerance is not an easy virtue. The closer an individual is to the triviality of life, the greater the degree of inner commitment it requires. The Tolerance cycle by the Chinese painter Fang Min, which was displayed in Beijing (798 ArtZone), precisely during the World Congress, illustrates this in an amazingly simple manner. His paintings show praying/meditating Buddhist monks with insects crawling over their faces, aiming for their mouths, ears and eyes. The teachings of Buddha Gautama insist on respecting all living creatures, even the smallest, making no distinction between killing a human being or an insect. The caricature-like grimaces of the monks obliged to endure the crawling on their faces demonstrate with great psychological accuracy the true difficulty and tension of the path of non-theoretical tolerance for an individual. A person must indeed learn a lot about themselves for their heart to grow big enough "to be able to tolerate anything that we find unpleasant"24. This state can be attained only through practice.

Dialogue is the only one path to global harmony. It occurs only when both parties are ready to listen. Or, according to Tu Weiming, "The minimum precondition for dialogue is tolerance. Tolerance is undoubtedly a virtue, but it involves hesitation, reluctance and involuntariness"25. For xenophobia, which is typical of both reptiloids and insectoids, is one of the few phenomena that can be said to be universally human. To fight it one needs a strong will and perseverance, as is always the case with chthonian demons.

Art

It can be said that the painter Michael Murphenko practices, studies and tests tolerance through his own art and life. An Irishman, born in Scotland, a citizen of the United Kingdom, who grew up in Australia, studied art in Belgium and chose Ukraine as the place for artistic expression, he is a member of the cosmopolitan clan of nomadic artists, the dervishes of the international cultural dialogue. His art is a personal study of the inner world through the diversity of the outer world and vice versa. He has nothing in common with the bourgeois jumble of New Age with its Roerichs and Coelhos, but he would agree with Tu Weiming: "In the global community, doing philosophy can no longer be confined to one cultural universe no matter how broad its scope, complex its argumentation, and sophisticated its conceptualization"26.

Working on the theme of the search for harmony among insectoids and reptiloids, Michael Murphenko turned to black-and-white graphics, just like in his project Magic Places (2001, St. Lukas Art Institute, Brussels, Belgium). Then, scrolls of paper filled in an expressionist manner with mysterious graphical figures resembling symbols of individual totemism, were spread on the floor in the shape of a pathway or a riverbed. "A picture hung on the wall has become so common that it becomes a visually flat object. When placed on the floor, it can create an unexpected illusion of depth," remembers the artist. He wanted the viewers to walk on the artworks, without fetishism, accepting the idea of art as a path. However, the effect turned out to be different: people were gazing at the artworks as if into an abyss.

We are recreating this expositional effect in this exhibition which has been held in Beijing, Miami and Bishkek. Again, there are graphic black-and-white artworks, but this time on traditional Chinese rice paper and in Chinese calligraphic ink. They are placed on the floor, which is an unusual environment for exhibiting art. This time they represent not a pathway but a stream of water as a symbol of the territory of the subconscious. From there, the viewer is confronted with the human attempt to break out of the matrix of the reptiloid/insectoid opposition, into a world of harmony, discovering tolerance as an option, fighting discomfort and repulsion.

Michael Murphenko couldn't help reflecting on the world of Chinese calligraphy. However, unlike most reptiloids, he saw in it not exotic beauty or technical perfection, not its visual effect. Calligraphy opened up to him as poetry, as a world of emotions, which a master uses to create a perfect writing. The viewer reads it aloud enthusiastically, like a song of gratitude to the artwork.

In this project, Michael Murphenko firstpresented to the public the visual idea of creating images using dots and circles. They can act as an overall formal principle of the artwork or providing additional visual sense to the classical European sense. These graphical molecules imply an inner, non-material look of things. In different drawings they may represent a conversation, a breath, a thought. The dots turn into stars in the sky or into star dust which fills the inner world of certain individuals. Here, we can also see the myriad emotions, thoughts and wishes which are present in us at any given moment.

For Michael Murphenko, this is a graphical representation of human essence. "People think that the mind is monolithic, just like the physical body. But this is an illusion. The body is composed of molecules. The mind, even more so, is composed of countless parts. These dots and circles visually represent the way how people think and feel and what their mind looks like," says the artist. The inner world of a person is neither a dichotomy nor a dialectic, but infinite fineness and diversity. Whether it is structured in harmony or in cancerous metastases of the mind, is a question of the direction of the inner life.

Murphenko's graphical molecule in the representation of the inner person reconciles the fundamental differences between reptiloids and insectoids – a miracle only art is capable of. "The concept of the individual self in European psychology is perhaps one of the least defined. Despite its empirical accessibility, its presence in introspection (or, rather, exactly because of this obvious accessibility), this term has an extremely broad semantic spectrum. Some psychologists include in the concept of "self" not only the whole person, but also their immediate material and social environment while others see it as just a relatively small layer of the psyche. (…) Nevertheless, despite significant differences as to its interpretation, all European psychologists agree on the fact that the individual self definitely exists and the discussion should concentrate on its empirical characteristics.

A fundamentally different approach can be found in Buddhist psychology. All Buddhist schools, regardless of their disputes as to other philosophical and psychological problems, claim that the individual self in reality is not there, meaning that it really does not exist and constitutes an illusion, as well as that there is no 'true reality'. This being said, in all Mahayana Buddhist schools, the Chan school included, the belief in the reality of the existence of an individual self is declared as a deception, just like the belief in the reality of the existence of all external objects, all structural elements of being and the whole outside world of "things and events"27.

The way in which Michael Murphenko portrays the human individual self using bubbles and dots corresponds with the mindset of each type. The result is an image which is bigger that all insectoid or reptiloid elements in a person – an encounter of the Eastern soul with the Western mind.

Climax – Bishkek

Born in Beijing during 2009, the project "Insectoids and Reptiloids – In Search of Harmony" was first presented in the USA in 2010 at Red Dot Miami Art Fair. Now in 2011, this targeted ideological artistic penetration into the heart of insectoid and reptiloid worlds has its natural climax in Bishkek. The geographical location of Kyrgyzstan, with the impregnability of its mountains agaist invaders, and the Kyrgyz national temperament, which combines softness and confident strength, created a unique place for the country on the Great Silk Way, precisely between civilizations, remaining not only within the historic site, but also the symbolic zone, never short of topicality. In the motherland of Ilias Sadybakasov, whose intellectual constructions became the skeleton for project's imagery, it appears in its multimedia exuberance, combining graphic arts, installations, objects and photography.

The show room glass walls in the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts named after Gapar Aitiev inspired Michael Murphenko to create the objects made of glass. Its transparency encourages interest, promises accessibility, suggests being easy-to-get of an object, image, sense. At the same time it protects them from direct contact as an invisible, however, existing mental border. One can cross it only through a metamorphosis, which is fixed by Murphenko's objects.

Impreza in Bishkek is a world premiere of the photo project called "Aziz", a series of portraits of a Kyrgyz lad, created in 2003 by Svitlana Vol'nova from Kyiv. The artist who was born and matured in St. Petersburg, worked in the USA and now works in Ukraine, has attempted to perceive the sensation world of a person from Central Asia. She has tried to break through the stereotype of impenetrability of an Asian face; to appeal to body language, its plastique as characteristic of all humans. For Svitlana, a top-model, a fashion producer and performer, a TV-star, it was crucial to choose the protagonist of the artistic cross-cultural dialogue conditioned by camera's synchronized interpretation, not from the pool of professional models or actors, it was necessary to cast a person whose private space remains sacred. The striking haphazard of the frames creates a reference to the aesthetics of Terry Richardson, an American who has revolutionized the aesthetics of shooting celebrities and fashion.

It is true that some artists who shape the world of advertising succeed in transforming this experience into something different in quality. This is what Antonio Meneghetti, an Italian psychologist, writes about, "Nowadays the high art, the true art with capital "A", is practically the advertisement of being"28.

Establishing, in the history of photography, the drama of the spontaneous emotion /provocation and its instant graphic fixation, Vol'nova doesn't conceal her fascination with the protagonist in his "here and now". Even the aspiring Petersburg engraving academician and the father of Ukrainian culture, Taras Shevchenko, wrote from his Central Asian expulsion, "Kyrgyz people are so spectacular, so authentic and naive that they are crying out for being depicted and I go crazy simply looking at them"29.

Exploring physicality with her own creative experience, Vol'nova herself often appears as an art object – in defiles, photo sessions or in provocative apparitions at social events. This theme is being revealed through her image by Ukrainian artists in their art projects (Illia Chychkan "The Puppies", 2003) and theatrical performances (Les' Poderevianskyi "Pavlik Morozov" directed by Andriy Krytenko, 2011). Being a perfect expert on body transformation by means of clothes, make-up, accessories and image character, owing to digital technologies Svitlana, by appealing to Aziz, essentially imitates what Karl Briullov taught Shevchenko, "Aim at reproducing a living body: it is so beautiful that you simply need to be able to feel it, and you are not the one entitled to correct it" 30. Both black-and-white "Aziz" series and the color one with the same protagonist ,"Tkhanky", weren't edited using any of existing software programs before print; thus leaving the viewer an opportunity to see a human being without any editing.

Kostyantyn Doroshenko, Beijing, September 2009 – Kyiv, Parovozzz, May 2011

 

 

 

[1] Den Xiaoping. The Main Issues of Modern China / Translated from Chinese, Moscow, 1988. P. 38.

[2] Quoted from Juergen Habermas. The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory / Translated from German by А. Dakhniy. Lviv, 2006. P. 265.

[3] Tu Weiming. Cultural diversity, intercivilizational dialog, and harmony – a Confucian perspective // IVR 24th World Congress “Global harmony and rule of law”. Papers. Plenary sessions. Beijing, 2009, P. 38.

[4] Ilyas Sadybakasov. Neotectonics of High Asia. Moscow, 1990.

[5] Kostyantyn Doroshenko. Tomorrow is Asia // Public People. К., 2008, №5 (58). P. 83.

[6] Kaizuka Shigeki. Confucius. The First Teacher of the Heavenly Empire / Translated from English by А. Valdman. Moscow, 2004. P. 138.

[7] Kaizuka Shigeki. Confucius. The First Teacher of the Heavenly Empire. P. 139.

[8] Ronald Reagan. Speaking My Mind: Selected Speeches / Translated from English. Moscow, 1990. p. 119.

[9] Ronald Reagan. Speaking My Mind: Selected Speeches. p. 81.

[10] RonaldReagan. ibid. p. 101.

[11] RonaldReagan. ibid. p. 87.

[12] DenXiaoping. The Main Issues of Modern China. p. 42.

[13] DenXiaoping. ibid. p. 53.

[14] Joseph Raz. Individual rights in the world order // IVR 24th World Congress “Global harmony and rule of law”. Papers. Plenary sessions. Beijing, 2009, P. 16.

[15] Jean Baudrillard. The Transparency of Evil / Translated from French by L. Lyubarskaya, Е. Markova. Мoscow, 2000. P. 155.

[16] MohammadKhatami. Islam, dialogue and civil society / Translated from English by V. Tribunskaya, Е. Kudryavtseva, G. Kovrizhenko, V. Terin. Moscow, 2001. P. 15-16.

[17] Joseph Raz. Individual rights in the world order. Р. 17

[18] Joseph Raz. Individual rights in the world order. Р. 17.

[19] Jean Baudrillard. The Transparency of Evil. P. 128-129.

[20] G. Gurdjieff. Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson: All And Everything: 1st Series. St. Petersburg, 2001. P. 273.

[21] Juergen Habermas. The Kantian Project of Cosmopolitan Law / Translated from English by S. Maksimov // The problems of legal philosophy. К., 2007-2008, Volume IV-V. P. 15.

[22] G. Gurdjieff. ibid.

[23] Joseph Raz. Individual rights in the world order. Р. 16.

[24] Tolerance. Collection of Fang Min’s oil paintings / Chief editor Cheng Xu. Shanghai, 2007. Р. 2.

[25] Tu Weiming. Cultural diversity, intercivilizational dialog, and harmony – a Confucian perspective. Р. 41.

[26] Tu Weiming. ibid. Р. 36.

[27] S.P. Nesterkin. The problem of the individual self in medieval Chan-Buddhism// Psychological Aspects of Buddhism. Novosibirsk, 1991. P. 49-50 (abridged quotations).

[28] Менегетти Антонио. Система и личность. Москва, 2007. С. 75.

[29] Цит. за: Білецький Платон. Апостол України. Життя і творчість Тараса Шевченка. Київ, 1998. С. 174.Менегетти Антонио. Система и личность. Москва, 2007. С. 75.

[30] Цит. за: Білецький Платон. Там само. С. 41.

TEXTS:

curator's text:
A Metaphor of Social Races

IMAGES:

IR III
instalation IR III
IR II
Chinese paper graphics IR II
IR I
concept graphics IR I

EXHIBITIONS:

Sept 2009 >> Insectoids and Reptiloids - in Search of Harmony,
Beijing, CPR

Dec 2010 >> Insectoids Reptiloids II,
Red Dot, Miami

Sept 2011 >> Insectoids Reptiloids III, Aitiev National Fine Arts Museum, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan