Peter Belyi’s aesthetic exploration is distinguished by the depth and freedom of his critical vision. He is interested in the intersection of civilised problematics, the history of art and contemporary cultural reception. The independence and scope of his viewpoint is derived from his attitude towards the present as a future cultural layer, the cultivated waste products of civilisation. The present, from this perspective, is represented by the totality of what is left over. Rubbish is reevaluated for its significance as a cultural footprint.
Understanding modern times as the archeology of the future helps us to comprehend a material as the medium of a passing moment, and at the same time to bring together an exploration of the expressive qualities of the material with an exploration of form. Peter Belyi investigates the ability of a form to aesthetically construct the space around it and at the same time conducts a dialogue with the history of art – in pure and deliberate formalism, his installations can be read as a love for American minimialism of the 1970s.
For a long time, his work with used materials was related to clarifying what the discarded material was saying and how it was saying it. Apart from the idea of uselessness, and of being unnecessary, which art and rubbish both share, the relationship of the material and time was important to the artist. The idea of time itself accumulating in objects and leaving its mark, but also work around the idea of the ephemerality of its tracks and of touching on the order of loss. The successive development of key themes for the artist has been accompanied by an exploration of the material as a bearer of ideas about the involvement of objects in a different type of relationship. Or, which is the same thing, about the exclusion of objects from this type of relationship, about their rejection from history. That is, the rubbish on its own constructs the historical situation through its interruption, through negativity.
In this way Belyi’s negative aesthetic turns out to be a radically put question about the meaning which remains after the removal of more obvious meanings. But what is hidden behind this interest in time, the footprint, the forgotten and the lost? In the humanism of the material and the way it has been used? In space and form? How to denote the entirety in Belyi’s projects which splinter into all these themes with which he is working? It could be called an exploration of the medium. The question is about what a discarded object is telling us apart from its direct meanings – it is a question about the very essence of the idea of the medium. A natural and logical step on this path is the removal of time as a trace. In this case, what remains in the rubbish, in this medium of pure rejection, apart from form? What can contain additional meaning if everything that can give meaning is erased? It is such questions that construct this negative medium – gigantic sterile rubbish, invested with a single meaning, to destroy any significance which history might have attributed to it.
The form unwinds in interaction with the space aroung it. As the viewer moves through the installation space, the evolution of the form is revealed, the transformation from crumpled paper into scultpure. Light gives an additional modulation to this metamorphosis. In the first room, in natural light, we see objects along the wall which are indistinguishable from crumpled paper balls, but they are made of steel, like the objects in the other two rooms. We have to touch them to understand this. Like Klass Oldenburg who laid bare the frightening characteristics of everyday life, Peter Belyi changes the material, the size and the very purpose of the object. In this way the artist makes our perception collide with the contradiction of reality and the visible. The balls of paper, changed in size and substance, lose their link with previous usage, destruction and rubbish. A large ball of paper reigns on the podium in the centre of the first room. Preserving its form, but increased in size, it acquires a sculptural autonomy and no longer resembles its prototype. The electric light in the second room lights up huge crumpled balls of paper and the space around them which has been structured by their movement. The cold, technical light of the last room, reveals a sculpture like an extract of broken form, the light emphasising the artificiality of the object, the size lays bare the art of its construction. The size takes the form away from pure chance and makes it look like contemporary architecture where chance is being imitated.
On the whole, Peter Belyi’s installations don’t permit the obvious readings, but are always surrounded by a cloud of references drawn from the history of modernism. This new project, in an unexpected way which the artist himself points out, links the modality of Sol LeWitt and the crumpled objects of John Chamberlain. The module becomes a fold, a bend. The crease, after Deleuze, is associated with the aesthetic of excess surface, with a metaphor of the baroque. In ‘Working Materials’ the crease is cleansed of metaphorical meanings and sharpened graphically, a bend is transformed into a break, into the mark of white on white, into a corner of emptiness and a sign of the absent form. In some respects this is a pure idea of sculpture. And the artist finds this idea in the potential of a crumpled and discarded piece of paper.