In an interview with Ella Kruglyanskaya in Art Agenda following the reopening of This is a Robbery – an exhibition set across both of Thomas Dane Gallery’s spaces on Duke Street, St James’s – the prevailing topic was intimacy: intimacy in the subject matter – the physical closeness of Kruglyanskaya’s painted female figures, who also deny an objective gaze; intimacy in the framing of the images, the clearly demarcated scene in which a body is being partially revealed and partially concealed; and a heightened intimacy found upon re-entering the physical gallery space after an apparent eternity of detached web perusal.
Kruglyanskaya’s work is not short of discursive material; the movement-straddling incorporation of genre opens up a series of its own questions – in The Arrangement, 2019, late cubist inspired drawings, filtered through some kind of aesthetics of style or fashion illustration, sit back in trompe l’oeil as part of some Dutch still life composition. However, when it came to the intimacy of the figures portrayed, my findings pointed to a perceived intimacy directly resulting from lockdown solitude, which, for me, only served to obfuscate what was really taking place in the works. In the same way that the BBC’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People (which we’ve all now forgotten about since reuniting with our loved ones) produced an intense yearning for intimacy in the viewers due to the program coinciding with a previously thought unfathomable level of isolation, This is a Robbery induced an intimacy which might perhaps have not otherwise have existed – the difference between Normal People and Kruglyanskaya’s show being that the latter is just as valuable without the framing of a global pandemic.
Once this abstract cultural framing was de-fogged, Kruglyanskaya’s complex use of physical framing became visible. Traditionally being a practice that provides a painting with protection, decoration, and ease of hanging, framing ultimately has the function of enclosing what is in the picture – separating it from everything that isn’t included. But, as exhibitions began to usurp the role of the artwork, becoming cohesive entities in themselves rather than lots of things all in one place, the necessity to differentiate between the works – to demarcate where one ends and another begins – diminished (this demarcation still exists – it is just swept under the carpet in the form of a ‘list of works’ PDF).
Traditionally, we might think of the frame as being at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of edges; it is definitive and encloses its subject with pride – unlike the torn corner, which is supposedly the hallmark of spontaneity and incompletion. Kruglyanskaya’s rough paper edges, however – nailed starkly to the wall – appear in the gallery as they also appear set back in trompe l’oeil in her larger paintings. The paintings themselves are displayed canvas to the wall – or else a painted frame is included, as in LA Mugs, 2019, a work without which the show would read in an entirely different way. Rather than being an allusion to intimacy, the framing choices seem to me to be rather an extension of Kruglyanskaya’s complete overhaul of function: drawings are also painted inside larger works; frames are also painted frames – demarcating and enclosing images but in such a way that they are not independent of each other; and ruffled paper edges are also painted paper edges, such that the drawings cease to be source material for the paintings, and instead the two orbit each other which no discernible order or hierarchy.
When it came to my reintroduction to the physical gallery, rather than coming across a new perceived intimacy (as I leaned over a duct-tape line to get a straight-on view of one of the works) I was instead thinking about duplication and reference. In an interview for BOMB Magazine, Kruglyanskaya talks of how she ‘always experienced the history of art and of painting in a flattened way, not in a linear, historical way.’ Through the duplication and montage of imagery in online spaces, history is ceasing to be perceived as linear, and is becoming a network of intersecting lines with no discernible start or end – much like the way Kruglyanskaya’s edges have no finitude, existing in a state of reciprocal superposition. However, this flattening extends beyond a blending or incorporation of images. When we see reproductions across the internet – images duplicated from site to site – there is little concern; that is just what images do online – they proliferate. However, when a framed drawing or sketch in Part 1 of the show corresponds directly in composition to a larger painted work in Part 2, a hundred yards up the street, the two works gain an incredibly visceral physical entanglement and sense of location. Almost as if we are zooming out of a map and plotting the two works, this engagement exists in stark contrast to the orbital motion of Kruglyanskaya’s edges, which are in constant reference to each other, and to the relationship between the works as they appear online, side-by-side and implicitly montaged. This sudden awareness of the two gallery sites and the two entangled works introduced a harsh physicality to what before had been a ‘soft’ space of undefined materiality.
An online experience is one which decidedly is lacking in intimacy – true or not, this is the line that is pushed, and therefore something we are inclined to accept. In the same way that people sought a non-physical intimacy through the extensive intimacy of the protagonists in Normal People – couples across the country phoning each other and synchronising their viewing – the intimacy found in This is a Robbery, when I finally got a chance to visit in person, spoke more of the lack of physicality that had preceded this visit.