Alexander Ugay (Kyzil-Orda, Kazachstan, 1978) is a representative of the new generation of the Central Asian contemporary art. He started his artistic activity in 1998. This generation of artists prefers to work with new technology and cyber games. He uses these technological tools however in the context of his personal life and against the background of his own memory.
Alexander Ugay is from a family of Kazakhstany Koreans which were deported to Central Asia from the Far East in the 30-ties by Stalin’s force. He studied in the sea-men college in St. Petersburg, then graduated from Low University in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), where he founded a creative group ‘Bronepoezd’ (‘An armored train’) in partnership with Roman Maskalev in 2000. The group produced a kind of ‘cinema-objects” in the form of short experiential ﬁlm parables and ﬁlm performances, recorded on 16 mm ﬁlm by old ﬁlm cameras manufactured in the Soviet period. The whole process of development and montage was carried out manually, and as a result the production quality of ﬁlms is unpredictable. Thus, they really have a lot of retro and nostalgic features. The latest works of the group relate to the actualization of the Soviet Union’s inheritance and often have a thin coating of ‘new romanticism’.
Since 2002 Alexander Ugay lives in Almaty and he is mainly involved in photo and video projects and research projects of himself as well as in partnership with the ‘Bronepoezd’ group, or other artists. His main interest is the historical development and its relations to nowadays. Sometimes he organizes a kind of research expeditions, to the Aral Sea for example, where his family is from. There he writes a short of
Haiku for the minor video-novels about Aral Sea and makes some ‘Holy performances’ dedicated to the memory of his Grandfather. When the family was living in Aralsk and the Aral Sea was not dried up yet, his grandfather was the captain of a ship. Sometimes Ugay creates digital painting (‘Paradise Landscape’, 2004), photo-projects (‘We are from Texas’, 2002-2005), or video-performances (‘Tea-Ceremony’, 2001, ‘Kung-Fu’, 2003). On other occasions the artists shoots ‘movies’: he writes a scenario, manages the team and actes like the director of the ﬁlm.
The biggest example of such ‘movie-making’ is his video-novel ‘Mourning’. It was created in partnership with the ‘Bronepoezd’ group in 2004. The work consists of three parts. The ﬁrst part named ‘Universal Sadness’ shows a romantic nostalgia towards sentimental Soviet movies. This part continuously shows a bride riding a bicycle, who passes by a dull cemetery. It is mixed with a parody on the childrens’ game ‘War Fighting’ in the second part of the ﬁlm named ‘Death of a Hero’. These two parts are accomplished by the black irony of the hanging of the genius – a character of the third part named ‘Love to Eternity’. The justiﬁed eclecticism in this piece of art is presented by the consequence of three parts recorded by the favorite 16 mm camera, alternated by brief sceneries of the gloomy city landscape.
This deliberate eclecticism of ‘Mourning’ is further emphasized by the unpredictability of the sound. The ‘Universal Sadness’ is accompanied with folk music by Peruvian violinist players, and in addition to the sounds of shooting in the ‘Death of a Hero’, the music by a Finish folk group with throat singing has been used. Blues music composed by Alexander Ugay sounds as a ﬁnal chord in the third part, ‘Love to Eternity’. The ﬁlm is presented as a stylish and easy piece for perception, and it simultaneously arouses smile, surprise, sadness and excitement. ‘Mourning’ may be regarded as a sample of the identity of artists who were brought up in the multicultural environment of the Central Asian Republics during the post-Soviet period – the identity of a cosmopolitan generation for whom the global post-
Soviet context is more important than the autochthon reﬂection.
We are from Texas
The project named ‘We are from Texas’ is a new self-developing piece by Alexander Ugay. It is the artist’s interpretation of the mentality of the dwellers of the Southern Kazakhstan provinces. The artist obviously includes himself in this community, as his native town Kyzyl-Orda is located in the central part of the Southern Kazakhstan Region. The name ‘Texas’ in the project is not occasional. The Southern Regions of Kazakhstan are called ‘Texas State’ because they are connected with oil production. Additionally, the people who live in this area are known for their rough features of character and their independence, which makes them similar to Texas cowboys.
Starting in 2002, Alexander Ugay takes pictures depicting life of ‘Kazakh Texas’ whenever he goes there on vacations. He usually travels by train and therefore there are a lot of railway sceneries in his project. Additionally one can see his beloved Granny, his schoolmates and oriental bazaars, railway stations, small restaurants. Despite the fact that all pictures are marked with peculiar local features, Alexander Ugay believes that such a simple provincial life is similar everywhere in the world. In this sense the project ‘We are from Texas’ can be called both sarcastic and globalistic. Friendly humor can also be seen in the style of the black and white pictures which the artist develops manually at home. These also create additional shades of nostalgic provinciality.