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An artistic cliffhanger

November 12th, 2018

Image still from film of man walking on tightrope over a cliff, holding paintings in each hand

Taus Makhacheva, Tightrope, 2015. 4k video, colour, sound. Running time: 58 minutes, 10 seconds. Purchased with the F.P. Wood Fund, 2018. Photo: Courtesy of narrative projects, London. © Taus Makhacheva.

Moving methodically back and forth across a valley, a solitary tightrope walker carefully carries 61 paintings and works on paper from one side of a mountain to the other, placing them into an open-sided cage that resembles museum storage racks. This is Tightrope (2015), Taus Makhacheva’s scenic and absorbing video installation. Heralded by The Guardian as “breathtaking” and by The Art Newspaper as “one of the most talked about works” at last year’s Venice Biennale, Tightrope is a new addition to the AGO Collection and is now on view in the Signy Eaton Gallery on Level 2.

Born in Moscow in 1983, Makhacheva now lives part-time in the Republic of Dagestan – which translates to “land of the mountains.” This area in the northern Caucasus region of Russia has peaks so high they can be reached only by helicopter. It was here the artist met Rasul Abakarov, the tightrope walker featured in her film.

Tightrope walking is an ancient Dagestani tradition on the verge of extinction. Abakarov is a fifth-generation tightrope walker. Addressing the complicated history of the Republic of Dagestan — a nation undergoing drastic political and cultural change — and the ancient Dagestani tradition of tightrope walking, Makhacheva’s work is a comment on the precarious state of the nation’s main cultural institution as a guardian of artistic memory.

Watching Abakarov walk across the high cliffs with precious works of art, it’s hard not to think of the vulnerability of our own cultural heritage, the artists that make it and the museums that work to conserve it. “There’s this idea of balancing when you’re involved in cultural production, balancing with survival and balancing on believing that your works will enter history,” Makhacheva said. “For me, it was also kind of talking about how you make a certain history of art visible.”

Learn more about Taus’s work and the inspiration behind Tightrope in the video below:

Visit the AGO to see this fascinating work, which is included in General Admission and now on view in the Signy Eaton Gallery on Level 2.

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