Reconstruction of Venus
Daria Barkova
Daria Barkova is a London-based multi-disciplinary artist born in Stavropol, Russia. Daria’s work engages with quotation, appropriation, reference, and reconstruction of the past. As a classical receptionist, in her artistic practice, she aims to challenge images and ideas from any moment in cultural history, using them to develop new, contemporary methodologies, ideologies, and critical stances. Daria’s photographic series “Venus” was heavily inspired by the artistic research of American artists: Cindy Sherman (born 1954) and Hannah Wilke (1940-1993). Both artists are known for working in the technique of staged self-portrait photography addressing the themes of feminism, sexuality, and femininity.
When Hannah Wilke was diagnosed with cancer, she documented her degenerating body in the series “Intra-Venus” (1993), making challenging and critical artwork exploring the physicality of the female body. A series of photographs documented the realities of her physical and mental transformations. Wilke’s work confronts the viewer with a personal, grotesque body. Going through chemotherapy and multiple surgeries Hannah Wilke captured her metamorphosis questioning beauty’s universal goodness and its relationship with the female body. Clear visual parallels between artists’ works can be spotted through the use of the deteriorating beauty of the Roman Goddess in Daria’s work.

Barkova’s “Venus” photographic series primarily focuses on the multitude of ways in which classical ideas of female beauty have been visualized and theorized in Western art. The ideas of Greek scholars nourished all subsequent cultural epochs and, accordingly, were developed at a higher level. The ancient classical ideal constructed the basis of Western European culture. Thus, creating a classical ideal of beauty which was constantly re-visualized and re-theorized by their descendants. Daria seeks to put forth how the classical idea of female beauty has been challenged by examining the interrelated ideas of female beauty and sexuality via an examination of works of art from different historical periods.

Venus has several representations in the literature; Venus is usually described as the goddess of beauty, love, desire, sex, lust, and fertility. For a long time, Christianity constrained artists in showing the body and sexuality so artists embodied this need through mythological images. A woman from a real living person turned into the Roman goddess Venus (adapted from the myths and iconography of her Greek counterpart Aphrodite). During the Renaissance period, the image of Venus was often used in the nude, which gave the genre a new, rather controversial development. Daria claims a desire to deconstruct this accustomed image, first by making a representation of Venus unattractive. Barkova is transforming her own body into an ugly, strange, not-so-erotic symbol of Venus raising contemporary debates on beauty. The abundance of red light refers the viewer to the color’s symbolic meaning: rage, blood, and violence. Venus presented in Barkova’s self-portrait is not a gentle creature, but rather the opposite. We are not seeing an image of a passive replica of the famous “Venus de Milo” (150-125 BC) or Titian’s lying “Venus of Urbino” (1534). An audience is rather presented with a slightly altered, demonic, and fatal image of a re-imagined goddess.

Conceptual portraits of Cindy Sherman are based on the reconstruction of pop imagery like posters, paintings, and films. The series Untitled Film Stills (1977–1980) features the artist as a variety of meticulously observed characters. A self-portrait, among other things, is the most valuable autobiographical document, a reflection of the artist's attitude to the world around him and society, and a reflection of his social and political stances. Alike Cindy Sherman, Daria is using self-portraiture, presenting her body as constructed by complex factors beyond mere appearance.

Working with reception theory would help underline the central position of art history as a process of interpretation rather than a discussion or provision of mere facts. Therefore, through this project, Daria Barkova intends to explore the changing social and cultural values in Western art tradition and how they have manifested into the idea of female beauty in art. Additionally, her self-portraiture series aims at addressing questions such as how exactly does the past affect the present, and what could we plausibly discover from it; how did the aesthetics of the female body change throughout epochs and different periods? Beauty grew into a deliberately ambiguous symbol; which artists begin to manipulate to suit one’s needs. And although beauty is still united by the ancient and moral standards, the construction of a new sex symbol is inevitable.

James Miller
20 January 2023