Beyond Fear: Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov’s Exhibition in Milan

Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov. Museum of Skins. Exhibition view. Milan, 2024. Courtesy of Ncontemporary

‘Museum of Skins’, Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov's inaugural solo show at Milan’s Ncontemporary Gallery encapsulates a journey of catharsis and metamorphosis. Through paintings and masks, his art navigates fear, identity and resilience, offering a poignant exploration of that liminal space where fear dissolves into empowerment.

An alternative title for the first solo show in Milan by Russian artist Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov (b. 1988), who has been based in New York since 2020, might well be ‘Forget Fear!’. The paintings and masks on display are inextricably associated with the artist's troubled childhood, marked by long periods in hospital for a rare kidney anomaly, the clinical demonstrations to which he was subjected, the bullying and abuse he experienced due to his sexual identity, and the isolation he endured in which he spent more time with insects than with his classmates, a nascent artist, observing the brutal strategies for survival of the likes of the red ants or spiders he was exposed to.

Fedotov-Fedorov’s works seem like a means to exorcise, metabolize and, perhaps, forget (the fear). Yet it is not his body that is being investigated - he mostly reserves his body for video performances - but rather that of some nightmarish, indefinable creatures, caught between the human and the animal, the organic and the inorganic. In the two paintings on display from 2023 ‘A Cat’ and ‘Smile Layer’, the figures appear to dissolve. The brushstroke is light, the shades of pink are soft, the boundaries of the shapes seem to melt. They are more juxtaposed blobs than shapes. However, these are more than representations of animals. Here, we find ourselves faced with the materialization of ectoplasms or ghosts. The only residue of physicality are some wounds and orifices where the colour becomes bloodier and the images more pronounced.

There are also three masks on display: two made with remnants from a blanket and a jacket belonging to the artist, the other ceramic. In one of the fabric masks, the eyes and mouth are barely visible, in the second the mouth resembles the jaws of a beast. The features of the ceramic mask, which is dedicated to Giulia, the late artist with whom Fedotov-Fedorov spent a residency in New York, seem to disappear, giving way to a deformed shape, as though acid has dripped onto a face that remains smooth and shiny. These masks, sometimes worn by the artist in his video performances, are used to vent anger, aggression, the desire for revenge, all without showing one's fragility. But “skewered” or resting on steel bars, they are nothing more than fetishes, grafts, skinny faceless totems. Who is behind these masks? Which identities? The masks allow us to assume all the identities to which we lay claim, hiding and defending ourselves from the daily wall of prejudices and stereotypes, the enforced normalcy classifications and social ‘normalizing’ boundaries.  The process of forgetting fear may be long and drawn out, but I believe that the intriguing and uncanny power of Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov’s work lies right there, in that liminal zone between fear and its defeat.

Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov. ‘Museum of Skins’

Milan, Italy
4 April – 25 May 2024

Sign up to receive our regular newsletter


Sign up for our newsletter