Excavating Enigmas

Relatively modern: Dikarev and Dikareva pose beside her sculpture 'Four Cast'
Bill Kelley

Inside the ArTrujillo gallery, the music piped through the loudspeakers seamlessly segues from a Neil Diamond song to a song by the defunct emo band At the Drive-In to a rousing rumba tune. For me, they're like little prerecorded messages from my past, reminding me of things like road trips in my mom's salt-eaten Granada. But mostly I'm reminded of Bush's 2000 pseudo-victory and the numerous Tom Brokaw faux pas that occurred the night At the Drive-In played at First Avenue. Somehow, irrelevant media moments have become seared on my brain, forming the exterior of my personal time capsule like mega-brand packaging: Where was I when Michael Jackson was arrested on child molestation charges? And, more important, what was I wearing?

Upon further inspection of the gallery's interior, the pieces on display in the current exhibit, "Inside Eternity," also explore the concept of time shifts sheathed in plastic moments. But instead of mapping out intervals, time has collapsed. The past, present, and future exist as one, connected by universal symbols, ancient philosophies, and shapes that connect and overlap. St. Paul artists Vladimir Dikarev and his stepdaughter Natasha Dikareva have used the gallery's three rooms to construct a sort of space-time continuum beginning with Natasha's sculpture, Four Cast.

The piece is new, but it looks like a Mesopotamian relic. The weathered clay and architectural accoutrements could've been covered with layers of earth for generations. A large, four-headed sphinxlike sculpture is displayed atop a metal cage. Dangling in mid-air between a metal dome that rests on top of the heads is a cracked belfry, perhaps used to summon worshippers at dusk. The time-scarred piece looks like a temple entrance, sundial, or a directory to the gods. It's both otherworldly and wholly familiar. In many ways, it's a fitting entrance piece for an exhibit steeped in spirituality.

Natasha, who like her father was raised in the Ukraine, says she was inspired by mythology and kitchen-table conversations about the cross-cultural predominance of eternal values. "My art is about an endless strive for a better human being, looking inside and finding love, hope, and friendship," she says. "Like Dostoevsky wrote, 'Beauty will save the world.'"

If it sounds heady, it's because it is. Natasha and Vladimir's respective paintings and sculptures are like an extended meditation on universal pathos: Man perpetually connected by a single quest for beauty, and in this case, the time it takes to find it.

At first glance, the two artists seem diametrically opposed. Vladimir's painting, Lagoon of Serenity, for example, appears futuristic, with a shell-topped column rising from the center of an ocean that's surrounded by an iridescent quartz core. Earth looks like it's been chipped away to reveal prismatic chunks that glow in electric pinks, yellows, and greens. But a closer look reveals that the artists' works are linked by a fascination with empyrean imagery and enigmatic figures. In Serenity, an ancient prophet also appears eaten away by time. And all that's left of a pirate ship seemingly eons old is its kaleidoscopic skeleton.

In fact, throughout the exhibit, Natasha and Vladimir's works are juxtaposed to reveal a deeper connection between the two artists, each visitor, and beyond. Consider Vladimir's beautiful, Chagall-influenced painting Three Sisters. Three classically European-looking women in turn-of-the-century headdresses and tea-and-crumpets gowns sit on a time-warped couch that cascades into a delicate background of pastel, Easter-egg-like swirls.

Next to it is Natasha's sculpture Babylon Underground Installation, which includes the heads of three gods or prophets whose hands extend from the wall in supplication. In an echo of the shapes in Vladimir's painting, Natasha has placed a giant egg in the center of her three primeval images. Viewed together, the two pieces appear so similar in content that it's downright eerie.

"I grew up contemplating his majestic pieces," Natasha says of her stepfather. "He is in my blood." In other words, they're mysteriously and eternally connected. And they hope that in removing that external, media-created casing, everyone else will be, too.

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