Olivier Assayas's film on the aftermath of May 1968 is infantile ultra-leftism
LIKE I say, I get around. Sometimes, though, I even surprise myself.
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
You can't miss it.
Just as you enter the gallery's vast second floor room the stench of crude oil assails the nostrils.
You're inside Transformer No. V579, the size of three ultra-large sheds, and its creator Andrei Molodkin is on hand to explain his intent.
The slim-built Molodkin looks half his 40-odd years and he's got an endearing, child-like smile.
He radiates warmth, but his eyes stay alert.
The oil in the top tubes of the installation represents hell or dystopia, he says, "for you have to wreak havoc on earth to possess it and extract it.
"It fuels greed and corruption. In here, hell is elevated and a dominant force, having swapped places with the light of utopia, of the unattainable harmony of purity of intent and practice."
This Manichaean contrast of darkness and luminosity is blinding.
Yet it's oddly, somewhat menacingly, seductive.
There are no obvious routes of escape, no happy endings on offer.
"Viewers might feel uncomfortable," Molodkin acknowledges. "I surround them with truth in the most intense forms. I specifically use powerful materials - metal, oil and electricity so that people cannot retreat.
"The smell remains with them even after they leave the installation."
Molodkin seems intent on attacking illusions and the comfort of ignorance and in that sense his work has a powerful didactic edge in the tradition of early Soviet art experiments.
Tellingly, the crude in the tubes comes from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia.
This installation and Molodkin's other, equally challenging work, would seem to subscribe to the view that art shapes consciousness and he emphatically agrees it should attempt to do so.
"Art can shape society, it is the only truth," he stresses. "At the moment in Russia artists have a real chance.
"We lived through the communist project and watched it collapse. We then saw capitalism take over and are watching it getting fiercer and fiercer as it begins to crumble from within.
"We don't have illusions as we are not people who have been wrapped up in a comfortable situation all of our lives."
He stresses the importance of communicating with people and society by "using their own language" and exposing illusions "by showing the brute strength and realities of both the materials I choose and concepts I articulate."
Bold words, and Transformer No.V579 makes a powerful and disturbing statement almost entirely political in nature.
Molodkin likens himself metaphorically to Perseus and his apocalyptic struggle with Medusa: "Just as he used his polished shield to kill Medusa transfixed by her own reflection, I use corporate, military and capitalist language as a mirror. I use my art as a mirror, reflecting society's corruption back at it in the hope that people might change," he tells me.
"Unmasking the truth is an ambition of any avant garde as it arises from the decomposing old. The rise of oil as the false prophet is like that of the church and, like it, it is built on blood. I offer understanding, for knowledge is a route to salvation."
Russians instinctively side with the underdog and Molodkin agrees that in painting that goes back to the great realists like Ilya Repin and his Barge Haulers On The Volga, with its empathy and sense of solidarity.
"From the time of my childhood, during the communist project, I was always taught to sympathise with the people who were in the worst position," he explains. "It is the same for most people, when you see on the news societies ruled by dictators, even if you aren't fully aware of the situation, you always support the people who are fighting against corrupt power."
Perturbing the viewer is one thing but art like Molodkin's can also change perceptions.
Transformer No. V579 certainly makes a sensory impact.
Six heavy walls of light and oil surround people when they stand inside it.
Myriad rows of open oil tubes balance on the light beneath and the extremities of the robust frames and fragility of the glass tubes, mixed with the pungent smell of oil physically and mentally challenge perceptions and "hopefully induce a reassessment of attitudes," Molodkin says.
"Throughout history, revolutions have happened due to such high tensions as the ones we are facing in the world today," he asserts.
The sources of those tensions are reflected in his installations, through the materials used and proportions and dimensions of the component elements.
It's hardly surprising that Molodkin's affinities lie with "politically engaged artists who work with language" and he cites the work of Santiago Sierra, whose work questions both the art insitutions and capitalism itself.
The Russian avant-garde, born at the birth of the soviet state, is another influence.
He wants to know which images will illustrate the interview and is pleased to hear that his take on Obama's now worn-out slogan Yes, We Can (Fuck You) will be included.
Then he points to the Star's masthead and reads out "for peace and socialism" with approving gusto as the mass of crude appears to gather volume like a deadly storm cloud overwhelming the slowly dying brilliance of the light radiating across the gallery floor.
Runs until December 17. Free. Opening times: Tuesday to Friday, 10am-6pm, Saturday, 11am-5pm.