The 9th life could refer to the title of a film of the genre action, in which the protagonist manages to survive numerous vicissitudes. In reality this phrase has much deeper roots and to understand its meaning you need to travel through time and start from its origins, from ancient Egypt.
It refers to cat which was considered in this civilization a symbol of fertility and motherhood, sacred to the Sun and Osiris, while the cat, to the Moon and Isis. It is no coincidence that the Egyptians revered Bastet, divinity with the head of a cat and the body of a human. The idea that felines have multiple existences starts from the fact that Bastet also had an earthly aspect: during her human life she was reborn 9 times.
A similar legend is found in Greek mythology. This people revered Diana (Selene), goddess of the Moon who took the form of a black cat. The Egyptians and Greeks believed in the superstition that each cat has 9 lives.
The lunar year of the calendar corresponded to the time when the celestial body rose (was born) and set (died) 9 times.
An ancient Hindu myth tells that an elderly cat gifted with mathematical talent and at the same time lazy was in a state of semi-drowsiness at the entrance to the temple. Asked by Shiva about his ability to count, he stated the numbers in progressive order: when he reached 9 he fell asleep and the deity decided to give him 9 lives.
In the Middle Ages the number 9 was known as the symbol of a complete cycle; the widespread popular belief was that witches could turn into cats, but only 9 times during their life. Precisely in this period there was the transition from 9 lives to 7. At that time the diffusion of mass culture was in the words of storytellers, poets, singers and minstrels.
Common people were passionate about stories featuring famous or powerful characters of the time, however, represented in the guise of animals.
The most popular novella of those centuries was the literary cycle of allegorical tales called Reineke the fox; among the anthropomorphic characters there was also Tybalt, the cat who had the title of king. He wasn’t a good housekeeper because of his bad temper, but he didn’t care because he was the only one with 7 lives.
The creativity and fruitful artistic production of the Russian is centered on this and countless other beliefs, stories and legends Alexander Skorobogatov (1983, Nadym, RU; lives and works in Berlin).
A research that began a few years ago, but matured in the last 10 months during the artist residency lived at Florence as winner of Roman Villa Award, the oldest German prize dedicated to art.
He has deepened his studies on myths, legends and anecdotes centered on the relationship between the figure of the cat and the woman, between life, lives and the connection, even of character, which has always existed between the animal and the female universe.
A concrete example of this reflection can be seen in the solo exhibition entitled The 9th life (the ninth life), set up in the halls of the Luigi Solito Contemporary Gallerylocated in the area of the former woolen mill, in Piazza Enrico De Nicola 46, in Naples, until February 16, 2023.
Skorobogatov, who moved to Germany in the 1990s, studied at the Kunsthochschule Mainz, the University of the Arts Berlin and Central Saint Martins College London. In his drawings, paintings and sculptures seemingly naive motifs, explosive colors and extraordinarily bizarre arrangements play. His works have ironic titles that are based on philosophical thoughts.
During his stay in Florence he studied the techniques of master workers and craftsmen, specifically paper makers, perfecting a new production method that allowed him to create the her paper; between mortars and pestles, presses, color palettes and looms, he mixed cellulose doughs to obtain the raw material for his new work.
It combines paper, painting, sculpture and drawing in a weave similar to a tapestry, but with colours, stories and shapes that speak to us of a new contemporary language, which starts from medieval stories and reaches these unpublished works.
The titled work welcomes visitors to the gallery spaces Freya, deity of Norse mythology, the goddess of love, beauty, gold, fertility, war, death and prophetic virtues.
The painting is characterized by the texture of a thick vegetation that acts as a frame and by Freya placed in the center, far from the romantic iconography of the past visible in the Swedish painter’s canvas Nils Blommer (1816-1853).
Portrayed from the back, alluring pose, buttocks and briefs in the foreground, she is a contemporary woman who by figurative setting refers to fashion and underwear advertising campaigns focused on the theme of sensuality, femininity and personality. The erotic and exotic atmosphere is accentuated by the presence of two cats that lap up Freya’s body, creating an ironic and playful image.
In The escape from Typhon, it is the cats that emerge in the foreground with respect to the female figure placed in the background in a feline position.
Anthropomorphic and psychedelic, they walk upright, have wide open eyes and a sardonic expression, visually recalling the cats of Louis Wein (1860-1939), illustrator active at the end of the 19th century in the field of printing, author of numerous publications in various magazines.
Skorobogatov is not interested in a real representation of something dear and comforting like the presence of these animals in the domestic environment: his attention focuses on their function in a mythological and mysterious key that projects the observer towards abstruse and surreal worlds.
They are the vivid and reassuring image of an idyllic world elaborated by the human mind, embodied by animal actors who, covering the narrative functions typical of the artist’s imagination, return a strong emotional charge.
The titled work Bastet, presents a contemporary reinterpretation of the Egyptian divinity. Legendary and enigmatic, she presents herself to the public in the guise of a woman lying in the wilderness, on whose body a series of cats are tattooed.
It is a composition in which magical and spiritual connections imbued with meanings emerge. The extended position and the genital organ in view refer to the painting The origin of the world Of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), from which it takes up the symbolic function that alludes to the theme of reproduction, fertility and the celebration of life.
In the painting muses, the female presence is completely eliminated, but perceived, in favor of a narrative focused purely on the cat. 9 cats, like lives, stand out on the surface in different attitudes, following their instinct and their nature.
By figurative setting in space they evoke the famous print neko-e by the Japanese engraver Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1797-1861), a parody of the 53 stations of the Tokaido. As a keen observer of the feline world, Skorobogatov portrays them in their typical poses: in tension, in stasis, in momentum, in happiness, in disbelief and bewilderment.
Approaching the triptych placed at the back of the room, the three paintings posted on the three white walls of the gallery dialogue with each other. In the centre, the work entitled Artemis is the Roman transposition of the Egyptian goddess Bastet.
Completely immersed in nature and lying on the lawn, Artemis is depicted in a relaxed atmosphere. This pleasant and luxuriant vision is shattered by the presence of a latent cat.
Observing carefully, a stylized feline figure emerges from the thick hair of the protagonist, depicted in physical and emotional agitation.
Skorobogatov creates an anthropomorphic image, in which the cat exercises a dual function through camouflage: to defend itself as an animal, but also the identity of the female figure. If on the one hand the binomial hair / animal evokes the Medusa head shield studded with snakes, of Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610), known as the Caravaggiofrom a compositional point of view, the position of the woman recalls two masterpieces in the history of art: the Nude over Vitebsk Of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) from which he takes up the theme of tenderness, with the girl rendered ethereal in the upper part of the painting and, on the other, Nude Woman with Chessboard Of Man Ray (1890-1976), the shapes of the body as a source of seduction.
The other two works facing each other are the two versions of The 9th life of a cat is a womancharacterized by the same theme, but with different stylistic approaches.
In the first version, of an expressionist caliber, a modern Venus (the influences and stay of the city of Florence on the artist are evident) stands out in the center of the painting and is surrounded by flying cats. We are witnessing a process of subtraction where the felines occupy the space in the foreground, stealing the show from the deity who is in the distance. The drafting of the color and the lack of well-defined lines of the various subjects refer to the famous ones décollage in the artist’s Pop Art style Mimmo Rotella (1918-2006).
In the second, instead, Venus conquers the space with respect to the animals. It is a clear representation, in which the simple and elementary images are characterized in their contours by bright colours, with the animals and the woman who animate the space, sometimes linearly and sometimes mixing chaotically.
It has similarities with the works of Bob Thompson (1937-1966), for the flat, bold and unmodulated colors that make this scenario a dense and dynamic surface. Skorobogatov eradicates precise representational detail and compositional order by creating a compressed space that draws attention to the picture plane. The flattened shapes and silhouettes create a dreamlike atmosphere that blurs place and time.
An ancient proverb says: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he gets lost and for the last three he stays”. Those of Skorobogatov remain and will remain, for the benefit of the community.
Info show Alexander Skorobogatov | The 9th Life
Luca Del Core lives and works in Naples. He is graduated in “Culture and Administration of Cultural Heritage” at the University “Federico II” of Naples. Freelance journalist, he has written for some trade magazines, for some of which he is still editor, and currently collaborates with art a part of cult (ure). The predisposition for travel leads him to research and explore the most important national and international, public and private cultural institutions.
Alexander Skorobogatov – The 9th Life. The ninth life – art a part of cult(ure)