Past-Future.The point of Transition.

Contemporary Photography from Minsk.

text from exhibition catalogue in Hasselblad Center, Goteborg, Sweden, 1998

More and more I feel inclined to agree with what has been said so many times before: "Good poetry cannot be translated". The last time heard this was from a very famous Polish translator of poetry (!). who said that the best Polish poets (one or two) were completely unknown out-side their own country. The main character in Andrey Tarkovsky's Nostalgia suggests that his beautiful Italian guide should throw away her book of Russian poetry (actually by Arseny Tarkovsky - Andrey's father) published in Italian, saying "you cannot translate art". She objects by saying that Tolstoy. Dostoevsky. Chekhov. Pushkin etc. were world famous, he replied by just singing a few lines from a very popular Russian folk song. "What do you mean?", the girl said......How can we begin to understand each other? Can art help us do that? With a great deal of effort one man dragged another man out of a huge dirty pool of water. Both lay exhausted on the ground. "What are you doing?!" exclaimed the rescued man. "I've just saved your life!" replied the first "Saved my life?" exclaimed the rescued man again, "This is where I live!!"... What about the visual arts then, free of any language barriers, but still weighed down by their own burden of allusions and references? In what way in fact do foreign viewers perceive films by Tarkovsky and Sokurov, installations by llya Kabakov. photo-based work by Vladimir Kuprianov? (I don't know why I referred here only to "Russian" examples. Is it an echo of my "imperial thinking"? Or that of the notorious "specific Russian way"?) How will viewers here in Swedish Goteborg react to the exhibition of three photo-based artists from Minsk, the capital of Belarus, the former North-Western province of the Russian empire? All of them - Galina Moskaleva, Sergey Kozhemyakin, Igor Savchenko - received their higher engineering education and then, after several years working as engineers, started their professional carriers as artists. That was during the late 80's renaissance and rekindling of photographic activity in the former USSR. All three were lucky enough to get to know the brilliant Valery Lobko who started and ran two photographic studios for creative photography in Minsk, and who created a fruitful and encouraging milieu for the development of artistic photography. Moskaleva. Kozhemyakin (who studied at Studio-3) and Savchenko consider Valery Lobko their teacher. Their further development into accomplished artists each displaying his/her own personal style took place at the Minsk photographic studio Province. 1988-92. In fact, almost all prominent Belarusian photographers have worked at this studio contributing to the creation of the national school of photography. The first triumph of the school was Photo Avant-Garde in Byelorussia exhibition, Moscow Cinema Center, 1990. After the exhi-bition most of the national and foreign art critics started treating Minsk photographers as an independent school, never failing to highlight a certain heartiness and sentimentality as its distinctive feature (no wonder that most publications on this subject started with the word "heart"). Galina Moskaleva was born in the town of Shyaulyai. Lithuania, 1954. She lived there until she was 6, then moved to Minsk with her mother. In 1976 she graduated from the Belarusian Polytechnic Institute in Minsk and has been living there ever since. Her initiation into photo-graphy took place in her early childhood when her parents first entrusted her with pressing the camera button. Her habitual place, however, was within the picture as its privileged and time-honored subject. For the adult Galina her family archive proved to be an inexhaustible source of fragmentary experiences which she has been striving to bring together into a coherent world of childhood. These attempts of visualizing the sphere of human emotional memory are a characteristic feature of a significant part of all contemporary photography with its nostalgia about the "magic of old patina-covered snapshots". Various techniques were developed which allowed the imitation of the passage of a picture through time. The photographs from the Childhood Reminiscences series by Moskaleva. 1989-98. (currently continuing), (provide one of the last specimens of this aesthetical trend. These photographs based on negatives dated from the late 50's are not recon-structions of the past that we have already left behind us, but rather the ^regaining of memories by photographic means allowing us to get a sudden insight into their visual mechanics. She performs very existen-tial manipulations with her family archive in the so-called "found photography" vein. The subjects of these manipulations, however, don't lay claim on some strange memory, but rather allow the expansion of the photographic-observing eye into the field of unconscious per-ception. This work provides clear evidence of the fact that one can't achieve any important results in "found photography" without personal empathy with other people's experience. Keeping in mind social political correctness. I cannot nevertheless resist emphasizing the sincerely emotional (feminine (?) - I apologize to feminists) aspect of Galina's creative style. In her own words she says- "In the Childhood Reminiscences series I turn to my childhood trying to understand myself, to go back to the very source of my perso-nality, to a pure vision of being. In my world I see a number of images that recall various acts of my self-perception. I let memory choose the picture corresponding to my present mood and the kind of ego I'm presently seeking to synthesize. A change of mood accounts for a change in technique. That's why I never confine myself to a single con-cept and never seek to give photography a definition. My work - this is me, and my technique is my vein and my emotional vehemence [1)." She started to work on this series in 1989. Her first childhood experience associated with the process of developing a photograph had been that of sheer delight, and she wanted to convey this feeling further. That is why the series opens with a picture of three jolly women on a beach looking very much like exclamation marks. Here is an instance of form and feeling in complete harmony. Later, the form Galina found became the necessary vehicle of her ideas. To construct the movement of memory, the image alone proved to be insufficient, in her work she often relies on the unconscious. In her latest Self-Awareness series. 1996-98. Galina has been working in the same emotional manner integrated with a special printing technique (often Moskaleva's work exists only as a unique print) to deepen and develop her self-perception. Quite a lot of Galina's works are undoubtedly influenced by her personal interest in some esoteric/transcendental practices. Sergey Kozhemyakin has also been concentrating on using his perso-nal archive of negatives taken by him and his father in the early 60's. Kozhemyakin was born in the Ukraine in 1956 but has lived in Minsk since late 70's. Like Moskaleva he also graduated from the Belarusian Polytechnic Institute. His father (now retired) had been an officer of the Soviet Army, so Sergey spent his childhood traveling from or base to another all across the Soviet Union and Hungary. Kozhemyakin's works (especially the earlier ones) are strongly influenced by a social-political discourse: Lenin. 1989. Childish Album, 1989. The latter (printed from found negatives) is often regarded as a visually expressed model or quintessence of the fundamental princi-ples used in building and ruling Soviet society, of the methods utilized and. at the same time, as a kind of judgment of the viability of these principles and methods. This is a kindergarten where the state under-takes its first attack on the child's consciousness and its first attempt to estrange a child from his family and from individual traditions to the favor of the collectivist values and "the wise leaders". The state system is very aware of the effectiveness of any influences on the child's consciousness right at the start and exploits this opportunity to the full for the long-term deformation of an individual state of mind with far-reaching consequences. In his Family Album series. 1989-92, Kozhemyakin is not so intro-spective as Moskaleva. He is constantly fascinated by the visual aspects of time and its passage which are specific for each period. The Blue Butterflies series. 1992 is one of the works where he used hand-coloring the most intensively to create a special almost surrealistic impression. Among his latest works I would firstly mention the Phantom Sensations series, where refined purity of form meet in harmony with a deep and multifaceted content. Igor Savchenko was born in Minsk. 1962. graduating from the Minsk Radio Engineering Institute in 1985. For him old photos and other historical documents, e.g. old gramophone records, are "preserves" of a world which is past, a world he wants to make "audible" once again employing artistic means. In one of his essays he writes: "One day about five years ago I bought a gramophone record. It was a concert of Bruckner's 6th Symphony, played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Wilhelm Furtwaengler. (...) recorded on the 13th November 1943. In Berlin ... and I can listen to it today... Adagio. Sehr feierlich (With great solemnity). There is a muffled cough in the hall. Scherzo. Nicht schnell (Not too quickly). Another cough in the hall. The creak of a bench. Finale, bewegt. doch nicht zu schnell (with expres-sion, but not too quickly)... Am I just listening to this performance of the 6th Symphony? No. what I hear are all the acoustic occurrences in the Berlin Philharmonic on 13th November 1943. the way they were recorded by German equipment at that time - very good for that period. (...) In the same way I 'hear' these photos, by being familiar with the 'technology' of their production.(...) Here you find the same chain of associations, the same wave of feelings and sensations. Occasionally, it leads away from the image itself. But it is exactly this picture that evokes such feelings [2]'. Igor Savchenko takes photographs of sections of shots from old family albums from the 30's to the 60's. then assembles them into conceptual series which appear, for example, as an Alphabet of Human Gestures. 1989-94 OR he annotates them with language. for example We Speak German. 1991. The "patina" of the photographs is retained, is even additionally emphasized (sometimes by putting color into already existing defects). Savchenko expresses no irony or denunciation with regards to clumsiness of gestures and facial expression, of photographic technique and posing in front of the camera; he is interested in reconstructing the moment of the photo and in evoking specific feelings and ideas which are awakened by the old photographic image he has chosen. Savchenko seems to be completely engrossed in the "mysterious", "magic" world of old photos. Actually he considers any photograph as "a given embodiment of a mystery", mostly due to the photograph's con-text which we usually cannot completely conceive. In a photograph's context he includes not only all the circumstances (including historical situation) and motives it has been taken, but also all the events that followed in the lives of the people in the photo (i.e. developing of the depicted situation in the near and far future, also all the historical circumstances that followed), and even all the far-reaching conse-quences initiated by the fact itself of taking the photo. Since 1993-94 he has become more and more focused on investigating the variety of ways of how such a context is written in or assigned to the photograph. (Using text is one of the ways.) The context has now become to himmuch more important than even the image itself - to such a degree that his latest work appears in the form of only texts without any specially produced images at all. He has come to this point step by step during the last 5 years. First he produced completely black or white frames without any details while everything was said/shown through the accompanying short texts/phrases (scripted on the piece below the image). Black & White Rectangles. 1992-94. Then he came to a com-promise, balancing between text and image, with his Commented Landscapes. 1994-95 - black & white pictures of ordinary landscapes again accompanied with phrases written below, through which ones (at least as he thought) the essential content of the integral image were provided to a viewer. Nothing of what was mentioned in the texts has been evidently depicted in the images. The actual characters were visually absent from the pictures. The presence of the absence. After those series, however, something in Savchenko's attitude to producing new photographic images had so radically changed that The Titles to Photos. 1997 came already in the form of just self-sufficient short phrases as the titles to the photographs which have never and would have never been taken. It is On the Altered Behaviour of Sunlight. 1996 and On the Renovated Attitude Towards Photography, 1997 texts where he has expressed his latest ideas. While the first one was still more of poetical mood, we nevertheless can feel some apocalyptic motifs:

"We no longer have A constant flow of sunlight. Light appears to us As a sequence of transient swirls. Everything around us is lit up for a brief instant. The world picture shimmers. But moments of lucidity and darkness Still alternate too fast. For us to notice them. We still believe The visible picture is steady. Though in actual fact Swirls of sunlight Blow past much more rarely and less regularly. Darkness has been gathering. Uncertainty keeps growing. The visual picture Is gradually being replaced By its speculative model. But this we can only guess at From indirect signs - Inexplicable and sudden failures While photographing at moments which do not coincide With the latest solar swirl. We ourselves fail to notice that Our techniques of perceiving the world Are changing. We ourselves are changing. The consequences are not yet clear." 

But the second text is full of rather extremist declarations:"…The world keeps on resisting having its picture taken...". "...The world in fact does not wish to be photographed, and its destructive resistance is growing. Both inadequacy and self-confidence of our activity only aggravate the situation. The crisis is unavoidable. [...] Pursuit of 'a snaking' moment, focusing on 'the decisive' one, cannot prevent the course of events in return..."At first look one can consider this just as extremist's exclamations, but following Savchenko's production in the latest few years. I would say that he has steadily step-by-step evolved to his current position. Nevertheless, I still regard his latest Titles to Photos as a work of photography, let's say - photography taken without a camera. by purely mental/speculative means. For all of these artists, the past is in a sense a source material for their work (at least for a significant part of it), while it is exactly the creative process that is their transition point in time-space to their personal (and. to a degree, our common) future. Each and every moment, which we just have passed through, immediately becomes history. Photography is one of the ways history visualizes itself (or the means for us to construct, to manufacture "history" in the way we wish to. we are ordered to, or we are expected to). Can we in fact (in so called reality) distinguish any stable moderating level in between that what we used to call past and future? Or is there just a transition point where the latter in each current moment flows into the former. There is nothing more but past we can really influence on (like e.g. these three artists - through their photographs), and it is precisely the way to build a foundation for our future. More people will keep thinking of that more...
Ivona Sidorovich Minsk, May 1998 [1] Galina Moskaleva. Childhood Reminiscences, exhibition catalogue. PhotoPostscriptum Place, St. Petersburg. 1993. unpaged [2] Igor Savchenko. A Further Attempt to Write This Article, in 'Fotografie aus Minsk'. ifa-Galerie Berlin, Berlin. 1994. p.28 

Ivona Sidorovich, Minsk, May 1998 projects