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November 18 - December 15, 2009
A new world
Photography is an indispensable ingredient of any modern art museum, so the choice of the first exhibition in one way or another is a marker that defines the role of this exhibition in the value system. The fact that from a vast range of names and possibilities the choice was made in favour of artists who have long and actively been involved in the Livejournal signifies the desire of the exhibition curator to present not just 'pretty pictures' but (at least) the present the present-day mode of existence of photography.
There really is something to ponder about. In front of our very eyes, black and white bromide photography, which used to be a widely available pastime of millions, has turned into elite graphic technique. The photo camera, which used to be a substantial technical accessory has been reduced to an add-on for mobile phones and even, ironically, microwaves. And the mode of exhibiting photographs in web blogs has experienced a drastic change, too. The audience are by no means passive observers, they are active participants and commentators. Moreover, the diary format presupposes daily uploading and detailed discussion of each new photograph as soon as it appears. This situation is practically incomparable with the traditional exhibition activity when, during the opening ceremony with champagne the author gets slapped on the back by a colleague and hears something like, 'You are a genius, old man!'. In a blog, the artist remains their own self, but at the same time develops along with the onlooker, which is really an ideal model for the perception of modern art. It is rather difficult to transplant this live and creative practice into the museum space. A simple but effective solution here is the format of a 'dynamic pair', which allows not only showing the artists' works but provokes the audience for some analysis, in which they compare not only the experiences of the "author-spectator" pair (which often results in responses like 'Oh, cool!' and 'Oh, rubbish!', but the experience of the "author-author" pair as well. Considering that both selected photographers have an original artistic vision and a recognized talent, this kind of work can educate the spectators, too.
To ensure the integrity of the experiment, the curator selected visually comparable series based on close and middle shot. In both cases this is a close observation of the human-created world, although humans themselves never appear in the frame (it seems that in the age of billboard and magazine page spreads the long distance shot has lost its capacity as an independent genre and turned into super background). The hidden intrigue of the exhibition is that both artists come to externally comparable visual results from completely different positions. The ways they identify themselves are visibly different, too. Alexander Slusarev is an actually existing guru of photography who started his career as a photographer 50 years ago, whereas Amand Geld is a virtual avatar who mainly exists in the Livejournal. Aman Geld's photographs come from his observations of the modern visual design. Practically any of his pictures can be made into the background for a magazine page spread or a billboard without any alteration (although they are not at all limited by the pragmatic function of design and have their own life with an intrinsic dialogue, which is interesting to observe). The photos by Alexander Slusarev originate from quite a different angle - direct photography, a tradition with a completely different history and cultural content.
The first time Alexander Slusarev took a photo camera was back in 1958. Should you mention 'San Sanych' in a photographer communitiy, they will immediately understand who you mean and nod respectfully. His artistic range is fairly wide, and the start of his blog at Livejournal has given him a new degree of freedom and independence. Due to the fast network communication, the habitual for a follower of direct photography feeling of a camera installed in their eye is immediately exposed to the audience. This practice allows the artist to simultaneously pursue a dozen on-going projects, some independent series or lateral themes. In order to outline the boundaries of a message it enough just to create a new tag. The distinction between 'life' and 'a photograph' is almost obliterated. With this totality, a routine Sunday's trip to the country house turns into a spectacular photo session, and what is ignored by the camera is devoid of the attention of history. But in all his works Slusarev is first and foremost a city dweller, an observer of an everyday landscape rearranged by humans. He coined a term for that: a 'flat landscape', a landscape devoid of linear diagonal perspective. Indeed, who shoots nature landscape in our times? Amateurs driven by overflowing feelings and professionals for their job assignments (automatically allowing for space for an advertising text in the frame). Due to its peculiarities, a flat landscape may well turn out to be... a still life. The defining factor in both cases is the place, a scene abandoned by a human, where things tell us a whole story about them.
Take, for example, one of Slusarev's typical still life ingredients: cherry stems. The photographer uses them to create a strange alloy of the figurative and the abstract: the cherries have actually been eaten by someone, but their stems… they do remind of the curving lines from Kandinsky's abstract paintings of L?szl? Moholy-Nagy's chiaroscuro arrangements. The author ironically plays up his cultural baggage by merging the "high" and the "low": in accidental smears of paint on the walls he discerns the pictorial techniques of abstract expressionism of tachisme, and in the configuration of ordinary things he recognizes pop-art or constructivism, in the layout of light and shade he sees graphic minimalism. Slusarev creates masterly combinations of the visual and the social, so each spectator can see in their works something of their own depending on their personality and cultural background.
Slava Kozlov (aka Aman Geld) is a veteran of the Lifejournal. The real person disguised by the avatar does not position himself as a professional photographer. This is rather one of the creative sides of this person who is also a psychologist, sociologist, mathematician, businessman, traveler and the father of a small family. He was born in Alma-Ata, he studied physics and mathematics in Moscow State University, enjoyed shooting slide films, went mountaineering, went up to the top of Mound Amangeldy (3,999 m), was a student of Prague University, studied modern art, developed as a photographer, studied sociology and futurology, found the job of an analyst in a major designer company and went to live in the Netherlands, where he lives even now.
Photography has always been present in his life as a means of analysis and observation of the world. Observation and analysis are simply part of his job, which consists in studying society and foreseeing its future interests and needs. In order to do that, it is necessary to accurately analyse the present. So he is always holding a camera. But only a part of the photos have made find their way to the special block titled Aman Geld (named after the summit he won in the Ala Tau Range). According to the author himself, "Aman Geld is about perceptive games between the observer-photographer and the things he encounters". This means that due to his 'settings' the photographer encounters in life some sensually set situations and, with the help of his camera, tries to point them out and create an integral photographic image.
In practice this looks rather amusing. Both his wife and children know that walking with dad is a very special pastime. In a most undistinguished moment when nothing appears to be happening he suddenly 'makes a point', stops and lingers for a long time, examining from different sides and taking pictures from various angles some visual effects that only he can see. Seeing an excited man deeply engaged in photography, surprised passersby come closer to have a look at what is happening and… shrug, puzzled. But then, seeing the photo, they cannot understand where and how this was shot and why they had failed to see that? This is the special "Aman Geld state". The European mode of living is undoubtedly telling on the esthetics of his photographs: this world is already estheticised, lovingly arranged, filled with original architecture and design, although the author himself claims that the scene is not as important as his state of mind and mood. Only after questioning him can you identify fragments made in Holland, France, Spain, Austria. But all this enumerating pathos fades out when you see the photos made without leaving home: in the nursery or in the bathroom.
One can expect that the photos by Alexander Slusarev and Aman Geld transferred from the virtual blogosphere into a real museum space will experience a new large-scale relation with the spectators and the architecture of the museum hall. I am sure that this experience will be really interesting. But in order to compare the feeling and 'keep the finger on the pulse' you can write down two addresses: