Monday, May 4, 2009

Books : East by Anzenberger (part 4)

Last part dedicated to the book "East" edited and produced by Anzenberger Agency . I am in Vienna these days for the presentation of book "West" which is the second and final part of the project. I will talk more about West later on.

Chippendale's Erotic Dancers by Agnieszka Rayss

It looks a bit like a construction site: the red-and-white striped tape that separates the couple as they tentatively embrace. Which is the correct interpretation in a certain sense, because this is not really a “united ” couple. And so the construction-site tape really just underscores the meaning of this love: it is a “work in progress”. In any case it all amounts to the same thing: love is always a lot of work plus a bit of show, and the show is always more than appears on the surface; it’s always a projection of closet desires. In the present case the number might be called: muscleman and girl from the audience. It is no disadvantage that an embrace is the central and key element in multiple form. On the contrary: often proximity has the most to tell us about dormant distance, regardless of how it is interpreted. Sometimes the naked beau of the Polish erotic male dance ensemble Models FX holds his female fan tenderly in his arms before martially spinning her around. This is Eros as an adrenalin acrobat in a well-oiled macho costume. But that doesn’t make it a model of morality, rather an indication of the power that the world of superficial media images has always possessed. For many years Poland was spared the high-gloss media of voyeurism. Thus when the country was finally exposed to the rainbow palette of consumerism, it sucked the colours up like a dry sponge. Love from the days of a planned economy finally discovered the real article: the dream man.

St. Petersburg Kommunalka - Bolshevik Flat - Sharing by Max Sher

Cracks instead of wrinkles. Instead of age spots on their bodies, these houses get mould on the walls and the wrinkled remains of wallpaper beneath crumbling stucco. Old houses are like old people, and sometimes their eyes – the windows – get weak with age or blind. But they absorb the stories of their inhabitants and repeat them for a long time. St. Petersburg’s public housing is full of the traces of eventful lives. That by itself would be only an approximate perspective, but Max Sher’s pictures tell the story in particular of the blurred edges of an often difficult neighbourhood. There is a basic common motif to the Kommunalka project, the story of a failed experiment that began with the dreams of the Bolsheviks in 1917, when the brand-new revolution not only wanted to create new housing for workers but new workers as well. Shared bathrooms, WCs and hallways were more than just a compromise necessitated by a lack of space. They were also intended to consign the territorial thinking of bourgeois ownership to the dustbin of the past. But the dream of social community was fragmented into neglected zones and myriad neighbourhood skirmishes. Thus the sad transparency of curtains and naked proximity, of surrealistic kitchen still lifes with hand-saw and casserole: they tell the story of far more than the simply private spaces and lines of demarcation of emotional transit. They also lead the viewer along the intended point of fracture of political fiction.

Siberia's Forgotten Cities by Filip Singer

The subject is familiar: post-apocalyptic scenery inhabited, and sometimes terrorised, by nomadic hordes. Depending on the temporal situation of the plot, the newly created tribes have configured fictive worlds into new communities with the help of artefacts and rituals that have survived from the days before the catastrophe. As a rule they do not wear head-scarves in Filip Singer’s pictures. Nevertheless: the young Czech photographer spreads out a surrealistic landscape, and the sequence is all the more horrific when he is exploring not some distorted fictional image but rather the reality of the people stranded in distant Siberia and its cities. Norilsk and Mirny are mining towns encircled not just by ice and deep forests but also by the paper barricades of various visitor’s permits. The decline that set in with the collapse of the Soviet Union hit these workers’ colonies in the country’s Far East with full force. Thus the observer travels with Singer to a foreign archipelago of urban islands, into everyday life that seems almost unreal with its ice, mineral dust and tower blocks that seem to have been abandoned. A mine becomes a crater – what fell to earth here? And a coffee break becomes a conspiratorial meeting, whose only apparent goal can be a longed-for break-out. Even the children playing on the icy terrain are no exception – the horror of Hieronymus Bosch and the whacky obliviousness of a Mad Max are found here as well.

The Helpers of Chernobyl by Igor Starkov

The rays from the colour organ and the gaudy cold of its illumination. A medical device that has no intention of fitting into the cheerful ice-salon-pink of the background, no more than the pair of shoes parked in front of it. The emptiness of a room where one would most likely expect to find corrupt provincial parliamentary delegates. But the meeting is over, or it never took place, and only a single person is sitting here. The parts and the whole, the state and its servants, the atom and the devastating power of its split nucleus. There are many complex levels on which to consider the subject that Igor Starkov has made the framework of his essay on the aid workers following the catastrophe of Chernobyl. His takes are sterile and as silent as death. They exude something insidious, as though the devastating effects of contamination were far from over – which, indeed, is the case. And something else quickly becomes apparent: that this is no longer a question of life and death. Because that is a boundary that the few survivors have long since crossed; it’s something one notices immediately. Thus the strange inanimacy and silence found in many of these pictures is a highly accurate depiction of reality for the clean-up workers. In crass contrast to the manner in which the media made heroes of the New York fire-fighters, those who were hastily commanded to sweep up the debris of these shattered nuclear remains quickly disappeared from the face of the earth: overlooked by the state and by the world. And in the case of these silent portraits, who still testify to the event: so far by death itself as well.