The Kharkiv Photography School: Shilo Group / Finished Dissertation, Vladyslav Krasnoshchok / Tretiakovka
25th october 2014
to 11th november 2014

  

Kharkiv Photography School

Group "Shilo" (V. Krasnoshchok, S. Lebedynskyy, V. Trykoz)

 

Every time when it comes to Kharkiv photography, the theme of brutality and provocation inevitably arises. The descendants of this school from "Shilo" group, founded in 2010: Vladyslav Krasnoshchok, Sergiy Lebedynskyy and Vadym Trykoz today represent its most progressive edge. Their "special" project – "Finished Dissertation" is at the acutest point of it. By no means this is not "trolling" Mikhailov's masterpiece of the 1980s by young hipster photographers. Encroachment on the sacred cow of "Kharkiv photography school" is not devoid of lofty sentiments. The "Finished Dissertation" has its own teleology, and in order to understand it, we need to get an insight into its origin that will help us to understand why "Shilo" decided to position its telos in one of the hallmark "books" by Boris Mikhailov.

The "samizdat" (underground publishing in the USSR) was a common practice of Soviet "marginals" in 1970-80s. In some seasons I could get to see more than one home-made book, among which there were wonderful examples of Kiev decadence, with author's real tears and cigarette markings in the pages. But Kharkiv samizdat was in sharp contrast even to this background, like the books by local surrealist brothers A. and B. Meshchan, for example. Behind the Iron Curtain the representation of the true picture of the artistic processes in the 20th century was limited, as well as the history of the art-book; so a new round of livre d 'artiste, which was opened by Ilya Kabakov and then – by staying in close contact with him since the mid-1970s Boris Mikhailov – is clear to us only today, just as well as todays return of the genre.

In 1985, when Bob had just finished his "Unfinished Dissertation" and my husband brought it home, it all was perceived in a different way. It was a stack of writing paper with photos stuck to it and heavily covered with writing on the sides. I must say, the book did not cause such a surprise, as it causes now. In the everydayness of nonconformist community, in its stolen kingdom of freedom, all that was perceived naturally, albeit with delight. That book, like everything we were dealing with at that time, was understood as a piece of specific work that everyone did the best he/she could, but Bob did best of all. Like an angel with a sword, a ghost of sickly serious genre, which at that time represented the discourse of Soviet science, arose over the book. It was not a joke or a prank in its modern sense, because, naming his opus a "dissertation", though an unfinished one, Mikhailov was throwing down a gage. It didn't matter that it was projected into the environment of the same "outcasts" of "Time" group, as he was, the environment of those who were tabooed in the Soviet mainstream. With the end of the period of blind resistance and display of the photos "under the table" only to the most reliable people – the time of the entrance of the photography into the public space started; and it was filled with long arguments about photography. This wasn't the first Mikhailov's "book with commentaries", but the one that was named "dissertation" is valuable as a theoretical document, the dispersed textuality of which contains in itself the manifest of Kharkiv underground. In the inverted world of that subculture it could have probably qualify for a degree. In addition to speaking out the laws of the new aesthetic in these books ("Unfinished Dissertation" and the earlier "Crimean Snobbery" and "Viscosity") urbi et orbi Mikhailov reported some things that people prefer not to display. The paradox lies here: the most public message is intimately addressed to you personally.

The new Kharkiv "book" is also a manifest with its symmetrical gesture to Mikhailov. Today, when every significant photographic project is conceived as an exhibition, "the collective monograph" by Lebedynskyy, Krasnoshchok and Trykoz brings us back not only to the original Mikhailov 's object, but also to the days when a work like that would be passed from hand to hand, – a retro trick and existential adventure, kind of "eternal return".

Multi-authored book also appeals to a different Kharkiv trend – anonymity (Mikhailov's "luriks", E.Pavlov and V.Shaposhnikov's "third author", B. Mikhailov, S. Solonsky and S. Bratkov's "GBR"). Laying their photos over Mikhailov's, actively introducing their own segment and using every chance to develop the theme of intertextuality, they actually blow up the information space of Bob's "Unfinished Dissertation", despite its democratic disposition. The meaning of the expression and the tone of the voice have changed. Conversation with the reader/viewer is loud and in high words. The photos and the texts compete in outtalking each other. The colour thickness of the visual layer has increased; the book has become darker, pleasantly heavier and engorged with silver. Velvety "shagginess" of the colour texture, which became the hallmark of the three "Shilos"  – Krasnoshchok, Lebedynskyy and Trykoz  – contributes to that. Everything in Bob's works that had a weak touch of comic demonism, clothed in delicate sfumato of underexposed photo-print, has gained strength and power, achieving the effect of a reportage from the darkest depths of Mordor in the coloristic of the post-Soviet landscape. We should take into account that the two-volume book includes such co-projects as "Timoshenko's Escape", "UPA Hände Hoch" and "Night", as well as individual works "Arabat" by Lebedynskyy, "Bolnichka" by Krasnoshchok, surrounded by that documenting layer of photos in which we can see the authors and everyone, who came into their lives.

It is appropriate to mention that Western critics noted vagueness as a characteristic of Kharkiv photography, pointing out that the increased concentration of "blind spots" is something that was opposed to "the aesthetics of transparency" (V. Tupitsyn), which was immanent to the official regime. If we summarize the meaning of these observations, they all are about visuality, gravitating to "blur". At the same time we shouldn't forget about the back-side sharpness, which is securely hidden in it. The key to understanding the Kharkiv school lies in the both attributes of symbolic exchange, where "shilo" is changed to "blur" ("milo") without loss*. New generation has remained loyal to dualism. In the period of the group "Time" anger and rage, canned inside, turned into idiotic muttering in the output: acute statement was hiding behind the "noise" veil, visual or verbal. It was like draping the covers  – "dance of the seven veils" backwards  – when Malevanny laid a lot of colour veils over a black-and-white photo in "overlaying" (a slide over a slide) by Mikhailov and Pavlov. And finally, one more diffusing layer was added – a verbal one – in the "photos with the letters" by Mikhailov and later by V. Kochetov and partly by S. Bratkov. In "Finished Dissertation" by Krasnoshchok, Lebedynskyy and Trykoz – all the hardcore is outside. It is armour that is concealing white and fragrant kernel, nurtured by new generation of Kharkiv wild creatures.

I learned about "Shilo" from my husband, just at the time when they had already conceived the project and were visiting elderly people and discussing the problem in the "family circle". No joking matter. It would be reasonable to note that when you are aiming at such a target it is easy to miss, but they proved their competency. Moreover, the group openly declare their passion to Mikhailov's charisma. Not only in certain formal techniques did they come really close to him, but also in the courage to be themselves, here and now. The difference is that the group "Shilo" belongs to a "remake" generation. The fear of the state with its KGB has been replaced by a "game of fear", which was shaped into political ballet like Tymoshenko's Escape or history ballet like UPA Hände Hoch. Not without gender charm they have developed the image of gangsters and musketeers, or even UPA fighters that are giving goose-flesh to the middlebrow; with this perfect representation of male archetype and with the critical number three, "Shilo" have easily won the hearts of many, including fathers' hearts.

The term "Kharkiv school" appeared as early as the period of the group "Time", but then, in spite of all my efforts to fill it with academic sense (I remember my first report out of Kharkiv, in Moscow gallery "On Kashirka", 1989) – it was more of a figure of speech. Today, however, keeping in mind the change of generations and scenery, in the context of which "Shilo" exists, we can say after all that, yes, there is Kharkiv school of photography. They were really important for the final establishment, the constitutionalization of the school as a phenomenon – these authors, who wrapped their minds around Kharkiv photography and themselves in it, had been missing before. The project of "Shilo" group definitely is homage to Mikhailov, as well as to the whole Kharkiv culture and science, with its cleansing "water" and "soap". On the other hand, "Finished Dissertation" is a brilliant attempt to finally mix and buddy everybody up and once again to knead the great dough of Kharkiv photography. And this is largely because such Kharkiv product as Mikhailov's "Unfinished Dissertation" is an "open work", which is tending to infinity and is impossible to complete.

© T.Pavlova


* Ukrainian expression "міняти шило на мило" (literally: to exchange an awl to soap) means bargain one trouble for another or to trade bad for worse. The words "шило" ("shilo", meaning an "awl" in Ukrainian) and "мило" ("milo", meaning "soap" in Ukrainian, which also may have a meaning of "blur" in photography) create a pun in the sentence.


(Tatiana Pavlova, theorist and historian of Kharkiv photography. Since 1975 she has been in contact with underground group "Time" (founders: Evgeniy Pavlov and Yury Rupin, leader: Boris Mikhailov). In the 1980s she started to systematically study the photos of Kharkiv photography school, and completed her studies it in 2007 with Ph.D. defense)



18.10.2014 13:10:21

Shilo group was founded by Vladyslav Krasnoshchok, Sergiy Lebedynskyy, Aleksey Sobolev and Vadym Trykoz in Sept. 2010. 
As an engineer, a surgeon, a scientist they differ in their backgrounds and respectively apply diverse approaches and personal outlooks within common ideological domain challenging themselves permanently. This is the very gist of the exciting nature of collaborative practice for them which helps their photography to employ an explosive mixture of visual expressiveness, rough unrestrained content and to certain extent boldness. 

Kharkiv school of photography emerged for them much later than the international scene. Their primary interest, which further on influenced their artistic oeuvre, has built up on the diaries of Yuri Rupin, who together with Evgeny Pavlov founded the photographic group “Vremya” (“Time”) in the late 70-s. The most known ex-member of “Vremya” is Boris Mikhailov, who has become a world acknowledged artist applying social documentary photography with particular Kharkiv touch and historical context of pre- and post-collapse time. The collapse of the Soviet union affected the scene severely: another outstanding Kharkiv photographic group “Gosprom” (late 80-s) collapsed, the most active and recognized artists left Ukraine, the other lied low and a typical for Kharkiv rushing photographic life has faced a standstill. 
So as representatives of already new generation they believe that the decision to create a group, reconsider the heritage of Kharkiv school of photography, succeeding its strategies and developing a rather audacious language of their own has naturally appeared in the nick of time. Their enthusiasm interwines with the lifestyle and is in a way bringing new awakening to the Ukrainian photography, to make it fame in the world.

17.10.2014 22:17:34

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Shilo Group
Kharkiv Photography School - poster
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Shilo Group
Finished Dissertation
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Shilo Group
Finished Dissertation

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Shilo Group
Tretiakovka

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Shilo Group
Tretiakovka
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