the realm of flora

(corporeality discourse in ukrainian
photography of the 1990

Tatiana Pavlova

A certain aspect may indicate that art appeared because man has violated the equilibrium of the active world. Thus, it is possible to find the link between each destroyed item and the rise of new art subjects. It documents and integrates the areas of reality, the entire organism of life integrity is transferred into spiritual sphere. The last object of destruction on that road became the body with its specifically percepted inner world. Deepening of the crisis of the body relates to the introduction of new art trends in recent time which deal with specific medical problems and are solved at the level of high art. According to the mechanism of transfer the effect of danger referring to a twin phenomenon is connected with these trends in art. These problems revert to specific characters of initial consolidation of art reminding us of the presence of blood in Paleolithic images. Corporeality of art in the period of its conception imprinted as “hand symbols“ gets an unexpected response in the art of the end of the twentieth century that was in search of the same authentic materiality, confirmed with blood; “the one who... sticks the vertebrae of the two centuries together with his own blood...“ according to Mandelstam.

      One of contemporary Ukrainian critics, Alexander Solovjov creatively estimates this return of the body topic, in the context of his exhibition project Analysis of Blood, seeing “the sublimation of necessity“ to pour Dionysus’s blood into the veins of Apollo“ in it. The risk of actions taking place in art includes them into the context of aeschatologic crisis accompanying similar historic situations, yet it has a special dramatism in our time, reminiscent only of other notable dates like the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Transition to the new millennium is
tantamount to such horizontal junction as Europe and Asia requiring mythological adaptations. This region similar to danger-ous areas of tectonic breaks is full of military conflicts where the bodies are dyed with blood and blood is poured. East European countries are located in the area of this spatial and temporal crossing where the destiny of joining Eastern and Western paradigms is at stake.

      Photography receives special importance in developing the language of contemporary art. “Objects authenticate the photograph and, in turn the photograph authenticates the objects “. Main attractive feature of photography making it topical nowadays is its specific corporeality. Therefore this quite corporal and at the same time machine technology which is free of high art fetishes is in the centre of visual technologies.

      Returning to the initial consideration, one could try and locate a kind of intersection of Europe and Asia and of the 2 and 3 millennia with Eastern European countries and Ukraine, in particular, finding themselves right in the middle. The expression “Russian trap“ that the Western critics used to apply as a synonym to “Russian influence“ seems to be more applicable to the passionarian duty, that the artists of the named region have been performing for the second time-2-spatial intersection already. One peculiar feature of art in the intersectional region is not an expected balance but a marked disbalance, not “Well - centeredness“ but eccentricity. In the case with one of the most prominent Ukrainian photographers, Boris Mikhailov, the preponderant paradigm is definitely oriental. His “declared“ rejection of any sophisticated intellectual apparata leads one into recalling the principle of oriental “out-of-mindedness“ as practiced for example by Chang madmen. However if in the oriental philosophy the concept of “mind“ is that of “spirit“ or “heart“ its logic-al adaptation can be the contrast of,“mind“ and “body“ (“flesh“) with an emphasis on the latter.

      In this context a well-known work in the 90s I am not I by B. Mikhailov may be interpreted as a statement about the body by the body itself that can be compared to plastic expression of deaf mute language. A spectator percepting these photos defending against their eccentric simplicity that represents the state of being out of one’s senses is looking for the prototypes in photography and classic art. There’s even a desire to reconstruct the phrase that was taken at random and casually from the text as the name for the series: not I’m not I, but “Tat twain asi-that’s you are “you“, i.e. not I, but Selfness addressing itself because only Selfness can envelop I and not I“ (Jung). An early show of this work (1992, Kharkov) had a ritual and magic specialization with a shade of blasphemy. The entry to the show stipulated involuntary participation in the profanation of the author’s body by stepping over it on dark stairs in order to participate in his further rehabilitation, raising and canonization in the second part of the action that took place in the interior similar to the environment of the Christian chapel (family gallery as interpreted by the author). Traditional icons in the action were replaced by the images of the author, represented naked in erotic hieratic and other poses with attributes among which the dildo was allotted a special meaning. Double fetishization of the image as a special one in a temple context of the “saint“ body action and the opposite one as the superman’s body (through the number of poses and superattributes) had their semiotic conflict as the main task.

      The museum version of the show (1994) didn’t have such a tension between pairs of “pure and evil“, “high and mean“. There was a conflict between the museum language and kitsch of pornography that caused a scandalous closing of the show. Though this work sums up Mikhailov’s ironic games with porno-photo and attributes of phallocracy by compromising them main focus of his work is concentrated on exposing the most important taboo. Mikhailov named it “the last taboo“ that was not abolished by democracy.

      In the history of the Ukrainian underground of early 1970s represented by Kharkov Vremya group the image of naked body was the language of the political protest. At that time Mikhailov’s “nalozhenie“ (slide imposed on another slide) - overlapped so-cial photos - were the works under that normative ban.

      When in 1972 in large series Violin made by member of Vremya group Yevgeniy Pavlov there appeared the image of nak-ed male nature - it was the next gesture in the work with the social taboo. Last year this work was showed in nearly full volume (70 prints) in artgallery at Kharkiv’s Theatre of Opera and Ballet. The action was named Detonation of hippy-end. Despite of 30-years’ distance in time, the power of non-conformism conserved in these prints broke free. This unused underground performance with Kharkiv’s hippies1, some of them are already dead now, sounded very up-to-date with the musical performance by Andrey Bogatyriov Magic Violin. Attention to this action from the side of young spectators put down in the contemporary interest to hippie movement with their quasi-aesthetical gestures, among its was stripping naked. The flower-kids used this ritual gesture on a level with the ’flower-language’ as a very powerful sign of disarmament, exposure and unveiling.

      That view of corporeal representation is rooted in a certain historical tradition. Many cultures comprehended ideas about several souls inside man. Ancient Romans spoke about the immortal anima and another one - a mortal soul, coinciding within the time-space boundaries within a physical body. According to such understanding the body is the soul, and the soul can be reached through the visual and haptic reading, connected with stripping to the skin.

      This exhibition showed that in Violin Pavlov’s interest in form-ing is originating, which develops as a special body language. Corporeal deformations, which are the latent allusions of pain, get further motivation in the works that use clinical attributes (Psychos). Images of transformation of female body due to pregnancy introduce the topic: the body as the receptacle of “the others“. If the initial topic of pain was interpreted as a result of interaction: “the body and the others“, its further development led to ousting of the pain syndrome replaced by the characteristic of “the others“, their feature, isolation and equalization. In its turn it brought to life the principle of plurality where the initial “body“ was lost. In some cases the borders between the body and environment disappeared and the space stopped to be the receptacle of the bodies.


      Manifestation of inner life of the body through finding latent irrational characters forms up a common functioning space for biologic and psychological reality of the body in project Total Photography, 1994. Next big projects with the body in focus were created by Pavlov together with the painter Vladimir Shaposhnikov. They were Common field, 1996, and Parnografia (“Parno-graphy“), 1998. The problem of eroticism was very important in the Soviet society and now it is getting a new content. The fundamental impression from Parnografy is its euphorism. It takes support in biologism - the object of investigation touches on man’s natural needs. The solution of this problem lies in the domain of utopia, in the spirit of delusion to which also correspond the delirious paintings of the photographs.

      Sergey Solonsky’s interests of the last two decades are based on the sphere of the body. Corporeal fragmentations in his pictures from the turn of the 1980s -1990s strated the aesthetic revolution in Ukrainian photography. The accent on corporeality and a new wave of expressionism provided energy for the final split with surrealistic fancy, characteristic for the period of the Vremya group. Working step-by-step in his photomontages on the task of “anthropocreation“, he started from anatomical research, preparing ideal in the vein of Leonardo da Vinci. In the middle of the 1990s he made a series of modul collages, which manifested this liking for anatomy as a distinctive feature of the artist, recorded for example in the allusion of the pop-name of Jackson Pollock: Jack the Dripper - Jack the Ripper2). These collages of Solonsky’s, which represent “fantasy“ in the corporeal genre, materialize the rare deliverance from the Self, from various taboos, and universality. They imitate the work of the computer, in the photoshop of which there is only one icon. This unexpected revenge of phallocracy after Mikhailov’s gesture of dissaproval in He is not he (this unusual work was entitled so by D. Newmayer), its invasion into the sacred sphere of cultral symbols -meant, nevertheless, the paradox movement aiming at the naturalization of reality.

      Solonsky’s corporeal collages represent portraits - more precisely speaking, the portraits - dreams. One body dreams about a big musical ear, another - about “the third eye“. However, Solonsky’s portraits are far away from a “visual nirvana“ style, the photographer as a constructivist analyzes here the model and synthesises it in a new subsequence, making the collages by hand, without the computer. These bodies belong to “celebrated people“, therefore close-up details are organically used here as a specific way of looking through the lorgnon at the “celebrity“. This “grandma’s looking glass“ manner, popular for the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, as well as the liking for working by hand in photography (characteristic feature for Kharkov school as a whole), give a specific retro-atmosphere to Solonsky’s works in the sphere of the “alchemy of the body“. Reconstruction of this alchemy elements corresponds to the topic of cultural mutation.

      Representation of the latent smallness of the body interior, its small elements with blood in the first place is a characteristic feature of many actions of Ukrainian photography of the 1990s. Medical, Leonardo’s and mythological aspects take part in filling various levels of this interior topic.

      These aspects in the actions by Ilia Chichkan are united by research of the time factor contained in the body. Imago-read-ers know his Sleeping Princes of Ukraine, Imago, 1998, No 6. He reveals it also through the study of the cemetery subculture as the town of the dead and the limits of the body acting in this environment. Analysis of boundary conditions of such object as the body covers another kind of topics. Chichkan’s work with social ban as a compulsory standard for everyone got a shape of investigating the boundary of sexes. Travesty topic is the new act of work with the “last taboo“ in the Ukrainian photography.

      The history of accentuating male naked nature on the photos by Pavlov, Mikhailov, Solonsky in the 1970s-80s rounds up by exploring the secrets of sexes in the works by Mikhailov, Solonsky, Bratkov, Chichkan, Savadov in the 1990s. This fact in the Ukrainian photography may be regarded as an unexpected reflection of problems studied by feminist philosophy (though it is not supported by local public consciousness and practice).

      The middle of the 1990s is distinguished by a substantial re-groupment of powers in Ukrainian photography. This period relates to the creation of the Group of Fast Reaction by Mikhailov, Pavlov and Solonsky, whose field of action is provocative art - the actions based on photography. Integration of Ukraininan photography in the sphere of art at that time is done also in another way - through the dialogue with the art of painting and other arts. In 1994 Pavlov showed the project Totalnaja Fotografia as product of this interartscape and later he has continued this action-painting-experiment in the sphere of photography with artist Vladimir Shaposhnikov, who joined him in 1996.

      In spite of the fact, that over the last thirty years art-photography in the Ukraine was represented by the Kharkov photography school, since the middle of 1990s some mega-photo projects have appeared in Kiev, which has become a center of attraction. The author behind these projects is Arsen Savadov, initially an artist, who began to work with photography using organizational methods comparable to cinematographic production: Deepinsider, Collective Red and others.

      In his Bloody Mary (from Collective Red) Arsen Savadov uses the reception typical of contemporary Ukrainian photography ’mauvais’ genre (in this case - the interior of a slaughter-house), introducing it into the context of ’haut’ art. The bloodless revolution in Ukraine moved into art instead of the revolution of 1917, in which blood was a permanent attribute. All the theatrical requisite of the Jungian Minotauromahia operate here with the aim of showing that the drama of the “civil war“ is in our heads, as is the struggle between the ideologies of post-Communist society. ’Blind spot’ founded by Viktor Tupitcin in the contemporary Ukrainian photography (Boris Mikhailov, Yevgeniy Pavlov, Sergey Bratkov) changed here for bloody spot. The interior of the production shop of a slaughterhouse, with its specific geometricity, appears to look like a typical constructivist build-up, with the view of a utopian mind-scape of the so-called Soviet style, with its hypertrophy of a mechanical control to the detriment of a human dimension. In this context “the tragical choir“ of the butchers seems prepared to move from skinning pig and cow’s carcasses on to human bodies. Finally, bulls and matadors, butchers and vegetarians become equally unprotected in the situation of the broken transcendent order. At the same time, when the envelopement of this red plant-dream seems stable, its mechanisms are broken down, its vitality useless and monstrous, like Minotaur, and the butchers and matadors only present historical costumes. By deploying an installation of butchery, which involves all forces of the society that has been taken away by “red dream“ for 70 years, Arsen Savadov is touching upon the unique topic of death if not slaughter of the perfect “red man“, as he had done before in his work the Collective Red.

      One of exhibitions showed in 2000 in artgallery Palitra (Fantom, Yevgenija Mnatsakanjva, Sergey Podkorytov) accompanied by body-art-action, in which one could notice very expressive semantics. Its basic, three-dimensional content was the dance of young people coloured in red. On the back-ground of a brown and red carpet, covering the floor of the gallery, this scene to a large extent evoked the memory of a famous panneau by Matisse - The Dance -, kept in the famous Russian Ermitage Museum. Together with the red figures leav-ing the green room of the scene, predicted by Matisse in 1910 in the dance of red giants, experience of “the passing of historical chronotops revealed itself as the main content of the work.

      Among specific projections of psychosomatic problems ranges the action An extraterrestrial Diary, Andrey Avdejenko and Alexey Jesunin, showed in Bratislava in 1999, where conceptual narrative, regardless the use of classical genre of “the found manuscript“ (the film was developed by Avdejenko, the diary deciphered by Jesunin) sounded urgent like a medical report. The syndrom of a contactor of extraterrestrial civilizations, born by 20th century, became especially popular after the fall of the epoch of Soviet empire, which had pretended to be also a cosmic empire. For the same reasons in the 19th century after Waterloo the “napoleon’ s complex“ became widely spread. It resulted in the body being lost again for natural human functions. In the photographs of this project the eyes glide over the bodies without distinguishing them, they are swarming in the light beam of a “starcraft“, vanishing in the flickering of the photo-flash. The bodies have lost their values down to the “human waste“, in the way the corporeal life is losing its value, being transformed to the maniacal dominant in the insane’s mind. (“They muffle one another making an incredible noise“- from The Extraterrestrial Diary)

      Mysterious distance, in which the body-soul is represented in conceptual projects, for example in the Roof by Alexander Papakitsa3, is changed for the everyday triviality, banal availability in reportage series, representing the human types of the “genre of crisis“. A whole range of thematic portrait series of the 1990s in Ukraininan photography can be given, in which a human being is placed within the limits of survival, or even beyond that boundary. Mikhailov’s Homeless, series by Bratkov, Alexander Gljadelov, Alexander Chekmenev fix the result of observations, confirming peculiar manifestations of a new quality that has appeared in man.

      Yet it is not “new monstruous“ at all. Minotaurus is over, as shows the “slaughter house“ by Savadov. Personages of the portrait series The Lilies by Chekhmenev which presents the patients of a mental house are not transfered to zoological sphere, they are integrated within the sphere of the vegetable world, in the Realm of Flora. The problem is just in the fact that they are not able to manage the further, animal level, with its evolution success; with its freedom of movement in the space, freedom to gain the food and obtain the female. A lily cannot turn to a tiger, it can only make mimicry helplessly, it is becoming a tiger lily like flowers in a poem by Walter Kragn:

“The little lilies of the vale,
White ladies delicate and pale.

When lilies, turned to tigers blaze
Amid the gardens rangled maze.“ 

      Even the exalted biblical semantics cannot save those lilies (“...that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these“, - the Gospel according to St. Matthew, 6:29)). Their deceitfulness (gross affectedness) dominated over all semantic meanings.“Man will again change into an ape,- wrought Nietzsche,- if he does not succeed in decisively changing the conditions of his existence at the last moment“.4 But if in the light of this discourse the human being can obtain the paradise garden only with the rights of a lily, i.e. dropping one step lower on the evolution ladder, that perspective is full of sadness.

      With this productive topic of flowers is related also the aesthetic saturation of the photographic works of the well-known Kharkov author, Oleg Maljovany. It was him who develop-ed the liking for the flower intervention in the photos of the Kharkov school circle. He made the image of photographer prestigious; his photolaboratory became a Studio of Artist. Such a characteristic quality of Ukrainian art as a hedonism transformed for him into a superfluity of coloring. In the series Homage to Shemjakin his ’beautification of beauty’ transforms the woman into the flower in such way, that butterfly sit down on her face like the birds, which pecked the grapes on the picture of the antique painter Zevksis.

      The title of one of the key series of Bratkov’ s reads as follows: There is no paradise. Regardless the negative particle ne, the predicate points to the focus of humanitarian culture, center-ed on search for happiness. The series of photos made in an orphanage and other institutions for the care of deserted children (Artificial Breath), his series Children, which remind a popular expression: “the children are the flowers of life“, or photo-action Frozen Landscapes, dedicated to the “snowdrops“5, complete the sad perspective of flower-kids.

      This threatening dynamics of the involution of man, represented in photography, shows the depth of psychosomatic crisis. The experiment of antropocreation, the revolution of spirit, the cosmic march -over all these great projects there is hanging the real threat of capitulation of a human’s body in the domain of flora instead of find happening in Paradise. This is the futurological prognosis of the artistic actions we have considered. It could be only added that in this discourse, characteristic for the art of Europe of the 90s, also a local problem of the contemporary Ukraininan society has been specifically reflected, namely the problem of searching for a strong hero. Here the conflict between vita heroica and vita minima is reflected, which remains a constant problem of the Ukraine’ s culture over many centuries…

      The work with the man in photography in “the body key“ has a supertask of “antropocreation“ as the overcoming the factor of “disordered health“ of a contemporary man as well as his integration into the new form of existence in the sphere of art.

      And medical equipment used for this purpose is also introduced into the context of art reaffirming Semper’s theoretical concept stating that every kind of art originates from a certain kind of labour. Consequently one may assume an inverse statement as we can witness with regard of earthwork, neon lights, medical professionalism, etc., thus reaffirming a universal and comprehensive statement of the ancients: “what goes up must go down“.


1) 1972 year was the year of beginning of official hippie movement restraining in Ukraine after a short Khrushchov’s “thaw period“ and Shchelest’s government.

2) See about it “Jokes by Jack“, “Imago“, 1998, ?6.

3) Alexander Papakitsa (1966-1998), very talented photographer, whose first exhibition became the last.

4) In the book: Karl Jaspers. Nietzsche and Christianity. Moscow. Medium, 1994.

5) So are named the homeless, who freezed to death. Bratkov’s photoaction had homage for death of 45 the homeless, who were killed by frost at the night of 15 February 1994 in Kharkiv.