… In Search of a Window of Opportunity/Exodus …, 2020-2021
Courtesy the Artist
Structures of Madness, or Why Shepherds Living in the Mountains Often Go Crazy, 2011-2012
Courtesy the Artist
Making use of both conceptual and documentary traditions and employing a range of photographic techniques, for over forty years, Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov has explored the resilient position of the individual within the mechanisms of public ideology, touching on subjects such as Ukraine under Soviet rule, the living conditions in post-communist Eastern Europe, and the fallen ideals facing the traumatic, war-torn present in Ukraine, drafting a multiple portrait of the human tragicomedy. His work is rooted in the historical context and incorporates deeply personal narratives and often humorous and surreal considerations. Mikhailov relentlessly turns the gaze of his camera onto the recesses of reality and its overcoming forces, featuring the body as a lens through which to investigate human history.“Which one came first: the chicken or the egg? A path dominated by fears or the terrors of a prehistoric cave?”
These are the questions opening Boris Mikhailov’s contribution to Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, gathering a new video collage, … In Search of a Window of Opportunity/Exodus… (2020–2021), and the photographic series Structures of Madness, or Why Shepherds Living in the Mountains Often Go Crazy (2011–2012). Created within a temporal space of a decade, both works focus on the human body: uncensored in its vulnerability and suffering as well as its capacity and need for recovery, profoundly bound to the traumatic changes characterizing its political and morphological surroundings. Structures of Madness, or Why Shepherds Living in the Mountains Often Go Crazy, juxtaposes photographs of rock formations with drawings presenting organic gestures that highlight bodily forms to be found in the natural environment. Referring to an old saying claiming that Swiss herdsmen often go mad, the series speculates on the possible reality of such a claim and its causes, finding these in the altered perceptions of the rocky mountainous environment and its drastic variations between day and night.
As Mikhailov wrote: “In the evening everything is transformed. Reality changes or simply vanishes, and phantoms of various kinds emerge from the darkness”. Mountains become, by night, petrified fragments of someone who lived long ago. Caves return being filled with archaic fears and terrors: is this the landscape of the human condition and its uncertainty, both in the universe and in our fractured historical existences? Playing with similar juxtaposition techniques also … In Search of a Window of Opportunity/Exodus… (screened for two weeks in the context of Mikhailov’s contribution to Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters) presents a layered nightmarish journey through the imagery of daily life and classic motifs, where the body is dissected, caricatured, violated and controlled but also playfully molded into alternative forms—from architecture to art and nature—revealing wounds, rashes, tattoos, and amputated growths of disenfranchised individuals and communities living on the margins of society and observing their entanglement with larger projects and entities. Not directly connected to the Pompeiian heritage, Boris Mikhailov’s images work as a palimpsest of similar, agential matters where nature and culture, past and present, documentary and imagination, joy and sorrow coexist in telling both personal and universal stories of collapse and recovery, ultimately celebrating the transformative, irrepressible value of life. CA-AV
Thanks to: Guido Costa, Guido Costa Projects, Torino
Home page image: Boris Mikhailov, … In Search of a Window of Opportunity/Exodus …, 2020-2021. Courtesy the Artist
Boris Mikhailov (Kharkiv, 1938) is one of the most influential contemporary photographers. Born in Ukraine, his work—begun in the 1960s while working as an engineer in a factory—was repeatedly boycotted by the Soviet regime. In his photographic series, Mikhailov deals with a broad range of themes, investigating the far-reaching, radical, and often traumatic changes that have affected his homeland and still do. The artist himself has said: “I think that the phenomenon I am telling the world about is post-communist and post-Soviet in its essence. Russia has always been a world of social cataclysms, which was obvious throughout the 20th century.” But, by extension, the social disintegration that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, in terms of community structures and living conditions, as well as its impact on individual consciences, is raised in Mikhailov’s images to a universal value capable of representing the contemporary identity in its fragmentation between inclusion and exclusion, progress and marginalization, identity and displacement, migration and permanence. In this way, he bears witness to the dignity as well as the common ethical roots of all human beings. Since the 1990s, when his research will also be presented in the West, some of the most important museums in the world have dedicated extensive retrospectives to the artist, who in 2007, 2017, and 2022 represented Ukraine at the Venice Biennale. Among them: Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden, Baden; Pinchuk Art Center, Kyiv; C/O Berlin Foundation, Berlin; Kunstverein Wolfenbüttel, Wolfenbüttel; Madre-Museum of Contemporary Art Donnaregina, Naples; Camera Camera-Italian Center for Photography, Turin; MoMA-Museum of Modern Art, New York; Sprengel Museum, Hannover; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; Moscow Contemporary Art Center, Moscow; Center de la Photographie, Geneva; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Fotomuseum, Winterthur; The Photographic Museum, Helsinki; Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Kunsthalle Zürich, Zurich; Soros Center of Contemporary Art, Kiev; Portikus, Frankfurt am Main; The Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; The Photographers Gallery, London. After receiving the Hasselblad Foundation International Award and the City Bank Photographer Prize in 2000, the Spectrum International Prize for Photography in 2012, and the prestigious Goslar Kaiserring Award in 2015, in 2021, the artist was awarded the Shevchenko Ukraine National Prize.