Photo I, Photo You; Installation View; Calvert22
Today's Eastern Europe: Photo I, Photo You at Calvert22
Photo I, Photo You
22 Calvert Avenue
London, E2 7JP
28 January through 28 March
So what's the scene in Russia and Eastern Europe these days? As presented at the January 27th private viewing of Photo I, Photo You at East London's Calvert22, things are especially bleak and gritty - but also genuinely beguiling and incredibly photogenic.
Opened in May 2009 by Russian art collector and economist Nonna Materkova, and under the artistic direction of David Thorp, Calvert22 is a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to promoting art from Russia as well as Central and Eastern Europe. Despite its fledgling status, previous shows, such as Calvert22's premiere Past Future Perfect, soon confirmed the full-grown intentions of this exhibition space.
The first show of the year for this eastwardly-inspired London gallery, and only its fourth ever, Photo I, Photo You presents works by ten leading Russian and Eastern European artists. As the exhibition's name suggests, most of what's on view is photography. However, mixed media, video, found and ready-made objects play important roles as well. According to curator Lara Boubnova (founder of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Sofia Bulgaria), these works provide a long, hard look at Eastern Europe beyond the clichés and “established patterns of habit or random memories from the guidebooks or the media.” They allow viewers to recognize what they might think they know in new ways.
No longer outposts of Soviet ideology but rather extensions of the economically teetering West, the region examined in Photo I, Photo You, is one of lost global identity. Boubnova suggests that, in this newly wayward land, “nothing is obvious, nothing is what it seems to be and nothing is how we thought it would be when we first looked at it.” Through her selections for Photo I, Photo You, Boubnova invites the viewer to contemplate how contemporary artist-photographers in Eastern Europe navigate between their own art, the “clear language of visual propaganda” and the “overwhelming interface” of Eastern Europe's neo-capitalist cities.
The highlights of Photo I, Photo You are many. Among them are the randomly overlapping photo-collages of celebrated Ukrainian photographer Boris Mikhailov. Through his hybridization of various, seemingly unrelated images his works compel the viewer to look closer and read the composition for potential integrity and unity. Similarly, Albanian artist Anri Sala's squawking and symmetrical super 16 film, Long Sorrow, requires a bit of piece-it-together brainpower from viewers, as they are confronted by the free jazz solo of American saxophonist, Jemeel Moondo who seems to hover above the symmetry of East Berlin's rows of apartment blocks. Heady stuff to contemplate, nonetheless this visual double-take on the East of Europe uncertain stance in today's world is a worthwhile endeavour.