Boris Mikhailov
Born in 1938 in Kharkov (Ukraine).
Lives in Berlin (Germany).
"Diary", 2016
Photo, 30 x 21 each
Courtesy of the artist
These photos were created by Boris Mikhailov in the end of the Soviet era, but they were brought out of the archives only recently. In 2016 he collected 900 of his photographs, mostly early ones, and assembled them in the artbook "Diary". Mikhailov dedicated this project to the "Blue Horse" group, which was created in the 1950s by young liberals in Kharkov. The artist says: "This group or movement of young people, many of whom were students in my home city at the end of the 1950s, deep in the Soviet times, loved the Beatles, danced to rock and roll, and dreamt about the freedom of the West. They came under great pressure from the government... four of them were convicted and went to jail... for pornography (convicting someone for madness or pornography was one of the ways used to crack down on any opposition). As one of the main proofs, the court was presented with photographs of these young people on the beach, in swimwear, striking "Western" poses... I started with my photography about five years later; it was the time when it was forbidden to shoot many – or almost all – things, but no one kills for it already...". In the pieces presented in "Diary" the author's high level of skill is hidden. The photographs look amateurish, purposefully of course. Moreover, the naiveté of some of the captured moments leaves it unclear what exactly the author was photographing. What was he interested in when he closed the shutter of the camera? Thus, by risking artistic intention to be put to question, Mikhailov tries to break free of the established imagery of showcased Soviet life, tries to resist its official grand representation as well as the critical pretentiousness that unites the unofficial photographers. As a result these works create an unexpected and poignant effect of being part of real unclouded life. Finally, two distinctive themes catch your eye in the materials of "Diary". One is the scenes of everyday Soviet life, the other – erotic motifs. And if the former images portray life as somehow empty and uneventful, then the intimate ones are full of unstudied authentic artistry. In this manner Mikhailov demonstrates that the public sphere was so ritualized in the Soviet Union that the only thing that exposed a presence of animate life was unplanned interruptions, such as an awkward pose, a clumsy gesture, a spontaneous grimace and so on. In the meantime the personal sphere, disguised in personal spaces became a zone of play and emancipation. Here rituals of freedom were created in place of the rituals of official life.
artistic director of the project: Viktor Misiano
National Center for Contemporary Arts
Moscow Museum of Modern Art
Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
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