Mixed Media
1984 - 2019

"If habit is a second nature, what is our first?" With these words Henrik Ibsen expressed his ineradicable scorn for philistine mentality, which in his plays is countered by the character that pursues lofty ideas and revolts against petit bourgeois values. The personality behind Sergey Bratkov's works, on the contrary, displays no heroism, nor has he a mission. His protagonists, in many cases Bratkov himself, are completely absorbed in the rituals of daily life. In this case, habit, i.e. a regular practice, appears to be the only way to organize one's life and define one's biographical path. For example, one's smoking addiction and attempts to break free from it can be the key element around which one's life revolves.

However, regular practices should not be reduced to the mechanistic repetition of the same actions. The filmmaker Kira Muratova, whose poetics is close to Bratkov's, noticed that the regularity of daily routines is similar to repeated sections in opera. In Bratkov's work the act of smoking turns everyday life into a set of reprises in the genres of theatre, melodrama, circus, opera and operetta. Moreover, they are nothing but a set, i.e. a collection of discrete actions and situations. Devoid of pathos and mission, life as conceived by the artist lacks both a unifying narrative and a plot thread.

Focusing on the discrete, Bratkov turns into an acute observer, able to see the unique in the mundane. Repetition, as Gilles Deleuze noted, entails difference. In the present work, difference and the paradoxes deriving from it are manifested in the way Bratkov presents himself. A cigarette and the act of smoking constitute a unifying motif that recurs in situations featuring the artist in different guises. Not necessarily regarded as part of a whole, the unique flair of every portrayal and the air of ridiculousness and even absurdness of some of them leave no doubt that the personality behind the characters is well beyond them and is just acting out roles or even simply clowning. At the same time, Bratkov's work does not aim to counterpose "being" to "seeming". It rather tells us that even if we acknowledge the existence of the mystery of human life, it can be neither expressed nor grasped. Therefore, the story of one's life is not the process of realizing one's true self but rather a sequence of one's attempts to take on different identities.

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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