I was invited to the artist walk through for a new exhibition Baby, I like It Raw: Post-Eastern Bloc Photography on view at the Czech Center New York curated by artist Marie Tomanova (Whose work is also included in the show) and Thomas Beachdel.
I was approaching this show as the most opposite artist possible – a straightforward, still life, avoiding portraits with all cost artist – so I was excited to review something that might be out of my comfort zone.
Exhibiting artists include:
Photography – Masha Demianova, Pola Esther, GORSAD, Daniel King, Sasha Kurmaz, Sonya Kydeeva, Slava Mogutin, George Nebieridze, Anya Schiller, Marie Tomanova, Irina Yulieva.
Video – Sam Centore, Samira Elagoz, Becky Factory, Slava Mogutin, Marie Tomanova, Martynka Wawrzyniak.
In this gritty, uncensored and RAW art show, the images on the walls might not be for everyone’s liking but as Slava Mogutin, one of the featured artist said, it is indeed refreshing to have work up without censorship of sexuality and the body – especially here in NYC a city that is the inspiration to many subcultures and rule breaking art.
The curators say about the show “The West has grown fat, fat, fat and gluttonous. Post-WWII, it has devoured everything and spun a global web of consumer desire, shaping identity through materialism and media.
More than only geographically isolated until the early 1990s, what once was the Eastern Bloc is now deﬁning itself with and against a consumer history it never really had. Raw desire and energy—youth culture—come into tension with the totalitarian ghost of Stalin.
Larry Clark and Gosha Rubchinskiy greet each other in the Brutalist architectural spaces of conformity and power.West and East mix, breed, copulate, produce. Harmony Korine, you are to the West what Boris Mikhailov is to the East.
If we were to ﬁnd you all young and willing, easy and free…, and put you in a room, it might be something like this show. It might smell like black cigarettes, sex, and alcohol. It would be cold. It would be hot. It would shine brilliant and real. Clothing would be cast off with innocence. There might be blood on the snow and the concrete. SOME OF YOU WILL BECOME GREAT. Some of you will be lost among the plastic bottles and dirty socks. Some of you know…”
The top floor features all the photography projects.
The first impression I had from the overall look of the show, that it was clean and tidy. I couldn’t decide if I liked the dissonance between the subject matter and the look of the work itself to the white empty space, or if it felt too much like a gallery squashing it all to fit the norm. I am still undecided even after talking to Marie about their decision to keep it clean and let the work talk.
The one project that stood out for me was the, from what I heard from the curators, controversial work by collaborating artists GORSAD.
Installed as a Russian cross, these images show portraits of children alongside a whip, a melting ice cream and a bloody nose. Using children might always be a taboo, especially in an exhibition that has genitals all over its walls, but for me it was a work about a child’s play in this chaotic grown up world. The portrait that stood out the most was the blond girl smiling as her nose is bleeding, her smile is so captivating that I was able to dive into this portrait and look at it for a long time, which for me is always a good indication for a good photograph.
“We are in love with these people who are not eager to please. Sometimes even the most shy and constrained are unexpected in their behavior during shooting process. Shooting for us is an interesting and lively dialogue with those who are difficult to get in touch in everyday life.” (GORSAD)
Another work I found intriguing was a black and white grid installation by artist Irina Yulieva.
Her images reminded me of old photography styles of many of the urban and street photographers with heavy shadows, high contrast and noisy prints. Some of these images capture a real intimate moment that might not seem perfect of beautiful to many, but is true and sensitive. The grid allowed the presentation to follow the nature of the images which is both cluttered and messy but also creating a clear narrative of a place and time we have a chance to look into.
Slava, Whom I mentioned earlier, captured my attention because of a few specific images. His images felt very free and in some way had a boyish innocent to them, although there is much nudity I felt I was able to look beyond that, because it was not the main focus of the work. The nudity was just a part of the situation, was a part of this group’s bond and it was not nudity for the sake of nudity, it felt as the show was aiming for – Raw.
After going down the spiral stairs we went into a small and cozy theater where the video artists showed their work.
Martynka Wawrzyniak created a 9+ minutes work where she is being submerged in chocolate syrup. The video started with a clean faced, emptied bathtub portrait as the chocolate slowly starts pouring on her face. At the beginning and during the first half of the video the artists seems to ‘play’ a rule for the camera, being aware of her facial expressions by smiling and sometimes being seductive. I find it most interesting when things get harder and she almost loses her control over the situation. The chocolate is now covering more of her face, getting into her nose and eyes, it seems to start getting harder to deal with the chocolate. Her face features change and become harsh, and the video also gets harder to watch, uncomfortable.
I couldn’t help but thinking the entire time about the person who was pouring the chocolate syrup. I found it fascinating to think about this off camera person, who is aggressively pouring chocolate syrup on someone else, while seeing them struggle.
Both Marie and Thomas seemed very passionate about both the show as a whole but also about the artists themselves. They looked proud and happy to be able and share the work in the US, for many of the artists it was their first time.
If you have a chance and you are around New York city the show will be up until April 4th at the Czech Center located on 321 E 73rd St, New York, NY 10021.
For more information visit the Czech Center website.