Katalog der 6. Berlin Biennale, 11. Juni 2010
Olga Chernysheva’s photographs High Road #8 (2007) show a blind spot in the economic life of the Russian capital: migrant workers from Central Asia who hire themselves out on an hourly or daily basis. Their services are part of Moscow’s quotidian life, yet their existence, hidden away beyond the freeway ring, is a blot on the city’s self-image. Without papers, exposed to arbitrary treatment, these men are the very prototype of flexible manpower. “They seem to carry around their native soil wherever they go,” the artist writes. “Maybe this is why they seem to gravitate to the ground, squatting down on their haunches in every free minute, only to jump and flush like birds at the sight of the approaching militia or a stopping car. This territory belongs to them fully, a small patch of earth on the highway’s shoulder.” By photographing them from the foot of an embankment, Chernysheva reverses their usual position in the hierarchy of the gaze and elevates them to icons in a pictorial composition reminiscent of Constructivist propaganda posters.
Society is also the distribution of attention. Chernysheva’s photographs, drawings, installations, paintings, and videos measure out the present in a topography of gazes and longings. “I want to analyze the normal,” Chernysheva says. “The normal is hardly perceived.” In everyday situations she brings to view the fragmentation of public spaces caused by liberalization and privatization, as well as the isolation in a society of “free” competitors, where each person lives their own film and must shut out whatever fails to serve personal goals. At the same time, pursuing her actors with empathic devotion, Chernysheva always discovers the human in them. And this often reveals itself in precisely those moments when they step outside their roles or forget themselves and are lost in thought, like the woman demonstrator in Marmot (1999), the drinker in Anonymous, Part 2 (2004), or the guards in On Duty (2007). At such moments, her subjects seem connected indeed by deep ties: yearning for the past and waiting for something not yet in sight.
In her video Russian Museum (2003–2005) the artist follows the gaze of museum visitors reflected in the landscapes and peasant huts of Russian realism. Yearning faces drift through living rooms; groups of visitors trek with wanderers through snow to the ironic accompaniment of relaxation music. On show at the Berlin Biennale are Chernysheva’s drawings of the same title, in which she harmoniously exaggerates the projection areas of the paintings and the gaze of viewers and joins them in new pictures (2003). Art and reality attain to equal status here as mutually conditioning elements in relation to each other. As the visitors move through the exhibition, so Chernysheva moves through public space: attentive to small gestures, to overlooked details, and to the transitory moments in which, unforeseen, the universal reveals itself.
Translation: Christopher Jenkin-Jones