The exhibition ‘Portraits and storytelling’ showcases works by Katerina Belkina (RU), Béla Dóka (HUN) and Maxim Wakultschik (BY), juxtaposing their seemingly contrasting series. The images in the show are linked by their subject matter only: they are all portraits, though they could not be more different in their subject matter, environment, and ways of storytelling. Through the different settings, characters and atmosphere in their images, all three artists use portraiture as a tool to reflect on certain social phenomena. They tell stories that define the 21st century, from urban living through the rise of nationalism and political fanaticism to the merging of real life into digital space.
In her series entitled ‘Empty Spaces’ Katerina Belkina creates a unique atmosphere by capturing the metropolis of Moscow as a sterile, dehumanized environment boasting more skyscrapers than dwellers. The city looks dirty, as chimneys are emitting smoke and buildings are wiping out the last bits of nature, yet the main character of the photographs - Belkina herself - seems ethereal. The artist uses her body and face as primary tools to create the images, yet not in the sense of a traditional self-portrait: instead of looking at the artist herself, we see a universal persona embodying the humans of the urban environment. In the image ‘Weighing Up’ her character gazes directly at the viewer, with her face glowing in the darkness and her hands held up graciously, resembling a Russian icon. In ‘Fly!’ she levitates over the city in an unearthly position. These images are dominated by the connection/conflict between the city and the individual, yet none of them triumphs over the other. The main question of Belkina’s photographs is how humans as spiritual beings can find balance in the material world. These images are full of art historical and religious references, but the uniqueness of ‘Empty Spaces’ lies in the juxtaposition of spirituality with the loneliness and lack of belonging, thus contrasting the present and the past, as well as the personal with the universal.
As opposed to contemplating the dehumanizing nature of the metropolis, in his series ‘Putin FC’ Béla Dóka depicts deeply personal images of Moscow’s youth. We see young girls in their most intimate environment, lying on their beds, surrounded by posters and their personal belongings. Then, signs of fanaticism occur: next to the image of Jesus, a portrait of Putin is hanging on the wall. He also appears on T-shirts, magazines and even on Warholian silkscreen prints, seeming to be an omnipotent God overseeing all of the young girls’ lives. Indeed, the subjects of Dóka’s portraits are all members of the Putin Fan Club, with an average age of 18. These young girls idolize Putin for his professional life as a politician and his private life as a husband and sportsman. Dóka not only captured the members of Putin FC, but he also created a dialogue with these young people. One of the participants, Vika Matorina told Dóka the following:
‘Putin is the only one, he is the ideal! It had been the tsar before and now it's Putin, he is like God to me. I perceive him as daddy. He is a perfect man – politician, sportsman, family man! I want my husband to be like him. I want everyone to know that I'm his fan.’
In the series, Dóka goes well beyond documentarism: not only does he capture a social phenomenon, but he has a deep understanding for his subjects and conveys their opinion and situation with great empathy. His approach gives the images a very intimate feel. The series speaks for itself, and Dóka leaves it to the viewer to judge what they see.
The images of Maxim Wakultschik simply pop out of the gallery walls: his portraits are created with thousands of hand painted wooden sticks, meticulously organized to form multicolor ‘sculpture-paintings’. They almost operate as kinetic objects, compelling the viewer to move around and examine the surfaces from all angles. The images are part of a formal interplay between perspective, lights and colors, and there are many layers of interpretation behind the playful medium. Wakultschik’s subjects are idealized female faces, resembling the perfectly Photoshopped images dominating social media - the 21st century setting for Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle’. Indeed, Wakultschik’s female characters seem to levitate in cyberspace towards eternity. Then, could it by accident that once the viewer tries to capture the portraits with a digital camera, the result seems like a pixelated photograph?
Curator: Veronika Molnár