"Space is not just an empty and black hole, it is different everywhere, and has different curvature and, so to speak, its own specific face." Alexey Losev*, "Iz besed i vospominaniy," (Studencheskiy Meridian, no. 8-12, 1988).
The philosophical term "space" is a main theme under which four photographers from Russia are presented in this issue. By "space" we mean an area of observation and the context of that area relative to its surrounding culture, society, and physical location. The gradual unraveling of space continues to bring new dimensions and to expand the horizons of modern Russian photographers.
Natasha Pavlovskaya, Valeri Nistratov, Andrey Abramov, and Nikita Pirogov work with the concept "space" in the presented series to uncover their life experiences, thoughts and emotions. Their surrounding environment is not just imitated — it is used as a tool to help each photographer view ordinary objects, actions, and themes in a new perspective. Such themes include mining (anthropogenic impact on the environment), new housing developments (urbanization), and personal space within a room (problems of living in modern society).
We have divided the photographers into two groups based on their series. Pavlovskaya and Nistratov reveal their themes using landscape, while Abramov and Pirogov concentrate attention on small details to reflect their emotional experiences. The space of the first group is public in nature, whereas space of the second group is private and intimate.
In Pavlovskaya's series Missing Space. Donbass, we are introduced to an area in Eastern Ukraine called Donbass that developed on the back of its coal resources. These resources gave rise to a major steel producing center with various associated heavy industry. Donbass was one of the most developed industrial regions in Tsarist Russia that continued to be developed during the Soviet period. Today, the area remains an important part of Ukraine's economy and is a major hub of employment and national wealth with high population density. At the same time, Donbass is a region with a critical, and, in certain places, disastrous ecological situation. What is interesting in this series is that we do not see a single person, and yet we are aware of their presence by what is left behind. Natasha's works show space that looks and feels almost cosmic and unlivable, yet it clearly is inhabited and even appears as though invisible boundaries prevent its residents from leaving.
In his series Documents of Nature, using the language of space, Valeri Nistratov examines Russian social mentality by showing how people attempt to isolate themselves from outside reality with high fences surrounding expensive housing settlements. Additionally, Valeri's work addresses the question of sustainable urban development, an increasingly prominent problem in Moscow and nearby regions. In many instances, high fences together with the names of housing settlements such as France, Italy, and Ireland seem to make residents care less about life outside and the surrounding space. In Valeri's photographs, "space" appears as it is, without embellishment. Valeri seems detached from it, yet not indifferent to seeking harmony between nature and human objects.
The artists from the second group, Nikita Pirogov and Andrey Abramov, represent a young generation of photographers and they reveal the close ties between outside space and personal concerns. Andrey's photography shows his perception of urban space. The so-called "simulators" are the main characters in his works. In his opinion, simulators work to create a projection of the author's intimate view of a subject. In Andrey's photographs, the viewers' initial impression — ingrained stereotypes — dissolve away to reveal the photographer's personal thoughts. Andrey believes that his photography conveys to the viewer his presence, i.e. "I was right there and made that shot."
In Pirogov's series The Other Shore, space is demonstrated to have substance. Nikita's photos have it both ways — a feeling of eternity as well as a feeling of the passing of time. The artist highlights how space and time are inseparable, and in his works, space and time really do meet in one point. Precisely because of the connection between space and time we feel limitless — we feel emotion that ties humans with their environment.
*Alexey Losev (1893-1988), a Russian philosopher, philologist and culturologist, one of the most prominent figures in Russian philosophical and religious thought of the 20th century.
Yulia McCutcheon was born in Moscow, Russia, but she spent her school years in Soviet Moscow; Beijing, China; Muncie, Indiana, USA. She has long been interested in how different cultures express themselves, but how there remains a common thread of humanity despite these differences. Yulia has organized several art exhibitions in Moscow and now works as an independent curator. She has a MA degree in International Affairs from The New School University (New York, NY) and a degree in Aesthetics — Art Business from Moscow State University (Moscow, Russia).
Dasha Kutasina was born in a small town outside Moscow, was educated at the Russian State University of People's Friendship (Moscow, Russia) and received a degree in Aesthetics — Art Business from Moscow State University (Moscow, Russia). She is interested in the new generation of post-Soviet Russian artists and how their work fits in a global context. She organized an art show in Grenoble, France in 2006 and since then has organized art exhibitions in Moscow.