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Monday, 6 November 2017

Happy October Revolution? Amplitude No!

I've been on a bit of a Russian kick at the moment. I saw From Tsar to Lenin a couple of weeks ago, watched The Death of Stalin (which was brilliant). Last week I saw the Kabakov exhibition at Tate Modern which I loved. I saw October at the weekend for the first time ever which I didn't love, and I also saw Revolution: New Art for a New World  - which is on the telly tonight and is highly recommended.

None of this is intentional but such is the way of the world when the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution comes round. And oh my giddy aunt, it's coming round tomorrow. Best get baking a cake or whatever it is you do to celebrate the Russian Revolution. It's not an easy one.

To be honest, after seeing all this stuff I'm none the wiser in some ways. I have absorbed a certain amount of obvious directness (and I like obvious directness) and outright propaganda and subterfuge mixed in with opaque messages,  and culturally specific references that are quite beyond my frame of reference. But there's a different kind of literacy involved in reading that kind of opaqueness and cultural specificity so all is good.

So I've been seeing all this Russian material and then Amplitude No1 pops up in the post just to square the circle. Amplitude No1  has that mix of the direct, the opaque and the culturally specific. It's published by Fotodepartment in Moscow and is a 10 book overview of contemporary Russian photography and comes in a cardboard slipcase with beautifully designed 28-page stapled booklets of a range of work.

It's in a slipcase and the slipcase is basic card which feels and looks really nice right from the start.

Pull the booklets out and the first one out is On Photography and Fundamentalism by Yury Gudkov.

This is an essay or a manifesto even on the nature of visual literacy, and how the fundamental meaning of visual literacy has been transformed in the arenas of the digital and social media. It's a scene setter in other words.

I think Gudkov is saying that there are aspects of fundamentalism in the way we produce and consume images digitally. The striving for the perfect image in old-school photography is transformed by  the same-generating mechanisms of Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook into an even more synthetic value system that leads us ending up with digital mush. And in this world Time is erased and voice is erased. In turn he rituals of digital dissemination become a redundant ritual that has lost the power to reveal or move us.

And so says Gudkov, the solution is either to repeat the ritual or change the ritual. And that is what social media is really all about, and so images are made redundant by the process they become part of; an empty ritual that always needs to shift focus and intensify so we are trapped in its vague unfocussed world, an unsatisfying world that has no meaning outside itself.

At least that's one way of looking at it.

The Next is Broken Knees by Irina Yulieva. This features the fractured body language of teenagers - most is in hard black and white with dates on the pictures. It's pictures of the photographers' family, part documentary of village life, part performance.

Efficiency Ritual by Alexey Bogolepov is a kind of architectural book of forms that have lost their function, where brutalism, interior design and new formalism all mix. It's inviting and sucks you in. 

Machine by Irina Zadorozhnaia is based on an imaginary psychotherapeutic machine that influences change by showing the internal change you are undergoing - it's like a brain recording machine. The idea being that by seeing the changes you undergo, you will be pushed to change some more - basically what Hugh Diamond did with his pictures in the 19th century. The pictures are based on that and they are high opaque and kind of magical. I haven't got a clue what's going on but I like it.

Mzensk by Anastasia Tsayder is a nostalgic look at provincial Russian interiors. Are these staged, are these designed I'm not sure. So we are starting to build up our Russian themes and there is a language and an interplay between each of the volumes - I think. If there isn't now, there will be one in the future. What it is I again have no idea, but it's there and it's making things shuffle in my mind, just below the surface somewhere.

Herbarium by Igor Samolet is a series of  self portraits covered with plants. There's a man with carrots on his head and an interior with lots of little red dashes. Visually it's great and it's based on an archive, though I'm not sure how it all connects. But who cares! Each book comes with a little piece of paper with the artists' statements (opaque with nobs on) on them. It's a really simple and nice design touch when repeated over the 10 books.

Locals by Olga Ivanova is a series of small town portraits, asking what  it means to be Russian? These are beautiful portraits and, together with Broken Knees represents the most traditional documentary projects - these are a way into the photographic world that has been curated in Amplitude No1, and it's an overview of contemporary photographic trends with Russian characteristics.

Renovation by Ivannikova is a series of installation shots mixed with internet sourced images that touch on the idea of reconstruction and renovation as a metaphor for personal healing. And the converse also applies. Russian Interiors come in many forms and seem a defining theme in this series and beyond.

In N/A, Anastasia Tailakova uses old cameras and what look like heavily cropped images to create images of half-memories and nostalgia of a fairly recent and idealised past, again extending Russian memory beyond that of the Lenin/Stalin axis into something far more landscaped based and relevant to Russian experience.

Finally, there's Hermitage by Margo Ovcaharenko. This is  a series of beautifully lit portraits of people who don't fit in and are somehow isolated in Russian society - due, we guess, to sexuality, politics, fetish and more. This is lovely and is fits very much into a recognisable documentary form, but again with elements that are specific to and repeated throughout the collection.

So there you have it. It's a beautiful collection, and if you want to buy one or more of the individual volumes they are available individually. Amplitude No1 will be on sale both at Offprint in Paris and at Polycopies.

And of course you can Buy Amplitude No1 here. 

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