Representing the Figure
Leonid Borisov, Olga Chernysheva, Nicolas Lefebvre, Boris Mikhailov, Giorgio Silvestrini, Rimaldas Viksraitis, Grigoriy Yaroshenko
White Space Gallery is pleased to present a group-show featuring an eclectic and international group of artists: Leonid Borisov, Olga Chernysheva, Nicolas Lefebvre, Boris Mikhailov, Giorgio Silvestrini, Rimaldas Viksraitis, and Grigoriy Yaroshenko. The works on view, including photography, painting, drawings, and sculpture, all demonstrate a search for the representation of the figure, the person, or the self.
From rural Lithuania, Viksraitis illuminates a romantic poverty, that begs the question of where communality, sociality, and human bonds are produced, and subsequently where they are sustained. In his photographs, we encounter scenes that seem worlds and decades apart in deeply personal and intimate compositions. In Farmstead Dreams (2004) two figures sit in a shabby room where religious iconography shares a wall with a Mona Lisa reproduction. In another, Grimaces of the Weary Village (1999), an old married couple sit laughing at a joke not shared with us. Perhaps the “fictions” portrayed here are more “true” than any historical document. In another such personal photo, a man’s face, occluded by the smoke of his cigarette, is shielded from the camera’s proposed objective portrayal, denying its documentary aim; the work asks us where to position him and whether his representation will ever do justice to that intimate moment of respite. Other stories are found in Mikhailov’s photographs, which comprise his well-known series Salt Lake (1986), taken at a “lake” near Slavjansk, Ukraine. There, industrial liquid waste and sewage were believed to have a healing and therapeutic nature. The characters constituting the rural—though decidedly not bucolic—scenes seem transposed from a faraway beach. Older men and women swim in the factory’s effluents as children play on industrial pipes. The perplexing out-of-place “beach-goers” constitute somewhat spiritual scenes. Also exhibited are photographs by Yaroshenko taken throughout Russia and Uzbekistan between 2013 and 2016. One site for the images is the rural industrial area of Norilsk: a city built in the 1930 “on the bones” of Gulag prisoners. Now the city is one the country’s most important producers of nickel, copper, and many other metals. Here Yaroshenko has captured the faces, stories, and lives of characters as diverse as children in an orphanage for the blind and deaf, and Uzbekistani migrants working in the outskirts of Moscow.
Lefebvre’s sculptures, instead seek to transcend historicization, and invoke a symbolic and “anthropological” quest for representation. On view are small sculptures that create allegorical portrayals of various figures, some anthropocentric, others abstracted. In La fille précieuse (The Precious Girl, 2013) for instance, Lefebvre constructs the image of a young girl via objects and elements that abandon their material characteristics. Silvestrini, a Sicilian painter working in Paris, also produces physical objects portraying unknown characters, but choses to display them on a painted canvas, keeping the models at a remove from the viewer. His harlequins and figures, “faceless” in every sense of the word, are devoid of any personhood. Instead, they abstract the model, down to a singular form bursting with colour, as his imagined forms and subconscious interpretations take hold.
Lastly, Borisov and Chernysheva—two Russian artists separated by a generation—demonstrate different artistic approaches to representation. Borisov employs a decidedly abstract and “Minimalist” understanding of space and visuality, and utilises found photography to create collages that demonstrate his interrogations of the picture plane and of abstraction. On the topic of the elusive “figure,” his photographic self-portrait creates a tautological understanding of the (artist’s) self. He creates a mirror, to which we hold up our own image. Chernysheva is instead influenced by her development in Moscow Conceptualism’s circles, and works across the mediums of film, photography, drawing, and installation. Her drawings and photograph on view asks instead that we remain in figuration, in representation, and in expression.
Through painting, sculpture, and photography, this exhibition seeks to open dialogues between the works by this group of artists, exploring further how representing “the figure,” or the character, continues to intrigue artists. While some works seek objectivity, and others omit such concerns for the subjective, we remain inquisitive spectators, trying to understand the underlying narratives, if there are any, constituting each scene or form.
Leonid Borisov (b. 1943-d. 2013, St Petersburg, Russia) is renowned for his geometric abstraction. In 1974 he attended three of the most important exhibitions in the history of the unofficial Soviet art—the “Bulldozer” and the Izmailovo Park exhibitions in Moscow, and the Gazovskaya exhibition in Leningrad. Borisov first showed his abstract works at the non-official exhibition in Leningrad in 1975. His work demonstrates a special “stereometric” space, which he treats as something living and self-sufficient. He has had solo exhibition at the State Russian Museum, St Petersburg, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and Elena Schukina Gallery, London. Borisov’s works are in the collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, the State Russian Museum, St Petersburg, the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, among many others.
Olga Chernysheva (b. in 1962, Moscow) studied at the Moscow Cinema Academy and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Her solo exhibitions include In the Middle of Things presented at BAK in Utrecht in 2011, and Compossibilities at the Kunsthalle Erfurt in 2013. She has participated in many international group exhibitions including the 6th Berlin Biennial in 2010 and Ostalgia at the New Museum, New York in 2011. She represented Russia at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and her drawings were included in the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015 in All the World’s Futures curated by Okwui Enwezor. She lives and works in Moscow.
Nicolas Lefebvre (b. 1982, Paris) lives and works in Paris. He was brought up with Surrealism from his childhood, and was inspired by André Breton and Max Ernst. He enthusiastically travels the world in search for materials and objects. His works remind the viewer of various techniques from the past, including those of Arte Povera, which was very influential for his practice.
Boris Mikhailov (b. 1938, Kharkiv, Ukraine) lives and works in Ukraine and Berlin. Since the mid-1960s, Mikhailov has an uncompromising yet ironically humorous portrait of his close surroundings. He has exhibited at major art institutions in Europe and in the United States including: the Ukrainian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017; Tate Modern, London; Museo MADRE, Naples; Camera, Italian Centre for Photography, Turin; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Kunsthalle Wien. Mikhailov’s work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Modern and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, among many others.
Giorgio Silvestrini (b. 1985, Palermo) lives and works in Paris. In 2013 he graduated from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris (ENSBA). Inspired by the traditions of the Spanish Golden Age and Italian avant-garde painting, he invites us to engage in a metaphysical experience via his portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. Moving between figurative painting and abstraction, the real and the imaginary, his work questions the human condition, and conceptions of time and space. Recent exhibitions include a group exhibition of the resident artists at Casa de Velasquez, Madrid, 2017; Itinérances, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 2017; and Imago mundi, Rotte mediterranee, Centre culturali alla Zisa, Palermo, 2017.
Rimaldas Viksraitis (b. 1954, Sunkariai, Lithuania) grew up “between marshes and clay” in the secluded Šakiai district. At 17, he bought an old Soviet Smena 8 camera for 15 roubles and began photographing friends and neighbours in his native village. Viksraitis’s images of rural Lithuania fuse reportage and voyeurism to a surreal and disturbing effect. His studies of drunkenness and dereliction are depressing, but strangely beautiful. Viksraitis’s world is by turns a frightening and darkly comic place. In 2009, he won the prestigious Discovery Award at Les Rencontres d’Arles, having been nominated by Martin Parr. Some of his major photographic series include Slaughter (1982-86), Nude in a Desolate Farm (1991), A Meadow at 11.00 (1995), This Crazy World (1995), Grimaces of the Weary Village (1998-2006), Farmstead Children (2000-), Farmstead Dreams (2000-).
Grigoriy Yaroshenko (b. 1971 in Moscow) graduated from the Moscow Institute of Cinematography. He has since worked as a photographer and a cameraman for over 20 years and received several awards for photography, including the Silver Camera Award (2009). Major recent photographic series include Touch Me If You Can Catch me (2016), Norilsk (2015) photographed in an orphanage for blind and death children, Britain (2014), and Trench (2013) which portrays Uzbekistani migrant workers in Moscow, and their homes in Uzbekistan.