I am a big fan of the Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff. Run by volunteers and powered by three energetic and passionate trustees, it is a space dedicated to showcasing photography and widening participation for makers and audiences alike. In the past they have brought us a varied programme that has included David Hurn, Rob Hornstra, Peter Dench and Lara El-Tantawy. Work has been grounded in a documentary tradition which has offered visitors to the gallery the opportunity to consider the lives of others and the world around us. The show Arab Revolutions (30 July – 4 September 2011) couldn't have been much more up to date, and marked the gallery as being at the forefront of contemporary practice.
What then is going on with the latest show, 'Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works'? The image used on the gallery's advertising and the cover of the newly released book seems to be an homage to the 'saucy seaside postcard ' tradition of Donald McGill and tempts the visitor with the suggestion of semi-nudity and naughty humour. It seems to promise an escape from the depressions of the recession and a little bit of photographic sunshine... It says, 'come to the gallery and have a laugh...' Unfortunately for the visitor unfamiliar with Chilikov's work, the reality is totally different. If there is any humour in the work, this viewer didn't get the joke. The walls are covered with prints of naked cavorting Russians. The staged images include an in-the-buff axe wielding boy child posing next to a naked young woman in an awkward pseudo-erotic pose. Why? This is what I kept asking myself.
Why did these people take off their clothes? Was it to escape a really dreary poverty-bound existence in some out of the way rural community (the delapidated buildings in the background would suggest this context at least?) Were their uncomfortable body positions chosen by Chilikov, or evidence of their insecurities about involvement in the project? What is that Chilikov is trying to say, or is he just having fun getting other people to get naked. Who knows? Who cares? I sure don't.
Visitors who have travelled extensively in Russia and who know something of Eastern European culture have assured me that the work is both political (referring back to the days when to make nude images of subjects was illegal) and humorous (although they couldn't quite explain the joke.) The Russians have a 'different attitude to nudity': oh yes, based on this work, I would say that they do... Seemingly, when viewed in countries once part of the former USSR, Chilikov reads very differently. And, there's the rub: great art, be it poetry, painting, drama or photography should be able to travel. Work that has meaning can speak to us, whatever our nationality or cultural background. We may not always get the exact message, but we come away with our own understanding.
Roll on the next Third Floor exhibition...
Yes, it's a rubbish photo of the print: but I was trying to avoid the reflection of the light!
Spot the homage to Nan Goldin? (4th from the left...)
Naked flesh also comes in black and white...
A little bit of Donald McGill!
Some Links that might be of interest to you:
Another side to Chilikov (one you get to see a little of at Third Floor:)
Scroll through Schilt Publishing's offerings to find Chilikov's book (you can buy a copy from Third Floor for £25.00:)
Q and A with Chilikov at the BJP:
The show - featured in Hungry Eye (see the postcard pic here!):
Buy your own Chilikov:
Russian Art that I do get:
Surely one of the finest plays ever written?
Icon of the Mother of God, Tikhvinskaya: British Museum Collection