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Motherland 2: East/West @ Aleppo, Syria

Motherland Part 2: East/West explores the notions of East and West by posing the following questions: What is East and what is West? Where do they meet? Where is the border? How does it influence our daily life and our identity? Artists with different backgrounds (Western Europe, Russia and the Middle East) answer these questions from their personal perspectives. Their photographic series, shown as sequences of slides accompanied by music compilations, create a multi-voiced narrative, where intimate family portraits are followed by political documents and stories of the artists’ bizarre encounters with the East.

Motherland Part 2 was presented at the 9th International Photography Gathering in Aleppo, Syria in september 2006.

The project was executed under the flag of online gallery "Inhalexhale", curated by Irina Birger and Thankeve's Katja Sokolova. ThankEve also authored the DVD for the show.

Participating artists: Petr Antonov, Katja Bogachevskaya, Revital Cohen, Sascha Demenkova, Solmaz Guseinova, Evgeny Luchinsky, Liron Lupu, Julia Komissaroff & David Dektor, Ohad Matalon, Monica Nesslauer, Becky Ofek, Ilya Rabinovich. Advisor: Solmaz Guseinova

Russian photographers Evgeny Luchinsky (b.1977), Katya Bogachevskaya (b.1986) and Sascha Demenkova (b.1980) portray immigrants from USSR’s former southern republics. Evgeny Luchinsky’s “Gastarbeiters” series suggests the artist’s interest in personalities of the portrayed. The works by Sascha Demenkova and Katya Bogachevskaya tell the stories of “live on the road” and temporary dwelling places. In today’s Russia, where the attitude to immigrants generally varies from indifference to hostility, the artists feel the need to document the life of these “strangers” to the society, but without the usual photojournalistic drama.

In the works by Petr Antonov (Moscow, 1977), it is the photographer who plays the role of a stranger. During his trips to Central Asia, he took pictures at celebrations he was invited to as a guest. In Antonov’s “The Wedding” series there is something obscure, bizarre in this encounter with a strange culture. “The celebrations were drunk and full of smells, and they always had a sense of mystery to them. They were dark, and damp, and humid… “ The darkness of the images themselves as well as the choice of compositions convey the “non-transparency” of the event the artist witnesses. The images evoke a sense of mystery in the spectators: they realize that there is a celebration going on, but are these people really having fun with each other?

For the “Motherland” project, Solmaz Guseynova (St.Petersburg, 1972), Julia Komissaroff (Riga,1977) and David Dector (Mocow, 1961) chose photographic series documenting their own family life. “We see Motherland as our family” (disconnected from its geographic location- K.S.) states Julia Komissaroff. Her and David Dector’s works are characterized by very close, intimate relations with the subjects. In the case of Solmaz Guseynova, the photographer takes a much bigger distance. Like Petr Antonov, Guseynova, who grew up in Russia, is also a visitor, a guest, but not a stranger. She takes up a double position towards her Azerbajani family: on the one hand, she’s part of the family, so they feel relaxed in her presence; but at the same time she’s the observer, documenting every detail of their daily routine.

The works by Israeli photographers Revital Cohen and Ohad Matalon bare references to their country’s contemporary political reality, in a less direct way. The works by Revital Cohen, in fact, look more like abstract paintings than photographs due to the use of long exposure times. Although the frame and the bits of texts and numbers in the image suggest a TV screen, it’s only after reading the subtitles we understand what we see. “Every time there was an attack in the country, I would set my camera in front of the television and take pictures of the breaking news and of the special editions. I cannot explain this attraction of mine to these photographs of those attacks, though I continued to photograph for two years”. In Ohad Matalon’s (b.1972) work, memories and symbols become part of the depicted reality. “Tayara” (“Kite”), a half –staged and digitally manipulated photograph, reflects the artist’s “cynical yet painful glance”: the wall in Jerusalem crossing the picture – 3 times higher than it’s real size- almost becomes the symbol of any wall in the world, the symbol of separation, prejudice and hostility.

Ilya Rabinovich “Non-places” series was made between 1996 and 2001 in different places of Israel. Actually, the places are unrecognizable, deprived of any characteristic signs; one can’t even tell it is Israel. The images, which could be taken anywhere, bear no signs of people’s life. They convey uniformity, characterlessness of many “westernized” middle class dwelling places, and, at the same, the artists longing for Motherland, which for Rabinovich becomes, in Dutch curator’s Marianne Brouwer’s words, “the permanent presence of absence”.
Katja Sokolova