an article by Tatiana Salzirn in the book On the Altered Behavior of Sunlight, design-studio Collection, Minsk, 2002, pp.5-10

 

Igor Savchenko: Commented Landscapes

 

 

“Seryozha has gone crazy about photomontage, he has been writing articles and talked to Osya trying to prove that photography today can function only in the form of a montage based on the principle of juxtaposition. And that it is not important how the picture is taken, what is essential is how to put it together, how to paste it. In this regard anyone can become a photo-reporter and what Osya means by an independent development of photography is the prerogative of genius. …Just fancy the confusion Seryozha’s articles could bring about”. This is what Varvara Stepanova, a Russian avant-garde artist, wrote in 1931 in a letter to her husband Alexander Rodchenko, a photographer and master of design. “Seryozha” and “Osya” were critics and theorists of new art – Serguey Tretyakov and Osip Brik – together with Vladimir Mayakovsky they created the famous magazine LEF.

 

Over seventy years have passed since the time of that dispute, but the question of form versus content has always remained significant for Russian art of the twentieth century. In the art of the revolutionary avant-garde image and text combined gave the work an immediate message. Despite the polarity of their views, these people determined a framework of the ‘new vision’, a theory and practice of innovative photography and photomontage in such publications as USSR in Construction, Soviet Photo and others.

 

Another paradoxical observation during that period of art development was that the crisis of photo-ideology occurred at the moment when the leading photographic masters were at their peak, at their highest level of art achievement, creating masterpieces that originated from the system of an evaluation criteria of an image. Moreover, the revolutionary criticism in that case came from the inside.

 

One of the most interesting manifestations of a new crisis in visual contemporary art is the photographic series ‘Commented Landscapes’ by Igor Savchenko: “The long-time guesses have been proven. The world keeps on resisting having its picture taken – in the sense that we understand picture-taking today. Though the causes of an upcoming crisis have not been revealed yet, they are based nowhere but in ourselves. Pursuit of a ‘fleeting’ moment as well as focusing on a ‘decisive’ one could have caused a reaction in return. A desire to find out what, in fact, occurs to the world when somebody decides to imprint – by means of an appropriate mechanism and the rays of light – and retain a fragment of the world, and what a photographic picture actually is, a destiny of a few advanced persons in the past, now has turned into a question of vital importance.” [Igor Savchenko. ‘On the Renovated Attitude towards Photography’, 1997]

 

This argument was consonant with a general discussion of the death of photography in late 1990s. However, unlike the artists who are the ‘grave diggers’ of photography, Savchenko loves it and wishes it a long life. He does not only extend the life of photographs of the past (as in his previous series with appropriated images ‘Alphabet of Gestures 1 & 2’, ‘Shadows’, ‘Misteria’, ‘Faceless’, ‘Wir sprechen Deutsch’, ‘Hand on Shoulder’, ‘About It’, ‘About Love’, ‘About Happiness’, ‘War’, ‘Sky’), he uses the images of the past to represent today’s mentality. Moreover, he selects landscape as a ground for photography’s survival. His series ‘Sacred Landscapes’, ‘On the Altered Behavior of Sunlight’ and ‘Commented Landscapes’ are devoted to this problem.

 

The landscape was selected not only for the sake of purity of an experiment and because it is the most neutral image, free from social ideology or time references, but also as the most stable object of representation in the same system of co-ordinates. Savchenko’s landscape serves as an object-indicator in the research of the photography process, both from the point of view of art history and the theory of relativity.

 

In the course of “disappearance” of image, the text in Savchenko’s photographs gradually has replaced the representation. Thus, his essay of 1994, ‘The Landscape which will be Photographed in Six Minutes from This Spot, when…’ gives an incredibly detailed verbal documentation of the process of photographing. This photograph is taken solely by verbal means allowing the artist not only to imitate one kind of art using the instruments of another, but also to introduce the art of instant solutions. An additional feature of multiple snap shots, when an instantaneous image is broken into halts, thus showing how, by whom and from what factors a photograph originates.

 

In the artist’s text ‘On the Altered Behavior of Sunlight’ (1996) landscape is a staged still-life in the infinite space of nature, where an artificially specified period of time can be taken as a reference point of day and night or seasons’ change. The landscape can also be interpreted as a separate artificial model in the solar system: “The world picture shimmers. But moments of light and darkness still alternate too fast for us to notice them. We still believe the visible picture is steady. In fact the storms of sunlight blow past more rarely and less regularly. Darkness has been gathering. Uncertainty keeps growing. The visual picture is gradually being replaced by its speculative model.”

 

The artist treats both landscape and nature as a ready-made picture, as an artificial reality, as a “second nature”, visible and tangible. As a derivation from the “first nature”, even more mysterious in origin, emerging as a projection of an invisible and unknown will. The process of photographing (creation) embodied in this picture is a simplified model of such projection. If “imprinting and retaining” of any single “fragment of the world” takes place “by means of an appropriate mechanism and the rays of light”, concurrently, something also should happen to the “world” itself. In other words, everything, i.e. both the world, it’s being photographed, the resulting images and their interpretations (commentary) appear to be a non-degenerate system of co-ordinates dependent on each other. They can be apprehended both from the inside of a system selected by Savchenko, and from any other spaces non-related to them. Introducing these additional parameters allows us to notice both the change of speed, and the “storms of sunlight” blowing past the operator. Each landscape becomes a two-dimensional transformation of a multi-dimensional world and space, a film-frame. In the effort to understand what in fact is a photographic picture, Savchenko turned to “an attempt to discern the sunlight's intention” from the

‘Commented Landscape’ series (4.95-2). He can spend hours examining the details of a landscape on the film as a long chain of events which led to the appearing of this photo (4.94-45); or, discerning a single landscape as a matrix where the past and the future show through, and analyze scrupulously all those things that made impossible to avoid the appearance of this photo (5.94-6), or that, still distant and unknown but already inevitable, event, to which the appearance of this photo will lead (5.94-11).

 

The image that becomes visible on the photographic paper corresponds to the caption under it. A trick of substitution offers an interactive game to a viewer / reader: to find signs of the text in the picture, to read the landscape on the photo as a visually encoded message, to guess the location of the sender and the addressee. Each picture represents a projection of a four-dimensional space to the system of co-ordinates selected by the artist at that specific instant of time. Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco once described a similar application of computer techniques and modeling methods in the area of Kabbalah. The library of images created by Savchenko, like the Torah, can include everything, except for things that are outside of his system of information which fail to be described via his images and texts.

 

The new systems of co-ordinates can be easily recorded with the computer. The more such systems are being introduced in contemporary art, the more new visions it could produce. In this regard, a reference to the beginning of this text becomes obvious and symmetrical - the beginning and the end of the twentieth century. A dread of confusion while introducing something new: is it more essential, how the photographs are taken, or how they are pasted together? Is photography an art for people of genius only, or is it for everybody? It is true that minuteness of definitions results in confusion and diversifies the picture of the world. The avant-garde art of the beginning of the twentieth century gave the artist the role of a prophet, a role of the ‘creator’, who by pasting reconstructs the picture of the world. By the end of the twentieth century the role of the ‘creator’ is given to the computer.

 

Universal personalities characteristic of their time, for instance the constructivist Alexander Rodchenko or the writer-image-maker Igor Savchenko, set off the period of endless polemics. The definitions are also significant here, while the German version of ‘new vision’ was the influence of consciousness on vision, Russian constructivism served the active reconstruction of social life. And it is not by chance that the subject matter of Savchenko’s literary works is a simultaneous analysis of the processes that took place in Russia and in Germany in the twentieth century, which is interpreted in a key episode of history – the global crisis of the World War [1].

 

 

 

[1] Look at Savchenko web site: savchenko.dironweb.com, <Other projects> section, then both <Sergeyev’s Temptation> and <Nach Osten. Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell> projects

 

 

Tatiana Salzirn,

Moscow, January 2002