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Vadim Gushchin: Still-life

Vadim Gushchin (VG), artist:
I am an artist. That is, I consider myself more an artist than a photographer, though, of course, I am a photographer as well, because what I do is photography.

Constantin Bokhorov (KB), art critic:
It seems to me that Gushchin is a very deep thinker in photography, who really works with such things which the ordinary photographer simply does not understand, the kind that just walks around, clicks and makes beautiful images of nature or even catches the decisive moment... well, the photographer-depicter, so to speak.
Gushchin is by no means a photographer-depicter, Gushchin is a photographer-thinker, and this, for me, is the essence of his art.

Irina Tchmyreva (IT), art critic:
Gushchin makes both wonderful shots and wonderful prints – that is, he is a person who creates a work of art as a physical, material entity, and, at the same time, he is a thinker who has his own understanding of composition and of what such single meaningful, very confident, sustained expression is.

Mikhail Bode (MB), art critic:
Vadim Gushchin creates his own photo-story of still-life that, one can say, is parallel to the history of Fine Art.

Mikhail Sidlin (MS), art critic:
What attracts me most to his works is the complex interaction, the contrast between form and function, which Gushchin reveals.., that is, on the one hand, by the fact that the object – let’s say, a book – possesses a very simple form and by the fact that in our lives it acquires totally different functions, which, in their turn, are deposited in its form. In this sense Gushchin’s position in our photography is completely unique.

Black and white beginning

VG: For more than 20 years I made only black and white photographs. In a black and white photograph any reality has already been interpreted, simply due to the fact that colour has been excluded.

KB: In his black and white photographs, he really found some fundamental things, he found his own method which is the study of darkness itself. He found a minimalist point of view.

VG: At one time I denied that I was working in still-life, because it seemed to me that what I photographed as an object was more like a portrait of the thing than a still-life of it. For me it was important to photograph the ordinary thing having removed it from the everyday reality, from the realm of its everyday existence, and to carefully scrutinise it.

MS: I can say it is post-conceptual still-life, because, on the one hand, there is in it the tradition of conceptual art, on the other, – there is the rich texture of those objects which are of interest to Vadim Gushchin.

VG: Of course, my works could be called still-lifes because they do, ultimately, deal with objects. And one of the main questions that I put to myself is, can one who creates still-lifes be a contemporary artist?

Point of view

MB: As we know, he has been making his saga about objects since the beginning in the 1990s and perhaps even earlier, right up to now. But the old still-lifes, one can say, possessed an antiquarian character. They were old things, worn... many of us remember his books with scuffed spines, piles of paper, rolls very slightly frayed at the edges, like old manuscripts, and attributes of art: plaster pyramids, spheres, cylinders and so on. But the fact is that Gushchin photographed these things from a specific point of view: the object was always shot from the front, and it can even be said that it was shot in a monumental style. Here the Italian Renaissance term can be used – “Di Sotto In Su” – there was such a point of view “from below” – thus the object acquired a certain pathos.

VG: In this way the object grows beyond itself and transforms into the idea of the object...

KB: Darkness – for Gushchin is an image of infinity... that is, his objects belong to metaphysical space. For me, each time this is an amazing statement about matter in metaphysical space.

VG: I maximally focus my attention on the object, therefore I exclude everything that is unnecessary. In this sense the object is as if extracted from its real circumstances.

The problem of choice

VG: Before beginning a project, a particular series, I deliberate on whether it should be shot in black and white or in colour. So, for example, I decided to shoot the series “Wake Still-life” in black and white, because, in my opinion, colour was inappropriate. There’s no hint of the documentary. I consciously used a certain theatrical setting, it’s like a backdrop for a play. It’s not a real table, but merely a surface on which a glass stands, and there’s no chair behind it, there’s just an abyss-like black emptiness. By combining glasses and pieces of bread of different shapes, I tried to create an impression of a particular person who may be imagined in this combination.
Thus, an imaginary portrait gallery of the dead appeared. It seemed to me that, in this case, I should concentrate entirely on the shape and texture of the glasses and bread, therefore I rejected colour. Colour would not add anything extra. I made several attempts to shoot it in colour, but ultimately rejected doing it, realising that a certain advertising element came into play, which I always try to exclude from my work.

MS: On the one hand, he is not a photographer of objects. That is, he is not engaged in the commercial, advertising photographing of objects, he would not photograph a bottle of vodka off which sparks of fire, light, steel and glass fly, so that a brilliant new world flashes before us. There is no advertising here. On the other hand, he is not a dry photographer-conceptualist who just arranges certain rows of things one after another...

VG: Yes, I’m between two fires: on the one hand, salon still-lifes, which can often be seen in the websites of amateur photographers. On the other hand, there is advertising which also strongly dominates and loves to use the world of objects in its themes. I avoid a collision between these two approaches by using, on the one hand, the most insignificant things or mundane things that are not used in either the one or the other genre, and, on the other hand, by strictly adhering to cultural traditions that are associated with XXth century visual art automatically and mechanically in the minds of modern man.

On colour and traditions

IT.: When colour appeared in Gushchin’s still-lifes, suddenly there arose a connection between them and the tradition of Russian icon painting, and the tradition of still-life in XXth century painting...

VG: As for colour, I have been working with it for the last 2 years, because it seemed to me that what I was doing in black and white had, in a sense, exhausted itself.

KB: I think he doesn’t have a photographic approach to colour. He reveals the local nature of colour, reveals it as a property of material.

IT: In his current colour still-lifes, colour, most likely, has a particular meaning, when it is not merely an object, but the colour of the object. And the colour of the object is very specific, having slightly more cultural associations, cultural allusions, than those connected with just this one, individual object. And when we see a red pill, of the colour of dried blood, small and round like a drop, then it is not only about the perfect circular geometry of the object lying on a white field which occupies half of the print, – but it’s about something else.

MS: And Vadim Gushchin, of course, works with cultural references. And above all they are certain recognisable visual references that, in fact, come out of thousands of years of visual tradition, 800 years of which were dominated by icon painting. In Vadim Gushchin’s work the transformation of the colour red, from the red of icons to Malevich’s red and to Gushchin’s red, can be traced quite clearly.

On cultural values

VG: I photograph ordinary things from my surroundings, so, certain series took shape quite naturally, so-called projects, on one or another theme, evolved. One such project is “Cultural Treasures”. This can be interpreted somewhat ironically, however, it is quite serious and consists of several series which, in one way or another, are connected with that which we usually consider to be cultural treasures. Firstly, this is a series with books, which is called “Circle of Reading”, “Coloured Envelopes” and then “Art Catalogues”... Standing somewhat apart is the series with compact discs called “Prokofiev”. Prokofiev means a lot to me – he’s my favourite composer, I listen to him with great pleasure and to me the link seems obvious – those Avant-garde ideas that were hovering in the air and were realised by Russian-Soviet artists visually, Prokofiev expressed using musical techniques. Therefore, I decided to use his discs, designed in a certain way, in order to obtain compositions that visually correlate with what he created in music. ------ 15:30

MB: The whole structure of the image changes, and simultaneously the perspective changes. If Vadim used to photograph his old still-lifes from “a frog’s eye view”, now he looks at them as landscapes, that is, from above. And that already moves his still-lifes into the genre, I would say, of landscapes of objects.

VG: Compositionally, I endeavoured to use principles, tried and tested for decades, which are so evident in Russian and Soviet art of the XXth century. This is, first and foremost, the Suprematist-Constructivist movement that started in the early XXth century and has been evolving to the present day. It is precisely this movement that had an impact on me. I think that this layer has been undeservedly forgotten and it seems to me that now it should be more actively used, because I firmly believe that now, in the twenty-first century, in the visual arts inventing something new, in the formal sense, is absolutely impossible. The language has been invented, something new should be said using it. The question is – what do you want to say?

KB: In my opinion his colour photographs are colourful abstract structures. Like the pictures of our great abstract artists such as Malevich, and perhaps Kandinsky, in some sense. They experimented not with the element of light in colour, but with paint on canvas.

IT: There is a relation between any object, placed in an artistic space, and particular artistic traditions, so when we perceive the presence of Suprematism – no matter whether it is denoted by a plastic spoon or a plastic disc box containing the music of Prokofiev – if it is correctly placed, correctly composed on the sheet, then we understand that here we have been given a sign – a Suprematist sign.

National recognisability

VG: Recognisability, national recognisability, is quite important today because it helps retain one’s individuality and not to disappear in the huge volume of standardised photography, standardised art.

IT: Even when he, in his current series, works with golden boxes or with some kind of objects – clothes, shoes, shoe boxes, things of the global world’s mass culture, where there is no obvious national identity, nevertheless, the way these objects are presented somehow distinguishes the Russian artist from other artists.

Things and works

MS: Actually this is the main trauma of consumer society – the accumulation of useless things that manage to live in that very short moment between their births and when they become rubbish. And the photographer presents them to us having captured them in this brief moment, in the flow of everyday life in which these things, which we hardly have time to notice, rapidly move from the factory to the rubbish bin, from the factory to the rubbish bin and so on.

MB: And they are the most mundane things: envelopes, stickers, simple pieces of paper, that are just everywhere – you can buy them in London, Shanghai, Moscow, anywhere – they are uniform. And thus – this, in a sense, is Vadim’s answer to the call of the day. That is, everything is mobile, in limbo and everything is quite uniform, identical. But, nevertheless, within the things themselves the intrigue, the relationships between things, continues. And I think that Vadim has a lot more to say about this, both about our day and about things.

MS: This is an image that does not constrain us in any particular way, it does not overwhelm us with many details, but you see some very small thing and this little thing is capable of triggering in you large volumes of memory. That is, they are photographs that work with that cultural memory and that time which we envelop.

KB: Here Gushchin very subtly creates that interaction with the theme of his work. But I think this isn’t the most important thing.
This is a superficial, simplified, level of perception, it is as if he just draws you into a much more meaningful conversation about photography, and this, at least, is certainly a lot closer to me, because, in this case, you’re facing an artist who explains such things to you that you might have been able to assume, but when you see them, really feel them, then this is the essence of the aesthetic perception of these objects, of these photographs. ---- 23:49