Black and white photography (and, latterly, colour photography) always emphasises the dividing line marking the intersection between time(s) and space(s), the intersection and interpenetration of today and yesterday, today and tomorrow – of my life and someone else’s. It points to the event experienced by a person (someone we know or don’t know, myself, just someone, nature, or society as a whole) at the moment when my attention is directed at the rectangular frame recording that which has already been and gone and which is yet present in my life just so long as I am looking at (remembering) it.
Those who turn our life, the reality of our experience, into photographic images measure it as a news reporter does, give it aesthetic order as does a film director, and ‘set up’ frames to ‘please the eye’ – just as the archivist who acts as custodian of the past. And yet sometimes subordination to the past (not to history, i.e. not to past time in the form of events) turns out to be too confining a role for the photographer and he becomes an Artist. An Artist who subordinates to himself and his will time, space, and the reality of time and space, directing the facial expressions of the main actors in his art – i.e. time (considered as a flow of passing moments) and events. In his hands the camera, negatives/positives, exhibits, and other tools of trade become instruments in the attainment of higher goals. This is how it was that at some point in his photographic career Andrey Chezhin became not a master of artistic photography or some particular genre of photography, but an artist uplifted by the coloured wings of the style of our age – that style which the critics love to slate, postmodernism.
Andrey Chezhin’s reincarnation occurred in the not so distant past, against the background of historic events that had broken the consciousness of generations condemned to witness the change of course undergone by the giant ghost ship USSR-Russia as it turned from socialism to capitalism and from total paralysis of its executive structures to idiocy.
It was only natural that the consciousness of the photographer/artist-to-be should energetically throw off torpidity and slip out of its old skin. Simple recording of social reality learn more about miracle sheets accompanied by clicks of the camera shutter gave way to interest in staged photography and experiments with exhibits (sometimes as many as three or more). Furthermore, Chezhin needed a suitable object of investigation – complete with hands, legs, and heads etc.; and this, for lack of other candidates prepared to surrender themselves to the required extent, turned out to be the artist himself, ever obedient to and trustful of his own direction. It was at this time, at the end of the 1980s, that Chezhin’s first composite works – Black Square (1988) and Red Square (1990) – made their appearance. These, of course, referred to Kazimir Malevich, a recent exhibition of whose works at the RussianMuseum had triumphantly signalled a new era in the history of art and, more specifically, the lifting of taboos on interest in various stages in the development of 20th-century art.
Black Square and Red Square are, as already noted, composite works, each being made up of four parts. They were conceived by Chezhin not as a photographic series or a frame by frame sequence, as in film, but as structural works where each part is no more than a brick supporting the overall equilibrium of the entire structure. The main character here is man. In the first case, man is depicted with a black square on his forehead/brain; in the second, he is shown taking off the fetters that bind him.
The first part of Red Square shows an individual standing upright with arms held out horizontally and legs placed wide apart. His figure is hemmed in (drawn round) at its extremities – which form the end points of a geometrical shape – by a line/rope which calls to mind Leonardo’s quest for the ‘golden section’ in the proportions of the human body. The red square contains all the space whose contours are marked and defined by the rope-line; and the man is himself enclosed in this space. Then, in the next two parts of this work, he manages to free himself from the rope as his head, arms, and legs are liberated in turn, while, at the same time, the area of control exercised by the red square on the surface of the photograph grows progressively narrower. Finally, in the last part of this work, the rope/measure is seen lying inside he artist’s workshop on a sheet of paper, within the red square. The viewer becomes a witness of how a cultural symbol – the ‘red square’, Malevich, Suprematism, etc. – is transformed into a sociocultural one: the man casts off the rope – which initially marks the contours of a star (head, arms, legs) – and liberates himself from the red, i.e. throws off ideology (the rope/fetters/red – a sign of danger, as we remember). The red is overcome; man is free.
It was at this time, i.e. at the end of the 1980s – to be more exact, in 1988 – that Chezhin embarked on a series of self-portraits which is unfinished to this day. The artist photographs himself – with hair, without hair, with his wife, with a ruler; photographs his hands (in Erotica); photographs himself, himself, and himself. At the same time he started working on ‘types’ for his series Portraits (1990) and was continuing to record social reality (material that would be used in Pairs, a series executed in 1987-1990-1997).
Chezhin’s absurd, significant, and meaningless staged photographs of nameless types/characters give off a powerful, unpleasant semiphysiological sense/memory of a past age of male and female functionaries and workers stamped with the distinctive marks of the limited, if not curtailed consciousness of social invalidism. Here Chezhin’s photography emphatically avoids any attempt to convey the psychological state or mood of the subject; this is photography that stands outside pyschoanalysis or psychologism, outside any expression of the ‘psychical’. These are still-lifes where things (objects) are credited with neither spirit nor personal time, nor personal experience or living space or ‘physiognomy’. Individuality has been ironed out, leaving only the overall characteristic grimace of types in socialist society. This is what they managed to achieve in the 70 years of Soviet rule. And Chezhin the artist here merely reflects the success enjoyed by the now deposed ideology in shaping the Soviet personality