• Ljubljana / London
Miha Colner

Alexandra Polina and the portraits of her time

Alexandra Polina and the portraits of her time

Alexandra Polina and the portraits of her time

This is a short response to the body of work of Alexandra Polina whose exhibition “Made In…” is currently on show at Photon – Centre for Contemporary Photography in Ljubljana.

In the past two decades number of contemporary artists have abundantly dealt with the phenomenon of migration. It often became a subject of their works. It is somehow logical and self-evident that in Europe who has been facing an influx of migrants from so called third world and who has treated these newcomers as illegals (people without basic civic rights) the critical reaction to this problem would emerge from all levels of civil society. When I saw pictures of Alexandra Polina I noticed a very interesting thing: irony and sarcasm. It is very rare to experience these undertones in works of art that are dealing with such serious and tragic topics. Often the reactions to injustice would be pity and criticism, pointed at the repressive authorities. But most of the artists who in their work focus on migrants and usually advocate for their rights, do not have personal experience of being dislocated and of becoming second class citizens. I am not saying that people who did not experience actual immigration (to places where they represent underprivileged population) themselves do not have the right and credibility to speak about this subject. On the contrary, it is necessary they do so. I am just saying that their point of view is much different.

Alexandra Polina, Generation 60, 2014

Alexandra Polina, Generation 60, 2014

The pictures of Polina are different for precisely this reason: she is an immigrant herself. She moved from Uzbekistan to Germany, together with her entire family, ten years ago on economic grounds. And that is probably one of the reasons she developed a certain kind of sensibility for the people who could not find their place in a new environment even though they might already solved their bureaucratic issues. The Generation 60 series of photographs show portraits of elderly people who immigrated when they were over sixty years old and who faced difficulties with accustoming and integrating to a new society. The photographer asked them to pose for her at a carefully selected locations and she did the staging for each picture. Her grandfather, for instance, stands on the green field and around him family photos are floating in the air. These people are not underprivileged and pushed to the margin because of the state repression but because for their loneliness and their inability to grasp new environment which did not accept them (yet). Their faces could tell stories.

Alexandra Polina, Made in the USSR, 2013

Alexandra Polina, Made in the USSR, 2013

The other series of photographs that also takes the path of a photographic portraiture is titled Made in the USSR. Here the artist is seeking her own challenged identity by asking friends and acquaintances of her generation, born in the USSR in the 1980s, to pose for her in a very peculiar postures resembling Soviet propaganda posters. Again the viewer is faced with traces of irony despite all seriousness of the topic. The generation born in the 1980s has faced a change of the ideological system, and after growing up and being educated in the socialist regime, the ideology, values and identities have suddenly changed dramatically. The educators at schools had to admit their “mistake” and comply with the new dogmas of democracy (which, in the East, became known as mass robbery of once public resources by private enterprises). One would inevitably become skeptical if the basic values had changed so dramatically, from moralistic ethos of collectivism straight to the brutal Darwinism of free market, based on newly established elites, closed circles and gang principles. The portraits are therefore ambivalent: they show the ridiculousness of the Soviet propaganda and empty space that was left after great ideas, that were about to benefit the entire nation, were buried. Most of the people on the portraits migrated from their countries of origin because they lacked prospect and hope. If older generation is often nostalgic for the old times (which have proven to be more economically sustainable for most of the population) young people are trying to find their way in the world of instability and uncertainty, without illusions. For them the Soviet iconography and ideology belong to the past. They don’t see it either as a savior or as a threat. But they confident mimics and heroic postures are also alluding on the changes they might face (or even conduct themselves) very soon.

Alexandra Polina, Made in the USSR, 2013

Alexandra Polina, Made in the USSR, 2013

 

© Miha Colner, 23 January 2015

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