In a sun-filled warehouse, in the Cannaregio neighbourhood of Venice resides the latest exhibition by Ukrainian photographer Boris Mikhailov titled Parliament. During the pre-opening week of the 57th Venice Biennale, I took a trip to Italy to immerse myself with art, to meet Mikhailov and attend the opening reception for the Ukrainian Pavilion.
The social documentary lensman born in Kharkov in 1938 is a significantly important artist from the former Soviet Union, known for his social documentation and political photography. Now based in Berlin and Ukraine, Mikhailov has previously exhibited at the Tate Modern and The Museum of Modern Art to name but a few, and this new body of work, which is curated and organised by Peter Doroshenko and Lilia Kudelia from the Dallas Contemporary signifies the first time a U.S. institution has curated a foreign pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In partnership with the Ministry of Culture of the Ukraine, Parliament depicts a political survey of abstract photos derived from a stop motion technique of digital glitches on television. Also in attendance for the installation and opening, Mikhailov’s protégé, famed fashion photographer Juergen Teller, who produced the portfolio of images for the exhibition catalogue.
I met Mikhailov briefly, but my use of the Ukrainian language is non-existent, and with his limited English, we had a very short pleasant conversation that involved smiles and nods. However, Teller, represented by Lehmann Maupin Gallery, and I reconnected from six years past when we met at the opening of his exhibition Man with Banana at the Dallas Contemporary in 2011. Of course, from a fashion aspect, I am in awe of Teller, but from a photography viewpoint, this exhibition is all about Mikhailov.
Boris’s pixelated imagery is created from a combination of intentional antennae malfunction while capturing the glitch on camera as a single frame, freezing the distortion of digital media coverage on television. Each image features politically powerful government figures from across the globe, the idea of political reality is now distorted and unrecognisable, causing the concept of confusion, and scrambled messages of political ideology.
In the background, a soft audio of jumbled news reports hauntingly resonates throughout the studio, alluding to the notion that reality is not what it appears. Fake news or no news, call it what you want these days, but for those living on the Eastern side of the Ukraine with virtually no power and distorted news, one might as well be living in the dark. Apropos and unintentionally with no electricity, Mikhailov’s latest body of work shines with natural light, residing simplistically under a wood-beamed ceiling within a freshly painted white walled warehouse, depicting a socially political message worthy of its position at the Venice Biennale.