Where are limits of a photograph? Where is the borderline which marks the beginning of a field beyond a photographic image? Is it where the powers of the author end when they see, when they take a picture, when they create a print or a body of their prints, or when they create the space of an exhibition or a book? Or maybe the author is the only powerful master of interpretations which bring the viewer into the captivity of the author’s structures, where they become an Alice surrounded with mirrors of the author’s I that multiplies the semantic varieties until they transform into infinite tunnels in the depth of the visual cosmos.
When we turn to works of Nikita Pirogov, a young man from St. Petersburg, who is a light-hearted person throwing around fountains of poems and images, the inquiries on limits of photographs are no more idle. Speculations on a synthetic period in the contemporary art (that is, when a photograph transforms into an installation, a video into a photograph, and performance crowns the creamy structure of a personal exhibition, like a cherry crowns a cake) regarding Pirogov’s works have material grounds. His exhibition in Image gallery is an embodiment of synthesis, however not following the analysis of the “consequent stage of rational cognition of the world”, but original synthesis which does not include borderlines or definitions by types or genres; that is the synthesis which “gives birth to everything”.
However, what material side of art can one speak of looking at Pirogov’s works? His photographs may be unsubstantialized to the extent they are projections, and the video included into the photographic series is so complete in terms of composition that tempts one to utter, “Beautiful moment, do not pass away!”. One can only be withheld from the final step by fearing the magic of the words. It is not ultimately clear whether it is the magic of the image that can be destroyed by an attempt to freeze it by means of the words and explore it (“A thought once uttered is untrue” as poet Fyodor Tyutchev said), or it is magic that carries the viewer inside the artist’s world and holds them there, like Helga’s curse; or the viewer looking into an image fears, like Faust, of seeing inside themselves something that they might want to escape from.
Many works of Pirogov are forgotten memories. One plane shows through another; remote contours show through a blurred foreground which is the “entrance” to the composition, with a cutting straightness thus bringing the invisible into prominent. Is it not the role of art, to make show and bring back sense to everything living, to everything beyond the boundaries of the ordinary perception? Art is something which expands the world (of the viewer). Does it mean that an artist by letting a viewer into a new scenery in fact lets them into their heart, and this world of an artist is endless? Or is an artist a medium, a shaman who opens a door to a new perception by means of showing a girl wearing red atwirl on a green river bank (in one of Nikita Pirogov’s works) with the medium themselves staying on the opposite side of the door?
Pirogov’s works discrown the traditional structure of a photograph, that is describing it in terms of scenes and genres. Indeed, how can one explain the combination of boys and gardens, little seamen and white on white, old women who nearly walked off a Tarkovsky movie and girls smiling with either an all-knowing witch’s or unexperienced youth’s smiles? In the series of images that Pirogov structures from his shots that seem accidental gifts of the reality (whereas gifts are never accidental, we cannot explain them but can only accept them with gratitude) the sizes and the sequence of images are of primary significance. They are a counterpoint transmitting the rattling of the window shutters of an old house or the swish of a soft curtain moved aside by the hand of the beloved. At the same time these note images can be rearranged in every new space to create new music. He creates compositions of poetic series differently for different exhibition halls; one for a lighthouse on a sea shore, another for the basement of a seventeenth century drugstore, and yet another for Image gallery.
Today the photographer who started with linear compositions and has been enthusiastic about recording his visual poetry has moved on. He is now a sculptor who is studying how pictures work in their combination and are prominent or absorbed within the space. This is not a direct heritage of cubistic plane sculpture but rather a continuation and interconnection of two lines of Bauhaus to the extent they become one whole ; the two lines which went parallel in the past and have never intercrossed in the space before Pirogov with his intuitive experiments. Photographic sculptures of Pirogov are integrated images that coexist on different planes of layered space on the wall of soft pastel shades selected as a symbolic and psychological accompaniment to the pictures. They are two traditions, that of integrated arrangement by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and the colour system of Johannes Itten and Paul Klee. Pirogov inherited from the latter (how can one understand the way of succession in art to a non-national and non-contemporarian, non-relative but at the same time a congenial parent?) the naïve simplicity of the elaborate combination of lines and spots, like one can see on a child’s drawing.
Pirogov’s experiments with photography are intuitive, they are as light as flying in one’s sleep, they are based on trust in a simple child’s perception of forms and the feeling of a happy discovery which, as a golden sound, leads the artist after itself to search for the instrument that produces this sound.
Nikita Pirogov’s works are visual poetry. The equality between photography and poetry does not result from the author's writing poetry with words and with the help of a camera but is in a literal feeling of individual Pirogov’s photos as beads from which new strings of new meanings are made when a collision of adjacent images forms a new and never before experienced feeling. What does poetry give us? A revelation? But how can one make sure that this is It? Through a movement of the air flying through their perception, piercing their bodies and mind with a lightning and making one’s skin feel presence of an invisible unknown. It is funny to speak about invisible while speaking of photography, but it seems to me, it is present here.
Irina Tchmyreva, PhD., curator