Dmitry Obolensky: Grotesque Paradigm
Formal training as a painter, lithograph & sculptor has not dissuaded this young Russian artist from experimenting in different medium, rather, has afforded him a polyvalent background which acts to complement his work with photography as an artistic medium. His past years active professionalism as a commercial photographer, focusing on subjects specialized in fashion and modeling , has neither lessened his capacity to re-orient his artistic expression with a lens. The same attention to light, luster and tone carry to his series of staged reality photographs, created with digital processes, yet the contents’ vary radically with the aesthetic beauty desired by the fashion industries demands for perfection of a projected ideal of what constitutes “beauty”, sexuality and seduction.
The work at first appears to be a colossal exaggeration of the subjects, ones which might be found in a circus selected by Fellini, or perhaps, as violently grotesque as the cinematic paradigms of Todorovsky. We observe still images imbued with a dramatic tension, undertones of a surreal comedy, extreme gestures and extreme individuals clothed in apparel which could be stated as belonging to both Dell Arte and sado-masochism.
The evident staging denies a crass interpretation of boorish pornography, the spectacular use of light which near eclipses the subjects- adorned in equally spectacular dress and holding a facsimile of poses born of a beaudoir of quai-German expressionism, desists an association with a re-interpretation of devices common to those whom wish to play between the explicit sexuality of pornography under an apologetic guise of fashion or aesthetic “nude”. It is a difficult and tenuous separation from an adultery of style, yet the artists’first experiments with the medium of photography as an “art”, only a half year underway, depict an aplomb in evading facile dramatic components in favour for a more poignant imagery. It appears to be a direct exploration of the extremes of perversion, a mockery of style and vanity.
Following the shockwaves created when Mappelthorpe offered intimate and exquisitely rendered portraiture of his immediate circle of associates and friends, wherein the explicit sexual content, allegorical symbolism and powerful aesthetic quality of his black and white master prints arose in the artworld of the 1980’s, sexual deviation, profanity and the value of artistic freedom in the medium of photography as greatly challenged. The debate, while not new, was ignited once again with contrastive arguments echoing the century old polemic of a mediums oscillation between document and vehicule of artistic subjectivity, of the nude and the pornographic, seized the NYC sphere of contemporary art. The maelstrom of invective from the conservative academicians and the exuberant solidarity with the homosexual artist, whom portrayed homo-erotica, phallus and flower, pistil challenging strengths of symbolic metaphor, served to awaken an otherwise near dead society whom rarely gave further mind to photography. It is not my intention to compare nor to begin a contrastive analysis between Mappelthorpe, a master of the medium and technical master of printing techniques, with Obolensky, a relative amateur whom is in a period of bold experimentation. The significance lies in understanding a relative causal episode in what has now evolved as the collective memory of the photographic audience, the evolution from a time when what was once considered, “shocking”, “scandalous”, “outrageous” , to that of the present where the content, exposure of genitalia and skin is commonplace, abused to the extent of rendering it a cliché rather than point for further innovation or rupture.
An element for equal consideration: to stage the photograph. When the real is reduced to the false, and represented as the real itself, we enter a dangerous game wherein the paradigms and fabric of the medium, its constraints, its ability (especially in an age of digital alteration and reproduction) and strengths falter in convoluted theories, fail altogether in banal imitation of a few pioneers such as Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman & Hong Lei (in the P.R.C). To stage a reality born of imagination rather than dependant on the singularity of the real in the course of an attempt to fragment episodes of neo-classical metaphor no less daunting, no less dangerous for an artist of today. The delicacy and precarity of Dmitry Obolensky confrontation by way of this medium lie in the manoeuvre amidst the narrow limitations of categorical division. It is an act of visual sabotage, he does not intend to shock, rather to amuse. He is not dependant nor does he exploit the visual heritage of those whom broke the boundaries of conservative taste, his result is both a celebration and requiem. There is not enough of a narrative to confine interpretation of his work as belonging to a stale replica or endorsement of the grotesque or extremism to approbate the photographic act, nor to define it as a mere superficial experiment in a literary endeavour using film (digital files, to be exact.) This work signals something of the unconscious, poorly epitaphs of surrealism exist in painting, how often have we seen photographic works which proclaim the extreme and visceral which surfaces from the depths of a mind using technical medium alone?
This manoeuvre, as a qualifying precedent, deserves specific attention. Accents in perspective, angle and especially, light act to accredit the artist’s efforts in digital domains. Neither an obese, voluptuous woman, harrowing transsexual, gentleman dwarf or masked predator are entirely unfamiliar to the amateur audience of contemporary photography. Given the inundation of media, consumption of sexuality implicit, counter-cultural elements apparently derivative of De Sade, extreme homo-erotica and perverse decadence, their is yet still an opulence of the image, an economy of the image, which demarcates a noteworthy exploration beyond our usual visual experience. Amongst the satiric stances, blatant and occasionally emotionless expressions of the extreme array of actors, there exist those which strike dead still: frigid and directly confrontational. The dwarf and obese courtesan erect and without trace of life, staring with a lifeless gaze at the camera, expression devoid from their countenance. Rigid imposteurs whom play animated protoganist in the melodrama of past frames. The artist is actually the Arlequin, it is essential to further explore his perceptions and results.
As an exclamation, Dmitry offers, “...what is pornographia!?” He begins to unweave a tapestry of fictions and illusions which he perceives as holding undue importance throughout a course of four hundred years measure in time. Decadence was known in ancient courts and reflected directly in fine art and literature of the era, explicit nudes baring genitalia and similar being amongst the earliest Daguerotype photographs, (conversely acknowledged as belong to either documentary or quasi-scientific study), and similar points punctuate the interview. Moral dichotomies asides, rhetorical questions engender further...There is clearly an underlying score with history, profanity and what is held sacred. From a philosophical perspective, the artist neuters concepts of banality and profanity, high and low art, the validity of documentary and the “senselessness” of an artistic pursuit to further its own end by a superficial use of visual extremes. Light, nuance, emotive force. This is the sole abstraction of principles engrained in the artists usual engagement with paint which is effectively witnessed in his photographic oeuvre.
His portraits, whether individual or collective, are not “intimate” as those of Mapplethorpe, nor selected for an intended anonymity as several of those opted for by other aforementioned provocative visual artists whom have come to use the photographic image. Painstaking processes have been undertaken as the artist casts individuals for their roles, he directs in a controlling and assiduous manner components of expression, light, gesture and, remarkably, plays with mass, scale & stature as he forays in the depths of composition. This is a unique quality, Dmitry opting for highly advanced techniques of the studio to lend nuance not only by a mastery of light and source, yet intends for a disturbance, not at first evident, by a cloaked distortion of figure. Hence, a fulcrum of spectrum and scale achieve a visual contrast in immersion rather than exclusion.
The oeuvre is not one which intends to explicitness for the sake voyeurism. An obese woman clad in a ridiculous outfit might be repulsive for one, of appeal for another, yet for those of the Baroque era, such a voluptuous beauty would be perceived as highly desirable. An emaciated transsexual of today might be either attractive or repulsive in a similar context, a masked figure brandishing steel spikes from a restrictive uniform frightening or amusing for another. This is an aspect, a conscious aspect, of the collective ensemble in creation: the artists desires to foil facile associations: aesthetic, historical, societal. There exists little is any sexual content. The vast majority of those whom come to witness this work find it either brash, sexuality illicit or implicit and beyond the boundaries of taste. This in itself is a partial success, the work achieves to “shock” as Braques once stated arts role being, rather than “assure”: could it be affirmed that the aesthetic myths of beauty celebrated in contemporary fashion, corporate symbol and socially tolerated “assure”? There is a chief significance between the artifice of visual conjecture which conforms to the praise of the moral majority and sincerity of a visual evidence of ulterior worlds born of the imagination which disgust, excite ridicule or scorn. The latter leaves an indelible scar and troubled conscious of the spectator, the former simply absorbed in a collective act of amnesia.
Barthe spoke of the photographic act as both a “moment of death” and a “punctum”, this absolute is valid and we speak of the unconscious act of Bresson: with the older technology and relative technical restrictions of film and lense, the greatest “act” was achieved when the subconscious mind merged with the closing of the shutter. This perhaps the foundation for the first artistic photography, whether curiously titled, “lyrical documentary”or “abstract or expressionist documentary”. In the media saturated society of the present, where digital mastery, re-mastery, “painterly”qualities and layering are all made possible, it think it prescient to dismiss questions which related to the medium as being confined to the “real”. Moreover, non-causal impulsive attempts to render further “artifice” without premeditation seem cursed to the popularity of “randomness” rather than concentrated effort. The plethora of pseudo-photographic “moments” without deliberation or thought given to the “unconscious” (whether accepted or refuted) in an era of automatic replication is neither dangerous, justifiable or immediate in nature. The earlier era of experiments to examine and question the artistic capacity of the medium served to act as a ballast against the predominant closure to photography further being a possible “art”, and conversely, raised serious questions concerning our inability to divorce artifice from the truth in a mechanical age. The staged became the rule of thumb, yet (and I doubt this was the original generations intention) the non-staged left to a controversial silence in contemporary debate.
In an interpretation of the photographic creations of Dmitry Obolensky, this relative novice of the medium appears to be intent on a disclosure. He is experienced enough, with a solid decade of creative work behind him as a painter, despite his relatively young age as an artist to avoid dismissal as one being able to effectively articulate compositional strengths in colour and light, and as an experienced studio photographer, yields an effective commands of the tools employed. It is a simultaneous disclosure of the personality of the artist in contest with art history, conformism and a modality suffering archetypical concepts. What constitutes the framework of aestheticism, photographic versatility, technological expression and validity are seriously challenged in this work: the artist raises questions and answers with questions.
Critical notes could be leveled at an otherwise evident cast of subjects, neither an obese & garish woman, a dwarf gentleman, emaciated transvestite nor masked predator are original to the eye. Yet, in consideration of the artists redress of historical iconography with specific allusions to the peripheral & marginal individuals whom have been made “subject” of since the advent of the medium, we might overlook the apparent transgression of non-originality. Another detrimental aspect is in the absence of a relational composition, in that the central fore of the photographic oeuvres display a general tendency of frontal confrontation and a near uniform occupation of the mid-ground. What compensates and offers equilibrium in the series as a whole is the aforementioned nuance of mass and volume, the artist’manipulations of lens and light lend a slight visual tremor, a deviation of minutiae which inflects the subjects with a near intractable dimension of morph scale. It is a delicate paradigm attempted to balance and reflect the content, both historical allegory, bourgeois decadence, sexuality and violence. The coherence of the collective series obscures these minor detractive elements, as we return to speculate on the cinematic quality of these fictive characters captured with dramatic flair. The focalized spectacle of each frame resound within the “celluloid”pageant.
Episodes of humour, irony and juxtaposition of individuals whom vary in form as much as expression demarcate an ascerbic wit, Dmitry Obolensky is not laughing at the subjects, his derision spears facile associations, superficiality & what is commonly considered as either absurd or profane. There is nothing mundane nor trivial in his conscious selection and manic control of the staged works, costumes, design, cameras, light, gesture and individual are subject to his absolute direction. He does not allow for error, in complete contrast with the artist’s prime occupation as an abstract painter, nor hesitant in the execution of the final composition. The voluminous body of work has been achieved in the space of a few months alone. Intense and passionate, the artist has engaged in artistic photography in an insoluable manner. Whether this solvent experiment of the present bears derivative truths or serves to contest a travesty of impersonation and personae, time will tell.
It would be errant to assign the work a pornographic, or auto-erotic context. One should recall that the ancestors of todays contemporary photography yielded plates of figures, nudes, and more often than not, individuals whom were considered “freak”, appearing as though drawn from a circus rather than the streets of polite society. The effluvium of time has bitten through the categorical stereotype, criminology and other quasi-scientific research abandoned with laughter: there have been many moments of amnesia and erasure along the course of over a century and a half advent in the medium. In an era of mass-replication and automatic diffusion, the digital evolved as an indispensable tool which manifests the every desire and need of corporate and fashion photography. We are literally inundated with the image, a time of a visual culture which accelerates of its’own accord. Liberty of the moment, free instances wherein we are not seized as ocular witnesses of the intentions of advertising, global capital & sexually entrancing fashion are altogether rare, if not unknown.
To return to MacLuhan, “...the medium is the message”would prove to be an understatement in measure of the visual colossus found in the burgeoning metropolis of the P.R.C. A zenith of expert marketing and consumerism results in collective fervour: predominant, a voyeurism of the incarnate erotica and sexual nuance in the realms of fashion. Dmitry Obolensky, born in 1984, is evidently a child of this era, yet more of a detached observer than one held in an unconscious trance of the image. His transition, while still highly active as a professional studio photographer, to an experimental- to quote the artist- artist in the medium, has offered results which are captivating, insinuative and allegorical. Noteworthy to observe that the artist has proven an ability to avoid a narrative construct or literary device while retaining a comic, dramatic intent.
Artifice, subterfuge and irreverent, these photographic spectacles prove to be exacting compositions rich in colour and texture. Light embellishes dynamic postures, accents infer ironic indictments of photographic history. What is preserved with bold exclamation is more of a celebration of difference and style, as he pares away facile replication and resists rendering a reality staged of revulsion rather than the actual humorous sympathy towards his chosen actors. A mild comedy held in the warmth of the smile of a man whom simply appears content to wear a crown of a flower around his head, gazing absently while directly at the viewer. The comedy is a humane one in the end.
A paradigm of the grotesque suggests not only the simulacrum of adversity with the icons of alienation, it further embraces a contextualization of subject in the fabric of visual history and societal associations. Relations with the image, imagery vulnerable to alteration or distortion, complementary or oppositional, have come to mirror our collective fascination. Obsession is narrowly divorced from passion, the artist’s own lends credibility in his juxtaposition of medium and photographic acts which are both emblematic and damning of the source inspiration. It is in truth a comprehensive oeuvre, content and formalistic aspects impact heavily in a modest command of the available technology. Excessive control is deemed essential by the artist, he is both the inventor and executioner of his subjects. They end in a exorbitant pageant of nonsense and sense. References at times evasive, at times evident. There is no prudence or economy of the image in mind, the theme is an erratic revery of comic proportion. This is the artists’ retort to fashion, a cosmopolitan foray into an iconography of the grotesque, pornographia. These are nothing other than mirror reflection of the real, convoluted histories of ironic stealth in concert, while subversive in nature, with the incessant innovations of the parallel universe of what constitutes contemporary fashion.
R. A. Suri Beijing 03/22/2013
尽管这位年轻的俄国艺术家－德米特里奥博伦斯基－的教育背景是在绘画，平版印刷与雕塑方面，他并没有因此而放弃了对不同媒材的实验，事实上，它们还丰富了他以摄影作为一种艺术媒介的创作。过去数年来， 他活跃于商业摄影领域，专门拍摄时尚和模特等主题，这段体验丝毫不减低他使用镜头作出艺术表达的能力。对光线，亮度和色调等细节的关注同样地被应用于他以数码技术所完成的戏剧化写实摄影系列作品之上， 然而得出的效果与时尚产业期待的以完美形象投射出来、所谓的理想的美－其实就是性感与诱惑－截然不同。
作品乍看之下呈现了一些极度夸张的人物，就像是在费里尼会选中的动物园里被找到的，或者如同托德洛夫斯基在银幕上塑造出来的怪诞典范。 我们看到带着超现实喜剧意味的、充满戏剧张力的静态影像， 打扮得像是意大利即兴喜剧里的角色或施虐受虐狂的极端人物，展示着极端的举止。
自从梅普尔索普发表了呈现朋友与相识的私密影像的精致肖像作品造成轰动后 － 他那些表现坦白的性爱、寓言式的象征主义和有力的美感的黑白摄影作品在1980年代的艺术界开始受到瞩目－ 一场有关摄影媒介传达的性偏差、亵渎以及艺术自由的价值的论战在纽约当代艺术圈掀起。这样的辩论－其实不是第一次了－重新开启了一世纪来的争论，到底艺术媒介承载的是一种记录还是艺术的主观性，呈现的是裸体还是色情。狂潮般涌现的来自保守学院派的谩骂如以及支持这位同性恋艺术家－他擅长描绘同性爱欲，以阳具、雌蕊挑战象征性隐喻－的团结阵营，把一个对摄影近乎无动于衷的社会唤醒起来。我无意在此拿梅普尔索普这位摄影和印刷技巧的大师与在这方面相对而言是个业余者的、正处于大胆尝试阶段的奥博伦斯基加以比较。我想在此表达的是在于去了解到今天已成为摄影观众们的集体记忆的一个相对偶然的事件，它那被视为是令人震惊的、丑闻的和过分的内容所处的时代已成过去，如今曝露生殖器或皮肤的影像已经很平常，甚至到了陈腔滥调的程度，不再有任何新意。
一个公允的考虑因素：照片的内容是刻意安排好的。当真实的被贬为错误的，并被再现为真实本身之时，我们将进入一个危险的游戏里，在其中， 摄影媒介的限制、能力（尤其是在这个数字修改和复制的时代）和力量在错综复杂的理论里举步不前，而它的典范和肌理最终将沦为对一些先驱－如杰夫沃尔、辛迪舍曼和洪磊（中国）等－的平庸的模仿。尝试透过分化新古典主义的隐喻去塑造一种来自想象力的现实，而非依赖于真实的单一性，对于今日的艺术家而言，所需要的勇气与冒险并不亚于先驱们。 经由这个媒介，德米特里奥博伦斯基所面对的微妙和不确定因素在于他必须在狭窄的类别区分限制之间操作。这是视觉上的破坏行动，他的目的不在制造惊愕，而是要去取乐。他不依赖也不剥削那些打破保守品味界限的先驱们的视觉遗产，而这样的结果既是庆祝亦是挽歌。我们没有足够的描述足以去限制那些将他的作品诠释为陈腐的复制品、对怪诞的背书或认可摄影行动的极端主义，或定义它为仅仅是使用影像（更准确的说，数字档案）而作的文学性的肤浅实验。这件作品指向某种绘画中的超现实主义的无意识的、贫乏的悼词，仅透过技术性的媒介便得以宣示从内心深处浮现的极端和发自肺腑的东西，这样的摄影作品是很罕见的。
作为合格的先例， 这项操作值得特别的关注。透过景深，角度尤其是光线的细腻展示，艺术家在数字领域的努力是令人肯定的。无论是肥胖纵欲的女人，憔悴的变性人，绅士般的侏儒或是戴着面具的掠夺者，他们的形象对于当代业余者观众而言并不算陌生。尽管有媒体的泛滥、对性的消费、 反文化－显然是萨德以来的衍生物 、极端同性情欲和变态的颓废等社会背景，他的影像依然呈现出一种丰饶与节制，为超越我们一般视觉体验的探索画出界限。在各种嘲讽的姿态当中，包括了演员们露骨的或偶尔面无表情的展示，还有那些给我们重重一击的：冷漠并与挑衅。侏儒和肥胖妓女的身体僵直死板，死气沉沉地盯着镜头，脸上没有表情。严厉的的江湖术士在过去的几出闹剧里扮演活泼的主角。艺术家其实正是丑角，进一步去探索他的觉察力和结果很重要。
这些作品的用意并非借露骨的呈现来满足偷窥心理。一个身着荒谬服饰的肥胖女人对某人来说可能是恶心的，另一个人则可能觉得受到吸引。在巴洛克时代，这样丰腴的女性甚至被认为非常可人。同样的，一个消瘦的变性人也可能同时是吸引人的或令人反感的，而一个穿戴面具紧身衣、挥舞着钢钉的人物也可以是吓人的或有趣的。这作品整体刻意的方面：艺术家希望止住一些想当然尔的联想－美感的、历史的、社会的。性意味的内容其实非常少。大多数来见过这些作品的观众觉得它们厚颜无耻，暗示不正当的性爱，并已经超出品味的界限。这本身已经算是某种成功，这系列作品达到了“震惊”的目的，如布拉克一度所指出的艺术的功能，而非去“确认”。是否可以说当代时尚所赞赏的美的迷思把象征和社会接受的“确认”结合了起来？一个主要的差别是－符合大多数人的道德标准和赞赏的视觉诡计， 以及生自想象力的关于外在世界－它嫌恶，嘲笑与讥讽－的真诚视觉证据。后者带给观者不可磨灭的伤痕及困扰， 而前者则以集体遗忘的方式被吸收。
巴特说摄影的动作同时是“死亡时刻”和一个 “点”，这绝对性是正确的；而我们谈到布列松的无意识动作：在较老的技术条件和相对受限的胶片和镜头之下，当潜意识与快门动作合一，最伟大的“动作”就达成了。这或许是艺术摄影最初的基础，不论是被奇怪地命名为“抒情纪实”或“抽象或表现主义的纪实”。在当今媒体泛滥的社会，数字化的掌控、重新掌控以及“绘画般的”效果及多层次都已经成为可能，它以为把有关受限于“真实“里的媒介的问题取消是明智的。甚至，那些在无预想之下去达到进一步技巧之非因果的自发尝试，亦不被视为是一种专注的努力，而被罢黜为受欢迎的“随机性”。 在这个自动复制的年代，让位给“无意识”（不论被接受或被反驳）的缺乏深思熟虑或思想的伪摄影的“时刻”的过剩，本质上既不危险、不具正当性也不紧迫。早期验证并质问摄影媒介的艺术可能的实验被当作是一注定心丸，用来反对那些阻止摄影更进一步作为一门“艺术”的可能性的主导的想法，并反过来严肃指出在这个机械时代我们丧失了分辨技巧与真实的能力。刻意安排内容的作品变成了法则，而其它的（我怀疑这是早期世代的初衷）则被当代辩论留在争议性的沉默里。
把这些作品归入色情或自淫的脉络将是错误的。我们要想到当代摄影的开创者们生产了有关静物，裸体以及仿佛来自马戏团而非我们彬彬有礼的社会街头、被视为“怪物”的人物的作品。时间逐渐销蚀了各种刻板印象，犯罪学和其它被一笑置之的伪科学的研究：自摄影出现一世纪半以来有很多健忘和抹去的时刻。在大量复制和自动扩散的时代， 数字技术在表达企业或时装摄影的每一个愿望和需要方面已经成为不可或缺的工具 。我们被影像所淹没，视觉文化的时代按照自己内在的逻辑加速前进。当下的自由就是当我们不变成广告，全球资本和充满性诱惑的流行时尚的俘虏，尽管这样例子很稀有。