Sergey Bratkov: Scream / Reviewed by Marina Ribera / 18.02.12
Artists pick up on the incongruent and the strange; that which makes us feel uneasy, frightened and confused. Artists open up a void below our feet and take us to a new territory that we ignored or, intentionally, were trying to avoid. When Sergey Bratkov captures the body of a father with his head cut off by the upper frame of the photograph as he jumps on a trampoline with his children, we see the joy of those children because their father is home but we also see that he really is not there. We see the father’s presence and absence; we see the lurking gloom in the life of those children. Returned Father (2006-2011) is part of the photography series that Bratkov has developed in a journey across Norway. This is his first solo show in London at Regina Gallery.
Bratkov choreographs the installation of the works to unveil an uncanny feeling, an atmosphere of a hidden energy, of something concealed about to happen. At the entrance of the gallery, the Norwegian flag rests on a bench in the manner of a state tribute only paid to national heroes. This precedes the display of a mixture of medium size framed photographs and large ones, unframed and pinned to the wall; installation gestures that reflect on the humble means but high spirits of those portrayed in his work. Bratkov builds up a feeling of caution in the visitor, where things cannot be judged lightly, where second thoughts and disquieting feelings leak through seemingly casual shots.
But nothing can prepare the visitor for the sense of entrapment and shock that he is about to experience when accessing the gallery basement. Close to life-size images of corpses wrapped in smudged blankets surround the viewer in the small exhibition room. We momentarily share the claustrophobic underground space with the bodies and the morbid filth depicted on walls, floor and blankets. But it turns out that it all is an induced impression. After reading the press release, one is made aware that these people are in a spa having mud treatments. Despite not appreciating the gimmick played on the visitor for such a banal finale, the hint of a humorous note offsets the weight of social concern displayed in the series on the ground floor and allows for distance from the socio-political subject matter.
Taking care of showing what is out of frame and what remains in the gaps of his series, Bratkov’s work is rooted in social realism. The casual moments he captures are the façade and the enticing trap which draw us into a poignant matter that lies beneath. Altar (2006-2011) is a close-up of a life-size large window, with curtains hanging by the sides but which view is obscured by stacked drawers positioned against the entire glass panel. In front of this surreal caption, one can only wonder what is behind that glass. So awfully unbearable that we do not want to look at it? Or so banal that we cannot be bothered to take those drawers down? The anecdotal lures us into our fears, our ignorance and uncomfortable realities.
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