Berkin & Mika / Trivial Freedom
May 2017 Interviewed by Christiane Monarchi
Bakhtiyar Berkin and Mika Barny work as a London-based collaborative duo Berkin & Mika, whose recent work reflects how modern social, economic and political issues affect their perception of the surrounding world as well as their personal relationship. Mika and Bakhtiyar’s work is a product of a long-lasting emotional bond that evolved into creative synergy, resulting in the production of compelling photographic works which question whether consumer demand does indeed represent modern society.
Mika Barny graduated from the London School of Economics with a BA in Economics. Later she pursued her creative interests by graduating from Conde Nast College of Fashion and Design, London. Bakhtiyar Berkin received his BA in Fine Arts from Camberwell College of Arts, London. Bakhtiyar recently completed his MA in Photography in London College of Communication, where he was awarded the Photomonitor commendation for his final degree project.
Below, Christiane Monarchi asked Bakhtiyar more about the background to the duo’s distinctive practice.
CM: When I came to LCC to look at the MA degree show, I saw striking and intriguing images whose label said they were made by Berkin & Mika. Could you tell me a little bit about how you created this partnership? It seems to be a distinctive visual brand already, how long have you been collaborating?
BB: We have been working together for the past two years. Our collaboration started from our mutual passion for art. By sharing ideas and past experiences we established that we have very similar aesthetics. Our collaboration started very gradually and organically. At first, we did several images together. Being very pleased with the results and the work dynamics, we decided to create a series together. Our collaboration represents ongoing dialogue between two of us. We like to reflect on our past in order to create work that echoes with our own perception of reality. Our collaboration reflects our relationship with each other and with the world. Working as a duo feels more natural and productive to us. Moreover, It is nice to share this fantastic experience with a likeminded person. We divide work equally and respect each other tremendously.
CM: Could you tell me a bit more about the background to the imagery you presented in your final degree show works at LCC?
BB: We are living in the world where most of the time we are preoccupied with thoughts of what we can or will buy. Consumption culture is so thoroughly embedded into our consciousness that it became part of our daily life.
“Cash Register” addresses the problems of consumerism in health care. Often times pharmaceutical and health care companies forget that patients are not consumers. In a free market economic system there is a little to no incentive to provide the cure if by doing so the industry will lose its clients. The medical industry driven by profit motives is a frightening reality.
“Grabber” was inspired by the illusion of freedom of choice. I used the classic arcade machine, as it is designed to make you feel like you “almost won”, so that you continue to play. The machine allows you to grab the prize but drops it before you can claim it. Arcade machines are set to a low winning ratio, a high difficulty marker with low pay-outs. The arcade machine in my photograph is a metaphor for behaviour influencing marketing techniques. For instance, we can observe similar illusion of freedom of choice in the psychology of supermarkets. The way products are placed within the supermarket and in relation to one and other, as well as the way they are packaged is strategic. These behaviour influencing methods are used to maximise consumer spending. Supermarket shopping is deeply subconscious and is often manipulated by big business.
“Trapped” is a representation of the link between modern day vanity and consumerism. Men and women are surrounded by retouched images in magazines, advertisements and social media. Unattainable beauty standards and sexual objectification are heavily promoted by big businesses to encouraged people to consume more and more beauty products and services in order to increase their self worth. Sexual objectification is highly prominent in a consumer-advertising context. The individual is sexually objectified by being associated with a purchasable object and having value based on his or her sexual appeal. Advertisement techniques in the fashion and beauty industry gave rise “body dissatisfaction” phenomena, due to perceived difference between your body and the “ideal body” established in the media. The alarming attribute of advertising is the consistent connection between person, sex, desire, beauty, thinness, and happiness. These associations are one of the most overly-used advertising method. The centrepiece of this photograph is a plastic Ken doll head preserved in jelly as it symbolises preoccupation with eternal youth and “media perfect” beauty.
“Basket of Corn” was inspired by advertisements, infomercials and TV shop in the context of the food industry. Those advertisements usually feature countryside, green grass, blue sky. It leaves the viewer with an impression of wholesomeness, presented as something healthy and organic. However, in fact those products are packed with GMO’s and refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. For the photograph, I decided to replicate those commercials but make everything out of plastic. Plastic grass, plastic flowers… plastic everything. This is my plastic version of the “Dream Life” that is so heavily advertised by the businesses.
These images are a part of a bigger series titled Trivial Freedom, a series of large format film photographs, where each image depicts different ways consumerism culture affects modern day society. This series originated from my fascination with sociological theories of consumer choice. Trivial Freedom questions whether consumer demand is an accurate representation of a modern society.
CM: While the intent and narrative behind your works is clear, the many surfaces and colours are dazzling, attractive and hyperreal. Are you concerned if viewers are absorbed by the successful photograph and its imagery, the celebration of surface and whimsy, without looking further into meaning?
BB: We believe that the work should be both visually appealing and meaningful. We accept the fact that some viewers might not look beyond the celebration of surface. However, this fact does not discourage us from producing visually appealing work.
CM: Do you see an application of your current project for commercial work, perhaps editorial?
BB: No, not the current project. However, we don’t mind producing new series for commercial projects or editorials.
CM: What are you working on now, after the degree show is finished?
BB: We are working on a new series about deconstruction. We are also experimenting with video and sound.
CM: Congratulations on this compelling series and looking forward to following your future projects.
Bakhtiyar Berkin was born in Kazakhstan in 1991. In 1996 he and his parents moved to Chicago, where they lived for five years before moving back to Kazakhstan. After finishing school he completed a BA in Finance. Always wanting to study art, he then came to London where he did BA in Camberwell College of Arts followed by MA Photography in LCC.
Mika Barny was born in Kazakhstan in 1991. After finishing high school in Kazakhstan she moved to London. Upon completing her A-levels in Bellerbys College London she got accepted to London School of Economics and Political Science, where she did BA in Economics. After graduating from LSE Mika completed a Vogue certificate program in Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design.
For further viewing: bberkin.com