Review – Ekaterina Rozhkova at Sputnik Gallery

November 14, 2010

There is a very interesting show at Sputnik running through January 8. Rozhkova found two books of photographs printed circa early twentieth century and has used them as the basis for this show. The story behind this show is the juxtaposition of east and west and the interest of individuals in crossing cultural boundaries, coupled with the fact that the Russian Rozhkova lived for several years in China.

One book was photos of the staging of The Veil of Happiness written by Georges Clemenceau, prime minister of France during World War I. The play is a curiosity as the characters are all Chinese, played by Europeans. (I found an English translation on-line for the 1920 US staging; it is a stunningly bad play.)

The other was a collection of portraits of Chinese individuals, photographed in traditional dress but staged in western style.

Rozhkova has imaged photos from these publications and reprinted them, on silk for the Chinese portraits, and on paper for the Clemenceau play. She added lace-like veils to the prints.

The images are fascinating, especially the Chinese portraits. Notice that three of them were shot in the same studio (the same print is in the background). You want to know the stories behind the people, why they chose to have their portraits taken, and why, in particular, they chose that specific photographer.

Sputnik’s mission is to bring Russian artists and the differences in Russian artistic work to the US. They have succeeded admirably with this show. We see that Rozhkova perceives the Chinese mind as impenetrable, different from what the original photographers were saying. The photographer in China saw his clients as the same as western clients; the French photographer was shooting a play.

However, I have a problem thinking of this as original work. I’m disturbed that Rozhkova didn’t give credit to the original photographers or, if unidentified, to the publishers of the books she used. This is like taking Le Chat Noir, changing the background color, and selling it as original art.

As I said, this is an interesting show presented by a gallery which consistently introduces interesting and thoughtful work by Russian artists and photographers. This show regrettably strikes me as a quick and easy solution by the artist to the problem of requiring artistic product for a solo show. But do go look at the portraits – we need all the reminders that people of different backgrounds can have the same interests and worries that we do.

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