Sex and Nothingness: SIBERIAN MODERNISM in the Great Eurasian Steppe

Some historians have described the Great Eurasian Steppe as the world’s sixth ocean. Its grassy plains stretch from Romania to northeastern China, opening up a vast, smooth space primed for both chaos and transcontinental trade. Much like an ocean, the Steppe is a nomadic space that offers relatively few traces of pre-modern architecture or written history. It serves more as a conduit than a place, a circuit board for the Mongol hoards of yesterday and the Chinese-led New Silk Road infrastructure initiative of today. Novokuznetsk, the title-location of Nikolay Bakharev’s monograph, sits in southwestern Siberia at the center of the Steppe. Although Stalin established the city as a coal-mining and industrial center, Bakharev asserts that its inhabitants retain the a-historical quality of nomads. “Nothing changes in their world,” the photographer once said about his subjects in a 1991 interview, “No matter how many years pass by, things never change.”

These harsh anachronisms flood Novokuznetsk, or rather they float within its frames like clouds of smoke. The book is a message in a bottle sent from the middle of a verdant sea. Bakharev’s photographs are as much about the cluttered rooms they take place in as the anonymous and undressed characters that populate them. The ambiance is heavy, kitschy. It is soaked in liquor and defined by the indifference of post-industrial living. Bakharev’s subjects put forth a sense of shyness that periodically pulls against the attention of his camera, only to release towards epicurean scenes that stack orgiastically among a mise-en-scène of rugs, sofas, and bed spreads. Although these characters are not always young, they emanate the youthful attitude of not giving a fuck. This comes with the universal feeling of being born to die. And this, too, is a specific relationship to history, as if to say: “This body is only going to exist once, someone might as well take a picture of it.” It is dangerous to ascribe words like “innocent” or “tender” to subjects in nude photographs, and Bakharev’s friends affirm this point. Their eroticism skips pageantry and goes straight to the post-coital cigarette, zeroing in on the lingering sensation of being gratified yet deflated. This is where Bakharev steps in. He is just the guy behind the camera, the one buying the vodka.

Along with Carlo Mollino and Boris Mikhailov, Bakharev continues 032c’s ongoing investigation into the canon of dirty old man photographs. Yet what places Novokuznetsk at a particular crux in this genre is the hybrid of beauty and vulgarity that lies at the center of the book. It was a similar conundrum that launched painting into Modernism. When Édouard Manet unveiled Luncheon on the Grass in 1863, it was harshly criticized not for its nudity, but rather for the mixture of female nudes with men in modern dress. Outside of the abstract, history-less terrain of classicism, the naked female body appeared scandalously current. Clement Greenberg would later credit Manet’s painterly flatness as the reason he was the first Modernist, but the modernity of Manet in fact lies in a tension between the now and the never. Next to their Venus-like friends, the men in Luncheon on the Grass seem like horny interlopers weighed down by the formality of a period. Taken as such, Novokuznetsk is mired in a similar tension, one brought forth by the unignorable trappings of a newly post-Soviet Russia. Set in front of movie posters, pin-up magazines, and even a framed photograph of Ernest Hemingway, Bakharev’s nudes expose themselves before the light of industrial myth. In one particularly glaring instance of this, a stocky man with a semi-erection sits with the word “Elegant” written across the front of his faded t-shirt. This is where the real and the artificial fail to ever meet one another. This is Novokuznetsk’s true nakedness.

Novokuznetsk is published by STANLEY/BARKER (London, 2016).

 

Photography 52Modernism 5Berlin Review 5
siberia
Nikolay Bakharev
Novokuznetsk

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Issue #32 — Summer 2017"US vs. THEM"

How do you find truth in an age without facts? The answer: wake up and stick together. In this issue’s dossier “US vs. THEM,” creative director RICHARD TURLEY explores how the Global Right Wing’s blatant disregard for reality has given us all a license to become Nonsense Warriors. Turning away from “them” and towards “us,” CATHERINE OPIE, NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE, and STEFANO PILATI take us into their inner circles of friends, while COLLIER SCHORR turns BELLA HADID into Lisa Lyon. We revisit the work of MICHAEL SCHMIDT, and how his community workshops turned Berlin into a cauldron of contemporary photography. JACKIE NICKERSON shows us what Robert Longo looks like with a faster Internet connection, while CARSTEN HÖLLER takes us into his kitchen to explore the post-digital nature of food. We speak with VIRGIL ABLOH as he plots a fashion industry coup d’état and follow JASON DILL on a skate odyssey to hell and back to Fucking Awesome. And, last but not least, we make a pilgrimage to Santo Sospir, the villa on the Riviera where JEAN COCTEAU created his greatest Gesamtkunstwerk.

Also included with the issue, our “HEAT UP HADID” TRANSFER KIT which allows you to create your own t-shirt emblazoned with this issue’s BELLA HADID cover.

Learn more about the issue below:

Nothing makes sense. Nothing ever will again. The year 2016 marked a total rupture in the theater of politics. Even if the damaging effects of Donald Trump’s election somehow prove to be short-lived, his rise indicates a crisis wherein digital acceleration has led to political regression. In our dossier “US vs. THEM,” creative director RICHARD TURLEY creates a handbook for our new political paradigm. Its central hypothesis: Only within the chaos of this media overload will we discover what is real again.

“I am not sure if the sculptures were even subjects for her photographs …” For her first ever magazine editorial, “Heroines: Paris/Los Angeles,” artist CATHERINE OPIEteamed up with artistic director NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE to create a study on the power of classicism and ambiguity. The exploration begins on the beige stone of the Louvre’s sculpture garden and continues to Opie’s studio in Los Angeles, documenting a sprawling circle of friends and acquaintances.

On a surrealist journey into the past, Martin Mosebach visits the summer retreat of JEAN COCTEAU. At the Villa Santo Sospir, the artist spent a decade’s worth of summers smoking opium and creating his largest total artwork.

Back with a vengeance for her third 032c cover story, COLLIER SCHORR teams up with fashion director Mel Ottenberg for “Smith & Wesson Blues,” a shoot with BELLA HADID, inspired by the body builder and Robert Mapplethorpe muse Lisa Lyon.

“Duchamp is my lawyer.” From his fortress of irony, designer VIRGIL ABLOH is set on turning fashion into the industrial arm of the art world. In conversation with 032c’s managing editor Thom Bettridge, he explains how streetwear is not just a fad, but a logic inspired by Dada and destined to dominate the digital age.

Accompanied by a re-print of MICHAEL SCHMIDT’s 2002 story for 032c, Kolja Reichert explores how the photographer’s community workshops from 1976 to 1986 create a style born out of the “Gray Island” of Berlin.

For the story “Energy Crisis,” photographer LUKAS WASSMANN and designer STEFANO PILATI shoot an editorial inside Michael Sailstorfer’s exhibition “Hitzefrei” at St. Agnes. As his first for a magazine editorial, Pilati’s styling includes garments from his own personal wardrobe.

“It’s an exhausting reality,” laughs JASON DILL. In an odyssey documented with drawings and pictures from his personal archive, the skate legend takes us to hell and back to Fucking Awesome.

In “Push Me Shove You Oh Yeah Says Who,” photographer JACKIE NICKERSON, along with fashion editor Marc Goehring and 032c apparel creative director Maria Koch, presents a yogic meditation on a white collar dystopia.

“I’m very bad at killing, in general.” As an antidote to postmodern culinary mediocrity, artist CARSTEN HÖLLER takes us to his concrete perch on the seaside of Ghana and guides us through the 11 points of his “Brutalist Kitchen Manifesto.”

In the “SSENSE Files,” we bring you scenes of cross-platform madness, including interviews with RICARDO BOFILL, PLAYBOI CARTI, CHITOSE ABE, CHRIS KRAUS, HENRY STAMBLER, AMINA BLUE, and 69.

In our second-ever “BERLIN REVIEW” section, we speak with JEFF KOONS about Plato, retrace MARTIN MARGIELA’s reign at Hermès, dive to the underwater tombs of PHARAOHS, and explore our favorite books of the season.

All this and more on 296 pages!