“Playfulness” might not be the first word that comes to mind when you try to describe Russian museum culture. But a look inside Saint Petersburg’s Puppet Museum could prompt you to think twice before dismissing a ludic streak.
“Every child’s fantasy place,” reads one enthusiastic online review; “it might look small and weird from the outside, but once you’re inside, it’s a fairytale.” A fairytale, perhaps – albeit a puzzling one, as Saint Petersburg native Sasha Chaika and Minsk-based make-up artist Angelina Smirnova’s series of photos attests. In his work Chaika photographs the weirder corners of “post-post-Soviet” society. Here, alternating images of humans and dolls raise the question of which is which: the living subjects often seem more artificial than the marionettes themselves, like an analogue uncanny valley. The effect is disorienting, even paranoiac, as our “natural” perceptions are reversed. It’s also camp: both animate and inanimate subjects/objects are kitsch pushed to its limits, frivolity and intentional artifice aimed at upsetting conventional tastes.
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