There was something here and now. 10 nov 2021 — 10 feb 2022

alexandra kokacheva

Someone said to me in front of other patrons in a cafe, "Look how faded we are, these days images look more alive than people."
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

We live in an era of inflation: image, word, meaning. The oversaturation and ephemerality of information flows in which a person is drowning causes frustration and a sense of loss
of reality: we slide over the surface of images and news, not having time to grab onto something that would have at least some significant weight and value. The world of fast algorithms has won, and the widespread use of photography has played a significant role in this.

One of the first to trumpet inflation and image emasculation was Susan Sontag, whose essays on photography are still unsurpassed critical works on the subject. Sontag drew attention to the dangerous passivity and omnipresence of photography, which becomes her idea, her aggression. For her, the narcotic “consumption of pictures” was the first step towards the neutralization of reality and its painful affects: “The camera miniaturizes experience, turns history into a spectacle. Photos tend to sympathize, but they also suppress it, create an emotional distance. The medium, which was originally intended to tell us more about the world, not only replaced it, through embellishment, but also began to set standards for its construction.

The French philosopher Roland Barthes, who in the text “Camera Lucida” tried to capture the specificity of photography as a medium, noted its characteristic ability to mix different registers of reality and life, that is, to report here and now, by means of evidence that something was: “Inimitable The feature of Photography (its noema) is that someone has seen the referent - even if it is an object - in the flesh or in person. The use of retouching, according to Barthes, kills the noema of photography, reducing it to fine art, whose field of play has always been illusion. The gradualization of photography occurs in two ways: through aestheticization and ubiquitous distribution: “The so-called highly developed societies are distinguished by the fact that they now consume images, not beliefs <...> in the modern consciousness this is refracted in the recognition of a feeling of boredom, nausea as if, having become universalized, the images produce a world without distinctions (an indifferent world), which is capable only from time to time of emitting cries of various kinds of anarchisms, marginalisms, individualisms.

But that was in the 1970s. One can only guess how these eminent critics would react to the changes that are happening now: total digitalization, the reduction in the time between shutter release and result, the ability to take and store tons of images in our pocket smartphones, as well as upload them to the network and design in this way , a schizophrenic identity that has lost its individuality in layers of filters and deepfakes. As Sontag wrote: “We learn to see ourselves photographically: to consider yourself attractive is to think how good you look in a photo. The image goes ahead of reality, owns it, reducing the personality to a type that dominates fashion.

Sasha Kokacheva in her works finds her own way to take revenge on the ubiquitous image that flooded our air and replaced the vital function of memory for us. By delegating this function to a digital prosthesis - the camera - we have lost the immediacy of memory. Indulging in fruitful nostalgia, that is, looking back in order to process memories, Kokacheva is essentially engaged in hontology, literally ghostology, which is designed to show how turning to the past substantiates our present.

The starting point for the project is photographs taken almost 20 years ago, taken with a film camera. On them, a 14-year-old future artist poses for lessons, a festive table, along with a friend, a cat. The viewer, especially a peer, easily recognizes in these stories a kind of photo portrait of a generation, made up of similar interiors, clothes, poses. For the artist, this becomes a personal journey into the past, in which she can return to herself. The output is ghostly graphics, the main characters of which seem to show through on paper. The chosen format is also not accidental and refers to the standard size of a film photograph with an aspect ratio of 9 by 12.

This journey is a kind of conversion, an overlook of the past from the present, and it goes along several lines, paths. First, there is a process of self-discovery in the study of one's own photographs, in which the past becomes what has shaped us in the present. Painting one's own ghostly portraits, contrary to the modern fleeting mode of fixation, and often labeled as the practice of pretense, becomes an attempt to wrest ourselves from time and memory, which hold us in the grip of the past. Such a ritual incantation of this past allows the artist to talk to herself as she was before and understand what shaped her the way she is.
there is now.

Secondly, there is a double appeal to the previous artistic mediums, which, due to their evolution, have changed the way of representing and fixing reality. If Bart and Sontag complained about the widespread democratization of film cameras and Polaroids, seeing in them the future culprits of figurative inflation, then Kokacheva takes a step back from digital methods of recording reality, seeing in the film a rare opportunity to make a memorable shot that required preparation, staging, and also savings. A return to a better and more direct (not always shots were obtained, and the film could deteriorate) medium can restore our ability to remember. The method of photorealism (the translation of a photographic image into painting or graphics) here becomes a reversal in a double degree, an attempt to return to the time before technical reproducibility. Such a journey to the past has a therapeutic effect and frees space from meaningless reproduction.

Thirdly, the illusiveness of graphic works also emphasizes the essence of photographic works. According to Barthes, “in photography, the presence of a thing at some point in the past is never metaphorical; the same applies to the life of animate beings (with the exception of cases when photographing corpses); if photography becomes terrifying, it is because it, so to speak, certifies that the corpse is alive as a corpse, that it is a living image of a dead thing. It is as if Kokacheva deliberately turns her past self into a ghost, an "animated corpse" in order to emphasize, on the one hand, the past of what is happening, and, on the other, the length of memory in time. Life is assembled from the dead particles of time and memory, but it is these particles that make up what life is.

“All photographs are memento mori,” wrote Susan Sontag. Photography captures death, and the less we photograph, the more room there is for life. A reminder of the transience of the moment, which we, like crazy, are trying to fix and, as if, deceptively, bewitch, plays a cruel joke with us. We think that we are reclaiming memory, but in fact we are giving it away to dead terabytes of deleted photos that literally devour our time, our life, and, consequently, us.

It seems to us (and often it is, but) that our public representation allows us to build our own identity, and our Instagram can easily tell who we are. “The desire to confirm reality and expand experience through photography is an aesthetic consumerism that everyone is infected with today. Industrial societies put their citizens on pictures,” concludes Sontag. By addicting us to pictures, it deprives us of our natural sensitivity to memory, which is lost like everything we do not use.

When we photograph, we do nothing but aestheticize a corpse, a dead memory of a photograph in which we are strangers to ourselves. Inflation of images causes inflation of the desire for life, which is why very often the unnaturalness of photo retouching makes us all the same, faded, puts on us the death mask of non-life. A person is his own ghost, which can be frightening (or upsetting: “how beautiful I was!”), But the main message of any ghost is the need to appreciate the present moment. In this sense, Barthes' appeal, with which he closes Camera Lucida, has never sounded so radical, and so necessary: ​​"Let us abolish images, save the immediacy (immediacy) of Desire."

Anastasia Khaustova