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PCA Chair of Photography Steve Bisson curate exhibition on Ukraine "In the midts of the immense steppe"

© Michael Chelbin dalla serie “Strangely Familiar”

We often use images to create summaries of our landscapes, such as to experience geography in words. So does the poet Taras Ševčenko, who describes the Ukrainian identity in his “Testament” starting from the boundless fields, the roaring of the Dnipro river, and that immense steppe scratched by the impetuous flow of human lives and their destinies which are not always mild and fraternal.

Lab27 inaugurates the exhibition “In the midts of the immense steppe” on September 22nd at 21:00 with photographs by Michal Chelbin, Sergey Melnitchenko, and Andrea Bianco. The exhibition presents itself as a possible syntax of the human condition.

Andrea Bianco’s photographs taken from his more than ten-year social commitment in Ukraine led him to deal with childhood problems, social hardship, and healthcare deficiencies. His journey to orphanages, housing, and medical facilities has no documentary intent. The primary objective is to evaluate situations, discuss with people in the area, and make choices that are never exhaustive of suffering. Bianco’s photographs were born alongside this commitment to the NGO Children for Future Project and restore dignity to the human struggle of many people. They also testify to a “complicity” that only comes with time, patient immersion, convinced listening, and trust, which is difficult to obtain from those in difficulty. The value of the microstories collected by Andrea, which emerge on the surface through the exhibition and soon in a publication thanks to the recognition obtained from the Voglino Prize, must be sought in this different threshold of attention. Photographs are happy conquests of a glance, pregnant with never-banal reciprocity, and always aimed at the meaning resulting from actual experience. Moments of sincere humanity. We need it in times of war.

Sergey Melnitchenko talks to us about war in Ukraine through ruins made of flesh. Snapshots of rubble tattooed on the skin. Bodies disfigured by a landscape marked by destruction. And what remains buried in the form of memories or lying in a collective unconscious that the Ukrainian photographer tries to show us, to bring out from the darkness of consciences, to illuminate in some way. He tells us they are pages of history that bring people together, making them brutally similar because fear can be a collective feeling. Ashes of conflict scattered over the memory of a people already studded by a decade of battles. The face of a country that becomes one with its inhabitants. We have never been so united, says Sergey. And then he adds that he hasn’t chosen his “tattoo” yet. Perhaps it will be that of Ksenia, her friend in her early thirties, killed with her mother by a rocket over Mykolaiv—his city. One, like others, is now subject to the same fate, the imposition of destiny, or “superposition,” referring to the technique of projecting images onto bodies used by Melnitchenko—that of a land without peace. War is a solvent of identity, questioning the effects and transformations in social alchemy.

However, identity is also a personal endowment that can certainly be influenced by environmental, cultural, or social conditions but is still distinctive of the individual. Michal Chelbin, in her pilgrimage among the small villages of Eastern Europe, particularly Ukraine, portrays performers, athletes, dancers, and dwarves of wandering shows. A familiar strangeness unites them, and yet, the Israeli photographer seems to tell us, they all demonstrate a singular intimacy, character, and relationship that plays to seduce the observer. Each figure becomes Chelbin’s gregarious, who filters their exotic presence to masterfully bring it back to a narrative level that leaves viewers free to decide their fate with imagination. A dimension that is sometimes dreamlike, accentuated by fairy-tale colors that often contrast with the environment. Here lies the strength of the individual capable of breaking away from the labels of destiny, of the strange order of things, and of adopting behaviors that are sometimes ambiguous or not equivalent to social traits. Here lies the merit of the artist Chelbin in recognizing this evolutionary spirit innate not only to humans but to life and biology in general. And it reminds us once again that feeling is an engine and that the catalog of feelings itself is an alphabet in progress. The story doesn’t end here.

Lab27 |Strada Scudetto 27 31100 Treviso | Italy
Opening on September 22nd at 21:00 | Open through October 29, 2023
Watch the opening live on Youtube

Lab27: In the midts of the immense steppe
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