La Petite Poule Noire et L' Oiseau present "DUSHA+ICONS", photographs by Davide Monteleone. From September 24th till October 31st at "Galerie L' Oiseau" in Paris.
DUSHA + ICONS
Text by Anna Arutyunova
Dusha is an idea that underlines much of the Russian consciousness. Evading any clear definition, it is commonly used to explain the odds of the Russian character, humbled but inventive, passive but courageous.
Davide Monteleone has probably chosen the best way to investigate this phenomenon plunging into the vast country and chasing the manifestations of “dusha” at its every extreme. Hungry for photographic witness, he captured numerous towns, endless countryside, and people living in places no one ever knew to exist. His itinerary was spontaneous and endless, since “the end” of Russia in geographical sense is sometimes hard to reach. On the contrary some of its borders are so confused that one doesn’t even realize to have crossed them.
By the moment when Davide Monteleone encountered Russia for the first time in 2001, the Soviet Union has already become history. Though the history proved to be tangible and to unfold in a different pace throughout the territory of the former USSR. Signs of the past – palpable like the grotesque soviet architecture or imaginary like people’s attitude to power – are still overwhelming. These signs captured by Monteleone’s photography account for how 15 ex-soviet republics extended from the Eastern Europe to the Pacific were, willingly or not, bound together.
Those bounds, the collective unconscious have been slowly dissolving over the past 25 years and each year the conflict between the soviet remnants and the new dynamics of contemporary Russia becomes more and more insoluble. The Gordian knot has to be cut and as the current Ukrainian crisis shows the cut can be very painful. Each member of the former Soviet Union can define itself ex contrario, setting against everything what the USSR was. But what is the vision that Russia is searching for itself?
Here is when the eyes of the photographer turn to common people, who once again let their destiny be decided by the state. There is a haunting character that informs most of Monteleone’s work on Russia – a literary character from a XIX century novel whose name is Oblomov. He is apathetic and enwrapped in nostalgic thoughts as he is enwrapped in a duvet, while passing most of his time on a sofa, disinterested in an outer world. Monteleone chooses to go to the far away parts of Russia to find people who are separated from current geopolitical games by mere geographical distance. Will they like Oblomov remain disinterested in their own future or will they take agency to decisively resolve the self-determination conflicts that are tearing Russia apart?
The answer is yet to come, but the people are already here. Davide Monteleone transforms their portraits into a sort of icons that refer to the Russian orthodox saints but also to the icons of photography. Inspired by In the American West of Richard Avedon, Monteleone’s latest series “In the Russian Est” looks in the Russian East to question the future of the country.
“These portraits are like icons, icons that no one says a prayer to or takes into consideration. I want to show the beauty of these people, geographically and politically separated from the power and the geopolitical agenda. Like Oblovom they are meek at the face of destiny but courageous in their solitude”