Interview: Alex Blank
Luca Curci talks with Alex Blank during MIXING IDENTITIES, third appointment of CANVAS ART FAIR, at THE LINE Contemporary Art Space in London.
Oleksandr Blank was born in Kyiv in 1962. He was raised in a family of Soviet Jewish Ukrainian intelligentsia. His grandmother, Tila Isakovna, a cinematography archivist, was a strong influence on the development of his artistic sensibilities and visual acuity. When Alex was ten years old, she facilitated his access to pre-selected (by party commission) movies from around the globe, a rare privilege in the late Soviet Union. From 1990 to 1993, Alex attended the Leningrad Vera Mukhina Higher School of Art and Design where he studied Fine Arts and Industrial Design, as well as the art of living among a vibrant community of young artists and performers in Leningrad. After returning to Kyiv in 1996, Alex launched the contemporary art gallery, “Blank Art”, one of the first galleries in Kyiv which became central to the community of Ukrainian contemporary artists of the period. Since 1998, Alex has immersed himself in the world of advertising and outsourcing services, which developed into the ROST Corporation which he set up in Ukraine. Alongside his business activities, Alex Blank continued to develop his artistic work in secret. In 2015, he ‘came out’ and showed his photos at a one-man show entitled Samsara at the Shcherbenko Art Center, Kyiv. His next photographic experiment has to the publication of this photo album.
Luca Curci – How did you get to photography? Do you remember why you took your first professional photo?
Alex Blank – The first professional photoset was Samsara. It was about five years ago.
LC – How much is the editing process important? How’s yours?
AB – Of course, the editing process is very important. While working with the photo process, yes, I’m a screenwriter, an artist, but this album would not have been accomplished without the help of Andrii Bedrov (photography assistant), Natalia Yeresko (photography assistant), Natalia Voloboeva (administrator), Anastasia Rudenko (make up) and Timothy Zagrebelny (make-up assistant). But the main goal is to create the perfect shot maximum close to the author view.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it like your medium of expression?
AB – In my visual study of pain and humiliation, I shine a light into this underworld. My images of suffering and torture tell the untold stories of those who were silenced in the Holocaust and in many other forgotten mass murders on Kievan soil. I start my story with golems, the piles of the same clay from which the Almighty made Adam and the same golem-like figures which have survived right into our times in antique statues and Pergamon bas-reliefs. Once brightly coloured, after the torturous ravages of time, they have turned into grey protoplasm, reminiscent of some aspects of their aloof spectators. And I dully report of their strange co-dependence. According to my narrative, these bodies move on and learn about themselves and others around them. And they learn of truth, sin and punishment. Thus, some turn into torturers; some become victims. And their division makes colours return: red for blood and black for suffering.
LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition? Where did you find the inspiration?
AB – I think, this work is not about inspiration, it’s more close to reflection, or even frustration of the environment around us. Pain is a transgressive experience capable of turning a human being into an animal. Even some little ache can make us break cultural taboos and swear, pronounce forbidden words. The stronger the pain, the more likely we are to revert to a bestial, biological dimension within. Along with an increase in biological urges, and a corresponding decrease in ratiocination, we can lose much—if not most—of our ability to express the transgressive feeling of pain through meaningful linguistic expression. At a certain stage, we can even lose the ability to shriek, to scream, to signal for help: we can become numb. All our acquired layers of civilisation, education, socialisation, and our internalisation of collective identities can simply fade away, and, if and when that happens, what is left harshly exposed, under all our cultural masks, isn’t a nude body: it’s an open nerve laid bare, signalling the enduring, traumatic suffering of what little is left of what once was a human being.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the festival?
AB – Unfortunately, I didn’t have the possibility to visit the festival personally. But the topics involved in the exhibition help us understand that, nowadays, art is more than just beautiful arts, it is even more than visual expressions of individuals. Today it has a deep sense and helps to concentrate the attention of the visitors and authors on the global problems and to look at these problems with the unique prism of authors emotions.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
AB – I am really pleased to cooperate with ITSLIQUID. My gratitude goes to Giulia Tassi for the professional permanent support provided during the preparatory process.