And the photographer comes...
In the Russia’s modern history, the Sochi Olympic Games of 2014, will probably be called the Great. They divided the beginning of the 21st century into "before-" and "after-".
There was preparation before the Game not only in Sochi and its region, but all around Russia, there was a period of construction, changes, planning, discussions, gossips and anticipation. The Games became a moment of triumph: victory in sport; and victory in a complex urban planning and landscape project, the construction of an entire new cluster with the most contemporary infrastructure vs the rest of the country. The victory of establishing the positive image of our country in the world ... After the Olympics, our life began in a new semantic context, it was a period of the international climate changes, period of new realities, new tasks setting and solving...
Julia Abzaltedinova’s project “The Big Game” consists of three parts: before the Sochi Games; During the Games - the representation of Russia through the fans portraits, all who came to this grandiose event. This is a cumulative portrait of all the lucky ones who have got so-called "fan's passport". This document certified that they belong to the place and time of the "Great Game", they are involved and they have the right to use all the new infrastructure. And, finally, the third part is about life after the Olympics, about the new Sochi, which had been transformed for the Games, but is still located upon an old place with the same name.
Today the project “The Big Game” is immersed in a cloud of modern associations. Time will pass, and those who would look at Julia's photos in 5-10 years may would already need an explanations what word “Game” have meant in 2014-2017. We live in an era when the information flows are rapid and headline news are updated several times a day, therefore events of 2014 seem to be a distant history. The biggest media news of the recent years: computer games releases; "The Hunger Games" a highly expected project, with several sequels released year on year, which success can only be compared with "Harry Potter" in the pre-Olympic period. Numerous "games" broadcasted on Russian TV channels ... The game is a symbol of success and luck, deception and hope, a series of complex associations created by the cinema and computer games: Game as War, Game as Confrontation and even Game as a Revolution ...
“The Big Game” is a great mystery of a new world created in Sochi: a triumph, a Pyrrhic victory or an open final, the consequences of which are yet to be understood by the next generations. Therefore, this exhibition of photographs is not only about the events of 2014, it is a research related to the present moment, the post-Olympics period and the new challenges of our time.
Several large-scale photographic projects have been done during the years of 2014games preparations, about the Greater Sochi, the Black Sea coast, southern Russia, and about Russia in general. That was a testimony of Russia’s soaring rating in the global information space. Photographic research were not a one-time specific response to a search query. They were deployed in time, like a movie or video report, they had documented the changes taking place in Russia, their historical, social, cultural and economic contexts.
The vast majority of those project were made by foreign authors. Photographers, photojournalists and conceptual artists had represented the "collective curious" of other cultures, living outside of Russia. Visual language of the foreign authors, their codes and associations, were customary for their cultural systems. And it was not understood by the Russian audience, due to the dramatic differences in the visual systems, which have been divided throughout the entire XX century.
This makes the project done by Julia Abzaltdinova even more important: she understands all the traditional meanings fluctuations in the Russian cultural space. She grew up in the same culture with the builders of the Olympic Sochi, and she is able to catch and translate the intricate visual ornament of the Russian modernity. This ornament is a combination of century old literary allusions, intersections of new signs with old meanings, dotted lines of broken traditions and sharp turns of old codes in the direction of actual (new) meanings. Julia weaves a carpet, and individual photographs are getting transformed into the threads of an ornament. The author invites Russian audience into a dialogue about the life, aspirations and hopes of our time.
This, however, does not mean that photography is now locked within the borders of countries and cultures, it is still transcultural. But in contemporary art photography is increasingly connected with the texts and requires comments. More precisely, photography turns into a new visual narrative. It is no longer a separate picture, not a subject of composition, and of course cannot be explained by "beautiful / not beautiful" perceptions. What is important is the sequence of photos built by the author, the constructed visual cloud, consistent with the semantic of modern associative system, a modern model of thinking.
Like her foreign colleagues, Julia Abzaltdinova started her work from texts and experts discussions. The expert opinions of ecologists, architects, urban and social experts and journalists allowed her to present her photographs in the context of the entire modern society, not just isolated space of "photography as an independent kind of visual art". In a social environment, photography is a means of communication valuable for its ability to set a dialogue. The project was started in 2010 as a personal visual diary. But in-depth text materials, including both research papers - historical, folklore, ecologic, geographical, psychologic and theoretical cultural philosophy gave the photographer the power to complete the work, synthesize at the editing stage six years of photographic materials (from 2010 to 2016). “The Big Game” became an investigation that has both a basic concept and an examination of the changing Sochi’s reality. As well as some author’s conclusions that Abzaltdinova offers to the viewer at the exhibition and at artist talks, which are an integral part of “The Big Game” project.
So, about the project. In 2010 due to her personal circumstances Julia moved to Sochi. What does the artist, tuned to intuitive comprehension of the world? She began exploring the space in order to establish personal relations, to build a sense of here-and-now. It is born from observations of the new city, and its people and grows gradually into a sense of community. It is developing supported by conversation in public transport, reading history books, discussions with the residents, visits of iconic places, such as museums, ancient dolmens, and typical local homes. The first part of "The Great Game", called “Legends” appeared from a delicate balance between the unique and the typical. At the same time the photographer became interested in the theory of the game as a space of another, giving a liberation, games as a holiday ritual, the transfiguration of everyday life, where rules differ from the usual ones. Abzaltdinova studied the works of Hazing, collected quotes from Sartre and Camus. The author's turn to the existentialism of the latter led to the loss of constants of reality and translated it into imaginary concepts prrojection...
Hence the concept of the second part of the project, "Fan’s Passport". Julia made this part exactly during the days of the Sochi Olympics in 2014. It later became her diploma project in the Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia at the Moscow Multimedia Art Museum. Fan’s passport is the document which was used during the Olympic Games, giving the right to visit events and use Sochi infrastructure. Abzaltdinova created portraits of people who came to cheer up the Russian national team and volunteers of the Olympics, whose task was to ensure a friendly atmosphere and comfort for the Olympics guests, to demonstrate the famous Russian hospitality. Russian. Hospitality. For the photographer the most important theme of this part is people’ self-realization, feeling of national (civil) belonging. What does it mean to be a citizen of Russia? She demonstrates the complexity of the question, presenting a gallery of images, with the multiplicity of the national Russian identity, manifested, depending on the various factors, including self-understanding by the heroes of their social, regional, cultural affiliation.
And finally, the third part of the project: "Reserve". The "heroes" of the second part came out from the first part "Legends". Some of them settled in Sochi, adopting its artificial landscape created for the Olympic Games. Futurism and the innovative ideas of the Olympic Sochi project, which the guests admired in 2014, are gradually becoming familiar. Present in Sochi overtakes the future, the city gradually returns to the normal course of time from an incredible temporary situation of "future-present". The bright future of the Olympics is already in the past, it is history of the city.
The river of daily routine continues to flow in this soothing renewal of Sochi, fading after the revolutionary transformation. The new questions are born in this unhurried rhythm. The sociologists and political scientists view the 2014 Olympics as a "mega-event", how did it influence the people, quality of life for citizens and visitors? How the architecture and the new landscapes built for the mega-events, affect the climate and the wildlife? (Sochi is on the border of the national natural park). Will these territories remain protected in the future, or will they be developed by new inhabitants and will produce new myths? Time will show.
The last part of The Big Game was photographed 2 years after the Games. It addresses the problems of modern society archeology, reveals and systematizes artifacts of human activity. This is important not only for us, who is living today, accustomed to the signs of everyday life, and not thinking about the history we create. This is important for the next generations, who will be able to capture the traces of our activities from the photos and to see the scale of the accomplishments. There is a term for this is the history of photography: "to see and fix the human landscape". The landscape with traces of human life, and apart from the remains of routine, it keeps the monuments of our desire to realize ideals. The desired models of the future inspire the society to work and transform the world. We strive to bring the future closer, make it tangible, at least for a short time, as it was during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.
And the photographer comes to capture the field of the "Great Game".
Irina Yu. Chmyreva,
Ph.D. in History of Arts,
Member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA),
Institute of Theory and History
Russian Academy of Arts, Moscow