First seen in 2014 at the Griffin, Running to the Edge by Julia Borissova is a beautiful series mixing image and object. Finding vintage photographs and adding organic materials, Borissova creates a sensory experience creating images as unique objects. As a featured artist in our online Corona exhibition we asked Julia about her work, and how light fills her days.
How does light play in your work?
Light is an important part of photographic art and is paramount to the artist. I will not go into details of the light-sensitivity of the silver halides as a key to the photographic process. But when I see old photographs, when I hold images of people from the past in my hands, I think about those rays of light that reflected from their real bodies and reached me, me here, now. As Susan Sontag says about photography: “A photograph of a missing creature will touch me like a retarded star’s rays.” And this is what excites me the most in my work.
Your work takes vintage photos, layered with organic blooms and reconstructs narratives into new tales. In bringing light to these anonymous people, how do you know when you have found the right combination of organic textures and new memories.
When I was working on the Running to the Edge project, I explored means of creating content in the photos through their physical presence as objects and connecting them with natural element. I was thinking about how our memory functions. When we recall something from the past, every time we create a different image, replacing some parts with new ones. I decided to try the same with photographs – adding flowers to the old photograph, I wanted to give them a new meaning, a new life. I specifically did not create any compositions, this happens intuitively.
Anonymity is important to you in your images. Do you find that these unidentified faces lift our general assumptions based on looks that allow the light to shine?
My way is a different one. Found images can be always a source of my inspiration. I bought all the photos that I used while working on “Running to the Edge” project at a flea market or antique shop. These photos are connected with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the first wave of emigration after it. Combining old photos and flowers petals, sometimes covering people’s faces and making them completely anonymous, I created an atmosphere of general and indefinite mourning for unknown to me people through the medium of photography, the medium that is traditionally valued for its claim to authenticity.
In this time of Corona, how do you find light in your day?
At this time, however, as always, creativity give me a sense of light, freedom and vitality.
What is next for you creatively? What are you working on?
I am working on several projects, one of which is still in the research process. Also, I continue to develop my project DOM (Document Object Model). “DOM” means a house, home or building in Russian language. I explore how our concept of home is changing over time and the notion of home is transforming in connection with the place in which we live. We are all used to moving from place to place, but today we are forced to stay at home. My question is: How have current circumstances influenced or changed our concept of “home”? I would like to collect the opinions of different people and make a small book to remember this time.
Review of Running to the Edge by Igor Lebedev –
Memory rolls in like waves causing a sudden and acute experience which doesn’t refer to a life of a specific person. This memory is connected to a cultural stratum. Everything is mixed here, the present and the past, some old photo portraits telling the stories of life which were erased by flow of time, dried flowers that represent markers of what was important but was forgotten, the memories of what happened, but couldn’t be remembered. So we can see it all in the pictures of the new series “Running to the Edge” by Julia Borissova.
The imperfection of memory provokes an artist to restore it, so in her work she turns to archives again and again, systematically reinterpreting them at the new levels of personal awareness of not ancestral memory but the memory of the nation. Through its reconstruction it’s easier to recover what has been lost and what has continued as consequences of birth traumas which took place in Russian history so often.
An archive is an anonymous evidence of elapsed time. The anonymity is inherent in a multi-level cultural de-identification of the past. However, despite the apparent constancy of its anonymity, it is surprisingly ready to manipulation according to the needs of everybody who faces it.
The material included in the archive has great variability of its stories, as a rule, on a superficial level, which can be read from the perspective of nostalgic feelings of the past time in the context of personal experience. But the work with an archive is not only a subconscious desire for nostalgic revival of the past or an affect of overcoming losses in a chain of generations, although it means also some sensual experiences. It is rather an intuitive feeling of the boundaries rigidly dissecting an established world order, an attempt to understand the reasons for the “explosion” that changes the lives of many generations. And, in the end, created statement based on fetishes (old photographs in this case), the objects of so-called personal museum according to Sigmund Freud is an expression of protest arising at the point where the traumatic overcoming of a loss merges with the desire to counteract the possibility of its recurrence in the future.
It seems that such attempt of expression protest is characteristic for Julia Borissova who in her works refers to events from Russian history connected with the revolution and after that the first wave of emigration. In the old pictures the author adds the multi-layer effect through the using collage technique. The pictures themselves already have the images of a distant, “frozen” by photography past while the fragments of flowers imposed on them marked the present undefined in the flow of time. The occurring in the gap of the past and the present becomes for the author the field of exploring her relationship with the historical predestination.
The people in the photographs can’t realize their future, but for the author it’s ajar from the other side, as the future-in-the past. This is the future as the opposite shore of rapid flow of history, which destroyed the whole world, erased the relations of collective memory, forced to experience the pain of the absence of something that wasn’t experienced. And the most important, provoked a conversation about the “deformed, broken world” made in our minds by the old Soviet and the new post-Soviet society in turns, whose features have collage nature.
curator, photographer, historian of photography
About Julia Borissova –
Julia Borissova is an Estonia-born, St Petersburg-based artist who works with photography, collage, installation and book making, to explore how history and memory are perceived through images. The book is her natural medium to contemplate real stories and blends documentary elements with imaginary things, trying to capture ephemeral, fragmentary and elusive memories.
Her artists’ books include: Looking for Dimitry (2019), Nomad (2019), Nautilus (2018), Let Me Fall Again (2018), White Blonde (2018), Red Giselle (2017), Libretto (2016), Dimitry (2016), J.B. about men floating in the air (2015), Address (2015), DOM (Document Object Model) (2014), Running to the Edge (2014), The Farther Shore (2013).
Borissova’s books can be found in the collections of many major institutions,including Tate Modern (London), Art Museum of Estonia Library (Tallinn), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), National Library of Spain (Madrid), Bibliographic Collection of The Municipal Archives of Lisbon, Centre for Fine Print Research. UWE (Bristol), Reminders Photography Stronghold (Tokyo), Indie Photobook Library (USA), the Library of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Phoenix Art Museum (USA).
Borissova has frequently exhibited her photography and books around the world in group and solo shows.
Academy of Photographic skills in 2009-2010.
Foundation of information and cultural projects “FotoDepartament”, program “Photography as a research”, 2011-2013.
Master class: Jan Grarup (Denmark, agency NOOR) class, 2011; Morten Andersen (Norway) class, 2011, 2012; Luuk Wilmering (Dutch) class, 2012; Anouk Kruithof (Dutch) class, 2013; Jaap Scheeren (Dutch) class, 2014; Workshop of the international photography magazine FOAM.
2019 – FOTO WIEN Photo Book Award – shortlist;
2019 – Riga Photomonth – shortlist;
2018 – Encontros da Imagem, Portugal – finalist;
2018 – Kassel Dummy Award, Germany – shortlist;
2017 – Riga Photomonth – shortlist;
2016 – “Encontros da Imagem”, Portugal – finalist;
2015 – “Unveil’d Photobook Award – winner;
2015 – FotoFilmic, Canada – winner;
2015 – Belfast Photo Festival – winner;
2014 – San Francisco International Photography Competition;
2013 – 1st place “International Fine Art Photography Competition” (France);
2013 – The Baltic Photo Biennale – winner
2018 – Maybe an Island, Vitland, Kaliningrad;
2017 – Julia Borissova, Artists’ Books Exhibition, Centre for Fine Print Research, Bristol, UK;
2017 – Running to the Edge, Metenkov’s House Museum, Yekaterinburg;
2016 – Beyond the Seen, The Yard Gallery, Exeter, UK
To see more of Julia Borissova‘s work visit her website.