Max Sher

29.01.2014 – 13.02.2014

Triumph Gallery, Moscow


Kristina Romanova

At the exhibition, the fate of the amateur photographer Nikitin is symbolized by spoiled photographic film. There are few documents here in the normal sense of the word — carefully preserved pieces of evidence, objects that have been subjected to the conservation at museums. But nevertheless, none of the items are the work of the imagination of the author or part of the fashion for mockumentary. Real events stand behind each of them, although these events are not always recognized easily or without additional research. They are the result of painstaking work with books and museums, and detailed conversations between people and Sher himself.


Two of these objects provoke particularly powerful emotions — empathy, anxiety, fear, sorrow. The first is a little known Siege diary that was kept by Pyotr Gorchakov. This is a "not-made-up" object. Originally drawn up in Braille (Gorchakov was visually impaired), then decoded and kept, according to Sher, in the All-Russian Society for the Blind. The descriptions of daily life are interspersed with heroic wishes to be of use to the Homeland. Sher again has one of the pages composed in Braille. Before us is a white sheet, the dots on it difficult to make out — it’s easier to feel them. Beyond this lies not just a modern, often fairly superficial interest in the world of the blind (we’ve had a series of such exhibitions in Moscow), but deep thought on the subject. For example, on the idea that we can’t present the daily torment of the besieged city through banned photographs, but we can through the diaries of an almost blind man who uses a great deal of visual metaphors. Here we recall other Siege diaries, the authors of which were arrested for keeping them, dying of dystrophy in prison camps or being shot.


Every artist achieves his goals in his own way, to a greater or lesser extent. The Lebanese Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige burn negatives of "beautiful Beirut", printing scorched postcards of pre-war beauties, while The Atlas Group, headed by Walid Raad, creates non-existent military documents. Thirteen Argentinian artists combined photographs and mirrors in the Identity project in order to assist in the search for children lost during the "Dirty War". The Iranian Bahman Jalali stamps his portraits with markings that were used under preceding political regimes at photographic studios, striking through their "revolutionary" red, the symbol of the censor — the depictions recall Soviet "vanished commissars". All this is done not with the aim of "falsifying history". On the contrary, it is done to graphically demonstrate that its back has been broken. In this context, Max Sher’s Map and Territory is one of the most fascinating projects to go beyond the framework of our own history and modernity alone.


Viktoria Musvik