Book Review: Method By Sasha Kurmaz
By Katherine Bourgeois
Young Ukrainian Sasha Kurmaz began his artistic practice tagging the walls of Kiev in the early aughts, where urban vandalism and a zest for playful semiotics seamlessly lead him to conceptual photography. Initially, he began photographing his work because the removal of graffiti was expected within days, if not hours. Progressively more interested in the production of images rather than codified signs, he exclusively works in photography now, with a guerilla twist.
Certainly a child of postmodern thought, Kurmaz’s work provides a reflection of the ubiquity of the image today. Through what he calls “hacking,” he places shocking photos in unexpected public spaces: naked women plastered above public urinals, pornographic images placed in front of CCTV cameras, photos hidden in randomly selected books at a Kiev bookstore. Many of the projects displayed in Method are experiential and personal to varying degrees. He had a friend blindfold and guide him around Minsk, taking photos blindly, then once the images were developed he was able to compare tangible images to his sensory responses. Kurmaz's work is decidedly young and playful with a touch of dark social consciousness. At his most audacious and arguably most subversive, he removed billboard light box advertisements in Kiev and Vienna and replaced them with images of the urban homeless. In one of the billboards, we see a down-and-out man lifting his shirt to display Lenin’s face tattooed across his chest. Another shows a clean-cut couple seemingly taking a selfie next to a homeless man in a wheelchair, willfully unaware of his proximity and destitution. The exposure and quality of the photo resemble that of a polished advertisement, so its initial impact is subtle-- the viewer does a double take. One cannot help but consider these images to be specifically symptomatic of the artist’s loaded relationship with capitalism not only as a millennial, but as a member of the last generation born in Ukraine under the USSR.
Kurmaz says his goal is to “dispel the magical aura of the market,” and to “clean the city of unnecessary and useless information,” such as ugly and empty advertisements. He urges his audience to question their everyday surroundings; for him, art is participation. In this way, he brings to question the traditional practice of photography— disinterested in the academia and former rigidity of the medium, he is concerned with the functionality of the curated image.