Weekend Portfolio: Sam Vladimirsky
In Samuel Vladimirsky’s (b. 1998) inaugural exhibition, the artist, a child of Soviet-Jewish immigrants, explores his identity as a first generation American. In his series Second-Hand Vision, he attempts to better understand his family history by re-staging photographs from numerous photo albums: these images range from daguerreotypes and early paper prints, to polaroids, negatives, I.D. photos, and studio portraits. In many photographs, the artist takes on the roles of various relatives himself, employing makeup, masks, prosthetics, and costumes to masquerade into myriad colorful characters. In others, he relies on surrogate devices, such as mannequins and miniatures, to act as stand-ins for long-gone ancestors.
By inserting himself into a history he never experienced first-hand, Vladimirsky is forced to project his own experiences, musings, and ideologies onto his family history, offering us an interpretation of what Soviet life might have been like. Thus, the series investigates how culture is constructed and passed down, the subjectivity of memory, and the role of photography in shaping family history and identity.
In his series Mother Russia, seen throughout the exhibition, the artist documents the imaginary travels of a fictional relative, who is an amateur photographer chronicling his immigration from the Soviet Union to New York (much like the artist’s own family members had done almost thirty years prior.) All of the images were staged on miniature sets, echoing similar questions of representation, mimesis, and performance as Second-Hand Vision. If the former series enabled Vladimirsky to better understand the individuals of his Soviet ancestry, then in this series, the artist sets foot into the landscapes that shaped them.
Through photographic play and the re-performance of history, Vladimirsky challenges the effects of Postmemory, a phenomenon which “describes the relationship that the ‘generation after’ bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before”—children of immigrants, in this case who are left to identify with the culture of their parents only “by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up.” The artist thus responds to his not having experienced Soviet life by reenacting his family’s past, effectively becoming an immigrant himself: a voyager to a fictional Soviet Union based on how it has been described to him.
Following a rich 180-year history of performing for the camera, the artist engages in an otherwise impossible dialogue across space and through time, between pixel and grain, from ancestor to descendent.
Special thanks are owed to Blake Bichler, Kate Ferraro, Katie Ganeline, Joshua Grebler, Cornelia Hediger, Emily Noonan, Lesley Schiff, Alex Schoenberg, Mary Shaw, Sydnee Sicherer, Emily Van Buskirk, Dina, Michael, and Rachel Vladimirsky, Andres Zervigon.