Exhibition Statement from Second-Hand Vision: Postmemory and Photographic Play, Mana Contemporary, June 1-August 10, 2019
“I THINK THAT WE NEVER KNOW THE TRUTH BY BEING TOLD IT. WE HAVE TO EXPERIENCE IT IN SOME WAY. THAT IS THE ABIDING GRACE OF HISTORY. IT IS IN THE THEATRE THAT WE KNOW THE TRUTH.” —GREG DENING, HISTORIAN
In Samuel Vladimirsky’s 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.
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 descendant.