Choir N 1
LightJet Print / Kodak Endura, framed
180 x 142 cm
ed. of 3

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Kissina lets the uncanny swing like a grotesque pendulum from the humorous into hominess and back again: “I can see something you can’t see” Turning the pages of her biography you find references to the study of screenplay writing – a reference that helps to explain the complex and differentiated language of images in her photographic work. Kissina is a screenplay writer, director and photographer in one. Only as an actress in front of her own camera does she rarely appear.

Her current picture sequence consists of strangely encrypted photos of mostly young people who appear to be playing a role or to represent parallel states of existence. These days, particularly children are being metamorphosed (also by Hollywood directors working in the horror film genre) from their proverbial childlike innocence into small monsters. The genre is built upon suspense in which, initially, only slightly altered, irrational patterns of behaviour prepare the way for the protagonists’ sudden decline, where the uncanny and paranormal have the upper hand. Kissina plays with this pattern, including fear and the phantom world, when, for example, an old man with naked torso, upon whose round belly the word “LOVE” has been tattooed, appears. Rolling his eyes, he stands for being possessed by an evil spirit and at the same time for a caricature of an otherworldly hobgoblin.

In another picture of the series she contrasts a young girl in a white dress wearing a pointed hat on her head with a death mask made of cardboard hanging on the branch of a tree. This prop locates the situation outside in the forest, and the impression is supported by another image on the left edge of the picture: a snow-covered pine tree. But the girl isn’t wearing a coat, and her dress is short-sleeved, although the scene appears to be taking place in winter. The motif of the death mask in the tree on the right, which is not adorned by a snowy dress, reminds one rather of Halloween. And yet the events of the image refer us to another world beyond our own. Similar to the replicas in “Blade Runner”, the criteria and possibilities to differentiate the normal from the fictional remain uncertain. Where people of various ages appear simultaneously in pictures, particularly the adults seem to be the “uninitiated”, their emotional expression rather mundane.

Every picture in the new series accumulates a number of approaches in one scene, and thus the majority have the effect of being film stills. The people have been casted; all scenes are thoroughly staged, not merely found and observed. We are familiar with this technique from her work group “Toys” ten years ago, in which children and youths in the forest were equipped with third legs in stockings. Here, too, we encounter the motif of the artistic eye that – beyond the cinematic language of a Tarantino or a Lynch – refers to something enigmatic and fantastic.

The hands of a girl we see only in silhouette are spread out in the pictures of the series as if she wanted to warm them in an imaginary fire. Yet on the other hand, the carefully considered movement of her hand has the effect of being rather unintentional, as if a gesture of incantation. For the children and youths Kissina has photographed in the forest have the abilities of elves, fairies, gnomes, witches or fools. And we can do no more than describe them, since it is impossible to explain the vexing effect of these pictures and their absurd rituals.

We find ourselves in a fairy tale without beginning or end in which we turn the pages backwards and forwards, determining for ourselves the content and the conclusion of the tale. Somewhere beyond our day-to-day lives, the Russian artist weaves her story around contemporary youths and their obscure cults, viewing everything with the eyes of the other. Julia Kissina combines some of these childhood scenes with the motif of the blind seer as well as with the choir of ancient Greek drama. Behind this purported insight into the metaphysical or mythological levels of our world there lies a simple trick: Kissina paints black spots on the back of the hands and fingers of the protagonists of her stage experiments, and these conceal her own face or that of her co-actors. They appear to be artificial pupils that are not only able to see, but to reach more deeply into the fields of cognition – although we ourselves have to imagine them individually.

With these images Kissina, already known as a subtle story teller with or without her camera, describes dream and trance states; her artistic roots lie in surrealism and extend into our contemporary world. Everything is mere parody, and the blindness remains a purely intellectual construction.

Matthias Harder