The Collage Panopticon of Sergiy Polonsky

The Collage Panopticon of Sergiy Solonsky





18 august - 21 august



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By Oleksandra Osadcha

Photo credit: MOKSOP museum of Kharkiv school of photography 

The artists arriving from the Kharkiv School of Photography have a bold and instantly recognisable method of working with photographic material and (local) printing techniques. Their basic principles were shaped by the balance of two directions in photography – one focused on social reflection, and another focused on exploring the possibilities of the medium itself. But almost all representatives of the Kharkiv School of Photography had periods of engagement with the technique of collage.

One prominent protagonist of the Kharkiv School of Photography is Sergiy Solonsky (b. 1957), who became an active participant of the Ukrainian photographic community in the late 1980s. Solonsky’s compositions develop the principle of “module collage”, which is based on creating an image by repeating one element.

The 1990s were the period of vagueness, marginalisation and frustration in the former USSR and this chaotic situation resonates in Solonsky’s series of blurry nude self-portraits, Oscillations (1992). Whereas most of his peers preserve the impression of a visual coherency and harmony, Solonsky courageously applies a more complex dissonance: his collages are inhabited by women with many breasts, hermaphrodites, antique-like sterile torsos without heads or hands, or personages without the body, etcetera.

There is a huge temptation among critics to review Solonsky’s works as if rooted in the aesthetics of the 19th century photography of the Victorian epoch, specifically in relation to the love for illusions and abnormality. However, it would be wrong to think that the author is stuck in the nostalgia for this “fin de siècle”. The truth is, the ‘archival’ elements of his collage pieces reflect certain experiences of living between significant historical times, and this mood was dictated by the atmosphere of the final decade of the 20th century, the Post-Soviet era.

According to Moscow artist Semyon Faibisovich, the totalitarian Soviet period was defined by a huge, almost suffocating tension. After the collapse of the USSR, “new visual reality felt fragmented and totally irrelevant”, he notes in his essay “Objectivity”. The fear of KGB interference did not evaporate immediately, slowing down changes in the mentality of the people and artistic experiments such as executed by Solonsky were still perceived as being somewhat risky, in the early 1990s.

The inherent sense of monumentality blends with childish curiosity in the work of Solonsky, and this striking duality makes him one of the key figures of the Kharkiv School of Photography – who had significantly more creative freedom after the decades of state control, yet the ghost of that power structure remained present and this somehow echoes in their legacy.

You can learn more about Sergei Solonsky’s oeuvre and the work of other representatives of Kharkiv School of Photography at KHARKIV PHOTO FORUM at MOKSOP.


KHARKIV PHOTO FORUM is the first interdisciplinary forum dedicated to a thorough analysis and contextual study of the Kharkiv School of Photography. The forum will be held on Аugust 18-21, 2020 in an online format. The main events of the forum will be an international scientific conference, exhibition projects, and talks with Ukrainian and foreign experts.