Before Sleep / After Drinking
It is winter. Two men are standing on the edge of a street. The snow on the asphalt behind them has been trampled through. Their faces are worn, and they are holding what appears to be the massive rib cage of a freshly butchered animal. This image from Boris Mikhailov’s Case Histories series (1997–98) depicts individuals transformed by political, cultural, and social revolutions in Ukraine, which was formerly part of the Eastern Bloc. Mikhailov reveals the poverty, naked bodies, and sexuality of such antiheroes in his photographs. His unmediated approach to his environment and his merciless, brutally honest and near-voyeuristic visual language have made him one of the most important artists in his field. Mikhailov’s take on his homeland and its people is unique. The topics he has treated and his aesthetic have broken all taboos and influenced many of his contemporaries— even though his work was seldom shown until the 1990s. A grant took Mikhailov to New York in 1994 and to Berlin in 1996. From then on, he began to achieve international recognition. With a virtuosic oeuvre spanning almost 50 years, Boris Mikhailov is one of the leading figures in contemporary photography and represents, both politically and artistically, a new post-Soviet generation.
In celebration of Boris Mikhailov’s eightieth birthday, C/O Berlin will be showing more than 400 photographs that provide an overview of his oeuvre in its entirety. Themes like the body, system critique, mortality, and humor are interwoven with Mikhailov’s own biographical history. Projected images, framed pictures on the wall, and table display cases underscore the diversity of forms his work taken as well as the materiality of photography as object. Their interplay gives rise to a dense formalistic, ideological, and emotional dialog with Mikhailov’s life’s work.