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Exhibition Review: Anthony Suau
Beyond The Fall
The Former Soviet Bloc in Transition 1989 - 1999

By Andrew Jack

MOSCOW, 2 May 2000
Looking at the photographer Anthony Suau’s Beyond The Fall perspective is a striking way to re-live the momentous decade of the 1990s, which was arguably the most important ten years of the twentieth century.

While the period that most caught the headlines and popular imagination was concentrated around one place at one timeBerlin in 1989 just as important is the transition that followed the swift collapse of Communism. Not to mention the different forms that it took across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Such a subtle and continuing process does not easily lend itself to words, let alone to images. But the 1990s was a highly visual decade, and the events taking place in the regionwith their shift towards a generally less totalitarian form of control made it far simpler to capture the events on film than in the past.

Suau begins in Berlin, but his selection in this retrospective exhibition focuses largely on areas further east, and in times more recent; including some of the more newsworthy subsequent events, but also far more subtle and less immediately photogenic studies of aspects of everyday life.

There is a certain nostalgia and timelessness in some of the images, most notably in Romania, with which he seems to share a strong affinity. The tender pictures of rural lifea fairground; people working in the fields; children playing games; and above all a cyclist dozing on verge of a road could almost have been the work of Robert Doisneau in France many years before.

There are some striking pictures of the old and the new, with a cash dispenser crudely slapped into a grey wall in place of one of four uniform display cases carrying bureaucratic notices and extracts from newspapers.

He portrays the gradually building tensions in the early 1990s, and the parallels in the ethnic tensions unleashed by the collapse of Communism, in Bosnia, but also in lesser-known Abkhazia in Georgia. His images of a war-torn Groznyin fact taken five years ago during the first contemporary Chechen warare a reminder of how such conflicts continue to fester and explode today.


Anthony Suau: Sukhumi, Abkhazia 1993: Executed Georgian soldiers
© Anthony Suau
Photo courtesy of Manezh Exhibition Centre, Moscow

Arguably the most haunting and depressing images are those of Russia, however. Almost all are in black and white, which helps to accentuate the gloom and tensions of the country today. A rare, ironic, exception, portrays in full colour the two miserable and lonely shirts that hang in an otherwise empty department store in central Moscow in 1992.

There are the political events that shaped the time, often taken from unusual angles, such as the curious four members of staff watching mass pro-Boris Yeltsin demonstrations on Red Square in 1993 from a bedroom in the Rossiya Hotel; or the confusion of spontaneous protest among the anti-Yeltsin forces at the same time.

But even the scenes of everyday life have a harshness about them. There is the nonchalant shot of a corpse, victim of part of the daily currency of contact killings. And two pictures showing the similar indifference to the living, with two pensioners in their spartan surroundings.


Anthony Suau: Pensioner, Moscow, Russia 1994
© Anthony Suau
Photo courtesy of Manezh Exhibition Centre, Moscow

There is the bleak industrial brutality so often repeated across the country, and well highlighted in a simple shot of endless identical apartment balconies; or an image of three children playing across the depressing backdrop of pipelines and machinery in the northern town of Norilsk.

The extremes of contemporary Russian society are well, if somewhat crudely, reflected in a picture of Tverskaya Street in Moscow in 1994, portraying a slumped drunk, a man hurrying on his way juxtaposed against a reflection of an advertisement for "West" cigarettes, with a Western smoking and dreaming of a beach holiday.


Anthony Suau: Moscow, Russia 1994
© Anthony Suau
Photo courtesy of Manezh Exhibition Centre, Moscow

Even the scenes that ought to be more up-liftingof a fashion show, of well-dressed nouveaux riches in a nightclub, or of dinner in a well-known "approved" artist’s luxurious apartment somehow only resonate a superficiality and excess which is part of the extremes of Russia today.


Anthony Suau: Nightclub, Moscow, Russia 1994
© Anthony Suau
Photo courtesy of Manezh Exhibition Centre, Moscow

Unintrusively, the organisers have added a series of texts which combine three different perspectives on the period effectively: that of Suau himself; the academic Jacques Rupnik; and the writer Tatiana Tolstaya, who powerfully describes the contrast between the desperation of the early 1990s among some of her acquaintances, and the equally uneasyand short-lived decadance that followed.


Beyond The Fall
Manezh Exhibition Centre, Moscow

After Moscow, Anthony Suau: Beyond The Fall will travel to the following venues:

Bilbao, Spain: Fundacion BBK
4 October - 26 November 2000
 
Lisbon, Portugal: Centro Cultural de Belem
5 April - June 17 2001

Novorossiisk, Russia: State Historical Museum
4 October - 21 October 2001

Stavropol, Russia: State Local-History Museum
4 November - 2 December 2001

St. Petersburg, Russia: Russian Museum-Marble Palace
8 February - 21 March 2002

Anthony Suau Web Site

Andrew Jack is a British journalist based in Moscow and the author of The French Exception (Profile Books, London). He is also a member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.com.


 

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