It’s surprisingly, but one of the most successful Belorussian artists Igor Savchenko hasn’t got any art education. On the contrary, in 1985 he successfully graduated from the Minsk Institute of Radio Engineering and then had been working as an engineer for several years.

These few years had become for him the time of exploration of his style as a photographer. In 1989 he presented his first project – the series of photographs “Alphabet of Gestures”, which had been updated with new images up to 1994.

The photos from this series were performed in an unusual technique of re-photograph. Savchenko had selected the photos of the 30-60s from the family archives and then selectively photographed some areas, cropping and thus modifying the meanings of images. The object of his interest, as the name implies, was the body language, a nonverbal sign: all irrelevant has been removed from the photos, all that distracts the attention, so gestures could appear in their symbolic nature. Such a “bare” sign devoid of contextual and narrative “garments” provokes a strong reaction of spectators, like a bare nerve.

Igor Savchenko / photo under the symbol 10-94-4 (from the series “Alphabet of Gestures – 1”)

The next project “Shadows” (1989-1993), which central objects-signs were human figures, was the logical extension of this concept. The photos, where on a sterile, devoid of details background we see human figures reduced to the graphic symbols of some unknown code, offer the spectator to unravel himself and provide them with subjective sense. Such images are, in some sense, anti-photographic: the photographed reality, which manifests itself in details, is deliberately deprived of these details. That is, a photo ceases to function in a copy mode of reality. In such cases, according to Baudrillard’s idea, when real objects lose one of their dimensions, their presence becomes magic [1]: visual images begin to be regarded as “sensual mystifications”, which may be symbolically acquired by a spectator.

Igor Savchenko / photo under the symbol 2-93-5 (from the series “Shadows”)

In this steadfast gazing at the pictures of other people lays the confidence in some double bottom of a photograph (and therefore in the very reality, from which, according to Roland Barthes, the photograph is inseparable). Through the re-copy of the archival photographs Savchenko sought and found the gaps [2] in the veil that hides the reality from a superficial glance. Because of its sensitivity, bordering with mistrustfulness, he sees some mystical, true state of affairs through them. Such an intention to search for characters, as if they are scattered by an unknown but tangible force inside the very reality, can be called romantic. It composes the basis of “the author’s style” – a romantic position of the artist Savchenko that appears in all his works.

Igor Savchenko / photo under the symbol 10-92-2 (from the series “Alphabet of Gestures – 1”)

As Olga Kopenkina rightly said, in the works of Igor Savchenko you can see the transition from the symbolization of reality to the historical narrative [3]. While in the first three projects (“The Alphabet of Gestures 1.2” and “Gestures”) Savchenko attached great importance to the variety of non-verbal communication symbols, in the following series (starting with the “Mysteries”) his photos acquire a new dimension – historical. The artist becomes a narrator of stories, the witnesses of which were the photos: he complements these stories with his author’s marks (scratches, lines, dots) and signatures, so that the photos acquire an additional meaning.

Igor Savchenko / “Remaining not deleted” (from the series “Mystery 1”)

In this and following series the romantic position is manifested more clearly. In the stories he describes there are always some fatality and predestination. People on the photos (“Remaining not deleted”, “Wait for his main crack” and others) clearly have no control over what happens to them (or has already happened for the spectator of the photo).  Some kind of a higher power which puts scratches and dots on the photographs and against which the portrayed people are powerless, acts in this photos.

Igor Savchenko / “Waiting for his main crack” (from the series “Mystery 1”)

In the project “We speak German” (1991) Savchenko refers to the time of World War II, when, according to his words, intercultural relations have reached their climax. War, as a specific mode of existence, has always possessed a terrible, but in a certain sense, romantic halo. During the war, there is always a place for an individual act of bravery. This is the time of the most palpable alienation of individuals and the time when fatalism as a position is the most appropriate.

Igor Savchenko / “Ich kenne sie” (from the series “Wir sprechen Deutsch”)

Savchenko gradually comes to the refusal of using photography as an art medium, “… The world doesn’t want to be photographed, and its disastrous confrontation is growing”. In the fight against the superior element – environmental reality – the artist concedes. Two parallel trends develop in his works – the reduction of the visual and the enrichment of narrative. They reach their apogee in “The Invisible” (1993-1994) and “Commented Landscapes” (1994-1995). In the series “The Invisible” the visual completely disappears from the pictures: we see only exposed or unexposed images. The only thing these pictures are valuable at is the fact of their existence. They become silent confirmations of their signatures. Thus, the stories they tell acquire an extra persuasiveness.

Igor Savchenko / “Her portrait he once made – when they met last time; the lens cap he forgot about remained unremoved” (from the series “The Invisible”)

In “Nach Osten. Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell” (1994-2002) Savchenko creates realistic audio-visual collages, in which he explores the aesthetic and ideological similarity between the Soviet and Nazi regimes. He imposes the music on pre-war newsreel fragments: the Soviet music is superimposed on the German newsreel and vice versa (e.g., the Soviet song “Higher and higher” on the fragments of “Triumph of the Will,” by Leni Riefenstahl). The audio fragment named “Free evening of Otto Stolz” (1999) is quite notable in this project.  It is an audiotape of the Eighth Symphony of Anton Bruckner made during its performance. On the record we can clearly hear the sounds emitted by a person in the room: the author narrates his thoughts arising during the performance of the symphony. So with Igor Savchenko’s brings luck, Otto Stolz – the protagonist of this work – appears.

Igor Savchenko / “Twenty seven seconds. Demiurge’s Practicing” / 2010

In his latest project – “Nine, eight, six. Three numbers of Field-Marshal-General Keitel” (2009) and “Twenty seven seconds. Demiurge’s Practicing” (2010) – Savchenko gives each spectator the opportunity to become a demiurge for some time, to construct certain events and to experience them. The projects provide step by step instructions for modeling situations: following them, you can, for example, feel what Wilhelm Keitel felt at the time of signing the document of capitulation of Germany in World War II, or control the situation on a small area of the Minsk road. In order to feel full like a creator of the reality, you need only a little imagination and sensitivity, which is inherent to romantic and dreamy natures.


[1] Jean Baudrillard. Aesthetics of disillusionment / / Elements. Vol. 9, 2000.

[2] Or punctums, as Roland Barthes designated those breaks in the mind of a person, who contemplates the photo.

[3] Olga Kopenkina. The disaster, which nevertheless happened / / Art Journal, 28-29


/ Igor Savchenko’s website

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