SAATCHI GALLERY until March 23rd.
Untitled (Essence Series), 2013, C-print, 119.2 x 101.5 cm, (c) Denis Tarasov, courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
The art critic Brian Sewell, writing in the London Evening Standard about the current exhibition Body Language, remarks that "the spaces of the Saatchi Gallery are splendid, lofty, vast, the lighting brilliant…the immediate consequence is that the paintings it houses are given false authority, and we stand before them in veneration as though before an altarpiece. But they…deserve no such response".
Is he right? The walls of Gallery 5 of the current exhibition Body Language are covered not with paintings but photographs of the dead as they appear engraved on Russian and Ukrainian gravestones and memorials. Men (mostly) model lavish clothes, smart suits, perhaps immaculate knee-high black leather boots. Their accessories might include glamorous cars, fine alcohol, furs, jewellery and expensive furniture, set against prestigious and beautiful architecture. Like the man in this photograph many stare directly at the viewer. One man is seated at a small table. Leaning back, half turned away from us as if in conversation with someone we cannot see, our eyes drift towards his hands studded with large gold rings.
What is striking is the size, the physicality of these memorials. In an email exchange with The Huffington Post Tarasov remarks that in the 1990s large and expensive 'mobster' tombstones, some 10ft high, began to appear. Chalk on a blackboard can be rubbed out. Smooth sand on a beach will be washed blank. But the intricate engraving of these tombstones is intended to last. We stand in Gallery 5. Room for reflection, perhaps, if not "veneration". Yes, these men (mainly) who were once alive are now undoubtedly dead and physically unrecognisable. Yes, perhaps this is an accurate record of how they were at some time in their lives, Or are they intended to be inspirational, to live on as heroes, to stand out and surpass all the dead in the cemetery, (as well as the people they tried to outdo in life)? After all, Christian iconography dared to use saints and benefactors - some of whom at least modelled service to the poor or the fight against the evils of their age – to be shining examples to us all.
The background in many of Tarasov’s photographs feature leafy cemeteries with plants and trees pulsing with life. Sometimes he has allowed the heads of yarrow or fern or grass - reassuringly alive and well and commonplace - to push their way into the picture,
To see more of Tarasov's photographs go to: