Located in Barcelona, Paradigmas is a gallery owned by Brazilian artists, and husband and wife team, Chico Amaral and Angélica Padovani. Their goal is to create a dialogue between Latin American and European artists, displaying paired works from both continents. Ilana Lichtenstein and Levan Tsulukidze were brought together for their last exhibition Casualmente Fotographia (Coincidentally Photography) by curator Gloria Fernández.
Ilana lives in São Paulo and most of her photos in this series “An eruption and another” were taken on the island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. Levan has lived in Barcelona for 12 years, and was born and raised in Georgia. His photographs document a summer in Barcelona. Ilana and Levan are linked by their desire to document, and to leave the photographs unaltered.
Ilana’s photographs document the small space between photographer and her subject. The images are often textured by the grain of slide film in low light, sometimes made milky as though looking through a window, or catching the shadows of an event. Printed on cotton paper, Ilana’s photos feel soft and intimate. No glass covers the work when displayed so the depth of blackness is not impeded by shine.
Levan chooses to step back, sometimes looking at the landscape from above, choosing compositions that are flat with colors heightened by bright light. Though visually in contrast, both artists evade landmarks or monuments, in search of the quotidian reality of place.
When I began contemplating their work, I was inclined to seek out how their cultural identity is revealed in their art, but as Ilana wrote in response, “everything is really an amalgam.” She explains: “I shouldn’t forget that I am at the same time Brazilian, born in the huge city of São Paulo, with Polish roots…I wouldn’t be able to separate or to define with just a couple of words which one should be my identity.”
While viewing art in the gallery, before talking with her, I was unable to recognize anything Brazilian in Ilana’s art, so I asked Chico, the gallery director, if he had any sense of her cultural background. He said that when me met Ilana, yes, it was clear that she is Brazilian, but there is nothing in her art that reveals it. He commented on her personal aesthetic of building very dark, though not depressing, imagery. I wondered if living in the global city of São Paulo had contributed to a need to internalize and find her personal vision and methods.
Ilana elegantly wrote this response to me: “…being born in a big and restless city like mine, I feel very much attracted to places of silence or emptiness. Or to a kind of feeling…with sensitiveness, quietude, like on my portraits where people have their eyes closed or are standing backwards. A quest for a deep breath. At the same time, I will never be sure at what point this taste for a dark or silent side is a reaction, or if it would have grown the same way if my great-grandparents had never left Poland, or if we were all born in Japan.”
Levan’s art has a similar feeling of anonymity about it. When I questioned him, he said that he recognized himself more than his culture in his work, and although he felt like there probably is some influence on his art as a Georgian, his point of view is global. He sees himself as distinctly Georgian, but feels comfortable and inspired in Barcelona, and occasionally travels for work and pleasure, corresponding with me about this article from Vietnam.
The emphasis for contemporary artists is to find their voice. Confined to a geographic location, artists may find their identity or subject matter from within a group. However, Ilana says “I don’t have a commitment to doing ‘Brazilian art’, for example, I feel very grateful and fond of the work of Brazilian-born artists who have composed and still compose my path, and who I’ve met here.” Our (developed) world has long lost such solid boundaries. The traveler and migrant are exposed to a vast sea of influence.
“…it’s the feeling of being in a kind of strangeness that instigates me,” Ilana says of traveling, “I feel comfortable when not understanding, somehow, because it leads to another kind of relationship with the entourage.” About a trip to Japan, she says: “I couldn’t read any of the signs or decode the words spoken, so it was the bliss of a marvelous country open for the imagination.”
Donald Barthelme spoke about the process of “not-knowing” as integral to artistic endeavor. Travel is a means to provoke this state of “strangeness”, to be removed from habit and habitual knowledge, to find that unknown moment of invention.
In her dyptich, Ilana describes the reasoning for her grainy imagery: “…as Vilém Flusser – a Czech philosopher who has lived in São Paulo for a long time – tells, or from what I understood, it is vital to push the limits of the machine further; at least to try to go beyond its programme. And also I had very low light and wanted to take the picture of this boy sleeping…” Photography is a medium that strips away the artifacts of the artist’s hand; there is no brush stroke. Even so, Ilana allowed herself to find this image that is imbibed in her personality.
The photographers, Ilana and Levan, do not use the figure to make portraits; the camera is not thrust upon the subjects in the photographs; the role of the landscape is not as background to the action or character. Instead, the photos are expressive fragments, the subjects are landscape, and the landscapes show personality. Maybe due to comfort or distance, both Ilana and Levan photograph people who rarely engage the lens. Instead of dominating the experience, the photographer is free to observe and is let loose from the reactivity that the camera often cultivates.
Ilana is represented in São Paulo by Galeria Virgilio. She has participated in group shows in São Paulo such as Presenças (Appearances) at Galeria Zipper and 12 exemplares at Associação Cultural Cecília. She studied communications at Escola de Comunicações e Artes, University of São Paulo, then studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris, investigating image and memory. She trained in photography at Centre Iris pour la Photographie in 2009 and Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado in 2011-2012.
Levan Tsulukidze holds a degree in European Studies from the University of Leeds and studied video editing and graphic design at the Asociación Española de Empresas Multimedia. He participated in the 15/15 Film Festival, Australia, where his film Pinza it was nominated as best experimental video. He also worked as Director of Photography for El Debate, a film produce by the Centre d’Estudis Cinematogràfics de Catalunya.