In the photography exhibition presented by SomoS Art House in Berlin, Sergey Melnitchenko (b. 1991, Ukraine) shares his series titled “Loneliness Online.” The series is a sociocultural research on pathogenicity in social networks, caused by the psychological effects of isolation. In this solo presentation curated by Anastasia Leonova, Melnitchenko casts a cool gaze on his subject, using an associative and lyrical method.
Loneliness Online marks a moment in time, when the novelty value of video-enabled technology was leading to wider adoption, while still maintaining an aura of mystique and an insider appeal (think Chatroulette rather than FaceTime). These randomized and anonymous online encounters were and still are a vital forum and an outlet for desires, not only exhibitionism, but a space of freedom, fueled by the anonymity and the digital remove. This also makes it a space of experimentation, not only shame, but release for many from the constraints of society and prejudicial attitudes they may encounter “in real life.”
Thus, in 2013 Melnitchenko created Loneliness Online, one of the artist’s first projects exploring the boundaries of public and intimate spaces, by experimenting with a kind of cameraless photography only recently enabled by our increasingly intimate relationship with digital devices:
The project represents of the state of loneliness through the pairing of solitary images of trees and strangers’ bodies as seen in video chat rooms online. Melnitchenko brings a layer of complexity and a poetic meaning through his sensitive juxtaposition of the intimate imagery.
About Sergey Melnitchenko
Born in 1991, Sergey Melnitchenko is a rising star of the Ukrainian underground photography community, fearlessly seeking out challenging subjects such as masculinity in Ukraine, the secretive backstage world of showgirls in China, and queer, transgender, and other marginalized identities throughout the world. His deep immersion in these topics allows him to photograph his subjects at their most vulnerable, affording us insights into the extremely intimate moments in the everyday life of these people. His creative approach extends beyond the traditional boundaries of the medium of photography, involving collage and installation to further contextualize his work, blending elements of the political with his personal, poetic and often conceptual approach.
The Ukrainian photographer is a member of Ukrainian Photographic Alternative, a collective that promotes contemporary photography in Ukraine. Melnitchenko’s recent photo essay “Behind the Scenes” offers an intimate peek into the underground nightlife of the Chengdu nightclub in China and was honored with the Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award in 2017. Additionally, he has been named Photographer of the Year (Kiev, Ukraine) in 2012, 2013, and 2016. His work has been internationally exhibited in over 10 solo shows and over 50 exhibitions worldwide.
Sergey Melnitchenko. Loneliness online.
Exhibition essay by Anastasia Leonova and Brooke Mason Cheney
In the recesses of the world wide web, randomized video chat provides a platform for the lonely people of the world. Such chatrooms create complex layers of paradox; chatters are at once anonymous and exposed, alone and in company, in the privacy of their homes and on the public, global internet. In this space that is inherently paradoxical, it is not surprisingly that socially deviant behaviors should appear. Here, we focus on exhibitionism, intimate performances exchanged between geographically distant individuals. We consider the chatroom used as a stage-a stage on which the socially suppressed, the ugly and lonely, might bare their bodies.
Inspired by such anonymous exhibitionism, Sergey Melnitchenko began one of his first projects-“Loneliness online.” “Spending time in video chatrooms with my friends, I was surprised by the interesting hobby of some young and not so young people from different countries to show the camera their genitals, and sometimes doing it in the most extraordinary ways. I started devoting more time to these chats, especially to trying to find such people.” Exploring the boundaries of public and intimate spaces, in this project “Leica newcomer” Melnitchenko does not use his camera at all: “I waited until I come across such a companion, then “photographed” him by pressing “Prt Sc.” For all the time I spent in the video chats, I captured about 200-300 of such characters, and then selected the most interesting in my opinion. These selections became the left side of the pictures.” Milnitchenko’s employment of general trash aesthetics (printscreens and mobile low-quality pictures) emphasizes the mass-culture focus and implications of the project.
Like the protagonist in Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac,” who has been looking for sex and the perfect tree through all her life, Sergei creates similar juxtapositions with his sexual nudes. The trees, in their stoic height, echo the proud posture of the exposed body. Just as the lilies of the field sway in their regal nudity, the intimately anonymous chat user bares his body.
The sexually explicit nature of these images is undeniable. “Loneliness online” also looks beyond the sexualized body to understand the impulse for exhibitionism. Melnitchenko proposes that such acts are prompted by the psychological trauma of isolation. Moreover, he attempts to measure the potential virulence of an isolated individual to society at large. By asserting their bodies into a space both public and private (the web), the men that Melnitchenko captures challenge social oppression and isolation. In doing so, they are at once proud and shameful, powerful and oppressed-the platform produces endless paradox. The series exposes the socially isolated as they expose themselves: aggressive yet vulnerable, assuming yet insecure. In the gallery, exposure to such explicit vulnerability exposes the viewer himself.
Five years after its creation, “Loneliness online” in SomoS gallery does not make a moral statement. By moving these “performers” from the computer screen to the gallery, we raise questions about the nature of loneliness, locating it in the body. Most of all, we ask: “How dangerous is loneliness?” or “Does exposure equal company?”
Brooke Mason Cheney
Sergey Melnitchenko – Loneliness Online
Curated by Anastasia Leonova
Curatorial Essay by Anastasia Leonova & Brooke Mason Cheney
Opening: June 6, 6–9pm
Duration: June 7–16, Tues-Sat 2–7pm
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