Alexander Philipchenko :
Essay On Massurrealism

August, 2000
Translated by Alex B. Nemsev

Alexander Philipchenko (Born 1960 Leningrad, Russia - now St. Petersburg) worked as a photographer during the late 1970's at the Leningrad Organization of Artists of the USSR. From 1990 to 1995 Philipchenko worked as an artist in the Netherlands doing mixed media work and participated in the PUNT UIT magazine as well as the International Photo Biennale in Rotterdam. In 1994 he received a grant from SCCA St. Petersburg and produced a catalog of Photoworks and Collages. Alex Philipchenko's works are inthe State Russian Museum and has been published internationally. Click here to read the original Russian version. русская версия находится здесь

To get to the essence of this term, which is a combination of the names of two artistic styles. What is it, today, that we can call surrealism? What is quite obvious is that surrealism as a tendency in art or as the wish to express what is transcendental to workaday awareness has been around since the very beginning of culture. In those times, pictorial art existed as a tool to be used in various magic or religious cults and only later, after several stages of secularization, it became a stand-alone cultural entity. During the epoch of renaissance, when man was proclaimed the center of the universe and the measure of all harmony, this process seemed irreversible. The following age of Enlightenment, with its infinite belief in the potentialities of natural studies and rational thinking, could have been, seemingly, the consummation of surrealism as a tendency in art. Yet unlike science, art develops in cycles, fluctuating between two polar tendencies, that is, reflecting the dialectics of rational and irrational artistic conceptions. Considering the period between the medieval and new times, that is, stepping a bit aside from a straight line, we can classify Roman art, Italian proto-renaissance, Quatrocento, the "Grand Style" of Louis XIV, the classical trends, and Empire as rational thinking. Classified as irrational will be, in this case, such styles as Gothic, baroque, impressionism, Arte Nuove, surrealism, and modernism… I think, surrealism as a response to man’s mystical and irrational motivations may be discerned in the phantasmagoric pictures of Hieronymus van Aeken Bosch; the landscapes of Pieter Breughel the Elder; the megalomaniacal projects of K. N. Ledoux, a French architect; and the works of a German romanticist Caspar David Friedrich…

When, in 1924, André Breton, a student of psychoanalysis who kept in step with his time, proclaimed that to restore the viability of art the subconscious had to be extricated, it was just another, I think–not the most profound, manifestation of the continued development of surrealism… Later, the teaching of Sigmund Freud was followed by the works of Carl Gustav Jung, which opened new horizons. Psychology adopted new categories, which originated from mystical and religious spheres… The psychedelic revolution, which occurred during 1960s, resulted in extraordinary public interest for religion and esoteric teachings… In 1990s, a recurrence occurred, the emergence of House Culture… Notably, the initial radically mystical, scientific-philosophical or religious aspirations of the founders of these trends, later on as they were increasingly popularized, commercialized, and utilized by mass media, acquired a new content. This may be where the sphere of Pop Art issues begins. Also noteworthy is that such prefixes as sur, trans, and meta jumped from the pages of theosophical treatises straight onto magazine covers, the t-shirts of the young, and into shop windows while the cult-word "virtual" related semantically to "surrealistic" has now become the object of near-religious or near-messianic aspirations of the young. The statement is in order that the development, in a new shape, of surrealistic cravings in the consciousness of contemporary man is continuing and that the new shape is brought on by contemporary computer technologies.

All this makes me believe that James Seehafer’s term "massurrealism" as the definition of the tendencies reflected in the contemporary pictorial art is well-grounded and quite well-timed. Of course, also in order is the reservation that massurrealism does not mean any unification of artistic styles. Just the opposite, it allows quite a variety of creative forms in art. The artists who belong to this trend are united in that they all aspire to leave the realm of realistic images and discover or model a new reality with the use of the possibilities afforded to them by contemporary technology. As an example demonstrating one of the possible styles within this trend I will name what I call "meta-realism".

Have you ever noticed that, when remembering the past events of your own life or public events that have become history, you enter a very special temporal situation? In it, everything lives and moves: clouds, rivers, people working in the fields, aging, and dying, wars and revolutions occurring. Yet while seeing and feeling it all, you are like nothing and everything, estranged yet present in all. The flow of time does not touch you. Probably, this is ETERNITY. Just maybe, the pursuit of this condition, the wish to enter it, is the ultimate goal of my art.

The first time I discovered this "meta-reality" was when I saw the works of Pieter Breughel the Elder. His pictures marked the beginning of my artist’s career. Through them I came to the realization of my creative objectives.

Of the many works I completed within the past ten years, I would like to select several, which to me seem the most interesting and revealing the inner motifs of my art. Yet first I would like to tell a little about myself. Since 1977, I have been engaged in professional photography. I have been doing it for a living and, in the Soviet time, I had to have a legitimate occupation. I did not then think photography had enough expressive potential to be interesting as creative work. Only as late as in the end of 1980s, being a fan of lucism, which is a form of cubism, I decided to use photographic images instead of drawn ones. During the first years, my works were large, averagely 2 by 3 meters, black and white collages composed of separate shots–glimpses[1] . The principal topics were energy and movement ("Ice Floating on the Fontanka-river 1990, "Twilight in the Zagorodny"1989). I drew parallels between the rhythms [2] of my energy compositions and the structures of house music ( on Russian Massurrealism server, St. Petersburg'; return true">"…still alive"1994). By mid-1980s, my youthful infatuation with the house style began to cool, the rhythms of the pictures slowing down. I became interested in the creation of a "world-feeling" in 3D ("March"1994, "The Three Graces"1993). Later, in these discrete compositions, medieval art motifs became gradually revealed ( on Russian Massurrealism server, St. Petersburg'; return true">"January"1993). The next step was melting the fragments pictures consisted of into a unity, which produced a special "meta-reality" ("Silence"1997). My next cycle of works "The Image of the City in a Temporal Context" was an effort to create special reality ectypes, each existing in its own time ("The Hermitage"1997, "The Council of the Kirovsky District"1999) [3]. The cycle consists of twelve works, each dealing with a certain historical-cultural epoch and a certain style in the architecture of St. Petersburg. This was the last series, in which the traditional photo-collage technique was used (shooting, color printing, the mounting of fragments, color retouching, and redrawing of certain elements). The following works I did with the use of a computer whose special potentials [4] help me compose unique space situations while preserving the simplicity and clarity of the compositions. I am trying to take the images produced by my pictures outside purely visual situation with a hint of transcendental conflicts ( on Russian Massurrealism server, St. Petersburg'; return true">"Winter Dreams"1999, " The Heaviness of the Sun"1998). In the meantime, I pay special attention to the depictive qualities of the works, the expression of light-air relationship, and the creation of a profound space configuration ( on Russian Massurrealism server, St. Petersburg'; return true">"After a Thunder-storm" 2000). At this time, talking of a decline of art culture is definitely in order. Yet new computer technologies allow to bring some old aesthetic dimensions into new art. This possibility is now central to my creative work.•

[1] In a photographic card, the whole landscape can not be seen. We see the space fragment by fragment. Then our imagination brings it all together, conditionally. This is the psychological principle I imitated in my works, leaving the reconstruction of the whole picture to the viewer's mind — Author.

[2] Following the author's expression — Translator.

[3] From the presentation CD "The Image Of The City In Temporal Context", 1999.

[4] ]In my mind, the tremendous potential of computers for the creation of visual images also presents a limitation of the development of an artist in the way of meaningfulness. The temptation of the easiness of the creation of dramatic artistic forms leads an artist, unawares, to superficial formal quests. Interestingly, this is exactly the sort of art, which is much in demand with and is encouraged by the contemporary society.•