Review by Gerhard Clausing •
The occupation of land by a hostile foreign power is a phenomenon that seems to repeat itself, over and over, and thus it is an ever-present danger. In our time, the 20th century was not the end of such outrageous acts, as the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, part of the Ukraine, by Russia beginning in 2014 demonstrates. The trauma visited upon those who had to flee that area and have not been able to return to their homes is unfathomable. When such a trauma hits you, the pain is great.
My family had a similar fate in the 20th century, coming from Latvia and Poland, both variously occupied, and a splintered Germany, for a time occupied by four powers in response to prior imperialistic occupation nightmares and other outrage. And as we know, some countries took turns occupying a number of countries of Eastern Europe over many previous centuries. So we, along with many others, also lost much, and it took me a while to get into the work of Andrii Dostliev and his associates, since these connections are also so very personal for me.
Torn memories can be shoved aside for a bit, but it is important to revitalize them. When Andrii Dostliev could not return to his apartment in the Eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk to look at his photographs of family and friends, going back to his childhood, he appropriated (“occupied”) other families’ found photographs and linked them to his own emotions and recollections by creating collages. We immediately detect a mixture of pleasant old associations and memories, mixed with occasional anger directed at the occupying force and its local collaborators.
The very cover of this photobook reminds us of force and violence; the title is ‘scratched’ onto the picture of a wall, hinting at a most abrasive process. The images show collages of found family photographs that Dostliev matches with his own recollections and feelings. Some of the reinvented family images and self-attributions are pasted into other scenes; some images are enhanced with items such as plants, toys, and catalog pages to make the reenactment of his memories more complete visually and emotionally. At the end, a group photo (image 31) is enhanced by crossing out heads representing people no longer belonging to the author’s inner thoughts, in a manner similar to others who rip a snapshot in half to disavow relatives or friends from whom they have been divorced or disassociated in some other manner.
The two essays are very illuminating for an understanding of this whole process; especially the very erudite explanation by Oksana Dovgopolova of the troubles of recent times and their effects on emotions and memories is very helpful for understanding both the historical and the contemporary contexts. The artist’s notes for each image and Lia Dostlieva’s explanations are also very important for a deeper understanding of the whole process. This is a stellar example of art serving as a creative tool for visualizing loss and ameliorating pain; most highly recommended!
Andrii Dostliev – Occupation
Artist: Andrii Dostliev (born in Brianka, Ukraine; lives in Poznań, Poland)
Self-published, © 2017
Essays: “Manuals on Stitching Time” by Oksana Dovgopolova; “On the (Im)possibility of Reconstructing the Family Archive” by Lia Dostlieva
Text: English and Ukrainian
Stiff etched cover; sewn binding; 60 pages with 31 plates; four-color lithography; 7.25 x 10.75 inches (18.5 x 27 cm)
Photobook Design: Andrii Dostliev