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Natasha and Valera Cherkashin
Article in Zoom Magazine

Natasha and Valera Cherkashin at the Moscow Art Fair

They are so close to each other in life that at their home all pencils are grinded from two ends. Works by Valera and Natasha Cherkashin (in booklets and press releases they call themselves exactly so Valera & Natasha) cause attacks of creative jealousy not only in photo reporters, but also in artists. Why photo reporters? Because Cherkashins form the image of a city, perhaps, even more effectively than Diana Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Fritz Lang with his notorious Megapolis.

However, photographers can calm down and have a rest: Valera and Natasha do not call themselves photographers. We are artists they declare, and you are unlikely to find someone who dares to argue with the title. In their opinion the term "photo artist" appeared to distinguish the "artistic photography from the journalistic one." Does it mean that a press photo cannot be artistic? God knows... They describe their creativity at times slightly confused, but that is always amazing to listen to them.

Theme? Artistic: to make art from everything. Earlier we did everything by hand. Now we work only with a computer. For us, the computer is a tool, like a pencil. At first there were pictures, then watercolours, then photography, and then digital photo and video."

By all means their works should be seen as originals, they are so satiated by details and half-tones. It is quite impossible, to display a huge picturesque photographic canvas on the magazine pages to the full, but Russian ZOOM will try to do it with quite an unpredictable result.

They study the city as a phenomenon, they investigate the city environment as environment of human inhabitancy, as a result of human activity, which brought to life not only aggression as a result of density and crushes but also a rough splash of human emotions, imagination and creative madness in the very best sense of the last word.

They remember Vitaly Butyrin, the known Lithuanian photographer who 30 years ago opened for the Soviet culture the work of photographic montage of an essentially new level, the montage focused on a person, human nature and human perception of the world. It virtually makes no sense to compare their works to those of industrial urbanists like Stephan Couturier; in the Couturier's works the city objects exist as if they were outside of human vital activity, though created by people.

In Cherkashins' works the city is inseparable from people; in our nihilist time such a position looks more than original, doesn't it?

"For us the city itself is a work of art. Idea of a city-garden is an escape from megacity problems."

How do they work? Sometimes switching on me, sometimes on "me, sometimes on "we." We've been shooting purely digital for two years... San-Sanych Slyusarev consulted us. I remember to ask him how to make the film darker or lighter. And Misha Korolev gave us all his black-and-white paper.

Any authorities? Bob Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Gilbert and Georges, Ilya Kabakov, Bob Mikhailov... The palette is almost monochrome and chary of paints, but reach on shades and half-tones, romanticizing the image of a big city. Their city, their megacity contains also a fair note of self-destruction. They argued a little with me about that, but did not persuade. They are attracted by crowds, by movement. Their favourite objects are dancing people, people in the underground, people in the right of way.

New York is one of the strongest cities. And I have always been the city-dweller... What a grandiose theme! We have started to dig the undreground around the globe... We would like to unite all undergrounds of the Earth.

Their style is literally hypnotizing. Series"New York Fashion","Ballet, "Russian Beach"and "Sports in the USSR"; presented to public in 2004 look as just a small part of something greater. A typical attribute of a steady author's style.

Their New York shakes imagination: the harmonized Babel, pyramids from glass, concrete and asphalt filled with people, filled with movement which you feel almost physically with your own skin. This is not an all-devouring beast or a monster. This is just a big ant hill, a termitary where everyone is doing his business. Even if this activity is deprived visible sense. Such a treatment of the city as a community of occupying it inhabitants moves Cherkashins closer to Charley Chaplin than to Lang.

The most characteristic feature of Cherkashins' work is voluminous but subtle use of text material organically merging with the photographic image and bearing some special sematic load. That's amazing, but text fragments can be found even in series "Dances" (2003). They are not present only in "Ballet" and "Russian Beach" Or have I missed something?

I cannot forget their New York. The artists' reaction on 9/11? Undoubtedly. However, they use dramatic sensation of the tragic element of city life not to brand it but to show how much the city of people, of advertising, of cars an skyscrapers is beautiful and aesthetic. Their erotic works look almost absolutely asexual, the city is beating in the heart of the dancer...

There is no hopelessness in Cherkashins' works, at the same time the approaching catharsis is felt not too strongly. An intermediate condition, some kind of a dynamic balance. Maybe this fragile form of existence of matter corresponds to modern perception of life best? Do you really hold that all in heads? "Well, that is just a small part...."

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