In his works, Ilya Lipkin blends conventions of fashion editorial and fine art photography, creating spreads that appear in fashion and art magazines as well as advertisements that border on art. The series ‘Untitled (Some ATMs)’ (2014) shows people standing at cash machines, absorbed in their business; another, ‘Bastard Developments’ (2015) (shown at NOUSMOULES, Vienna) plays with the conventions of street photography. For his exhibition at Lars Friedrich in Berlin, Lipkin presented the series ‘I Am Vicky’ (2016), which features a strawberry blond model clad in black leather posing on a beat-up couch (also black leather), which is set against a white studio background (all works Untitled, 2016).
The photographs in Lipkin’s series are styled after a fashion shoot but hardly function as documents – they’re partially out of focus, taken from behind and show only close crops of the figure. Only one photograph reveals the identity of the subject as artist Malene List Thomsen – whose works were also shown at Lars Friedrich in 2015 – and even then the viewer must be ‘in the know’. Two groups of traditionally framed prints are hung in the two rooms of the gallery: five vertical medium-format photos and three horizontal motifs printed from 35mm film. While two of the latter also depict List Thomsen on the couch, a third contains a strange detail from an amateurish mural like those found painted on the walls of schools or therapeutic facilities. In this landscape, M-shaped birds dot the sky while, below, a brook lined with bushes and reeds winds through the picture. The exhibition is formally and technically convincing, with contemporary lighting and styling and a precise photographic technique.
Lipkin references fetish culture, sex, rock, advertising and the subject of psychotherapy, represented by a person lying on a couch in a state of emotional distress. Lipkin’s stream-of-consciousness exhibition text resonates with this thread, as does the photograph of a mural that seems like something made by a gestalt therapy patient – a generic rural idyll that depicts an optimistic view of the future. Therapy has been a theme in Lipkin’s earlier work as well, such as the 2011 video piece Careless Talk Lives Costly, made collaboratively with Loretta Fahrenholz and Patrick Price. While therapy was explicitly addressed in this collaborative work, I Am Vicky doesn’t go beyond allusions and formal references. One could easily imagine an ad agency taking this approach.
The knowing, inaccessible photographs of the leather scene are juxtaposed with the mural’s openness and vulnerability – a stylistic contrast that seems overly pronounced. This latter image doesn’t quite function as a ‘key’ to the overall exhibition as it contributes too little by way of content. In the end, even the deliberately staged doubling of ‘art object as product’ (the photographs’ elegant framing) and ‘fetish motif in the image’ (with its reference to the product fetish) refers merely to itself.
While overly-construed and self-referential in the exhibition, the works’ theme gains credibility in light of Lipkin’s tendency to continually appropriate techniques and styles, and his skillful implementation of them to stage specific themes: therapy as trend, or the privatization of public space (in the case of street photography). It’s only when one looks beyond singular series or exhibitions and more generally toward Lipkin’s practice as a whole that it becomes clear what it is based on: a self-reflexive approach that links myriad trends, fashions and styles.
Translated by Andrea Scrima
First published in Issue 25