Artists ask questions. As simple or natural as this might sound, a conversation with Brussels based photographer Mikhail Porollo made me feel the joy of discovering this little detail in artistic creativity anew. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Porollo over a coffee on a very grey, thus - forgive me for saying so - very Belgian, and somewhat rainy Saturday morning in Brussels to talk about his recent projects, about art and culture, and life in general.
Born and raised in Russia, Mikhail got in touch with photography at an early age. But it was during his time in South Africa - he studied at the South African College of Photography - when he started to engage in photography “professionally”. He thereafter would take on various courses and projects all over the world, travelling between the continents, going the distances between South Africa and Namibia, from Belgium to Russia and back. Listening to his travels, I wondered if people from different places also looked at art from different perspectives. And if yes, how so?
This question seems to have interested Mikhail during his time in South Africa, too. He argues that ways of looking at art would be strongly connected to cultural differences. Appreciation of art in for instance the UK, Belgium and also Russia, he says, would be very similar: the concept of looking at art and objects in museum or gallery settings would be a common cultural practice in these three countries. In South Africa, however, this way of observing art would be a rarity. There, art would be lived and experienced mostly outdoors, Mikhail remembers: it had been a part of “active social life”. This difference in dealing with art, he feels, eventually had appeared as a great inspiration for himself as a modern artist, as it had opened up new ways of approaching art and photography for him.
It seems that this notion of changing perspectives continued to live on in his later projects as well. Take for instance his collection “Goddesses”, from which the images featured here are taken. One of the major objectives of this project is to present the gaze of the viewer with an altered image and to challenge his or her dealing with portraits by establishing a normally non-existent symmetry in the models’ faces. Mikhail Porollo experiments in this project by taking the left side of the models’ faces and mirroring it onto the right side, taking away the naturally uneven division of the human face. And it is here where Mikhail implemented the conceptual idea behind the series. Dealing with the idea of visual symmetry and balance, he started the project out of curiosity about what might happen if the portrait viewers were confronted with completely symmetrical faces. “What happens when it [the face] is balanced? How do we accept it? How do we see it?”, he asks. He goes on to theorize about the different facial halves, about the left side being the spiritual and the right side being the rational “and brutal” part of the human face. He tells me about how, with continuing age, the right side would become more and more similar to the left side of the face, and how he therefore thinks of the left side as an outlook on future and maybe even as a portrayal of eternity. What happens if through an artificial symmetry between the facial halves, an eternal balance is established?, one might ask. I can almost see question marks hanging in the air of the busy café. But I feel that not all questions can or have to be answered definitively. And for Mikhail, asking seems to be the starting point and goal of the project at the same time.
Getting back to the idea of cultural diversity and differences, it is then interesting to see how the series portrays women wearing clothing and headgears from different cultural backgrounds. Here it becomes clear that the representation of various cultural identities is another interest of Mikhail’s in this project. But they all are based in Brussels, he says, and seems to be keen to display a part of the diverse cultures existing in the Belgian capital. For such goals he notes how “it is best to photograph “real persons”” and adds that all of the models are friends of his as well.
Talking about “Goddesses” I find that - almost paradoxically - symmetry and difference seem to be fascinating Mikhail the most. In this sense, in his most recent project “Harmony of Form” he succeeds to combine balance, symmetry and difference in one project again. Setting out to photograph round ceilings, Mikhail once more searched for continuity and balance. He found these in ceilings and parts of ceiling decorations of different cultural and political architectures throughout Belgium and Europe, ranging from cathedrals to mosques, from theatres to law courts. As for his “Goddesses” project, this latest series also displays a strong interest to portray balance “dressed” in different artistic and cultural representations.
Moving further, leaving portrayals of individuals and their cultural identities behind, the new project depicts how notions of harmony reveal themselves in different cultural architectural constructions. Here, Mikhail once again seems to ask a question, this time it is the question of harmony its architectural dress.
Take a look at his work! And if you're in Brussels, be sure to visit the PÔZE IV TERMINUS exhibition at Bozar, the Centre for Fine Arts; you can see selected work of Mikhail there until 16th September 2012.