Exploring photography’s ambivalent relationship with the modernist canon and how any attempt to distil the fundamentals of photography puts it in conversation with other media.
Even when working with images in the past – for which he’s won an award from the British Journal of Photography and been selected for Plat(t)form at Fotomuseum Winterthur – Nikolai Ishchuk has always been more concerned with their structural underpinnings than the narrative specifics. From 2012, the focus of his practice tightened around the expressive possibilities of the very materials of photography and how these open up avenues for cross-pollination with other media, from painting to architecture. Since then, the artist has built up a distinctive and diverse oeuvre of understated complexity and rigour. It ranges from dense surfaces where image fragments disintegrate under a patina of chemical, mechanical and hand applied marks, to ascetic objects and compositions springing from the simplest registrations of light on the print surface. The influence of high modernism and minimalism are evident, but the work never lapses into tropes, instead updating the canon’s legacy with an admission of fragility and the flaws inherent in conjuring something into being.
After-Image is intended to take stock of the artist’s many innovations during this productive period. The term ‘pushing the boundaries’ is often used in relation to practices that seek to extend the possibilities of their chosen media, to the point of having become a cliché. But it implies recognising those boundaries in the first place, whereas Ishchuk decisively moves past them, producing work that’s irreducible to a single thing. In his practice, photography itself becomes an afterimage: an evanescent presence that gives way to something entirely new.
In the last few years, Nikolai’s body of work has been shown in New York, London and Europe, and Nikolai was showcased by us at Photo London in both 2018 and 2019 as a contemporary, emerging artist, engaging with the overlapping worlds of photography, painting and sculpture. In 2020, his work was due to appear in The Stubborn Influence of Painting at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (Colorado), which has now been rescheduled for Summer-Autumn 2021.
Ishchuk was born in 1982 in Moscow, Russia, and lives in London. He received an MA in Fine Art with Distinction from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, and previously an MPhil in Social and Political Science from the University of Cambridge, and a BA (Hons) in Economics and Sociology from the University of York. Ishchuk was the first non-documentary photographer to win in the British Journal of Photography Awards. Ishchuk has exhibited internationally, including at such institutions as Whitechapel Gallery, Jerwood Space and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. He was recently recorded for the Tate Audio Arts and has been awarded residencies at Art Omi and MASS MoCA. His work is held in several important collections.