Rafał Milach “Refusal” – shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2018

© Rafal Milach, from the series "Refusal" / Gori, Georgia, 2013, After the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, one hundred and twenty-eight thousand Georgians were forced to leave South Ossetia, which had become a puppet state dependent on Russia. Some of them found shelter in a long-term refugee camp on the outskirts of the city of Gori. On a clear day, the buildings of the Ossetian village they were expelled from can be seen from the camp.

© Rafal Milach, from the series “Refusal” / Gori, Georgia, 2013. After the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, one hundred and twenty-eight thousand Georgians were forced to leave South Ossetia, which had become a puppet state dependent on Russia. Some of them found shelter in a long-term refugee camp on the outskirts of the city of Gori. On a clear day, the buildings of the Ossetian village they were expelled from can be seen from the camp.

© Rafal Milach, from the series "Refusal" / Anaklia, Georgia, 2013. An unfinished viewing tower. In 2011, President Micheil Saakashvili visited Anaklia, a village located on the Black Sea. He conferred town rights on it and announced the beginning of an ambitious development programme which would transform it into a luxury resort. Resplendent with lavish glamour, Anaklia was intended both to become the new authorities’ political flagship and to compensate for the nearby city of Sukhumi, which was lost during the Georgian Russian-Abkhazian conflict of the early nineteen nineties. Construction work began in 2012. After Saakashvili’s party was defeated in the parliamentary election of 2013 and Saakashvili himself fled the country, the work was discontinued and the colossal building site rapidly transformed into crumbling ‘modern’ ruins.

© Rafal Milach, from the series “Refusal” / Anaklia, Georgia, 2013. An unfinished viewing tower. In 2011, President Micheil Saakashvili visited Anaklia, a village located on the Black Sea. He conferred town rights on it and announced the beginning of an ambitious development programme which would transform it into a luxury resort. Resplendent with lavish glamour, Anaklia was intended both to become the new authorities’ political flagship and to compensate for the nearby city of Sukhumi, which was lost during the Georgian Russian-Abkhazian conflict of the early nineteen nineties. Construction work began in 2012. After Saakashvili’s party was defeated in the parliamentary election of 2013 and Saakashvili himself fled the country, the work was discontinued and the colossal building site rapidly transformed into crumbling ‘modern’ ruins.

© Rafal Milach, from the series "Refusal" / Batumi, Georgia, 2013. One of the interiors of the Alphabetic Tower. In 2013, the Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company, which supported the then president of Georgia, Micheil Saakashvili, had a television studio there. That same year, Saakashvili’s party lost the parliamentary election and the former president was formally accused of appropriating government funds. The Rustavi 2 editorial department was deserted overnight, becoming a giant trap for birds. Dozens of rock sparrows flew into it through a small opening in the wall. Once they were trapped inside, a combination of heat and starvation killed them.

© Rafal Milach, from the series “Refusal” / Batumi, Georgia, 2013. One of the interiors of the Alphabetic Tower. In 2013, the Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company, which supported the then president of Georgia, Micheil Saakashvili, had a television studio there. That same year, Saakashvili’s party lost the parliamentary election and the former president was formally accused of appropriating government funds. The Rustavi 2 editorial department was deserted overnight, becoming a giant trap for birds. Dozens of rock sparrows flew into it through a small opening in the wall. Once they were trapped inside, a combination of heat and starvation killed them.

© Rafal Milach, from the series "Refusal" / Khyrdalan, Azerbaijan, 2016. Geometric figures and models triggering optical illusions, partly created by pupils of the chess school located in the Khyrdalan Heydar Aliyev Centre. The structure and observation of these objects is intended to help develop young Azerbaijanis’ spatial imagination and abstract thinking skills. The man the centre is named after began his road to authority as an official of the Stalinist secret police organisation, the NKVD. He was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and an opponent of both Gorbachev and the politics of glasnost. In 1993, he became the president of the recently independent Azerbaijan.

© Rafal Milach, from the series “Refusal” / Khyrdalan, Azerbaijan, 2016. Geometric figures and models triggering optical illusions, partly created by pupils of the chess school located in the Khyrdalan Heydar Aliyev Centre. The structure and observation of these objects is intended to help develop young Azerbaijanis’ spatial imagination and abstract thinking skills. The man the centre is named after began his road to authority as an official of the Stalinist secret police organisation, the NKVD. He was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and an opponent of both Gorbachev and the politics of glasnost. In 1993, he became the president of the recently independent Azerbaijan.

© Rafal Milach, from the series "Refusal" / Khyrdalan, Azerbaijan, 2016. Geometric figures and models triggering optical illusions, partly created by pupils of the chess school located in the Khyrdalan Heydar Aliyev Centre. The structure and observation of these objects is intended to help develop young Azerbaijanis’ spatial imagination and abstract thinking skills. The man the centre is named after began his road to authority as an official of the Stalinist secret police organisation, the NKVD. He was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and an opponent of both Gorbachev and the politics of glasnost. In 1993, he became the president of the recently independent Azerbaijan.

© Rafal Milach, from the series “Refusal” / Khyrdalan, Azerbaijan, 2016. 

© Rafal Milach, from the series "Refusal" / Khyrdalan, Azerbaijan, 2016. Geometric figures and models triggering optical illusions, partly created by pupils of the chess school located in the Khyrdalan Heydar Aliyev Centre. The structure and observation of these objects is intended to help develop young Azerbaijanis’ spatial imagination and abstract thinking skills. The man the centre is named after began his road to authority as an official of the Stalinist secret police organisation, the NKVD. He was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and an opponent of both Gorbachev and the politics of glasnost. In 1993, he became the president of the recently independent Azerbaijan.

© Rafal Milach, from the series “Refusal” / Khyrdalan, Azerbaijan, 2016. 

“Refusal”

In 1971, Soviet television broadcast a science programme that presented the mechanisms by means of which human consciousness could be manipulated effectively. The young people who had been invited to the studio were subjected to experiments that were intended to make the viewers aware of the extent to which suggestion and conformism influences our reception of reality, eliminating even the most self-evident of facts from it.

It would be no special exaggeration to state that the programme laid bare, albeit it indirectly, the techniques applied on an everyday basis by the Soviet authorities. At the time, no one spotted the subversive potential of the work… the regime’s propaganda tube presented it as devoid of any connection with the realities of interesting scientific facts.
Contemporary autocracies, particularly those in the post-Soviet region, have adopted the techniques for the collective management of their citizens’ consciousness with a great deal of success. They set up gigantic laboratories where an exemplary model of a social structure is created, no matter what the consequences.
“Refusal” is an endeavour aimed at the visual presentation of various systems of control and exerting pressure. The process of formatting and shifting meanings and of creating new ideologies is written into innocent gestures and tried and trusted sociotechnical treatments alike. The intensity, scale and methods vary, depending on the region, but they all serve a concrete, utopian vision which is imposed by the apparatus of government.
The only instance that I noted of a disruption which ruffled that model was at the small Kreyvantsy kolkhoz in Belarus, where the local ‘shock worker’, a plougher by the name of Valeriy, refused to cooperate with the photographer despite his superiors’ express instructions. (R.M.)

Rafał Milach (1978)

Visual artist, photographer, author of photobooks. Graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice and ITF in Opava (Czech Republic). He currently lectures in the latter institution. For over 10 years, Rafał Milach has been working on transition issues in Russian-speaking countries and the CEE region. He has earned worldwide recognition for his books – “The Winners”, “Black Sea of Concrete”, “7 Rooms”. In 2007, he took part in a prestigious Joop Swat Masterclass in Amsterdam run by the World Press Photo Foundation. He received grants from the Ministry of Culture, Magnum Foundation and the European Cultural Foundation. He has won prestigious prizes, including the World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International. Co-founder of the Sputnik Photos collective. Selected individual exhibitions: C/O Berlin and Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. He has had a number of group shows. His works are found in the collections of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Japan, Brandts in Odense (Denmark), CCA Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, ING Polish Art Foundation, Museum in Gliwice.

Exhibition at THE PHOTOGRAPHERS´ GALLERY / London, UK

23 February – 03 June 2018

www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk

Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2018

www.deutscheboersephotographyfoundation.org

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Rafał Milach

www.rafalmilach.com

 

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