Saturday, August 11, 2007

Michal Chelbin: the body's eye

Michal Chelbin's pictures are a constant game. The game between the norm and the exception is played out in a delicate dance of proportions that leads to harmony. But this harmony is not defined as a selection of perfect elements, but rather, by the very way things are: perfect on their own terms.

Do not be fooled by the apparent disproportion or outsiderism: those people belong right here.

Their attributes, often those of small-town perfomers, are incredibly rich: they give away their profession, status, personal/national culture... Yet this is no show-off. They look us straight in the eye, giving us a clear message: they know who they are.

They seem acutely aware of their freakishness, of their UFO-like qualities. And still, they are at the same time assuming their belonging, to this place, to this often rough and difficult place that is home.

Those are not happy people. Finding as much as a shadow of a smile is quite a task (the central boy with the swimming cap on one of the pictures above, I think). Yet they are far from desperate, or depressed. They are, above all, serious. This is a form of sharing that makes the encounter all the more meaningful: they might be stuck at this time and place, but their look (how very often the very same look comes back!) does not allow for condescending attitudes. This is my world. My name, my color, my friend or dog or car or parent. Now you have to deal with that. I've done my share.

Yet, in Michal Chelbin's work, there is an element we might skip at first glance.

Eroticism. Even in the most innocent-looking pictures, even in the strangest ones or "decent" ones, the body is exposed. It is not attractive, but problematic. Maybe, because it is appealing, noticeable, after all, before all. It exists, somehow too early, and too late. It plays with our senses, making us too touchable, too lookable, too objectifiable - and thus somehow always too bodily.

How beautifully the look competes with the body.

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