A review by JM Colberg
The Russia on display in Dmitry Lookianov‘s Instant Tomorrow is unlike the one usually presented in photobook form. Here, there are no young people partying heavily. Neither are there people living in quaint, isolated Russian villages. Instead, the viewer is presented with a series of people whose blandness perfectly matches that of the towering apartment blocks they are living in. These people are depicted as being so devoid of any personality that it’s almost amazing.
As if to counter that, or to possibly bring some form of excitement into their lives, many of them are seen engaging with some form of gadgetry, large parts of which appear to be designed to enhance one’s physical appearance (in what ways or, crucially, why is completely left to the imagination). Even a young woman holding on to a vacuum cleaner and a cat toy looks like she is engaging with the most alien of all contraptions. And it is not because the photographer is awkward or inept. Instead, it’s the game he’s presenting.
So if this is the new Russia (or one of them anyway), it’s inhabited by drones, by people who might look a little different, but who, in the end, are really all just alike, aspiring to what really just seem to be the weirdest and possibly most useless goals.
Aren’t we all?
While some of the portraits just look a tad too posed, in this particular context this is actually made to work. Where in almost any other body of work portraits that look too posed suck all the life out of what could be had, here it’s the complete opposite: it almost seems as if even the photographer somehow got affected. So the photographic lifelessness works, given it supports the overall idea. Having looked through the book, you almost want to run out of your house and grab the next available piece of dirt just to feel alive again, to be in — and with — a world that’s not so relentlessly alien.
A review by Natalya Reznik
Metaphysical problems of the thing were initially posed in ancient aesthetics by Plato and Aristotle as well by the presocratics. Plato has made the most important discovery in the history of philosophy: there is an idea (eidos) of the whole world in general and of each thing in particular. Our material world is created as a reflection of the ideas of things, of their “ideal models”.
It seems like in the contemporary globalized world the ideas of Plato have been transformed into relationships between the original and its copy. A branded original corresponds to the “Eidos” of the thing, whereas a Chinese copy produced in its image and likeness by an unknown worker on a godforsaken factory becomes the thing itself. It is as far from the original as a shadow on the wall of a cave from the object which casts it.
The photographer Dmitry Lookianov approaches the problem of globalization and universalisation of the world from an unique perspective - he shoots Moscow suburbs and its high-rise buildings. Could it be something in the world that is less romantic? Nevertheless, he manages to mystify these demystified surroundings, reducing it to the hospital-like, sterile photoshopped substance. It looks like it is the very Baudrillard’s “schizofunctional” world, full of simulacra - “for any operation there is - there must be - a corresponding object, and if none exists then one must be invented” (Le Système Des Objets, Jean Baudrillard).
Ideally smooth futuristic high-rise buildings in photos of Lookianov are full of gadgets of different types, promising to a human being an eternal youth, health and beauty. These are almost analogs of “magical objects” (Vladimir Propp) from Russian fairy tales. However instead of Apples of Youth there appears Chinese magical face massager, the Cap of invisibility turns into a magnet mask and instant noodles materialize on the magic tablecloth.
Gadgets give us an illusion of control, help to forget for a while about neurosis, creating a pleasant world with a smell of some medicine and sterility, the world of simulacra, where each problem - aging, illness, death - could be solved. It seems like heroes of Lookianov are in all seriousness busy with an important work - they are looking at these “magical objects”, trying them on, waiting for the effect, paying attention to their own sensations.
A believe in gadgets and magical objects are compared by the photographer with a religious believe. He puts together two almost compositionally identical shoots. The advertisement pictures of the future created by him look ideal: dispassionate and experienced consumers, inhabitants of the future, are frustrated only by the permanent desire of pureness, longing for relaxation and ideal skin without any imperfections.
The photographer’s gaze is remote and distant. There is an overwhelming space between him and his heroes. Even though he adopts in the project a visual language of advertisement images, he remains behind the scenes, ironic and critical. One may ask towards whom? Towards this society of pain-free robots, who are interested in surfaces of their bodies only? Towards the eternal and non-rational believe in magic? Towards the neurosis and frustration in big cities, requiring long-time group psychotherapy? Or may be to the feeling of emptiness - emptiness from sensations, thoughts, movement and goals? All of his absurd and photographically perfect shoots are full of emptiness. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the photographer himself doesn’t manage to stay the observer only.
Despite his own desire to stay outside of the scene, he is becoming involved into the game “with gadgets”, where the role of the main gadget plays his own camera. Indeed, it is well-known that any modern “magical object” stops time and aging much less effective than photography itself.
A review by Evgeny Nesterov
At the end of far-off, almost mythical eighties, the song called 'Tomorrow Never Comes’ appeared, a product of a popular in a narrow circle band “Durutti Column”.
I do not remember what it was about, something extravagantly lyrical. And I find it hard to recover its musical qualities, even though it certainly had them. But, from time to time, the title continues to pop up in various contexts. And with each new appearance it makes an eerie feeling of being somehow encapsulated, of a life sentence in an instant "now", ever more tangible.
In this endless, thoroughly overwhelming nanosecond of The Present an impenetrable and relentless ‘tomorrow' finds its form. A nanosecond later, this fresh and almost foreign substantiality, strange smells, unfamiliar sounds become part of memory; and, eventually, if they are stable enough, a permanent part of mnemonic landscape.
‘New’ is not always immediately recognizable as occurred future. Some temporal distance must be traversed before a continuously leaking 'tomorrow' will be seen and realized as an irreversible fact, as a unique category that has no precedence. This distance depends on a number of factors. Among them - the place: in a godforsaken, sufficiently autonomous village or in a small, conservative European town this awareness might crystallize considerably later than in a detention camp maze of freshly sprouted chunks of suburbia, where its anonymous denizens return after three-hours commute only to crush into uneasy sleep. (Unless, of course, the village has found itself in crosshair of the stomping progress and is sentenced to demolition for the next project of the century. Then the appreciation of the brand new day might come quite swiftly.) Well, and naturally, alertness, reactivity and articulacy of an individual observer are very, if not the most, significant constituents of the recognition process, its speed, comprehension and accuracy.
Association between 'Tomorrow Never Comes' and 'Instant Tomorrow' is pretty much on the surface.
But besides obvious verbal coincidences, between two 'tomorrows' might be some more delicate relations .
'Instant tomorrow' - while being a demonstrably photographic project, almost overstating a specific to photography pretention to be a detached record of an optical event - gets very close to the membrane, to the moment, where longed-for, frightening, intangible future turns tactile, available, and often aggressive.
It nearly approaches that unbearable 'tomorrow that never comes' and fixes a striking event, when one does not need to guess anymore, when full of threats and promises, never attainable 'future day' instantly turns into a microwaved can of "one-minute noodles" on cold plastic of a kitchen table, when it morphs itself into superhuman hollows of sleeping ‘arrondissements’.
We can talk a lot and cut intricate loops and circles around possible different qualities of this inevitable 'tomorrow'. But our habitual, Cartesian ways of analysis are fairly dull, redundant and ineffective by now; especially, when they are applied to something unprecedented, barely formed or which is only acquiring its aggregate properties. It also does not seem to be the right place to wax for long over poetic and lyrical aspect of the project – they are deliberately aloof and reserved, but quite rich, nevertheless.
Perhaps, it shouldn’t be attempted at all, considering today's incredible scatter and fragmentation of opinions, modes of perception, analytical and discursive clichés.
Each viewer will find in a sterile 'Instant Tomorrow' an echo of his or her unique expectations of never coming possible and impossible futures. Or will not.
If you imagine a modern city such as Moscow in the space-time base, it is easy to see that the manifestation of the creative will fades as it growths from the center to the outskirts as if it is ruthlessly washed out from the urban environment by the centrifugal force. New types of typical apartment building areas which arising massively at the boundaries of the city are often deprived of any super ideas and their design is based on maximum utility. Watching everyday life of these spaces I snatch significant pieces and disparate parts from the present reality so to add them together and get a picture of an imaginary future.
In this constructed world the living space is saturated with emptiness and the things surrounding a man do not need poetics and lively touch anymore. In their desire to be got, they just evolve like flowers that formed a bizarre appearance to attract pollinating insects.
The whole machinery of life here reaches the highest stage of its development, makes a necessary piece from a person in a giant structure of care and serenity.
But this antiseptic paradise-found is infused with melancholy and disturbing sensuality, and people are voluntarily prisoners in it, surrounded by silent echo of the danger of another world, which has no language to describe it.