Rimma Gerlovina

(1951) American (b. Russia)


Born in Vladivostock and Moscow, respectively, this husband and wife team immigrated to the United States in 1980 where they met Mark Berghash who became their collaborator. Valeriy studied painting and sculpture, and Rimma received a degree in linguistics and philosophy from the University of Moscow; their first collaboration was in 1971. In the Soviet Union, the Gerlovins were proponents of the underground samizdat or self-publishing art movement that sought to circumvent official censorship. Since their immigration, they have been involved in introducing contemporary Russian art to the West, yet have continued to draw upon samizdat techniques of using text to illustrate the primacy of language in society, exploring this theme through what they refer to as "the magnifying eye of photography."
For the "still performances" which become their "photoglyphs," the artists photograph their faces and bodies marked with words and symbols, and produce larger-than-life color prints that are witty, intriguing, and seductive. Their body decoration deploys a primitive and direct form of human expression: skin becomes "human parchment" their "organic formulas." These theatrical portraits present the artists as literal "figures of speech," and are more cosmic than worldly in spite of the fleshy realism of the photographs. Their images create a visual anthropomorphic poetry that is simultaneously humorous and serious. With titles such as To Be, Absolute-Relative, A-head, and Still-a-Life, the work entails multiple layers of punning, metaphor, and analogy operating at visual and textual levels. The works' dense references span languages, religions, cultures, and history, and draw equally on mysticism, mythology, mathematics, linguistics, and philosophy. The Gerlovins pursue their fascination with riddle and paradox through words and images that pose the duality of a concept and its opposite in order to move beyond mere rationality; their partnership is founded upon the dynamic symmetry of masculinity and femininity.
The Gerlovins have collaborated with the graphic designer and portrait photographer Mark Berghash whom they met in New York in 1985. The trio produced a series of work with the title Photems that combines the concepts of "photography" and "totem;" an exhibition of this project was shown at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989.
Lisa Soccio
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 216.
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