About Men Floating in the Air by Julia Borissova

OK, hands up anyone who knows what a leporello binding is. OK, hands down now because this is a page on the internet so obviously I am not able to see you. Or am I? Is your device secretly streaming images of you live to air? Yes, that’s exactly what it’s doing, and we are all gathered around our big screen in the Elephant office watching you. You’re looking great, don’t worry about it.

Anyway, back to the aforementioned leporello, which refers to printed material presented accordion-pleat style – a concertina fold of continuous pages joined at left and right and that (you might opine) hints formally at infinity or at least suggests expanded horizons. The Victorians used the leporello to show panoramic scenes. The term comes from the name of Don Giovanni’s manservant in Mozart’s famous opera. Google ‘leporello’ and you’ll discover what the connection is. The internet is almost full so it would be environmentally irresponsible to take up space explaining it here.

Estonia-born, St Petersburg-based artist-working-with-photographer Julia Borissova uses the leporello format (see, there’s a reason I brought it up after all) in her new book, about men floating in the air. This was inspired by the story of two Lithuanian-American pilots who tried to set a new world record by flying over the Atlantic into Eastern Europe in the early 1930s. Borissova found a reference to the attempt in a Joseph Brodsky poem and decided to create her own ‘parallel world’ in black-and-white images. Think The Afronauts—and then forget it, it’s nothing like that. Then think Ilya Kabakov’s The Man Who Flew into Space from his Apartment. It’s not much like that either. But put them together and they make a great trio.

‘My story is about the dream of every person to break out from the vice of all kinds of prohibitions (“it’s merely one’s mortality expanding its radius at the expense of borders”) and fly away to a distant unknown in search of unlimited freedom and find there his true motherland and real home,’ Borissova explains. It’s a story about liberty so it’s fitting that she should have used a format that ‘allows the viewers to choose how to browse the images and find their own ending in this story’.

About Men Floating in the Air is available here