Life As Theatre

“While working on the book, I live among images, prints, reflections. Appealing to the Imaginary, I play different roles. I’m both an author and a viewer. Representing various situations, I always know that it is not a reality, but I believe in it.” Julia Borissova tells us about her new artist’s book, Libretto.

You’ve produced a series of self-published artist’s books over the past few years. What draws you to the medium?

I’m keen on it because I can constantly expand its borders. Through the tactile interaction with a book, I create a relationship with the subject matter of my research, thus opposing the importance of the material in art to the immateriality of the digital image. It is also significant for me that the artist’s book is always open for interpretation because each viewer adds his own meaning to its content.

Your new book, Libretto, reflects, you say, the relationship between photography and the theatre. Can you explain that?

My artistic practice reflects my interest in analogue photography as well as in collecting, preserving and presenting archival materials. Weaving together the imaginary, symbolic and real, I create a “theatre of memory” in my book. I’m at the very beginning of studying this topic—I’m still looking for the most complete disclosure of the possible relationships between photography/theatre/mask/myth in my artistic work.

Reflecting on the idea of “life as theatre”, I offer my interpretation of a visual dialogue between theatre and photography—the photographic images give a sensation of a frozen theatrical action and become a three-dimensional object due to the design of Libretto.

The combination of different layouts in my book can be understood as various mise-en-scènes where multiple reference points—the history of country, private archive, theatre and ballet—intersect. I offer everyone the opportunity to take on the role of a spectator so as to establish an intimate link with the images and immerse oneself in the experience.

Some of the images are your own, some are archival. Where did you find the latter? How do you decide which to include alongside your own work?

At the flea market, I discovered an unknown archive, which included some photographs as well as images of ballerinas cut from newspapers and the unfinished biography of a woman who became an actress before World War II. I felt an existence of unfulfilled desire in her history and this drew my attention.

For my book, I chose only those pictures that allowed me to invent their origin. The main thing in my approach was to find an overall relationship between the images since they had no obvious connections. I overpainted some photos with acrylic paints. As a result, this part of the book is bright and colourful. I wanted them to be similar to the posters for theatrical performances.

As you say, part of the book is in very vivid colour, part in black and white. How did you arrive at that structure?

The photographs in black and white and several images featuring objects that I created from fragments of broken plates are included in the second part of the book, which relates to the perception of loss, memory and contingency that violate the course of life. The photo of my installation Red Table links the two parts of the book.

I was concerned not to use a lot of pictures but to make my work sharper and clearer.

I frequently imagine the history behind the images and how they came to be at the flea market. I think about what happens to a person’s photo archive after they die; I’m very disappointed if belongings are thrown out, and the sense of the pictures disappears. Often I buy photographs only to prevent their destruction. I like to arrange new meetings for them with future viewers who may rediscover their meaning.

This book uses a Leporello binding, a format you’ve employed before. What do you like about it?

This is not a book in the conventional sense—it is an object to interact with and examine, it is an installation. I used several unfolding pages that imitate theatre decorations. Pages, from which some figures were carved, cast shadows using the play of light. Shadow is like a photo print; it is also a copy of a person, its twin. In keeping with the words of Barthes—that photography is closest to the theatre due to its unique transmission mechanism: death—I think that memory, imprint, doubling, they’re always about death.

While working on the book, I live among images, prints, reflections. Appealing to the Imaginary, I play different roles. I’m both an author and a viewer. Representing various situations, I always know that it is not a reality, but I believe in it.

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