No Love: Remnants of a Modern Unconsoled
Introduction for Slava Mogutin's monograph Lost Boys
Slava Mogutin is an artist whose work has emerged from a confluence of cultures and histories. He works across different media—including photography, video, poetry, and performance—conjuring volatile erotic phenomena from these diverse orders of representation. By age twenty, Mogutin had achieved notoriety in post-Soviet Russia, breaching its criminal code on several counts in the course of his radical investment in writing and publishing queer literature. This early literary ingenuity established his reputation as a sexual dissident, culminating in his well-publicized exile and the subsequent granting of political asylum in the United States in 1995.
As a bricolage of historical tendencies and cultural pursuits in the early years of his creative formation, Mogutin’s photographic practice pursues fugitive thoughts about normality, sexual relations, and the possibility of love. As images of lost moments that lacerate by being over, they are ghosted by the suppressed voices of dead poets. Doubly haunted, Mogutin’s photographs are screened events that lay supine and seductively broken: the exhausted remains of a modern unconsoled.
As such, Mogutin’s photographs are scenes of inconsolable identities, unhomely cultures, and uninhabitable bodies. His is a radical sexual ethic that rejects simplistic notions of romance, doubting the fabled redemptive powers invested in love’s consolatory promise. Encountering bodies, we inevitably frame the ones we aim to love, with delirious writings, hypnotic imaginings; as does the camera, we perform interminable displacements that give distance and refuse meaning, screening the event out of our lives and into the realm of fantasy. Desire is always left wanting, and to lay claim to love, if it were possible, would be to give closure to desire. Staging this ambivalence, this comforting escape of the lover, Mogutin’s works never colonizes bodies or actions, nor do they pose assaults on love; rather, his is a discourse against love, retaining the term’s double meaning. To be against is to be both in opposition to and to be touching the other, to lay your body down beside it. To be against love, then, is to push against it while wanting it, to fight with caresses, taking care not to pursue desire so strongly that it attains the safety of closure, the threadbare event of secure perspective.
There is a peculiarly sad security in looking at these photographic bodies, an investment that is caught between voyeurism and narcissism, adjacent to love and troubled by death. Like mourning’s interminable twilight, encounters with these pages are conditioned by the thought that however sincerely we err in the gap between the image and the eye, what once was will never call on us to justify our grief.
© Dominic Johnson, 2006