LEVERAGE review by Peter Frank
compositions made of whole, unedited contact sheets of 35mm or medium-format film
THE LEVER IN THE CITY: RUKHIN’S URBAN FANTASIES
A man walks around a city.
For whatever reason. But this man is equipped with a camera. And an active imagination. Active the way Salvador Dali’s was active, finding images that aren’t there in things that are.
At first, Lever Rukhin’s photographic approach seems to fall right in line with Ed Ruscha’s, Robbert Flick’s, and those of all the sequential photographers who document the long stretches of roads and buildings – especially in Los Angeles – with a joyous, sensuous deadpan. But while he is looking at the same things they are, and while he depends at least as much on the endless stream of contact sheets his wanderings yield, Rukhin is looking for something different – and is making sure he’s finding it.
Although superficially it documents urban life, Rukhin’s art engages a process of invention rather than discovery. What he finds he finds in his imagination; what he photographs are building blocks for the monsters he either suspects or doesn’t even know his mind’s eye is seeing. As a result, Rukhin can transform ordinary sidewalks, bushes, garden implements, and building facades into fearsome creatures, grotesque masks, body parts, and other looming apparitions.
Dali painted these kinds of things into his pictures, calling this surrealist unloosening of the psyche his “paranoiac-critical” method. Rukhin builds his pictures into these kinds of things, but the effect is much the same. Who knew such boogeymen, leftover horrors from our childhood dreams, still lurked in our minds? Who knew they could still frighten us? Who knew they were embedded in the very pavement we walk upon?
To hear Rukhin talk about his pictures, however, his cast of spooks and aliens loses much of its threat. He regards them with fondness, as if they’re the neighborhood animals safely tethered behind secure fences, perhaps even friendly, their bark worse than their bite. On the scale he builds them and in the chiaroscuro he casts them, Rukhin’s beings remain the biggest, toughest entities in the room. Handsome, too. They don’t look tame; it’s nice to know they have an endearing side.
Peter Frank Los Angeles July 2009