Sergey Bratkov (b. 1960, Kharkiv) is now living in Moscow, Russia, where he teaches at the Rodchenko School for Photography, but his artistic career started in Kharkiv. His 1980s works made him a welcomed member of the Kharkiv photography collective. In 1987 he became one of the Gosprom group artists. In the late 1980s — early 1990s he explored various artistic media, expressing his vision through painting, graphics, and film, but later concentrated on photography, video art, and installation. In 1993 he turned his loft studio into an art gallery (The Up/Down Gallery) that existed until 1997, where numerous art exhibitions took place. It was the first gallery in Kharkiv that consistently exhibited contemporary Kharkiv art, and now internationally recognized works (e.g. Boris Mikhailov’s I am not I) were first shown there (see video). In 1994—1996 Bratkov was one of the Group of Immediate Reaction artists.
© Sergey Bratkov. Khortytsya
Bratkov has always been interested in making art where "photography plays a secondary or applied role" (T. Pavlova, 2015). His work included placing photographs in glass jars in a cupboard (We All Eat Each Other, 1991), immuring images in a lump of concrete (A Parcel, with Boris Mikhailov), or freezing them in a block of ice (Frozen Landscapes, 1994, an installation in memory of 45 homeless people frozen to death during a cold spell in Kharkiv). But alongside these photo objects, he produced traditional black and white images, collages, and staged photos.
Bratkov's No Heaven series (45 black-and-white images, 1995) is a very personal picture of his family and himself. A caption under one of the images says: "My Mom and Dad met each other at the time of war. Dad came home on a 3-day leave and met a beautiful girl at a party. He got drunk and threw up onto her white dress. That girl became my Mom."
1996 Princesses touch upon post-Soviet mentality and women's rights issues. Four portraits of young females with lowered tights holding semen sample containers in their laps and, apparently, awaiting A Prince Charming, were made in the Kharkiv Center for Reproductive Medicine. The names of real-life European royal heirs are written on the containers.
Bedtime Stories (a.k.a. Horror Stories, 1998) illustrated so-called 'Horror Verses', black humor Russian folk poetry popular in the 1980s and '90s. Here is an example:
A young pioneer was fishing alone,
A maniac killer was all on his own.
Oh, how the old man kept cursing, you guess
The pioneer's badge got stuck in his ass.
In the early 2000s, Bratkov moved to Moscow where his artistic career started to gain momentum rapidly. He collaborated with a well-known Regina gallery and mastered his style of "people kitsch — an absurd collage of everyday life, typical of the post-Soviet space" (S. Bratkov). In 2003, as if to re-establish himself as a 'straight' photographer, the artist produced My Moscow — a documentary series of panoramic photos that showed the brutal nouveau riche image of the city and its inhabitants confused by the grandeur of its sumptuous festivities.
© Sergey Bratkov. Leave Forget
After representing Ukraine at the 52 Venice Biennale in 2007, Bratkov was offered a solo show at the Pinchuk Art Center in Kyiv. He traveled all over the country looking for images of the opulent and exuberant fertility of his homeland ("like a ripe juicy apple"), which resulted in the Ukraine series. When it was exhibited alongside his Khorktytsa image in Kyiv in 2010, a nationalist gang gathered in front of the gallery to protest against the exhibition. "To reach out to the audience, a provocation is necessary," says the artist.
In 2010, Bratkov combined a photo with a neon tube inscription, Long Live The Bad of Today for The Good of Tomorrow (over a picture of a group of young men in a physical fight). His later Leave Forget (over the picture of people on a moving subway escalator), They Don’t Fly to Space from Restaurants (under the Kremlin walls, vis-a-vis a row of restaurants) and other works on the borderline between photography and contemporary art reflected on the social mindset of the time.
Sergey Bratkov’s Shookie—Shtookie (2016) series is based on erotic images found on the Internet and printed out. In the best traditions of Kharkiv photography (as well as to avoid copyright problems) the artist used color markers to transform them into colorful abstractions. The colors showed through in the back of the prints creating painting-like depictions, and Bratkov would sometimes exhibit the series hanging it with the rear sides towards the viewer.
In 2017 the artist created the Empire of Nightdreams project for the Moscow Multimedia Art Museum exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution (1917 Bolshevik coup) in Russia. Printed on photo canvas images sewn into seventeen 3 by 2 meters duvet covers, in the artist’s words, tell "a metaphorical story about unending post-Soviet reality."