Artem Humilevskiy is a neophyte of photography. He started to photograph quite recently, in 2019, and the first attempts to master this medium were of a commercial nature. He got involved in photography as an art that fits into the system of contemporary art after a blitz study at MYPH photography school in Mykolaiv and meeting its leader and teacher Sergey Melnitchenko. Melnitchenko’s projects (‘Schwarzenegger - my idol’, ‘Young and free?’) were dealing, among other things, with the problem of corporeality. It was an irony of masculine athleticism, in the first case, and a special photo session of some sort of a men's club in the natural environment, in the latter. But in both cases, these were not the exercises in the search for body plasticity in the traditional nude photography genre.
In Humilevskiy’s first project after this school, The Giant, the question of the body also takes a prominent place. It is the core of the curatorial concept and text. In The Giant too, it is not just a fixation on ordinary male nudity but an extreme body that fits into different types of spaces: closed and open, interior and landscape. The closeness of the first images in the project was due to the Covid restrictions. Disconnection, the collapse of established communication links, isolation and loneliness — all this became a motivating reason to pick up a camera and plunge into self-reflection in these forcibly abnormal and harsh conditions. As the regime loosened, the photographer's lens naturally opened the spatial horizons of studying his non-trivial body. As a result, all this turned into a kind of adventure, a journey of the body; of the Great Body. The author was able to turn the mise-en-scène narrative into the mythological realm; into the story about the life of some fabled giants.
If you try to define the project's genre, it will be difficult to do so because of its hybridity and blur. In essence, this is a self-portrait (mainly full or half-length portraits), but in an environment, including a landscape. The unique quality of the project is its everydayness. Due to this diffuseness, the study of the inner world acquires equal importance with the visual outline and construct of the outer world. The fusion, not the opposition, of these worlds, gives The Giant harmonious naturalness, integrity, and imaginative appeal.
In his interview with the Kyiv based Bird in Flight media, Humilevskiy emphasised the key point: ‘In the photographs, I am always naked, because for me the body is always about sincerity and openness, and I want to be as honest as possible with the viewer.’ Attitudes towards the naked body, say, in ancient times (there is even such a concept among art historians - ‘heroic nudity of a mature man’), or in our era of total and flattering selfies, Instagram exhibitionism, unrestrained demonstration of fitness beauty, TV shows like ‘I'm ashamed of my body’, ‘Weighed and happy’, of course, are very different. Today it is difficult to surprise someone, to stun someone in this bodily flow. And our author is saved because he does not strive for this but tries, as follows from the quote above, to be sincere and honest. This somewhat ‘Rabelaisian’ approach gives rise to self-irony and a state of ‘unarmed nakedness’, as the German journalist Peter-Matthias Gaede aptly called it, which can attract the attention of the viewer and evoke their increased interest due to, rather paradoxically, its simplicity, unpretentiousness and organicity. At the same time, it does so without the help of accompanying bodily sexuality. In Humilevskiy’s project, it is absent; the question of the body is exhausted by the body as such. An experienced viewer is more likely to have connotations from the history of art, including the modern one, where the line of the hyperbolised body form is prominently revealed: the Flemish Rubens and Jordaens, the Colombian Botero, the British Lucien Freud, and the Ukrainian Lesya Khomenko, with her picturesque cycle ‘Giants’.
In Humilevsky’s Giant, the large form prevails. The figures seem to be sculptural, pointedly voluminous. Their relief is implanted, as it were, in the 2D picture, inside it. In the series, which includes more than a hundred subjects, different approaches to shooting on location are apparent. There are casual, even spontaneous ones and more structured, theatrically excessive ones. The colour scheme also differs: from a more restrained one, based on tighter colour combinations, to a brighter and more colourful one. In the project, despite the complete presence of a monohero, there is no monotony also because it unexpectedly combines comedy and sadness, naivety and seriousness, logical justification and absurdity.
Another distinctive feature of the project is its keenly felt involvement in the events in Ukraine; the spirit of the times is very insightfully conveyed. And it's not even about direct patriotism, when, let's say, the national flag colours are used in several photographs, but about the suspense, anxious anticipation, and foreboding that literally permeates the mood of the series. The fact that the author finished his project as soon as a full-scale invasion began is quite natural. The war has strongly influenced the further life of the project, inevitably changing and adding new intonations to its current perception.
The article has been written by Oleksandr Soloviov on the occasion of an online exhibition, 'The Giant' at BAROQUE Gallery, accessible from phones and tablets at the link
Artem Humilevskiy is Ukrainian photographer from Mykolaiv.
His current practice revolves around the exploration and reflection of self. Artem creates extensive photographic series where he often is the protagonist.
Oleksandr Soloviov is a curator and art historian based in Kyiv.
Since 2010, Oleksandr has been a curator at Mystetskyi Arsenal — Ukraine's largest public art institution. Before, Soloviov served as a curator at PinchukArtCentre and has been a member of the Supervisory Board of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art in Kyiv and Odesa. Soloviov was the curator of the Ukrainian pavilion at the 50th, 52nd and 55th Venice Biennale.