A factory worker is suspended in mid-air. Shooting stars dive down a peeling concrete wall in the frame to his right and a swarm of black plugs levitate against a blue tarpaulin sky to his left. Climb through a trap door beneath these images, and you enter a white-walled basement where the post-Soviet, post-industrial Polish city of Katowice appears in brilliant pastel pinks and yellows. This surreal exhibition – in which Ukrainian photographers Elena Subach and Viacheslav Poliakov use collagic techniques to explode preconceptions of grey, smoke-filled horizons in Silesia – is called City of Gardens, and it is just one example of what brand new Eastern European photography platform EEP Berlin had to offer this year.
EEP Berlin is a new platform dedicated to showcasing the work of contemporary photographers from out east. Its creator is Maya Hristova, a Sofia-born Bulgarian photographer-turned-curator who’s been living and working in Berlin for over a decade. When Hristova came to Berlin in 2009, she was instantly drawn to its creative energy and the professionalism of its artists. But she soon became frustrated with the ignorance of many in Germany towards her native Bulgaria. “You read the newspapers and each article starts with ‘In Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU…’ You become tired of this specific narrative being driven to the front. I wanted to provide a platform for photographers to construct their own narratives and tell their own stories through their individual styles; to create new associations.”
Hristova’s initial concept for EEP Berlin was an online platform with pop-up exhibitions, its first in Charlottenburg during Photography Month last October. But after attracting more than 600 visitors in one month, EEP Berlin settled in a permanent exhibition space off of Reichenberger Straße on Liegnitzer Straße 34 in January. The space showcases a variety of upcoming photographers on a rolling basis. Though the featured photographers are Eastern European, Hristova emphatically asserts that their work doesn’t have to be about Eastern Europe from a thematic perspective. “When a lot of people hear ‘Eastern European’, for them it has to be Soviet, or to do with the Cold War or these busts of Lenin,” she explains. “Eastern European communism has turned into such a fetish – it’s gimmicky. There are roughly 25 countries in Eastern Europe with over 290 million people living there, you cannot expect them to all obey this one aesthetic, which is also based in the past.”
EEP Berlin’s most recent exhibition New York Calling, a ‘mini-retrospective’ by Czech artist Marie Tomanova (April 26-May 17), was a runaway success and spoke to Hristova’s belief. Through experimental self-portraits in the wilderness and the mesmeric, gender-fluid faces of her Young Americans portrait series, Tomanova traces her assimilation into the natural and social landscape of America during her eight-year stint in New York. The youthful energy which radiated off these photographs attracted huge crowds during Gallery Weekend, and contrasted the harsher realities of EEP’s previous exhibition, In Belief is Power, in which Bulgarian photographer Hristina Tasheva interrogated notions of foreignness and reflected on the persecution of Muslim immigrants in her home country.
Less than a year old, EEP Berlin is a unique showcase of the versatile contemporary Eastern European photography scene and working hard to create new narratives and give a taste of associations yet to emerge.
EEP Berlin, Liegnitzer St. 34, Kreuzberg, see website for programme