The weight of things
About Patrick Bienerts photographs from the fringes of eastern Europe
By Florian Illies
How heavy is Europe? How heavy is the burden of history? How difficult will the future be? These are the questions that the photographs of Patrick Bienert ask. He is a discreet person and observer, he almost disappears behind his camera, so that not he, but his lens is the place where the energy of the other and its surroundings are concentrated. Bienert has always travelled to Georgia, a remote country on the fringes of Europe, that seeks itself. Despite it’s a rich and unique history it seems a little lost in the present. The formidable faces Patrick Bienert found here are full of pride and archaic beauty, yet a breeze of futility runs down every cheek. “Time works as forgetting against remembering” as Hartmut Böhme quoted. It explains why Bienert wants to work counteracting Böhme’s philosophy capturing the preciousness of the moment —so that it doesn’t get lost.
Where in time do these photographs take place? One thing seems to be clear: not in the present. Although, irritatingly, the years of their creation are from 2015 to 2018. One believes they are looking into the future or into the past and is disturbed noting that its difference is hardly distinguishable in Patrick Bienert’s view of Georgia: A past to come.
And where were these photographs taken? Is Georgia really the balcony of Europe? Or the storage room of Russia? A Christian land encased between Turkey, Russia and Azerbaijan, once populated by the Romans, which explains why wine has been cultivated there longer than in almost any other place on earth. In addition to the grapes, and as early as the 3rd century AD, people were devoted to iron and Georgia became the weaponry of antiquity. These photographs tell of all this: of the depth and shallowness of history, the transition between Europe and Asia, the remains of Soviet oppression and Christian morality, the aromas of the wine and the metallic hardness.
However, Patrick Bienert’s series is above all a portrait of his generation. It is a portrait of fragility, of being thrown into a historical and geographical place. He composes very subtly, a tremendous silence vibrates in these photographs, they are pairings of great urgency that he has compiled. Images held together by the deep roots of the landscape and the buildings these people inhabit.
I love the faces shown in these photographs, you can imagine them only in black and white, which in this case, of course, means above all in grey. In a thousand shades of grey that scurry over the faces, that darken the eyes and that brighten the hair.
We look into eyes full of sensuality and sadness, we see a girl drowning into a dance, completely in her inner Orient with open ears and closed eyes, and next to her a young woman who looks at the photographer as if she knows exactly what is waiting for her in this life: little. Yet that is more than nothing. In these women the heart is not just a muscle, but a central organ, you feel how they try to keep it all in check, how it beats loudly and audibly. These are perhaps the only noises you hear in Patrick Bienert’s silent portraits.
Hair plays a major role in these photographs. The hairstyles are as timeless as the people. One might believe these photos were taken during the time of the Bauhaus in the 1920s , perhaps in Paris around the 1940s or in California in the 1960s. All these young women look as if they came from every conceivable time, but guaranteed, not from this one: the present. And of course they live exactly in the present, looking for their role in a society in which they are supposed to subordinate themselves, but where everyone has long since understood that they are the ones with strength. This is exactly what Patrick has recognised in the eyes of these women: an awareness of one’s own strength, of all the destruction and hopelessness in poverty, a calm, a knowledge that in life there can also be growth, even if everything seems to weigh us down like lead. These are the faces that stand up to this crippling gravity, that of history and that of the future, and which counter this gravity with their greatest weapons: pride and dignity. It is fascinating how Patrick Bienert captured this.