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Arts / Museums

War, Snakes and Lightning Bolts Cannot Stop Synchrodogs

Duo’s Surreal Art to Grace Dallas

BY // 09.03.15

Dallas Contemporary assistant curator Lilia Kudelia’s decision to highlight the work of Synchrodogs in an ambitious show (September 20 through December 21) is perhaps best illustrated by a short and heady visual cocktail. The online video “Synchrodogs in Iceland” features moody footage of bending grass, slapping windshield wipers, gorgeously smoky skies and the splendid beauty of coastlines, birds and effulgent rainbows. Ukrainians Tania Shcheglova and Roman Noven love to swim, romp in the nude and adore one another via camera lenses. They also emit an emotive signal that’s darkly raw and seemingly ungovernable that began pulsing about eight years ago when they met on a website for amateur photographers. And for those who worry overmuch about the pedigree of their own photographic equipment, the story of Synchrodogs should allay all fears: They work with almost nothing in the way of sophisticated gizmos.

One curator, her eyes wide with amazement, remarked, “It’s the equivalent of buying things from The Home Depot.” But, improbably, Synchrodogs has landed huge branding campaigns and deftly explored the mysterious region where the realms of personal and commerical art coalesce. Moreover, Kudelia is a native of the Ukraine, and thus finds their work of particular interest.

“Animalism, Naturalism” series, 2012
“Animalism, Naturalism” series, 2012

Their art delivers a huge dollop of surreal edginess; in fact, their images are sometimes mildly predatory or darkly haunting. But underneath it all lies sufficient shimmer to attract the attention of fashion labels and heavy-hitting magazines. For Esquire, the duo shot head-spinning portraits of Leonardo di Caprio that feature him festooned with grapes and divvied up into puzzle pieces. A shoot for Bimba y Lola shows a model emerging from gray scree and flaunting a brilliant blue handbag. Whether said glamour girl is dead or alive is up for question; however, her cerulean blue purse is an object that indisputably inspires wanton lust.

Synchrodogs’ personal work shows them deliciously unclad and blending into natural settings that insinuate a futuristic vibe. Both Shcheglova and Noven are remarkably lithe, gorgeously thin and seemingly willing to take a bullet for one another. They pose and torque for the camera and are shown eerily floating in space, draped with limbs and leaves, or are simply depicted in yoga-like poses among tawny rocks that resemble something emerging from a petri dish. They often utilize their own dream imagery for their work. In a hungertv.com interview, they state, “Experimenting with these lucid dreaming techniques, we usually woke ourselves up in the middle of the night to make a note of what we had just seen, gathering our dreams to be staged afterwards.”

Similarly, Animalism, Naturalism features Shcheglova perched on rocky shelves in an outré brand of camouflage, splayed on shimmering gray coastlines and, in one case, draped from a limb with her hair and face partially submerged in water. To make an admittedly tenuous association, the latter image suggests the Shakespearean figure of Ophelia. Thus, there’s no shortage of resonance in both the personal and commercial work of Synchrodogs.

Despite their elaborate pedigree — with solo shows at impressive venues in London, Venice, Chicago, Krakow, Kalingrad and Dordrecht, among others, as well as group shows — Synchrodogs remains largely unknown (or opaque) to many. It’s a coup that Kudelia is bringing such a large dose of Euro-sophistication to the morphing arts scene in Dallas. The couple, she says, “are aliens even to the Ukrainian art community. They live in a smaller town 400 miles from Kyiv, travel abroad a lot and don’t hang out with mainstream young artists. However, they are well-connected with the fashion world in Europe.” Hence, they have worked on ad campaigns for Kenzo, Masha Reva and Urban Outfitter, as well as Sheriff & Cherry (the Croatian hipster company for edgy eyewear). Add to that list their stints with avant-garde magazines such as Jalouse and Dazed and Confused, and you get a notion of the realms in which Synchrodogs thrives. For the latter, they shot images of Femen, a group of Paris-based women who are taking the world by storm by going bare breasted, adorning their bodies with all manner of graffiti and storming the gates of Notre-Dame de Paris and other bastions of Western “stodginess.”

“Reverie Sleep” series, 2013
“Reverie Sleep” series, 2013

In fact, to say Synchrodogs is politically minded is an understatement; after all, their home turf of Ukraine has become a raging battleground after Vladimir Putin’s onslaught on the region, which has long been associated with beauty and imagery evocative of both the tsardom of Russia and Habsburg, Austria. The artists have much to say about the destruction wrought by Putin. In fact, they corrected my terminology. “This is not just destruction; it is a war,” Noven says. “And it is something that all Ukrainians care about, no matter what their occupation may be.”

All of this should certainly serve as a juiced-up windup for the Synchrodogs’ Dallas show. The exhibition will feature all new work, and much of it was shot in Texas during a month-long excursion in a rental car — in which they sometimes slept — from April 11 to May 13 of this year. The process for photographing work for the exhibition began, according to Noven, “at Caddo Lake, and then we moved toward the south, in Ennis during bluebonnet season, along I-20, and then to territory around Marfa and Big Bend National Park.” He and Shcheglova also traveled to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado.

“A 6,500-kilometer [4,038-mile] drive through America brought us adventures,” he says. “We barely escaped snakes in narrow, slotted canyons — they all come out after the sun goes down. And we also saw a real unicorn below a rainbow right after we drove through the biggest snowy thunderstorm we’ve ever seen — including lightning bolts striking right in front of our car.” During a trek in White Sands National Park, they “almost died in the desert.” They “ran out of water while only halfway back to the car — it was parked 200 huge dunes away.”

Life. Death. War. Fashion. Beauty. It’s all part of the unique world of Synchrodogs. To say their presence in Dallas is a privilege is an understatement. People willing to die for an image and who live life in a way that is a real-time version of a page-turning thriller deserve all the accolades I can muster.

SYNCHRODOGS, “SUPERNATURAL,” SEPTEMBER 19 – DECEMBER 21, AT THE DALLAS CONTEMPORARY, 161 GLASS ST., DALLASCONTEMPORARY.ORG

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