Karat: Sky Over St. Petersburg

Wolfgang Müller
Open Eye Gallery, Wood St. (19th June – 28th August 2004)

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Behind the shiny new façade of corporate Russia there lies an appalling secret. The often freezing sewers and rooftops of St. Petersburg are home to around 30,000 children, and Wolfgang Muller’s debut exhibition portrays a few of their stories in harrowing detail.

Taking its name from a brand of shoe polish used by many of the children to reach a cheap high, Karat pulls no punches with its vivid use of colour and texture, graphically illustrating the plight of individuals ‘freedom’ left behind. These young people – most of whom were born after the fall of the ‘iron curtain’ - cut grotesque figures, with their worn expressions born out of the cynical adult world into which they have been prematurely catapulted.

Amongst the portraits, there are many images of the children using drugs, even shooting heroin. In order to eke out a meagre existence, around 20% turn to prostitution and the child porn industry in order to survive, and we are shown pre-pubescent girls applying layers of mascara. In a particularly striking image, a boy sits hunched between two chimneys while the golden arches of McDonalds nestle tauntingly in the skyline a couple of streets away.

Do not expect to leave the gallery smiling, but there are shades of darkness in this bleak collection. A couple even show the subjects playing and listening to music, just like the counterparts all over the world. For these few at least, their spirits are yet to be crushed entirely, and they still seem to cling to a shred of hope amidst the catastrophic wreckage of their lives.