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Book Review: Boiko

Book Review Boiko By Jan Brykczynski Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson Jan Brykczynski, whose work I've reviewed before in Sputnik's Distant Place and Standby anthologies, is often interested in themes of displacement, disuse and detachment.

Boiko. By Jan Brykczynski.
Self-published, 2014.
Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson

Photographs by Jan Brykczynski. Text by Taras Prokhas’ko.
Self-published, Warsaw, 2014. In English, Ukrainian and Poli. 46 pp., 37 four-color illustrations, 23x21".

Jan Brykczynski, whose work I've reviewed before in Sputnik's Distant Place and Standby anthologies, is often interested in themes of displacement, disuse and detachment. There is both a starkness and a repetition in all of his series thus far; in Distance Place his section was titled Mission Completed and featured a series of ships that had long since been taken from the water and turned into habitations or left to weather along the Vestula river; in Standby his series Primary Forest exclusively features the aging interiors of rural Polish/Belarusian forest homes — each interior features a taxidermy or folk-art animal as if to single the loss of connection between the forest and its animals and the absence of a younger generation — those who would fix up the rooms and make them their own.

Boiko. By Jan Brykczynski. Self-published, 2014.

Boiko is a little of the same, but mostly quiet different in its approach to Brykczynski's common themes. Boiko is a more colorful work than any I have seen from him before. The colors have a specific use, embellishing the people and the interiors of their homes while the woods, the dead hogs, the frozen rivers and the blue-grey skies are the underscored color-set familiar to Brykczynski's work. This brings life into the communities of these depopulated rural places, adding to them a sense of deepness and lushness. Set against the more drably represented world outside and its chores, Brykczynski's people come alive in a charming and mysterious way and almost seem to step from their rural reality into an imagined world of myth and folklore or to occupy a dream of rural life.

Boiko. By Jan Brykczynski. Self-published, 2014.

Boiko is an important term to know for this book, here it is explained by Wikipedia: “Boyko or Boiko or simply Highlanders are a Ukrainian ethnographic group located in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine and Poland... Boykos differ from their neighbors in dialect, dress, folk architecture, and customs.” It is a small group with esoteric traditions rooted in Eastern Orthodox strands of Christianity and influenced by Slavic language and culture. They keep to themselves and, because of this, they have retained much of their culture instead of loosing it to an urban exodus.

Brykczynski takes us through their communal lives — their rituals and vibrancy, their traditions which seem unspoiled in these images: the slaughter of animals, a wake, a shrine to the Virgin Mary within a residential home. It is a culture that is just as rich as ever and seems not to have diminished; there are no televisions or radios and the one image where a car is present seems out of place amidst the sleighs and sleds and carts common to the book's other images.

Boiko. By Jan Brykczynski. Self-published, 2014.

It is as though Brykczynski went from showing the decay of rural life in his previous publications to showing us one of its more thriving communities; it is the opposite end of his regular scale (though by no means a commonplace sociologically). Boiko is a work that examines joy and roots and the slow change of a culture that is insular and, as Brykczynski himself is part Boiko, it is also a work of love.

Boiko. By Jan Brykczynski. Self-published, 2014.

Insofar as understanding Jan Brykczynski as an artist, this monograph perhaps makes more clear than any of his previous works where he's coming from and why the rural is a central theme; it is his navel, his origin, and it suits him. Perhaps more clearly than any other of the photographers to arise out of the Sputnik collective, Brykczynski's work conveys a sense of the national, not on the large-scale, but on the more micro-scale. In Boiko he allows himself to examine these micro-cultures and communities to his heart's content and with a great effect, resulting in something like warmth itself.

Boiko. By Jan Brykczynski. Self-published, 2014.

The book as object is very beautifully designed with an embossed cover in white cloth and a magnetic clasp to keep the book closed, which, perhaps not intentionally so, gives the book a sense of the very personal, like a diary. If you've like the desolation of Brykczynski's previous work, Boiko might not be what you're looking for; however if you like examinations of micro-communities, Eastern European culture or the work that has come out of the Sputnik collective in general, Boiko will please beyond your expectations.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON

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CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON is an artist, radio host, and poet living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His reviews, interviews, and essays on poetry can be read in the Philadelphia Review of Books. Johnson also hosts the radio program Collected Words on 101.5 KVSF, where he interviews authors, poets and artists.

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