The Incomplete Princess Book
Project "The Incomplete Princess Book" created by Russian-Dutch artist Irina Popova is a virtual journey to Russia: a new way of meeting people (through browsing their profiles), and a new way of photographing them (using the images found on the internet). For this project, the artist used the Russian version of Facebook — Vkontakte*.
Irina Popova has found over 8000 different profiles registered under the name Irina Popova. Indeed, both the surname Popov and first name Irina are very common in Russia. She browsed the profiles with a growing curiosity – because those Irina Popovas scattered over Russia, of different ages and social status, were likely to represent the full range of possibilities for a woman’s destiny given their different circumstances.
Social networks have not only become the substitutes for traditional family albums, but a major source of entertainment and a form of self-representation.
It seems that in such a patriarchal country as Russia women seriously struggle for male attention, and the most important factor for life success becomes a glamorous (and sometimes exaggerated) idea of beauty.
In it’s original edit the project contains about 36 000 images. Popova worked with 3 assistants for 3 months to download these images, one by one. The project was first presented in the Hermitage Museum, Amsterdam in November 2013, in a group exhibition “Russian Ateliers on Amstel”. Here Popova took two walls, filled with more than 1000 images.
It took her another two years to make the final selection and to shape it into book form.
Irina Popova about the project:
“I always had a problem with my name being so common. If you search my name on the web, the first thing you find will be a belly dancer, following by all sorts of girls with cheesy smiles (or in explicit poses). At first I hated that. But if you have something that bothers you, you have to work with it, process it, and use it to create a work.
I went digging into the photo albums of Irinas Popovas published on Vkontakte and the repulsion changed into curiosity, the curiosity into a genuine interest, more artistic than scientific.
I was looking at how society functions by imposing the same stereotypical norms of behavior, good life, self-representation and even dreams upon us.
Private and family albums go public without their authors realizing that anyone is allowed to use them, for any purpose.
There is a button that allows anyone to share and download an image. In doing so the image loses any credits or source information, becoming an anonymous piece of collective memory, just one more drop in the sea of Internet content.
And because I had moved from Russia I browsed these profiles, and it seemed to me the perfect way to research the Russian lifestyle and to make a project about Russian people, and eventually about myself.
I was interested in the typical and the unique and used this as a
selection principle. I was searching for something typically Russian
in the background, or in the small elements; in the colours and
the patterns; and a rather peculiar idea of beauty and proper life.
At the same time I was focusing on finding unique representations of
one’s personality, or in some places weird pictures for which I fail to find explanation.
While looking at these images I noticed that every Irina Popova is striving to become a princess, with a different degrees of success.
They are born into a simple environment, and from an early childhood they get dressed as a princess or as a doll. They all experience the same pressure of expectation to become a successful girl, to find a prince, to get married, and to have beautiful kids. It seems very difficult to escape this pattern, but it also seems that the girls are more than willing to follow these imposed beauty standards.
I organized these materials in the imaginary story-line of one fake princess, from birth to old age. The big question is: “what happens to a princess after marriage?” Do they disappear, while those shapeless, self-content, ageless ladies in colorful parrot and leopard print dresses appear by themselves, like aliens or asteroids?
After the exhibition in Hermitage, more organization and structure of the material was needed, and a photobook is the perfect form to do that.
The photo-book will be published in the end of 2015 by the Dostoevsky Publishing.
Quite the opposite of any structured research, this book has the fluid form of an imaginary storytelling. There is no particular purpose or focus; no attempt to prove any statement; except for the process of the “research” itself: standing on the shore and watching life float by.
I included my own photographs in the album, too, not mentioning them particularly.