Rafal Milach: REFUSAL

20. 9. - 20.10. 2019

Opening: 20. 9. 2019

Curator: Adam Mazur

Karlin Studios, Prvního pluku 2, Praha 8

The exhibition takes place as a part of the Fotograf Festival 2019, Archeology of Euphoria: 1985–1995.


In 1971, Soviet television broadcast a science programme that presented the mechanisms by means of which human consciousness could be manipulated effectively. The young people who had been invited to the studio were subjected to experiments that were intended to make the viewers aware of the extent to which suggestion and conformism influence our reception of reality. Eliminating even the most self-evident of facts from it. 

It would be no special exaggeration to state that the programme laid bare, albeit it indirectly, the techniques applied on an everyday basis by the Soviet authorities. At the time, no one spotted the subversive potential of the work... the regime’s propaganda tube presented it as devoid of any connection with the realities of interesting scientific facts. 
Contemporary autocracies, particularly those in the post-Soviet region, have adopted the techniques for the collective management of their citizens’ consciousness with a great deal of success. They set up gigantic laboratories where an exemplary model of a social structure is created, no matter what the consequences.

"Refusal" is an endeavour aimed at the visual presentation of various systems of control and exerting pressure. The process of formatting and shifting meanings and of creating new ideologies is written into innocent gestures and tried and trusted sociotechnical treatments alike. The intensity, scale and methods vary, depending on the region, but they all serve a concrete, utopian vision which is imposed by the apparatus of government. 
The only instance that I noted of a disruption which ruffled that model was at the small Kreyvantsy kolkhoz in Belarus, where the local ‘shock worker’, a plougher by the name of Valeriy, refused to cooperate with the photographer despite his superiors’ express instructions.




« Rafał Milach is a remarkable artist. Some describe him as an author using photography. And he uses photography to complain about the world surrounding him. What is there to complain about by such a successful person nowadays, though? Rafał Milach is both frustrated and interested in the course in which ex-Soviet bloc countries are steering. This is however only a small fragment of a landscape that we find ourselves in at the beginning of the 21st century. This is also where the accelerationist approach to photography stems from, the basis of which is his presence in many places, exhibitions, publications and competitions. Rafał Milachˈs production in all this supersaturated reality differs because of its quality but also due to the depth of its matter-of-factness, attention to form, composition, graphic design and exhibitions. Among Milachˈs most outstanding series is Odmowa / Refusal. This is a project consisting of objects, photos, drawings and films the artist has been developing since 2011 with no end in view. In the centre of focus of the most recent chapter of Refusal is the Czech Republic. Rafał Milach decided to study in detail the rituals of the Czech “Sokol” gymnastic movement organizations. The fact that it is going on in the Czech Republic is a key issue in the project, yet not the most important one. The artist is more interested in mass formatting of the human being. This process sometimes resembles an art performance, while at other times totalitarian power rituals. 

The exhibition at Karlin Studios accompanies the Czech celebrations of 30 years of freedom. In this context, it may be interpreted as a warning, but perhaps as a mere engaged observation of the society. At the end of the day, you can always refuse to engage in celebrations. »

Adam Mazur.



Rafał Milach (b. 1978 in Gliwice, Poland) – visual artist, photographer, author of photo books. His work focuses on topics related to the transformation in the former Eastern Bloc. Graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, Poland, and the ITF Institute of Creative Photography of the Silesian University in Opava, Czech Republic (current lecturer at ITF). His award-winning photo books include The Winners, 7 Rooms, and The First March of Gentlemen. Rafał Milach has received scholarships from the Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Magnum Foundation, and European Cultural Foundation. Finalist of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2018 and winner of the World Press Photo competition. Co-founder of the Sputnik Photos collective. Joined Magnum Photos in 2018 as a nominee member. His works have been widely exhibited in Poland and worldwide, and can be found in the collections of the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, the ING Polish Art Foundation, Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (Japan), and Brandts in Odense (Denmark). Rafal joined Magnum Photos in 2018 as a nominee member.