Canary Archives /2022/

This project, devoted to the theme of archives, began a long time ago — in the midst of a wave of Covid, which one exactly we’re no longer sure. And so the projec t was, of course, rescheduled, postponed, like our whole life, put on pause. It was rescheduled several times. And at some point we completely forgot about it.

What we wanted to talk about at the beginning became somehow completely incomprehensible to pursue in discussion, not because we took on an uninteresting topic, but because it was difficult to concentrate on the significance of the half-forgotten archives of the Plekhanov House and their role in the development of the labor movement. I hope that someday we will be able to return to this important topic, but at that time — amidst the sickness, in the panic of cancellations, facing the inability to plan something, in isolation from the public and watching communities collapse – we realized that we would not be able to do it.
It began to seem to us that during this whole time, the only thing we were able to manage was to record some testimony in social networks, in conversations and correspondence, in zoom sessions, to note down premonitions of the tectonic changes taking place before our eyes. This is how the canary metaphor arose* – – the ability to anticipate and respond to something hidden from us. To anticipate danger and doom, and give signals, as in the famous Kurt Vonnegut quote.
But while working on the installation and this publication, our canary seems to have gone silent (the sharpest and clearest signal it can send), a fact we have discovered too late; and now we are locked in a shaft filled with poisonous fumes. And in this haze it is difficult to remember where the exit is and where to run.
Is it possible to do something in a situation of shock, paralysis, fear, coming in waves, rendering all exertion meaningless?
In order to talk about archives, it is necessary to believe in archives, memory, and the future. This belief, once completely unconditional and simple, the belief which has always guided us in art, now requires exceptional effort. And this emergency issue, with rewritten texts, new pictures, comments posted on social networks, compiled in between reading the military news bulletins and supporting anti-war activities (arresting friends, calling lawyers, going out to protests, buying food supplies in the ROSA House in case of supply shortages , departures of comrades) turned out to be our collective therapy, the only way not to go crazy and to believe that this will help others not to go crazy.
I really wanted to include in the publication the graphic war works of Vlada Ralko, an artist from Kyiv – her images give faith that art can show us the horror of war without subjecting us to the journalistic normalization of displays of violence. Vlada refused to publish them, saying that now is not the time and for now they can circulate only in the context of social networks. Instead, she asked to publish a screenshot of a text from FB describing the catastrophe of the blockade of Mariupol. I answered her that reports of these monstrous crimes are now being published by all the leading mass media, while her works are available only to a narrow circle of friends. But now her FB feed* is an honest archive of the history of war, media and art, on a par with Brecht’s Kriegsfibel.
When cannons speak, the Muses are silent – this old rule has always been challenged by both art and thought, which retained the ability to speak, overcoming muteness. We therefore have a chance to remain human, despite the horror of violence and death, physical and symbolic.
We have all become to some extent canaries – poisoned, asleep in suspended animation. Art is a special apparatus, equipped to continue recording traces of life processes as they unfold.
P.S. – this text and this publication went to press on the 22nd day of the war; all the editing was done in St. Petersburg. It is no longer possible to print these texts in Russia now, in the situation of new wartime laws, just as it is impossible to send cargo from St. Petersburg to Berlin. The sky is closed for civil aviation flights, but open over Ukraine for the bombing of cities.
This issue contains a collection of views from the anti-war position of Russian artists and critics, and we made it as a gesture of unconditional support for the anti-colonial struggle of the Ukrainian people for their independence and dignity.

Dmitry Vilensky (editor of the issue)

* The canary in the coal mine warns the miners when the oxygen level falls by ceasing to sing. It is a metaphor that can be seen as a paradigmatic image for the anthropocentric relationship to the world, the broken connection between humans and the planet and the important need for the rare sensory perception of threat indicators in current times.

* see

canary newspaper – full fin