First presenation of the installation Russian Woods at the solo show “Perestroika: XX years after”
Kölnischer Kunstverein, 2011
When working abroad we often ask ourselves what we represent in this context and why we have been invited. There is the hidden pressure to talk about some exotic, artistic/activist experience drawn from our own country, where politics somehow survives against coercion more brutal than that in the West. As we have often written, there is a certain problem with this outsourcing of politics. As Elena Filipovic correctly notes in a recent article about our group, we have to represent “a certain history while overcoming common preconceptions in order to act as international translators.” But what are we actually translating/representing?
The point of departure for our solo show at Kölnischer Kunstverein is our first songspiel, *Perestroika Songspiel: Victory over the Coup* (2008), which marks the end of one period in Russian history. For most of us, it was an event that was crucial in shaping our political subjectivity: we date the history of the new Russian state to this moment. So we asked ourselves what remains in our memories after all the transformations of the past two decades, and we ran head-on into a set of disturbing, weird, grotesque images. As usual, our narration is based on the media and the popular imagination: we merely decided to push them to the limit and reveal their inner irrational and vital functions, and to try and confront them with our body of documentary film works. That’s how the installation *The Russian Woods* began to grow.
This time we have decided to try and find a way to represent the Russian unconscious and to examine how far the language of art is able to take a representation of reality rooted in its historical dynamism, brutality, and lack of transparency. What can we do with this reality’s horrible and largely indescribable violence that renders all varieties of artistic virtuosity powerless? It is not our intention to sensationalize or demonize Russia: we are convinced that the Russian situation is very much the result of the global division of labor and geopolitical confrontations triggered by capitalism, and that its political system is no less irrational (or, for that matter, rational) than the “Russian soul.” So we must speak about Russia in the context of a new global order where sheer exploitation of the periphery goes hand in hand with the accumulation of enormous wealth by the minority who control all resources (human and natural), the self-elected few who deprive the majority of the fruits of their labor, forcing them to live in poverty and misery like modern-day slaves.
It is important not just to demonstrate our negative attitude to Russia’s current regime, but also to offer a visual explanation for why we continue to oppose our country’s current development and the mode of governance that has brought it to a dead end.
Dmitry Vilensky, August 2011
The description of the figures
Print, MDF plates (various dimensions) Concept: Dmitry Vilensky and Tsaplya (Olga Egorova)
Visuals: Nikolay Oleynikov
List of Objects1/1. Hares with Sour Faces
The Hare is a popular character in the Russian Woods. Usually in danger of being eaten by the other animals, the Hare is cowardly and embittered, and always on the lookout.
1/2. Two-Headed ChickenRapacious and merciless to its foes, the Chicken appears on the official seal of the Russian Woods.
- Oil Derrick Dragon
The fire-breathing Dragon guards Oil, the main treasure of the Russian Woods. It has all the qualities of a regular dragon. Greed and ferocity are its dominant traits.
- Oil Pipeline Mermaid
The Mermaid evokes the wraith of unquenched desire. In the Russian Woods, she serves the Dragon. She prefers the company of Bears, and despises Hares.
- Skyscraper Church
The Skyscraper Church is the symbol of modernization in the Russian Woods. The modernization process draws foreign Merchants, Foxes, and Robbers to the Russian Woods.
- New Year’s Tree The magical New Year’s Tree produces the most desirable gifts for the Dragon, the Chicken, the Mermaid, the Bears, and other characters in the Russian Woods.
- Special Purpose Police
The Special Purpose Police serve the Dragon, the Chicken – and themselves. They are corrupt and criminal. They show up in the most unexpected places, often intoxicated. For the most part, they are engaged in individual entrepreneurship.
- Toadstool The Toadstool is the main intoxicating and poisonous mushroom in the Russian Woods. It clouds the mind with nightmarish fairytales, which often become reality. Caucasian Warriors (a new generation of soldiers in an endless war) wait in ambush under the Toadstool.
- “Free Education!” Fence Fences are an important element in the constant repartition of the Russian Woods. Spells known as “protest slogans” are usually written on fences in the Russian Woods. The “Free Education!” spell was inscribed on this fence by the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement.
10/1. Black Widows outside a Metro Station
Metro Stations are entrances into caves in the Russian Woods. The Black Widows (the insidious spawn of the Toadstool) blow themselves up in these caves, taking the lives of other inhabitants of the Russian Woods.
10/2. Stalin Empire-Style Chandelier
The favorite nesting spot of Spy Bats in the Russian Woods.
- “Popular Front” Bear Show
The Bear is the beloved hero of the Russian Woods. As a performer in the Popular Front show, it skates, juggles, and does various magic tricks. In the arena, it is jolly, kind, and fond of children. Outside the arena, the Bear is often a defendant in cases involving the repartition of the Russian Woods.
- Glamour Tank
The main sources of pride in the Russian Woods are weapons and beauty. They are also its principal exports. The tanks and girls of the Russian Woods are unfailingly popular amongst respectable men outside the Russian Woods.
- The Mausoleum
Despite the fact that mushrooms have sprouted on it, the Mausoleum remains the most important historical monument in the Russian Woods.
- White House on Chicken Legs
Government house in the Russian Woods. After being shelled by tanks in 1993, it is always ablaze. The chicken legs enable it to turn in any direction on the orders of its Owner. Possession of Fabergé eggs is a sign of love for the Powers That Be. They grow on the inhabitants of the White House on Chicken Legs, who thus display their proper national orientation.
Wolf-Girls are the contradictory elements of history. They laugh, dance and obey no one. Their habitat extends beyond the Russian Woods.
- Dog’s Heads Separated from the body, the Dog’s Heads faithfully serve the Powers That Be of the Russian Woods. They are invisible and merciless.
The videofilm “Russian Woods”
Russian with English subtitles
Our work on the musical performance “Russian Woods” was largely provoked by political developments in Russia last winter. By participating in these important events that all of sudden have emerged inside Russian civil society, we were intrigued by the huge amount of use of mythic images and rhetoric, both from the government and from the protesters. We found that this phenomenon is not by chance and really reflects the level of a political culture in the country. And we wanted to try to analyze it in the form of a fairy tail story that would be able to not only reflect the totality of socio-political structure of our society, but also think about the possibilities of its transformation.
The film is based on the documentation of the theatrical performance which happened in St. Petersburg on 2nd of May 2012
Film Concept and script: Vilensky Dmitry & Tsaplya (Olga Egorova); Director: Tsaplya (Olga Egorova); Composer: Mikhail Krutik; Choreography: Nina Gasteva; Graphics and Set: Nikolay Oleynikov and Dmitry Vilensky; Director of Photography: Artyom Ignatov
This film is a production of the collective Chto Delat
The First Kyiv International Biennial of Contemporary Art
This film was produced with support from the Chto Delat’ Fund.
The English version of this play was staged on 25th of March in a framework of the festival “Speaking and understanding” // Episode 3 Copying without copying, concept and production by Arika (arika.org.uk)