This exhibition directly reflects the present situation at a moment of growing danger, and it corresponds to the main installation, “A Resurrected Soldier”, and a new video installation, “The Excluded”.
It reflects what art could be at a moment when familiar politics and everyday life start falling apart. The events of recent months have thrown Russian artists and creative workers into a completely new reality: a new Cold War atmosphere, an escalating search for enemies, ever-tighter repression of all dissent, and an open military confrontation with Ukraine leaving thousands of dead on both sides.
What seemed the stuff of nightmares yesterday is becoming reality today, and artists who want to address present conditions have wound up in a very complicated position. How can we carry on creating, speaking and living when we are all frozen at our computer screens in hopeless anxiety, trying to make sense of the bloody mixture of contradictory and manipulated information, seething hatreds, madness and desperation while the chance to be heard is ever more limited? Most things we liked to speculate about – relations between art and politics, activism and participation – simply stop functioning. Worse, they become irrelevant in a suffocating climate of nationalistic paranoia. And we face this desperate situation while audiences vanish, activist groups implode and actually getting anything done becomes impossible. And so on.
An important peculiarity of the events taking place today in Russia and Ukraine is that they are positioned primarily in relation to the past: the unresolved trauma of the clash between Nazism and Stalinism and the crude manipulation of these ideologies that’s now going on. All this provokes the sensation that the demons of the past have returned to strangle us with their tentacles of blood. In this publication we collected several reports on the developing situation in Ukraine and Russia, providing necessary insights into the context of our work and linking it to the wider world picture.
We feel affected by the general atmosphere of fear. Russia is afraid of the West. The West is afraid of Russia. Everywhere, it seems, people live in the expectation of new catastrophes, prevented from trusting each other or building a better future by the miserable blackmail of a status quo disguised as the only escape from a bigger disaster. In many places the fear of civil war is getting closer. Do we still have any hope for the future or is that gone? Are we desperate enough that we finally have nothing to lose? Or not yet? Perhaps our best hope lies in life after death, because we are already non-existing in a true revolutionary sense? A life after the collapse of all illusions and desires, with nothing left to wait for and the future no longer playing any role. Should we put up with this or can we break the chain of past and present catastrophes?
For our Secession installation we took as a starting point the very short and tragic story of one art object created by our collective in Vienna for the “Into the City” festival: “Our Paper Soldier” sculpture, conceived as a Queer replica of the monument to the Soviet soldier killed fighting for the liberation of Vienna from Nazism in 1945. This sculpture became a central part of our festival, asking the questions: “What is monumental today?” and: “What might constitute anti-fascist struggle in our time?” After the festival ended, the sculpture went to Berlin, where it was set on fire by persons unknown. So today we have decided to play with this story. In the midst of our work at Secession, we decided to make a new sculpture piece: a sculpture of a resurrected (zombie) soldier who somehow returns to Vienna and remains surrounded by iconic images of catastrophes recently happening in the world. With this gesture we want to demonstrate that all repressed and destroyed memories have a chance of another life, and that this life – the zombie state of the world – has a serious potential to interfere and to change the course of the future if we open up to its traumatic experiences.
We also offer an alternative story in which our paper soldier becomes a zombie, a symbol of catastrophe or…an angel of history. In a mural frieze within the installation, the visual narrative invokes the dying dream of our fragile fallen hero at the moment when s/he burned in Berlin in July 2014. In the dream s/he sees him/herself attacked by such monstrous creatures as
high-pitch dogmatism, loneliness, mass hysteria, hate-speech, imperialist formalism, crawling horizontality, separative individualism, and the kind of cynical conformism that Pasolini called qualunquismo). In each battle our fighter loses parts of his/her body one by one: sense organs, legs, arms, heart, guts. Only in losing him/herself completely does s/he take on another form of being, like a phoenix, a Phoenix of History that might finally win the main battle for Memory, the battle over Time.
This is why we put the Time Capsule in the middle of the show: to hook the future. Time capsules may hold messages filled with ideological pathos, as in the Soviet tradition, or they could contain leftovers of the everyday as in Andy Warhol’s boxes, but they all share the same core idea – the belief that someone in the future will be able to encounter the contents. And this means we can connect ourselves to the future. Our time capsule has the shape of a heart connected to an ear. Each of us laid one special thing, something dear to him or her, in an empty space inside the heart. Then we sent this “heart-ear capsule” into the future. Because we believe the future will happen. Let’s make sense together out of this simple fact.
Tsaplya Olga Egorova, Nikolay Oleynikov and Dmitry Vilensky (with inspirations from Oxana Timopheva)