Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 2#3 Vera Galactica 1 jan 1988

Moskva 1987

The city is impressive, but has no imperial aura.

It looks even more severe without the posters; no longer provincial, just bureaucratic - as it was at the turn of the century. Moscow, a travel report. The feelings of sympathy evoked by perestroika will not suffice to teach a trade let alone a democratic or aristocratic work ethic to an empire of bureaucrats who have never learnt a profession...

...Nevertheless, one hopes for a miracle and especially for the rapid disappearance of the Stalinist roots. Unfortunately, however, these roots are rather stubborn and survive for a long time, even if they (and their subsequent development) are neglected. After my visit to Moscow in 1987, my optimism, though not completely lost, has diminished considerably.

In China, which has a similar system, the current government can look back on a millennia! tradition of craftsmen of all trades, and farmers working in areas of different climates. The autarkic political and economic possibilities are sometimes supported by branches of the economy suitable for exportation, and also by the enormous power of a population that has been accustomed to learn and work - and seems to like it. Even nowadays, spiritual and intellectual movements that have never completely faded, provide the necessary superstructure of the Middle Empire, within the changing context of Asian socialism.

From this point of view, the developments in the Soviet Union can be regarded as inevitable. The patriotic goals of Secretary-General MIKHAIL GORBACHOV are the only real impulse towards a modest bourgeois future. Although understandable from a tactical point of view, the continuing adherence to Marxist-Leninist dogmas and doctrines still forms an obstacle. This fact is the subject of speculations dominating everyday conversation in the Russian capital.

The situation in the world of musicians, artists, actors and writers is characterized by an unnmistakable enthusiasm, and finds unconcerned support in the current movement towards liberalization. A new world unfolds once one has, by sheer luck, penetrated the network of Moscow artists and progressive scientists. A flock of young Muscovites conducts the Western visitor from one house to the next, and from studio to practice room.

Last summer I found myself in this position. After an uncensored showing of Infermental VI at the DOMKINO, I was kidnapped for six days by young artists and scientists from Moscow. This adventurous journey through Moscow homes started at the house of IGOR A., who has been publishing a journal called Cinefantom for the past two years - in an edition of only one copy. He paints gouaches on huge rolls of paper in his parents' living-room, with titles like: We are afraid of nothing. At the age of twenty, he has several serious experimental films to his name. The titles of his films Metastase or Nekrorealisazija - are indicative of the gloomy nature of his themes. I was moved (it is impossible to express this in matter of fact terms) by the way in which these young Soviet citizens, who never knew Stalinism, feel such a serious urge to record the killing machinery of their society on film. Picture compositions and techniques in the manner of EISENSTEIN are mixed with memories of gigantic 19th century oil paintings of Siberia. Unlike the rest of the Russian audience in IGOR's parents' living-room, the sight of so many corpses and the ballet they performed did not make me laugh. A Georgian slapped my leg in an encouraging gesture, and told me: You should laugh, this is Soviet humor! This was followed by a short break in the kitchen, where we enjoyed delicious cakes and tea, which were bought at our pooled resources. An economist and a musicologist discussed the state of the Empire, which is their name for Russia. Meanwhile, IGOR's parents had returned, and having greeted us, retired to another room. Suddenly, in the midst of the discussion about the Empire, a woman (whose age we could only guess at) turned up, carrying a portfolio under her arm. She had been told of a meeting of people who were interested in the arts. She wanted to show us her work. She was wearing so many clothes, considering the season, that she probably lived on the streets. Her portfolio contained an extraordinary treasure of beautiful water colors on religious subjects. The young artists were speechless with rapture. However, the woman quickly packed up her things and left. We didn't even know her name.

It was already late, and we had planned to go to GOSCHA's. GOSCHA makes objects that are inflatable or can be fitted together (because his house is not big enough for the gigantic dimensions he chooses to work in). He is 19 years old, and defines his place in Russian art history as being directly after MALEVITCH. His extravagance appears in all his works and in his ideas about art. This energetic talent may go far, provided he doesn't fall into the clutches of a Western gallery director too early in his career. At GOSCHA's we sat in the kitchen once again. At two o'clock in the morning a female hand passed a loaf of bread through the open window. The hearty spiritual food of the past few days had made me forget my normal daily meals, so that I feasted on my slice of bread. Our conversation revolved around the situation of musical groups in Moscow. We intended to visit the NOVAJA EROTIKA and the painter AFRIKA, who prefers to call himself GAGARIN (because an astronaut is more than a mere artist), and who listens with his sister to NICK CAVE records night and day.

On our way to the NOVAJA EROTIKA, we recorded a short scene with my video-8, in which one of us was run over by a car and no-one looked out the window although his friend was crying desperately for help. Later on, when Moscow glowed red from the morning sun, we tried in vain to stop a taxi. Although private cabs have been permitted since 1 May 1987, most cars stop for just a second and then drive on quickly. I could find no explanation for this phenomenon. BORIS J., a theatre and video performance artist, who was my Moscow guide for a week, compared the frightened taxi drivers to children, who, long after the punishment is over still retreat when someone approaches, no matter what his intention.

I had been invited to the film festival, and did not want to disappoint the organizers; I also intended to keep my promise of holding a kind of video conference. Therefore, after an absence of several days, we returned to the Domkino. What took place there must surely have constituted one of the most remarkable gatherings of the video scene. About 40 delegates sat around a large conference table: 200/o were independent video or film producers, 700/o were from professional or coordinating organizations, and 1 00/o were people I did not know. No time was lost in making me the guest of honour, after which all of them embarked on long speeches about their work, their institute, awards received, etc. On my right sat ROMANOV, the 50-year old head of the Russian GOSFILM's department of artistic video. He praised the work of his department and hoped that I would help him to organize a festival later this year; in this way he hoped to make his entry into the network of international independent artists. Immediately after ROMANOV's speech, BORIS J. rose and welcomed those present on behalf of the Moscow and Leningrad underground, the world from which he came. It was to be my historic challenge to handle this rather tense situation between two stools. Suppressing the Byzantine inclination for long prologues, I quickly arrived at the essence of my speech, and felt inspired by these people, who were bravely making a new start. I offered them all the help, information and other means at my disposal. We are obliged to show our solidarity with their quest for artistic structures.

Wall of Light
During our meeting, the art critic ILJA F. prepared a performance scheduled for the late afternoon and evening on Kalinin Prospekt. He had been allowed the use of a video projection screen the size of a tennis court (and normally used for advertising), for a video performance of four hours. How he had managed to obtain permission ·something that could never happen on the Berlin Kurftirstendamm- I do not know. He succeeded, and it was a unique event in the history of the Prospekt and its pedestrians. Large wooden cubes were placed on the pavement, inviting passers-by to stop. In the meantime, the wall of light was electronically connected to a camera at ground level. Soon the show could begin. All passers-by could write or draw on the white cubes with large black felt-tip pens. The act of writing or drawing, and the final result, could be admired simultaneously by everyone all along the Prospekt. Someone wrote, for instance: I should like to see myself. Of course, the camera then swerved towards the writer and his family, who were delighted to see their portrait - larger than life- above the city, like a poster of a leading politician. Soldiers with families carrying shopping bags, lonely pedestrians and couples enjoyed this unique and spontaneous event.

Sculptural Madness
All this took place on a single day and was provided with an astonishing reflection during my visit to the recently re-opened NOVODEVICI cemetery. In NOVODEVICI, apart from the strikingly high standards evident from the careful maintenance of the old churches and monasteries, one is struck by the blatant arrogance, which allows STALIN's wife to lie next to MAYAKOVSKY, KHRUSHCHEV, and MOLOTOV. Even before the advent of Pop Art and Postmodernism, several unknown masters paid homage to sculptural madness (for instance, a bronze statue of a 1930s Minister of Postal Mfairs complete with a five meter long telephone receiver in his hand).

A group called Theatr- Theatr, led by BORIS J., devoted a twenty minute video essay to a buried and forgotten human being. In the middle of a much frequented Moscow park lies a small heap of scrap iron. A human being slowly digs his way out of the heap. Our unknown hero tells his life story (an average one, in his opinion) to the park's surprised visitors. When he has finished, he buries himself again. The audience pour him a little vodka, and a young mother breast-feeds the already half buried man. A passer-by, a man of about 60, assures everybody that he has seen nothing. The works of young contemporary Soviet musicians, film-makers and writers frequently contain motifs of nightmarish murder and manslaughter. The way in which these innocent people deal with the history of their nation deserves our respect.

Translation: Fokke Sluiter