From the East: Some Strange, Scary, and Funny Messages

From the East: Some Strange, Scary, and Funny Messages

Artist Cinemas

Clip from Tsaplya Olga Egorova, Several Ways to Please Valya: The Room of Vickie and Zhenya, 2001.

January 10, 2022
From the East: Some Strange, Scary, and Funny Messages
Convened by Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat)
January 10–February 20, 2022
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e-flux is very pleased to present From the East: Some Strange, Scary, and Funny Messages, an online program of films and texts put together by Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat) as the ninth edition of Artist Cinemas, a long-term series curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

From the East runs in six episodes released every Monday from January 10 through February 20, 2022, streaming a new film each week accompanied by a commissioned response published in text form.

It features films by Keti ChukrovTechno-Poetry CooperativeTsaplya Olga EgorovaRoee RosenYuri Leiderman and Andrej Silvestrov, and Želimir Žilnik; and texts by Corina L. ApostolJodi DeanUri GershowitzAmir HusakJoshua Simon, and Zairong Xiang.

The program opens its first week with Tsaplya Olga Egorova’s Several Ways to Please Valya: The Room of Vickie and Zhenya (2001), accompanied by a text response by Corina L. Apostol.

Follow the program here.


From the East: Some Strange, Scary, and Funny Messages 
Convened by Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat)

I confess it was very difficult for me to compose this program. My favorite video works did not fit into any general concept; they came from different countries and continents, from different times and emotional states. My long research watching and pursuing different films and positions was constantly questioned by members of our collective, who could not make a coherent choice either. 

Therefore, I decided to focus on a selection of films I love that tell different stories, but are connected by a certain common narrative line belonging to the poetic-absurdist tradition, which perhaps most precisely reflects the social and political reality in which our collective Chto Delat and I have to live and work. The program brings together films made over the last twenty years, that have little in common besides a weird aesthetics that seeks to resonate with this crazy reality around us.

It is not surprising that all films in this program were made by artists from the expanded post-socialist context. And I could see from past editions of this e-flux screening series that some of the other invited artists had also focused on a circle of topics and authors that were close to them.

Therefore, something should be said about this context.

The post-socialist space remains for the international art scene—and for the world—a largely mysterious and uninteresting place, with an absence of any legible or recognized form of “normal” histories and public politics. It is not even that Orient—invented by Europeans in the nineteenth-century and then described by Edward Said—that became a fashionable part of intellectual and academic debate. It stays outside the zone of the postcolonial interests of the West, which is accustomed to discussing situations and contexts that are historically familiar to it—whose histories have been developing with its direct participation. 

Russia is certainly the most vivid example of this mysterious and opaque zone, where little is happening beyond Putin’s geopolitical game. The politics of perception and reaction brought about by the pandemic have sharpened this sense of isolation even more (the world is separated into “clean” bodies vaccinated by proper vaccines and “dirty” bodies vaccinated by the wrong vaccine—Sputnik). Out of Russia, we hear only media noise consisting of information about gas prices and pipelines; medieval stories of poisoning, torture, and disappearances; news of tank column maneuvers, strange activist deeds, and troll factories; records of excess and excessive mortality toll; etc.

Any artist trying to deal with this situation becomes a kind of hostage to it: Living in a situation of high irrationality and violence, it is quite difficult to produce and share meaning. I increasingly think that, despite its superficiality, the ubiquitous, banal, and old metaphor of Russia as a cold emptiness most accurately describes the state of our life at the moment, when everything elsewhere around the world seems to be blazing, growing, heated, worried, caring. Whereas here there is silence, recession, nonchalance, depopulation, degrowth, and the freezing and withering away of all social and political forms of life. Albeit many hot parties without masks. 

Attempting to comprehend this situation could take your breath away, like standing in the middle of a snowy field at minus thirty degrees Celsius. It is very difficult to guess what the existence of such a place means. It may not even be worth trying to, as no one can predict how and when it will begin to thaw, and what could appear afterwards.

In the meantime, I hope these films, presented here in dialogue with texts written from a wider context, can provide us with some means of navigating in this cold field.


Week #1: January 10–16, 2022
Tsaplya Olga Egorova, Several Ways to Please Valya: The Room of Vickie and Zhenya
200112 minutes

Vickie and Zhenya are identical twins in the process of transitioning. They live in the small city of Norilsk in the far north of Russia. Their entire life is condensed into the space of their small room. 

The film is constructed as a methodological manual for the creation and arrangement of a living space, and the placement of various objects there. The room of Vickie and Zhenya is examined as an ideal example of the intimate private space capable of authentically reflecting its hostess. 

The film is based on a video-letter that Vickie and Zhenya sent to their friend Valya. Vickie and Zhenya got to know Valya at the clinic where they underwent their sex reassignment. Since then, Valya has been their constant—though invisible—witness of their life. They report to Valya on all the changes they go through in the process of their transfiguration into Beautiful Ladies.

Week #2: January 17–23, 2022
Roee Rosen, The Buried Alive Videos
2013, 36 minutes

The Buried Alive Videos compiles six works supposedly produced by The Buried Alive Group between 2004-2010, and brackets them with sections from The Buried Alive Manifesto (2004), which sets the creative and ideological guidelines of the group.

Week #3: January 24–30, 2022
Yuri Leiderman and Andrej Silvestrov, Birmingham Ornament
2011, 67 minutes

For years now, Andrej Silvestrov and Yuri Leiderman have been working on an epic project called Birmingham Ornament, a Surrealist series of (politically often very pointed) skits that, theoretically, can be arranged and re-arranged at will. 

The film comprises several narrative lines, each of which was shot with its own specific stylistics in different corners of the planet. All the lines in the film intersect to form a common statement expressing criticism of modern civilization, and tossing around Oriental tyranny and European democracy’s lack of determination.

Week #4: January 31–February 6, 2022
Želimir Žilnik, The Old School of Capitalism 
2009, 122 minutes

The Old School of Capitalism is rooted in the first wave of worker revolts to hit Serbia since the advent of capitalism. Desperate workers bulldoze through factory gates and are devastated to discover that the site has been looted by the bosses. Eccentrically escalating confrontations—including a melee with workers wearing American football pads and helmets, with the boss and his security force in bulletproof vests—prove fruitless. Committed young anarchists offer solidarity, take the bosses hostage. A Russian tycoon, a Wall Street trader, and US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Belgrade unexpectedly complicate events, which culminate in a shocking end. As it progresses, the film produces an increasingly complex and yet unfailingly lively account of present-day—in fact, up-to-the-minute—struggles under the misery-inducing effects of both local and global capitalism. The film was developed out of research into the factories of Sinvoz, BEK, and Jugoremedija in the city of Zrenjanin. These factories were devastated in the process of “reprivatization,” causing production to be stopped and leaving thousands of workers unemployed. Žilnik followed the workers’ protests and their occupation of the factories. The captured footage resulted in a documentary, which was given to the workers to spread their message. The production company Playground Produkcija also joined the effort, and later produced a series of TV documentaries called What Remains After Bankruptcy. The series was screened on local TV and very much contributed to the visibility of and media attention to these struggles. After the documentary series was completed, the workers suggested to Žilnik that he should continue to work with the topic, and that the capitalist bastards should be shown and analyzed. Žilnik agreed and invited the workers themselves to play all the roles. (What, How & for Whom/WHW)

Week #5: February 7–13, 2022
Keti Chukhrov, Communion
2016, 23 minutes

Based on the original play by Keti Chukhrov (2009), the video-play Communion unfolds as the clash between the subaltern, unenlightened hired worker and a representative of the cultural elite, who happens to convey the values of religion and spiritual growth, thus speaking on behalf of social authority and ethical power. To arrive to the sermon in a Bentley, in the outfit from Lanvin, having done her hair at the most expensive stylist, then book the table at Sibir Sibir restaurant; to not forget, in the break between the prayers The Symbol of Faith and Our Father, to call the designer of her show and then check on the work of the hired repair worker whom she pays as cheaply as possible, as they have by now become friends… The biggest reward for the worker is her new spiritual bond with her noble employer, even more so when she eventually sees her wealthy master as her true sister in faith, whom, from now on, she is ashamed to condemn.

Week #6: February 14–20, 2022
Techno-Poetry Cooperative, No Avoiding the Apocalypse!
2021, 74 minutes

In the early days of the First World War, not long before the opening of the legendary Cabaret Voltaire, Hugo Ball wrote that during such political perturbations, “All living art will be irrational, primitive, and complex; it will speak a secret language and leave behind documents not of edification, but of paradox.”

Touching on a wide range of important social and professional issues that concern the artists involved, Techno-Poetry’s phantasmagorical video-vaudeville No Avoiding the Apocalypse! (or Let there be an Apocalypse!) is imbued with the spirit of Ball’s “living art”—and contains formal references to Dada cabaret practices. The vaudeville begins with four queer travesty characters meeting to discuss current issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its social, political, and psychological repercussions. In particular, they are interested in the question of social distancing, which they approach in the spirit of Giorgio Agamben’s critical comments on the quarantine as a directive power procedure that disconnects people within society. The scene ends on a question: Where do we seek refuge? Offering their answers are invited “agents of the future”—today’s activists speaking as their doubles from the future worlds made possible through their work in the present. Parallel to that, the storyline develops as a series of redemption exercises: conspirological discussions, magic rituals, and interactive healing practices, in which the audience is invited to take part. In the closing scene, the characters that open the performance reappear to announce the unhappy conclusion: Let there be an Apocalypse! Whether this prophecy will come true—or, in Agamben’s temporality of the ”time that begins to end,” whether it will continue to come true in the present—depends, Techno-Poetry believes, on our activities in the present.

Dmitry Vilensky (b. 1964, Leningrad) is an artist, educator, and cultural environmentalist with no art degrees. He elicits situations and relationships. No one knows what he is up to right now: perhaps he is editing a new issue of Chto Delat’s newspaper, administering the Chto Delat Mutual Aid Fund, editing a film, talking with the participants of the School of Engaged Art, making a set for a new play, or sitting in the assembly at Rosa’s House of Culture editing presentation for another conference… Most likely, he is doing all this and dozens of other activities at the same time, surrounded by various comradely compositions of bodies and minds in his hometown of St. Petersburg, on Zoom, and in many other places around the world.

Artist Cinemas is an e-flux platform focusing on exploring the moving image as understood by people who make film. It is informed by the vulnerability and enchantment of the artistic process—producing non-linear forms of knowledge and expertise that exist outside of academic or institutional frameworks. It will also acknowledge the circles of friendship and mutual inspiration that bind the artistic community. Over time this platform will trace new contours and produce different understandings of the moving image.

For more information, contact


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January 10, 2022

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