Citizens of the Cosmos

Citizens of the Cosmos

Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz

Anton Vidokle, Citizens of the Cosmos (still), 2019. HD video, color, sound. 30:19 minutes. Japanese with English subtitles. Courtesy of the artist.

September 19, 2022
Citizens of the Cosmos
Anton Vidokle with Veronika Hapchenko, Fedir Tetyanych and the Collection of the Cosmist International
October 7, 2022–March 12, 2023
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Opening: October 7, 6pm
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Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz
Wieckowskiego 36 St.
90-734 Lodz
Poland
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 12am–6:30pm
msl.org.pl

Curated by Daniel Muzyczuk.

What if Katarzyna Kobro’s Hanging Constructions had come from investigating zero gravity and life beyond our planet? She was probably exposed to Cosmist ideas, which were discussed in artistic circles in Revolution-era Moscow. And what if Władysław Strzemiński’s interest in inaugurating a museum was also partly inspired by the writings of Nikolai Fedorov, who compared the world after the conquest of death and resurrection for all to a museum, a space where time is suspended? These speculations connect an intellectual movement that originated in Russia in the mid-nineteenth century with the origins of the Muzeum Sztuki.

Cosmism assumes that resurrection is possible through technology. This thought experiment led to a vision of radically transformed culture and living conditions. Nikolai Fedorov’s doctrine had consequences in such remote fields as the Soviet space program, new poetry, Constructivism, museology, and even blood transfusion research. 

The Muzeum Sztuki, a museum of the avant-garde, is holding an exhibition that introduces this multiplicity of ideas and the aesthetics of Cosmism. It is organized around research by Anton Vidokle (born 1965), an artist and publisher who has spent nearly a decade exploring and working with the philosophy of Cosmism in order to imagine a future devoid of death, war, decay, and the exploitation of nature. The exhibition features a series of his films, shot in Japan, Ukraine, Italy, Russia, and Kazakhstan, which stage some key notions of this intellectual and artistic tradition. 

The show also includes works from the Muzeum Sztuki’s collection as the holdings of a speculative Cosmist International. This exhibition seeks to show that the Cosmism movement has not been limited to Russia, by emphasizing the work of Ukrainian artists who have explored the field. Fedir Tetyanych was a performer, designer, painter, and poet who was deeply moved by the notion of the biosphere. He developed the doctrine of Frypulia, based on notions of eternity, infinity, and boundlessness. The show also includes the paintings of Veronika Hapchenko, a visionary painter from Krakow who illustrates various aspects of the writings of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

Room 1 
Fedir Tetyanych: From Cossacks to Biotechnospheres

Fedir Tetyanych (1942–2007) was a total artist whose work was based on a complex philosophy. He grew up in the village of Kniazhychi near Kyiv, and from there he drew his ideas. He mixed Ukrainian folklore, folk traditions, national images, and legends. He also identified himself with the Cossack—a hero who personifies individual freedom. These influences were blended with his fascination for modernism, Cosmism, and science fiction, from the material aspects of his work to the ideological principles of their creation. He sourced his material from trash and added soil to his paint. This led him to invent a gesture whereby he attached the whole world to his canvas.

He called his system, Frypulia, which he also used at times as his nickname. It was a code by which humanity, radiating in either a radio wave or in a beam of light and carrying all information about itself, could be reproduced again at any point in space. As such, Frypulia evoked both eternal life and infinity. 

The objects in this room are divided into three groups. One contains a large canvas depicting an immortal in an infinite universe and works on paper connecting these visions of the future with Ukrainian history (for example, a Cossack mace forming a biotechnosphere). The second is a group of works on paper from the Biotechnospheres: Cities of the Future series. The works focus on one of the artist’s main preoccupations: a unit for human habitation and movement. The third group is also connected to the biotechnosphere. The works on paper were used to coat one of the models for the vehicle in 1984. They imitate parts of the design.

Room 2
From Zero Gravity to Immortality

The science fiction novel Beyond the Planet Earth, written in 1920, compared anti-gravity to swimming in the water: “the travelers will dangle, so to speak, in their atmosphere: they will neither fall, nor need the floor for support. They will be like fish in the water, only they will experience no major obstacle in their motion, none of the resistance of the water.” Hanging Composition 1 (1920–21) by Katarzyna Kobro is a work that connects Suprematism with space exploration. 

The object is placed alongside an excerpt from an excerpt from Kuba Mikurda’s essay film Solaris Mon Amour. This is a radical reimagining of this science-fiction classic - one made solely on the basis of found footage. This is another connection between Polish culture and Cosmism. The novel by Stanisław Lem depicts an ocean planet capable of bringing back “guests,” of resurrecting dead people who were loved by the visitors from Earth. It alludes to the trauma of World War Two by showing a place where redemption and eternal life are possible.

Room 3
Anton Vidokle, Citizens of the Cosmos, 2019, 30:19 minutes

Citizens of the Cosmos is a film by Anton Vidokle based on the Biocosmist manifesto, written by Alexander Svyatogor in 1922. Shot on location in Tokyo and Kyiv with a group of amateur actors, volunteers, and extras, the film presents an imaginary community voicing the historical desires of Cosmism—immortality, resurrection of the dead, and interplanetarism—all in the context of everyday life in contemporary Japan. Using urban shrines, cemeteries, a crematorium (actually located in Kyiv), tatami rooms, a bamboo forest, an industrial gas plant, and city streets as an open-air stage, the film gradually narrates the Biocosmist manifesto while presenting a sequence of dream-like tableaux, featuring rejuvenation through blood transfusion, funerary processions and demonstrations, a Danse Macabre, the cremation bone picking ceremony (骨上げ), attempts to communicate with the dead using stethoscopes, and a theremin orchestra recital, among other scenes. Set to an original score composed by Alva Noto, Citizens of the Cosmos is an experiment in defamiliarisation: a speculative test of the universality implicit in Cosmism’s premise.

Room 4
The Central Room

This room is organized around the timeline of Cosmism, organizing our knowledge about this obscure yet very influential ideology. It connects all the aspects of the exhibition that might initially seem distant from one another. The collection of the speculative Cosmist International offers an iconographic constellation that grounds the movement’s objectives in universal representations of death, rebirth, and space exploration. The room is completed by three paintings by Veronika Hapchenko (born 1995), a Krakow-based painter whose work is informed by the writings of the Cosmists. She uses an airbrush technique to make the visions of the future and space appear vague. The two larger paintings reference visions of the cosmos from the writings of Tsiolkovsky. The smaller work in the middle, influenced by George Gurdjieff, is here a portrait of the resurrected, infinite human being—a gnostic Anthrôpos.

Room 5
Anton Vidokle, Autotrofia, 2020, 31:37 minutes

Shot in the village of Oliveto Lucano in the south of Italy, this film both documents an ancient pagan fertility ritual still practiced in this region and tells a fictional story based on writings of the painter Vassily Chekrygin and the scientist Vladimir Vernadsky. The scripted content of the film explores the ecological dimension of Cosmism: a desire to transform and evolve so that humans would not need to kill and consume any other living organism to produce the energy they need to live, and instead learn from plants how to generate nutrition directly from the sun. This idea, first developed at the turn of the twentieth century, is juxtaposed with an older, pagan celebration of King Oak and King Holly: a harvest festival in which two trees representing summer and winter are joined into one supernaturally tall tree, completing and uniting the seasonal cycle created by the orbit of our planet around the Sun. Autotrofia was commissioned by Fondazione Matera-Basilicata as a collaboration with the village community. The entire village participated in making the film, some helping with production and others acting in roles. Shot in Italian, the script was translated by Franco (Bifo) Berardi. The music for the film was composed by Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai).

Room 6
Anton Vidokle, Immortality for All: A Film Trilogy on Russian Cosmism, 2014–17, 96 minutes

The philosophy known as Cosmism has now largely been forgotten. Its utopian tenets—combining Western Enlightenment with Eastern philosophy, Russian Orthodox traditions with Marxism—inspired many key Soviet thinkers, until they fell victim to Stalinist repression. In this three-part film project, artist Anton Vidokle probes Cosmism’s influence on the twentieth century and suggests its relevance to the present day. In Part One he returns to the foundations of Cosmist thought (This Is Cosmos, 2014). Part Two explores the links between cosmology and politics (The Communist Revolution Was Caused By The Sun, 2015), while Part Three restages the museum as a site of resurrection, a central Cosmist idea (Immortality and Resurrection for All!, 2017).

Combining essay, documentary, and performance, Vidokle quotes from the writings of Cosmism founder Nikolai Fedorov and other philosophers and poets. His wandering camera searches for traces of Cosmist influence in the remains of Soviet-era art, architecture, and engineering, moving from the steppes of Kazakhstan to the museums of Moscow. The music by John Cale and Éliane Radigue accompanies these haunting images, conjuring up the yearning for connectedness, social equality, material transformation, and immortality at the heart of Cosmist thought.

Individual Synopses
This is Cosmos, 2014, 28:10 minutes
Shot in Siberia and Kazakhstan, as well as the Moscow and Archangelsk regions, the first film in the trilogy on Russian Cosmism comprises a collage of ideas from the movement’s diverse protagonists, including founding philosopher Nikolai Fedorov. Fedorov, among others, believed that death was a mistake—a flaw in the overall design of the human, “because the energy of cosmos is indestructible, because true religion is a cult of ancestors, because true social equality is immortality for all.” For the Cosmists, the definition of the cosmos was not limited to outer space: rather, they set out to create a “cosmos,” or harmonious and eternal life, on Earth. The ultimate goal, as illuminated in the short film, was “to construct a new reality, free of hunger, disease, violence, death, need, inequality—like communism.”

The Communist Revolution Was Caused by the Sun, 2015, 33:36 minutes
The second part of the trilogy looks at the poetic dimension of the solar cosmology of Soviet biophysicist Alexander Chizhevsky. Shot in Kazakhstan, where Chizhevsky was imprisoned and later exiled, the film introduces us to Chizhevsky’s research into the impact of solar emissions on human sociology, psychology, politics, and economics through wars, revolutions, epidemics, and other upheavals. The film aligns the lives of post-Soviet rural folk and the futurological projects of Cosmism to emphasize that the goal of the early Soviet breakthroughs aiming at the conquest of outer space was less technical acceleration than the common cause of humankind in their struggle against the limitations of earthly life.

Immortality and Resurrection for All!, 2017, 34:17 minutes
The trilogy’s last part is a meditation on the museum as the site of resurrection—a central idea for many Cosmist thinkers, scientists, and avant-garde artists. Filmed at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow Zoological Museum, the Lenin Library, and the Museum of Revolution, the film looks at museological and archival techniques of collection, restoration, and conservation as a means of the material restoration of life, following an essay penned by Nikolai Fedorov on this subject in the 1880s. The film follows a cast of present-day followers of Fedorov, several actors, artists, and a Pharaoh Hound, who playfully enact the resurrection of a mummy, and perform close examinations of Malevich’s Black Square, Rodchenko’s spatial constructions, taxidermized animals, artifacts of the October Revolution, skeletons, and mannequins in scenes resembling tableau vivants, in order to create a contemporary visualization of the poetry implicit in Fedorov’s writings.

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September 19, 2022

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