The Buried Alive Videos 2004-2010

Roee Rosen

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From the East: Week #2 The Buried Alive Videos 2004-2010
Roee Rosen

36 Minutes

Artist Cinemas

Repeating till Tuesday, February 22, 12pm EST

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.

The Buried Alive Videos 2004-2010 is the second installment of From the East: Some Strange, Scary, and Funny Messages, an online program of films and accompanying texts convened by Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat) as the ninth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs 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.

Putin was Right: The Paranoia and Metanoia of Maxim Komar-Myshkin
By Joshua Simon

In the dusk of the Rashomon effect and the dawn of gaslighting, there stood a third category of narration: that of simulation and fiction, of counter-speculation infiltrating established historical narratives.[1] That moment of the late 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s was the one in which artist Roee Rosen engaged with plausible but fictive artists, Justine Frank (1900-1943) and Maxim Komar-Myshkin (1978-2011).

The compilation of videos presented here was made by the young artist Efim Poplavsky, also known as Maxim Komar-Myshkin, and The Buried Alive Group, his collective of friends—all immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Komar-Myshkin was born in Moscow in 1978 and committed suicide in Tel Aviv in 2011. During his short life, Komar-Myshkin generated a dense body of work that included the series of gouaches Astrological Paranoia (2006-2008), in which the stars in the night’s sky form symbols, bodies, and sentences such as “I was Killed by Putin,” and “Polonaise by Chopin, Polonium by Putin.”[2] Komar-Myshkin was haunted by Putin, and believed he was targeted by the Russian president and surveilled by Russia’s Federal Security Service – FSB.

In his Buried Alive Manifesto Komar-Myshkin writes (§17):

“There is no meaning. Everything is senseless chaos. Yet this senseless chaos is the hotbed for evil intentions and conspirations. Paranoia is justified.”[3]

According to The Buried Alive group, absurd chaos can only have a conspiratorial meaning. In this sense, the young artist’s paranoid fears of Putin also provided him some sort of identification with the Russian autocrat. Komar-Myshkin’s album of verse and images à-la-Kabakov, Vladimir’s Night, tells in 38 plates a macabre story of Putin as a cross between himself and a small child, joined in bed by jolly animated objects. What begins like a children’s story evolves into a sinister ordeal wherein these objects molest and torture Putin, and eventually feast on his corpse. Putin’s soul flies out from his body—not as a butterfly, the soul’s traditional icon, but rather as a mosquito-mouse, the pest of all pests. This same disease-carrying hybrid of malice, which is Putin’s soul, is also the name the artist chose for himself—Komar (комар) is mosquito, and Mysh (мышь) is mouse.

If Soviet state censorship forced artists and writers at the time to formulate double meanings in their work in order to to evade government restrictions, art critic Gleb Napreenko explains the modus operandi of Russian artists of the first decade of the millennium as one that operates in opposition to that of the Soviet era:

“Artists today engage in a buffoonish direct dialogue with power […] All of these contemporary gestures of subversive affirmation point toward the horror of identifying with the logic of power. But they do not open any of the lost territories within power that are forgotten by power itself, nor do they reveal any hidden layers of the unconscious, as the subversive affirmations of artists from socialist countries often did. The difference between the approach of Sots Art or Collective Actions to all things Soviet, and the approach of contemporary artists to Putinism, reads as the difference between the study of a rhetoric hollowed out and robbed of truth, and a rhetoric that consists of lies to begin with.”[4]

Between 2004 and 2010, Komar-Myshkin and his friends produced a series of short videos compiled in The Buried Alive Videos 2004-2010 (2013), along with excerpts from the manifesto that outlines their wilfully resigned approach, homemade aesthetics, and obsolete means.[5] Made in Israel, these videos are informed by the aesthetics of the militant cinema of liberation struggles that have gone awry, a retrograde guerrilla for clandestine spectacle, and secretive forms of existence and production, with direct reference to The Buried Alive’s predecessors—groups such as Oberiu (ОБэРИу) and Moscow’s “unofficial” artists—but the differences are telling. The manifesto states (§11, §10):

“Our ancestors imagined themselves emancipated through art. Our ancestors, through their despair, saw a horizon ahead of them. Our ancestors imagined futures when imagining futures was still possible. We no longer possess a sense of a future. We know all too well how old and stale the future is. Nothing ages as grotesquely as the future.

“But we are different than these glorious ancestors. They forged their poetry coffins and art graves as a form of defiance, sovereignty and liberation. But we were not buried alive by others. We freely imprisoned ourselves in our grave. Thus, we have no emancipatory hope or liberating vision, and we certainly cannot offer any to others.”

The Buried Alive videos include documentation of what could be called “short-term kidnappings.” In these, group members force their victims—key figures from the local intelligentsia in Israel—to tell absurd jokes from Russian history. These videos were not meant to be posted on social media. Nevertheless, they seem to echo the same cultural and visual moment which is more conspiratorial than liberatory. Historically, the militant image generated an urgency through its staging and its direct political demands— taking world media as its stage (the airplane hijackings of the 1960s and 1970s being one example). A decade and a half ago, the time when the Buried Alive videos were supposedly made, visual media products were very much informed by the videos of suicide bombers, which dominated Israeli news in the early 2000s, during the Second Intifada. These included young face-covered suicide bomber shahids making their self-portrait videos and sending them to news agencies, en-route to kill themselves and others. They suggest a very different aesthetics than that of Marxist-Leninist movements of earlier times.[6] Another visual reference present during that moment was the documentation of US captives in Iraq, and especially the Abu Ghraib photos that were circulating in the budding social media platforms and online news outlets of the time.[7]

The pastiche of cultural references, with Russian jokes from the middle-ages to Stalinist times—delivered by a gallery of unrelated personas—has an almost untranslatable logic, especially because these seemingly contradicting references actually existed concretely in the Israel of the early 2000s: Scandar Copti, the Palestinian director of the film Ajami (2009), is telling “Historical Joke #3, 1658” (which was shot, so it is claimed, in 2010). The joke involves a highly detailed and grotesque theological dispute on the nature of the Eastern cross wherein the dubious punchline offers a compromise all can agree on: a pogrom of the Jews. Israeli artist Yair Garbuz is telling “Historical Joke #1, April 1936” (which was shot, so it is mentioned, in 2004). The joke tells the story of Stalin’s doctors’ trial, wherein when a doctor on death row is granted his wish for a miracle by God himself: a miracle does happen, but it has nothing to do with him and fails to save him. Finally, in “Historical Joke #2, 1764” (signed 2007), literary editor Irina Vrubel-Golubkina and her partner, artist Michail Grobman, are taken hostage in their Tel Aviv apartment. She is tied to a chair and has a black-eye, and they are instructed by the kidnappers to deliver the joke in the form of a dialogue in Russian, their native language. She is Tsarina Ekaterína the Great, and he is her lover and right-hand man, Grigory Potemkin. The obscenity of the joke highlights the way world politics and the empire’s policies are but an autocrat’s whimsical ruse—a report from Ossetia, Georgia, and Crema under Putin, an echo of the US president’s ploy and lie about WMDs in Iraq, a pre-figuration of Donald Trump’s “pee-tape” Moscow hotel escapades.

Additional videos the group made are animation chants for objects, in which their history as a commodity is told. These might at first look like a Tret’iakov-style biography of the object, but as much as these seem like animistic enchantments of early Surrealism, or like emancipatory celebrations of social processes discarding capitalist object-subject differentiation, here too, the liberating character of rejecting cause and effect contorts into torture.[8] The segment Killing of Andrey Lev (2008), a silent split-screen with no edits, synchronizes in parallel one-shots, on one side a torturer tormenting a voodoo doll, and on the other side a young skinny man who seems indeed to respond to the pricks of needles and other torture devices—except, as is gradually made clear, with a growing sexual excitation rather than pain and death. This torture film echoes somehow the Abu Ghraib photos. As with those infamous images, the question stands: Are the images simply incriminating evidence or are they part of the perpetrators’ enjoyment?

The pleasure from pain in Killing Andrey Lev corresponds with the manifesto, where the group writes (§5):

“We are living Russian corpses, a pack of spiritual zombies. We intently buried ourselves in the Middle East, but we are still living our Russian past. We are the Buried Alive.”

The Buried Alive’s response to their own marginality, as well as to the political realities of cruelty and lies, reiterates in a hyperventilated, spastic, manner: We won’t refute Putin’s paranoia, but instead we will borrow and embody it. Boris Groys explains that paranoia was the worldview of Soviet reality:

“Revolutionary suspicion is the effect of paranoia. But this is not a case of ‘subjective’ paranoia, which could be cured psychiatrically or psychoanalytically, but rather of an ‘objective’ paranoia, the conditions of whose emergence lie in the object itself, which arouses suspicion by appearing as an obscure object, one that recoils from the coherent arguments of reason. The whole world appears to us in this way as just such an obscure object, one that necessarily arouses the suspicion of harbouring in its interior a diabolical reason that rules through paradoxes.”[9]

One paradox we inherited, in a world where revolution is inconceivable, is that the ruler himself is paranoid (see the US’s NSA operations, or Putin’s perception of Maidan). Here of course, Putin is right. Not because it is unlikely that any escalation could be circumstantial and spontaneous, but because, as the Buried Alive say: “Paranoia is justified.” Being paranoid is less of a critical position vis-à-vis power per se, and more of an identification with it. This mechanism allows for the contemporary conspiracy believer to enjoy a certain sense of power—where it is one’s subjective compulsion that makes for an objective reality. Groys explains that “the term metanoia can be used to describe the transition from an individual subjective perspective to a general perspective, to a metaposition.”[10]

In both paranoia and metanoia, one is delivered beyond their own mind—the paranoid supposedly loses their mind, and the metanoid goes through a conversion that changes their mind. With The Buried Alive Videos, we realize that the conspiratorial mind is a melancholic one. In other words, Komar-Myshkin poses the question, if we do not have paranoia, what do we have?

[1] See: Carrie Lambert-Beatty, “Make-Believe: Parafiction and Plausibility,” October 129, Summer 2009 (MIT Press), pp. 51–84; and: Sven Lütticken, “An Arena in Which to Reenact,” in: Sven Lutticken (ed.), Life, Once More: Forms of Reenactment in Contemporary Art(Witte de With, 2005), pp. 17-60

[2] On November 23, 2006, Alexander Litvinenko was the first person known to be murdered by radiation, when he was poisoned by radionuclide polonium-210. The former senior FSB officer had defected to the UK following a series of allegations he put forth regarding the Kremlin’s involvement in the assassination of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, among others.

[3] All quotes from The Buried Alive Manifesto from here on are from the book: Roee Rosen, Maxim Komar-Myshkin: Vladimir’s Night(Sternberg Press, 2014), pp. 102-103

[4] Gleb Napreenko, “Back in the USSR?,” e-flux journal #55, May 2014

[5] The films pretend to have been made in the span of six years, but were in fact all made in a single two-day film production.

[6] See, for example: Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity, (Cornell University Press, 2005); and: Joshua Simon, “Thoughts on the Aesthetics of Terror in General and Suicide Bombers’ Videos in Particular,” in: Joshua Simon and Manon Slome (eds.), The Aesthetics of Terror (Charta Publishers, 2009), pp. 38-47

[7] In an essay from 2004, Roee Rosen suggested a spectrum of the aesthetics of terror—from the abstraction of state terror (reductions, smart bomb POVs, and obstacles like the separation wall in Palestine-Israel), to the iconic images of underground terror (Bin Laden’s videos, suicide bombers, and the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers). See: Roee Rosen, “The Aesthetics of Terror,” in: Rosen, Live and Die as Eva Braun and Other Intimate Stories (Sternberg Press and Edith-Russ-Haus, 2016), pp. 77-82

[8] The animation chants from the film, as well as the historical jokes, can be found in: Roee Rosen, Maxim Komar-Myshkin: Vladimir’s Night (Sternberg Press, 2014), pp. 115-117; 165-170. Roee Rosen’s film The Dust Channel (2016, 23 min.) is purportedly based on a libretto written by Komar-Myshkin wherein the biography of a Dyson DC07 Vacuum Cleaner converges with sexual escapades as well as with the Israeli government’s harsh treatment of African refugees.

[9] Boris Groys, The Communist Postscript (Verso, 2010), p. 26

[10] Ibid., p. 106

Joshua Simon. Writer and curator based in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Philadelphia. Teaches at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His exhibition project The Dividual opens in the spring at Los Angeles Contemporary Archives.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Video Art, Russia, Soviet Union, Manifestos
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Roee Rosen (b. 1963) is an Israeli-American artist, filmmaker, and writer. He is known for his multilayered and provocative work which often challenges the divides between history and the present, documentary and fiction, politics and erotics. Rosen dedicated years to his fictive feminine persona, the Jewish-Belgian Surrealist painter and pornographer Justine Frank, a project that entailed fabricating her entire oeuvre as a book and a short film, Two Women and a Man (2005). In 2010 Rosen created two films. Hilarious and Out, in which a BDSM session becomes a political exorcism. Out premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Orizzonti award for best medium-length film. The film went on the win numerous awards, including a nomination for the European Film Awards. Rosen’s film The Dust Channel was coproduced by documenta 14, where it was exhibited along with two historical text and image installations: The Blind Merchant and Live and Die as Eva Braun. Several retrospectives of Rosen’s films were held, among them at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (2012), La Roche-sur-Yon International Film Festival (2013), and FICUNAM festival, Mexico City (2018). In 2018 an expansive solo exhibition of his work was held at Centre Pompidou, Paris, entitled Histoires dans le pénombre. The exhibition also included a full film survey. Rosen’s two latest books are Live and Die as Eva Braun and Other Intimate Stories (2017), and Desire and Dust (2019), both published by Sternberg Press. He is currently working on a book on illness in the guise of coloring pages titled Lucy is Sick, a part of which was published by Steirischer Herbst (2020). Rosen’s most recent film is a musical comedy combining fiction, animation, and documentary titled Kafka for Kids, and part of the official selection for the Tiger competition in the 2022 edition of the Rotterdam Film Festival. His upcoming solo shows are scheduled to open in 2022 at 1646, the Hague, and at the Kunstmuseum Luzern. Rosen is a professor at Ha’Midrasha Faculty of Arts, Beit Berl College in Israel.


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