Keti Chukhrov

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From the East: Week #5 Communion
Keti Chukhrov

23 Minutes

Artist Cinemas

Repeating till Tuesday, February 22, 12pm EST

Dia (short for Diamara, an abbreviation for dialectical materialism), a house-painter from Nazran (a town in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia) comes to love the earthly sophistication and religious devotion of Nita, her stylish employer in Moscow. Although frustrated by Dia’s slow pace of work, Nita aims to enlighten her, to bring her to faith and appreciation of the finer things in life. Looking forward to her baptism, Dia anticipates unity, sisterhood, and communion. But she uses the wrong toilet in Nita’s apartment and confronts the bodily limits of spiritual grace. When communion is something you take, the power of Christian materialism becomes the power of those with more material: “God has a hundred times more status, He’s way cooler than my Lexus,” the rich and beautiful Nita chants.

Based on an original play by Keti Chukhrov, Communion presents the dialectic of unity and belief. Spiritual unity conceals and maintains material division, hierarchies of privilege and power, and the hypocritical self-righteousness of the materially blessed. Assisted by religious icons, prayer can deliver capitalist ones—wealth, beauty, and luxury. Belief doesn’t heal the rift in the world; it expresses it. Nita’s friend Ira observes, “Well, girls, I understand what it means to believe—it’s like when everything is shit, and you force yourself to like it.” Belief enchains as much as it liberates, a truth not just for duped plebians but for the spiritual elite whose faith in their natural superiority ties them to a world they’ve already lost.

—Jodi Dean

Communion by Keti Chukrov is the fifth 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.

The film is introduced above by Jodi Dean and presented with an excerpt below from the essay “Keti Chukhrov’s Theatre of Communion” by Kevin Platt.

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 responding text.

Keti Chukhrov’s Theatre of Communion (​excerpt*)
By Kevin Platt

Communion, and Chukhrov’s writings in general, [draw] on Russian social realities ranging from the poverty and social collapse of the early post-Soviet era to the present epoch of precarious security combined with extraordinary economic and power disparities under the watchful eye of the authoritarian state. Her work reflects as well her disparate institutional contexts—the academy, elite literature, the contemporary art world, and political activism. Chukhrov’s first creative publications, in the middle 1990s, were of experimental lyric poetry, but by the end of that decade she was turning to dramatic forms. As Chukhrov explained in an interview that Marijeta Bozovic, Stephanie Sandler, and I conducted with her in 2015, her transition to dramatic form was driven by dissatisfaction with other available genres and institutions: contemporary art is too constrained by fixation on the art object, and lyric poetry is too focused on the experience of the individual, and neither is an effective means for moving people to political insight or action. […] For Chukhrov, dramatic form offers a way out of both the individual lyric subject and the closed art institution.

Nevertheless, her dramatic compositions retain the philosophical rigor and intensity of poetry and art, as well as some of the formal principles of these genres. We are called upon not only to identify with Chukhrov’s characters as familiar figures, but also to experience the shock produced by their critically formed, poetically enhanced and transformed language.

The rendering of Communion into English, a translation undertaken in collaboration with Chukhrov herself, results from work that began at the 2015 “Your Language My Ear” symposium that took place at the University of Pennsylvania. No translation can perfectly reproduce an original as dense with sociolects and stylistic variation as Communion; the translation offered here is a close approximation, and strives to preserve the combination of beauty and awkwardness in these characters’ language.

Common Knowledge has something of a tradition of publishing dramatic work at the boundaries of critical and poetic language, including, at the journal’s inception, an excerpt from Susan Sontag’s play Alice in Bed in 1993, with the author’s own reflection on that work. The Sontag piece was followed that same year by the publication of Raymond Carver’s early one-act Carnations, with an introduction by Edward Albee. About a decade later came Péter Nádas’s play Burial, translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein and introduced by Sontag, as well as Vvedensky’s dramaticule Four Descriptions in an English translation by the poet Eugene Ostashevsky. This is, by any account, a heterogeneous, punctuated tradition of sui generis works, into which Keti Chukhrov’s Communion uncannily well fits.

Jodi Dean is a professor in the Political Science department at the Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York state.

Kevin Platt is a professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

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

Communism, Religion & Spirituality, Labor & Work, Film, Theater
Christianity, Class, Russia, Post-socialism, Materialism
Return to From the East: Some Strange, Scary, and Funny Messages
Return to Artist Cinemas

Keti Chukhrov is a ScD in philosophy, and a Tage Danielsson guest professor at the Linkoping University. In 2022-2023 she was a guest professor at the University of Arts and Design in Karlsruhe. Until November 2022 she worked as a professor at the School of Philosophy and Сultural Studies at the Higher School of Economics (Moscow). In 2017-2019 she was a Marie Sklodowska Curie fellow at Wolverhampton University (UK). She has authored numerous texts on art theory and philosophy. Her latest book Practicing the Good: Desire and Boredom in Soviet Socialism (University of Minnesota Press/e-flux, 2020) deals with the impact of socialist political economy on the epistemes of historical socialism. Her books include To Be—To Perform: “Theater” in the Philosophic Critique of Art (European Un-ty, 2011), and Pound &£ (Logos, 1999), and a volume of dramatic writing: Merely Humans (2010). Her research interests and publications deal with the philosophy of performativity, the comparative epistemologies of capitalist and non-capitalist societies, and art as the institute of global contemporaneity. She authored the film-plays Afghan-Kuzminki (2013), Love-machines (2013), Communion (2016), and Undead (2022), featured at numerous venues.


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