Artist Cinemas

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

Convened by
Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat) 

With 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

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.

From the East: Some Strange, Scary, and Funny Messages is a 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.

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

Category
Film
Subject
Video Art, Russia, Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, Post-socialism
Return to Artist Cinemas

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.

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