The message of the exhibition is contained in its title. The show is dedicated not only to the controversial substance of such a globally significant historical event as the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. It also engages with the problems of the historical memory of the revolution as a whole. Is the way we “see” the historical event influenced and changed by the time distance, the new evaluations, political analysis and historical detail? In a way, the exhibition is about the “ikonofiliya” and “iconoclasm” of our newest history; it is about how the image of the event is influencing our notions about it; how fighting “images” is changing or not the notions about history.
There is no way one can overestimate the scale of the October Revolution’s ideas and most of all – their influence over the following 100 years. There is no way all of that could be encapsulated within the frames of a single exhibition. That is why the show is restricted to the images of the revolution and the images of its reevaluation, especially those that are valid within our geography with its political and economic dependencies on the past.
Within the context of the immense polarity of contemporary reactions to the events from 1917 – analyzing and/or critiquing, glorifying and/or full of irony, satirizing and/or diminishing, this exhibition project is widening the notion of “exhibition art” by introducing cinema and TV documentary material. The movie October (1927) by Sergei Eisenstein is still one of the most powerful propaganda artworks, which has defined what the October Revolution supposedly “looked like”. It is in dialogue with the video documentation from the regular public readings by volunteers of lists with the names of victims of the Stalinist terror which happens annually in Moscow in front of the ex-KGB building on the Day of the Memory of the Victims of Political Repressions.
In the opinion of the curator, the main benefit from the October Revolution – equality, is presented by the performance titled also Equality (1998) by Elena Kovilina, as well as by the video Builders (2005) by the artists’ group Chto Delat? It speaks of the only possible realization of the equality utopia today – within the frames of an art collective.
The Tower Bawher (2006) animated film by Theodore Ushev is based on the ideas and the art of Constructivism while its title refers to the games of ОБеРИу (Society of Real Art) – the literary group from 1927-31. The video titled Black Square on the Red Square (1992) of the IRWIN group is in the show because it engages with the revolution in art, the ideas of communality and community, as well as simply because of the symbolic value of the action it documented. The explicit irony of Magda Totova’s video titled Lenin and Maiden (2003) transforms the interaction with the plaster cast head of Lenin into a fragment from an erotic film with a clearly recognizable stylistic.
Once in the XX Century (2004) by Deimantas Narkevičius was motivated by the TV coverage of the dismantling of the Lenin monument in Vilnius in 1991. Years later, the artist is revisiting the image of the victory over socialism because of the presence of a strange aspect of insecurity during the destruction – that turns out to be significant in our days too.
The unusual object in the film by Anna Artaker is the collection of death masks that were made by the sculptor Sergey Merkurov. The collection is housed in the museum dedicated to the sculptor in his native town of Gyumri, Armenia. The artist has filmed those casts from the faces of real people – such as Lenin and Nadezhda Krupskaya, Dzerzhinsky and Clara Zetkin, Leo Tolstoy and Valery Bryusov, Mikhail Bulgakov and Vladimir Mayakovski, Sergei Eisenstein and Georgi Dimitrov. The work is based not only on the masks that were casted off the faces of the diseased between 1907 and the end of the 1940ies, but also on the 1960 film by one of the members of the Viennese Actionists’ group, the director Kurt Kren. However, where Kren’s film positions those masks within the context of the theory of fate writings of Léopold Szondi and juxtaposed them to faces of living people, Anna Artaker is only filming the masks without even mentioning the names of the dead – the dead, even though they were considered heroes once, are dead and are in a museum.
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The curator is grateful to Anna Artaker; Deimantas Narkevičius; Chto Delat? group and specifically Dmitry Vilensky; IRWIN group and specifically Miran Mohar; Elena Kovilina, the Collection of the V-A-C Fund and specifically Teresa Mavica; MUSA and specifically Roland Finck; and Theodore Ushev for generously sharing their works with our project.
Special gratitude goes to Kalin Serapionov, Dimitar Solakov, Kiril Prashkov, Luchezar Boyadjiev and Nedko Solakov whose help made this exhibition possible.