Stanislav Shuripa Born in 1971 in South Sakhalinsk. Artist. Graduated from the Vaalend Art Academy, Gothenburg (Sweden). Author of the numerous texts dedicated to the contemporary art and visual culture. Lives in Moscow.
The Hot Stone
Somewhere, far away in the desolate centre of the biggest continent on earth – people are working. They are working ceaselessly and tirelessly whatever the weather and regardless of the difficulties they encounter. The rumble of motors, clouds of dust and the silence of the steppe hang all around. It seems that this labor has thrown down a challenge to indifferent nature in order to test the strength of the collective's selflessness. It might have looked very similar to one of those epic Soviet construction projects if one were to add an element of height to the spectacle with a panorama of labor unfurling itself in its entirety before the camera's gaze. However, looking at things from a less vertiginous height confirms that we are witnessing the present. This is Kirghizia, in the foot hills of the Pamir Mountains, at the loading terminal and temporary warehouse for the countless consumer goods that are being disgorged into the world by the blossoming Chinese economy. The Great Silk Road once passed through here; today it is one of the hubs of the global economic network, one of the transition points through which capital flows, one of the great meeting places of peoples, cultures and languages. One of those places where the archaic makes an appearance into the world on the wings of post-modernity, where the abstract schemes of liberal globalisation are made manifest in the concrete relationships of a multitude of different people. These invisible ties are also what give Kirghiz artists Murat Djumaliev and Gulnara Kasmalieva's video work its texture.
The global economy and its attendant network of communications insist on the fact that reality is fundamentally the flow of industrially manufactured images. Systems of representation spread like hoar frost and freeze everything that stays in touch with post-Fordism. In the nineties it seemed that the correct response to this shock liberalism was a passion for the Real; today these passions, with or without digital processing, are flooding the culture industry. Art responds with the latest turn of evolution, as noted in a sympathy for the Symbolic. More and more often, artists are acting as story tellers and this lends a characteristic twist to the scope of their work: the story teller's field of view usually takes the form of a ring and because of this the work acquires the qualities of a panorama. Only with one important difference: the observer gives up his traditional place in the centre of the story, and oscillating between positions on the inside and outside of the story, translates a self-confident panopticum of a panoramic view much like a slow motion explosive blast.
The function of the subject of the enunciation reminds one of the significance of the memorial of an event: the story teller – is a binary singularity, a unique translator of the event in the narrative. According to Nietzsche it is possible to perceive and convey History in three aspects: the monumental, the antique and the critical. If one assumes that the critical perception of history assists theoretical discourse, at the same time as antiquarianisation brings to the action the type of the artist-actor, who is regaining by means of his/her own body the ecstasy of the pulverization of the present over the trifles that are crowded in the showcases of the past, then monumental history is awakened in the stories told by artists. Nietzsche compares the monumental perception of history to a view of a mountain range from one of its summits; the imprint of geological events stretched out over millions of years controls the space just like the great achievements of the past gather everything that has passed around themselves. The low lands and the precipices, the banal and evil are veiled by the fog: monumentality – is the name of the inspiration, which you experience while looking at the constellation of achievements filtering through from the past. "That which one day helped to evolve and imbue the concept of "humankind" with an even more wonderful content, should be preserved forever so that it can eternally fulfill its purpose." Inspiration is born out of the inverted space of history in the subject, the depths of which can not be conveyed in any other way than through story telling. And the concept of the "Human" itself, as is well known, preserves its meaning only thanks to the pandemic of the narrative, which has gripped Homo Sapiens from the end of the Neolithic period and has become ever stronger to the present day.
Light and shade
The monumental as the experience of the relationship with History is linked with a sense of the unity of times. It is important here not to lose one's sense of orientation in space, otherwise the wrench from the preserve of the present melts under the charm of its identification with examples of past heroism. It is thus that the gendarme monumentalism (Pushkin's "the stone guest") for the poor begins, in the light of which contemporary life slows down its flight, becoming heavier from the awareness of its own exclusivity. The past should be the tool in the struggle of the present for the future, but in the event of passive perception the reverse happens: monuments begin to gaze at us with the unseeing eyes of timelessness, like Medusa, the proto-mother of the terrors of History. And having been stopped we turn into monuments to our own amnesia, into the sparks of darkness that are subjugated to the "neocon" epoque, that are slipping through arteries of the culture industry. The most accessible occupation for the prisoners of the fossilized view from the past is the speculation of personal unfreedom that is being sold under the guise of the classic or "the eternally fresh".
Memorials are placed at the crossroads of temporalities: so that they speak metaphorically about the past from their own present and metonymically – about their own present, which is unavoidably becoming history. Monumentality – that equilibrium of temporary rhythms – combines a vision of itself by means of society in the crossroads of the present and in the elevated perspective of the future. Therefore before retranslating its "novels about the true human", monuments should carefully sublimate their own monstrous origins. The indescribability of a horror that usually overwhelms everything and subsequently receives the status of a great event – is the stuff that any monument is built upon. In accordance with Freud's definition, the monstrous is something that should have remained repressed but suddenly comes to light. At the frontiers between the lightness and darkness of being, monsters appear like the harbingers of an unhappy future, like evidence of divine impotence, like creative acts that have not been completed. The story, in the monumental experience of the perception of history, works also as an exorcism of those powers, which being defeated, are perpetuated by heroes and are preserved in the form of the fear before the mobilisation of the Unknown.
Long may we remember these monsters. Unlike despotic monumentality the active seizure by the future with the help of a past memorial reconciles conflicts by turning the monstrous portent into a reminder of the greatness of humankind. Exorcising the demons of power in order to hand victory to the ghosts of desire, art turns monsters into monuments in much the same way as the Renaissance, which perpetuated the glory of its savage patrons. The monument is like the eye of the storm of history: with the lessening of the pressure of meaning it gains stability, being the boundary between the past and the future as the temporalisations of the internal and external. The empty eye of the hurricane reminds one also about the fact that it is not so important to whom monuments are dedicated but the very fact of their presence. Those who are perpetuated in memorials might have been anonymous, as free of name and image as the Unknown Soldier. The monumental inscribes the pressure of the mass of the unknown into the architecture of the collective imagination, like in the work "Gatamalata" by the Kazakh artist Erbossyn Meldibekov, where a invisible monster grows up out of the pedestal as evidence of the fact that the common memory is this effect of dissecting feelings with a Cartesian coordinate system.
The Palace of Culture
When the latest mirror of the world is smashed into pieces, its slivers wound hearts and these wounds are becoming the birth places of the subjective views of the world. The history of modernity consists of transitional processes of universalistic impulses towards utopia into the diffident worlds of ideology that repeat themselves on a multitude of levels. Utopias disintegrate in the process of their materialization, so that at some time in their ideologies that have been fossilized in fragments of stone, a feeling of personal incompleteness will arise and, as a consequence of this, a new dream of a better world will come into being. The dying utopia strengthens the same communications networks, which serve as the platform for a new trigger towards freedom. Today utopia is squeezed out by suburbia, and sarcasm linked with the stereotyping of the suburban consciousness has become the stereotypical reaction of post-modern art.
Sometimes artists succeed in overcoming the threshold of the banal: thus, the particular lyrical mode of the story about suburban escapism as a process of individuation is the main feature of the video work of the contemporary Moldovan artist Pavel Braila. His video installations tell the story of the interior design of the private residences of gypsy barons, which present a whole smorgasbord of the tastes typical of the beginning of the nineties. The story follows a trajectory similar to the baroque convolute: the details of architecture and interior frame the patron customer's flight of fantasy through images from post cards to salon paintings and the scenes of their favorite films. All this represents authority while at the same time being a refuge for the patron owners' internal world. When looking at the film clips on several screens, the spectator acquires the status of a transcendental voyeur, or an operator of the network of security cameras. The ambiguousness of the interiors adds to the duality of the viewers' position, (the empty centre of a cycle of construction and corruption of a utopia), through the prism of the diffusion/differentiation of their internal and external worlds.
The Soviet Russian language differs from pre-revolution Russian in much the same way as the poster symbol of "Motherland" differs from "the Madonna" in orthodox icons. The decree of the Council of People's Commissars of 13 October 1918 "On the new spelling rules" marked the beginning of the country's literacy program and an act marking the conception of the Soviet soul. In our days the alphabet remains one of the insurmountable obstacles to restoration: even the most hard core chauvinists are incapable of painless reading of old texts with their original spelling. The most successful sign of the come back of micro flora of conservatism is the post-Soviet career of the hard sign "ъ", a letter that makes no sound at all. In the contemporary cultural industry this letter has been called upon to create an atmosphere of good old decency, to be the "hard" and firm foundation of a new reality of the merchant elements in the discursive networks that have been impregnated by socialist contexts. The hard sign – that atavism of the voicelessness of the subjects of Russian autocracy is today being flashed around on fascia boards and logos as the symbol of the identity of the first generation of a new middle class. The sign of the loss of the gift of speech in the sight of capitalism, the hard sign from the point of view of the Soviet discourse is as exotic as from the point of view of the bourgeois is exotic country folk seeking prosperity in the cities. The above is also clear because the culture of the new bourgeoisie is one of the refugees to the past.
A negation of a negation of a negation
The effectiveness of Soviet bio-politics was the result of the understanding by the machinery of power that human individuality is not the beginning of the political process but its end phase. Soviet bio-politics was the education programme for Soviet Man on a pre-individual basis via social ties. Anthropologically the Soviet is simultaneously understood as being both the special quality of Socialism and the universal truth of the accomplished history of class struggle. Therefore the Soviet man in the history of bio-politics turned out to be a no less important phenomenon than the steel cube of American minimalism in the history of twentieth century art. But in order that the Soviet soul became observable, it required the shock reforms of the nineties that turned it into a contemporary form of the specter of Communism that fills the inhabitants of post-modernity with dread.
A specter like any manifestation of the logical function of wandering excess is immortal, its home is in the future. In Dmitry Gutov's video "From apartment to apartment" we see the world from the Soviet view of the resilient eternal migrant. The sweet sounding aria from "Evgeny Onegin" accompanies a story about a house move, about the nature of journeys in which you take all your scant belongings with you. But we do not see anything personal, because this house is not an antique shop; the only thing that the camera lens sees is that which should appeal to the view of the leisured builders of Communism: the sky, the roofs of houses, the timid off shoots on the thin branches of the trees. All this should be seen in the same way as the Soviet people saw the future in the light of evaporated happiness. Gutov's vision differs from optimistic historical materialism only in that the whole video is inverted as if the person moving house move is standing on his head. In actual fact this is how the uncursed world looks. Because everyday life inherits her ability to simulate the real from ideology, which, as Marx noted, shows everything upside down like a camera obscura.
In the complex link between the muses and media there arose the Soviet discourse network consisting of the visual arts, mass media, town building programmes and literature, whose main task was the mass production of spectators, readers and listeners. In order to continue to exist subjectivities had to form communities. If one assumes that aesthetics starts where efficiency ends then Soviet-wide enjoyment with language or the friendship of the classes could be considered a phenomenon of political aesthetics. The USSR was populated by a multitude of deterritorialized subjectivities starting from the time of the civil war right up to the stagnation period of "the civilisation of engineers", who were working in their Research Institutes meanwhile their souls were seized by the temptations from beyond. The Soviet discourse passed through three aspects: the official, the mass media and the social. Because all members of society were equal, the informal regime of colloquial doxa was a form of collective evasion of the centrally administered command system. The dinner table discussions and chat in the intelligentsia's kitchens and the smoke breaks in the Research and Development Establishments and factories were the fragments of the public sphere, where the latent "sit down strikes" took their course, having blended themselves in the contradictory Soviet soul with a loyalty to the ideals of heroic creativity.
The Aerial Perspective
The struggle for the right to impenetrability by the ruling optical machinery was an important element of Western Modernism. The autonomy of artistic language defended the position of estranged observation of social reality. The price for this relative freedom was the confusion of the artist in the fog of the techno-theological sublime or the blinding light of over-consumption: the capitalist contemporaries of the silent involvement in the progress of the Soviet monumental style was the abstract aphasia and pop-artist machine gun bursts of interjections. The difference consisted only in the fact that Soviet artists had gained the position of observers not as a result of secession but as a gift like the other chance joys of socialism. This gift obliged artists to look intensively into reality, to capture in this reality the pathos of the rhythms of the labor that was transforming the country, to note the contours of the approaching future. The artist was the herald of the manifestation of the Communist idea about the equality of people and the harmonious refinement of civilization in the world.
In the nineties it became more complicated to observe reality. One had to shade one's eyes from the blaze of destructive revelations: all existence is arbitrary, for everything has a price – brains, honour, conscience, life. Nothing is too low, too high, too big or too small. In any case in the world of capital any quality becomes a defined quantity of "arbitrary units". Strictly speaking, there was nothing to say about real abstractions, for capital, like God, is inclined to hide itself in phenomena. The nature of this arbitrary unit can only be contemplated in a visionary way. If all things are essentially transient forms of a universal equivalent, then modernist art is deprived of its basic elements of heterogeny, irreducibility and contradiction. Observation becomes difficult because unlike contemplation it assumes the narrative of what has been seen: a gaze during liberalism acquires the qualities of reverse perspective, because a real guise of things is only visible from the supernatural reality of numbers. Hence also, the self-descriptions of the nineties were inarticulate and full of vulgar expressions but what they talked about were, for Soviet people, truly savage outrages and excesses a bit like the first medieval chronicles with their broken and poor Latin.
When reality is alienated in favor of corporate subjects it camouflages itself in traditionalist garments. And in this situation the most correct response to the "velvet" conservative revolution is nostalgia for the disappearing dimension of the socially significant directed towards progress which comes to the fore. Today the Soviet friendship of the classes has been substituted for a policy of closed doors. The corporate has put the few remains of what was public under arrest; the political is being substituted by the police. It is said that corporate ethics rescues us from the horrors of the twentieth century such as uprisings of the masses, totalitarianism and big wars. The discourse of the corporations denounces the quality of reciprocity inherent in public speech, turning it into an exchange of instructions and reports, – control instead of communication. The system sees you from all quarters, but you can only see it from your place. The notorious gestalt of the Worker, that haunted the imagination of the disciplinary age, has evolved into the image of the global Bureaucrat. In his world traditionalism and technologism rule, dressed up in each other's clothes: technology is the subject of worship and at the same time religion works as a control technique. The artist ends up in the position of the outsider capable of observing the growth of the contradiction between the stabilisation and enclosure in the spirit of Alexander I and the avalanche-like growth of communications networks generate identities that are unaccountable to the state.
The Soviet public sphere differed from the capitalist one, from the infamous liberal discussions in the Paris salons and London coffee shops of the nineteenth century. In the case of the USSR the issue was more about the intellectualization of the avoidance of the overpowering embrace of the state, about the installation of the boundaries of power by society itself by means of barricades constructed of humor, gossip, poetry, rock music and the skills of ideological desertion. Each maintenance or tea break and each joke were drops, that when put together made up an ocean of gossip, the very existence of which was subversive. If the state logos was cast out of the steel and iron of the engineering economy, then the speech of Soviet community was rusty: not a house but a political refuge of being. Nowadays sites for gossip and commentary are appearing on the internet; a new phase of the development of the world wide web has transformed it from the informational to the communicational, – with a multitude of blogs, forums and chat rooms, – common places for the speech of conventional identities. The internet and other new media are the first claimants to the role of the new great geographical discovery, the New world for those who are being suffocated in the world, where at each step there are bouncers and doorkeepers.
The individual with his so-called internal world in the virtual public sphere that is being born is in a role of the impossible ideal, like an aristocrat in a lurid novel. Virtual public spaces are being reacquired not as places of rest for individuals but as a space where subjects of varying degrees of fictitiousness are working through chatting, as a communication networks for a multitude of shifting and conventional identities. Socialising online does not presuppose any depth of thought but a constant preparedness to engage the interest of your interlocutors by means of witty comment: there are no authors here, only a more or less virtuoso refractable flow of language. But achieving the necessary maturity, i.e. speed and density of operations in the personal internal world, any orthodoxy feels a yearning for the figure of the author. In the case of artistic discourse it is about the titans of Modernism and the critic-cartographers of the internal world of discursive networks. In as far as it's clear that progress in art – is the result of a paradoxical alliance between intellectualism and the machinery of success.
The Soviet Union was the birth place of all the adult citizens of the CIS, therefore any subject of any statement is produced out of a common linguistic matrix. The manifestation of the power of the Soviet discourse over historical generation and the guarantor of the truth of the common language of Soviet people was the figure of Motherland. As an image she appears only on the borderline points of history, where her children have lost their gift of speech as a result of their collision with the Real: on the famous poster of 1941, on the Mamaev Kurgan war memorial in Stalingrad and in the dreams of cosmonauts that were narrated by pop-culture in the seventies. In the periods of calm she taught her children to speak because by nature she was a discourse: "Where are the motherland's origins? They are in those first songs that mother used to sing to us". The plural subject "we" does not signify cultural or social identity. This is generalized subjectivity, which at one time could only say by means of a repeated simple phrase: "we aren't slaves, slaves we aren't". Today she is keeping silent according to the will of the new historical circumstances but the recordings of the song from which our disappeared homeland began is still preserved in the depths of the lethargic Soviet soul. Word by word, – the discourse turns out to be the path towards the future. If it is not bright then at least it is multi-colored and in all events it is a common future.