Flow, my tears, said the stewardess
People in general experience their present, as it were, naively, without fully recognizing its deeper content: they must, to begin with, in some way look at it from without; that is to say that the present must turn into the past for us to rely on it for our judgments about the future.
Sigmund Freud. The Future of an Illusion
Three works, three genres, three versions of the future — this is the structure of the exhibition “Time Shall Be No More” by Dmitry Venkov and Antonina Baever. First shown at the Bergen Assembly as part of Yekaterina Dyogot and David Riff’s “Monday Starts on Saturday” project, the film “Like the Sun” employs cinematic narration: several plotlines developing in parallel intertwine in the conclusion, bringing a denouement. The “Nevremya” Show simulates an American “late night show”, replacing media, film and political figures with artists. Antonina Baever’s solo video installation “Stay with Us” is built on the structural elements of classical video art: the artist addresses the viewer in the first person, ignoring the screen’s fourth wall. All of the words have a specific temporal length, and the exhibition’s title appears to contradict its technical content. Time here, however, is a synonym for modernity, for being immersed in the present moment. Abolishing time, Venkov and Baever transport spectators to situations that cannot be deduced from the premises that have built up in our experience. On the one hand, this is a discussion of the historic moment through sci-fi allegory, on the other hand, their works are an alternative to a certain means of existence in the present, uniting into a common journalistic field hundreds and thousands of urban neurotics across the entire country, if not the entire planet. Constructing scenarios running parallel to so-called life (which is to say the personal perceptions of certain social groups and their reflection in the media), Venkov and Baever lay out new vectors to the future, which, for many of us, is psychologically inauthentic even as a concept, not to mention as a hope.
The operating system that we are all running, as human-machines in the informational environment, needs viruses. Three works at the exhibition, in different ways, throw spanners into the process of this irresponsible, automated production of reality. The extent of the influence of art on those drowning in information is debatable. In the article “Temporality, Storage, Legibility: Freud, Marey and the Cinema”, the American film historian Mary Ann Doane assumes that “in the cinema, as in psychoanalysis, time is produced as an effect, at least in part to protect the subject from the anxieties of total representation generated by the new technological media.”[i] (We should note that the article was published in 1996, long before the universal dissemination of social networks). The exhibition “Time Shall Be No More” appears to be a mild alternative to the existence in the present with its stimulants and compulsions to reaction. Of course, the therapeutic influence of film and video art remains dubious. In the classic articles on identification and transference in film, the French psychologist Jean Deprun stresses the similarity of psychological projection and film projection: “Prior to them, my complexes existed within me, but I didn’t have the right to see them, I always came up against the unknown. The screen gives form to complexes, places them in a world which, being my own, also remains the world in general. They slip away from me, and I slip away from them”[ii]. Transference — the main point of therapy — in cinema is also impossible. According to Deprun, a film’s effect on the consciousness is either more or less than transference where the impact of the film image leads to a correction in the viewer’s behavior. The issue of the influence of video art is more complex – this form of art, from its very first steps, has been linked to narcissism (Rosalind Krauss has written about this in particular). Narcissism, however, has been characteristic of many artists ever since authorship arose as a social status in Renaissance Europe. What’s more, the behavior of the individual in the public field is defined today through narcissistic mirrors of varied precision in the form of accounts in social networks. If we are to go further along the path proposed by Krauss, we must recognize the semblance of counter-transference in classical video art and in many works of art of the 20th and 21st centuries. The viewer hopes for identification with the film or video image, and the aim of the artist is to complicate that identification and to put himself and his own individual myth in place of the character of the narration. That myth can only be understood with the aid of a context and a prehistory that function in the same way as the family history of a patient. But knowledge of the context and the prehistory is so specialized that few can withstand the counter-transference coming from the artist. An experience of such an immersion is only accessible on the level of the engaged section of intellectuals, which is what marginalizes modern art in relation to other practices of identification in art. On the other hand, personal time, in the face of such a demanding work, stops. The promoters of modern art demand that viewers forget about recreation and carry out internal works, yet forget to say why. But understanding an artist means allowing him/her into the ranks of familiar individuals with the rights, at a minimum, of an interlocutor who is always ready to share his or her problems (a crucial word!). Venkov and Baever trace a fine line between the intrusion in personal life and a narration that has no interest in the participation of the viewer.
In Antonina Baever’s work, an unconscious expectation of counter-transference is betrayed. Before the viewer arises a girl from the future, but she doesn’t want to prophesize, to share her emotional experiences or demonstrate the symptoms of a psychological or social collapse through a series of ritual actions. She appeals to us with a familiar call to remain on the line. A comfortable process of waiting is, in fact, the content of the work. The situation is recognizable, all too recognizable: waiting as an eschatological feeling is characteristic for those individuals engaged in the media-cycle; Baever unburdens it and transfers it to an abstracted non-time and non-place. At the same time, the viewer is locked into a single point — presence at the exhibition is accompanied by a request to stay at it.
Two other works take waiting out of the ranks of self-replicating conditions and into a more entertaining dimension with the aid of sci-fi elements. This genre is really flourishing at present as society requires the fictive anxieties of scenarios for the near future, whether potentially catastrophic or inspiring hope. What are today regarded as sci-fi classics arose in the tense political environment of the post-War period when, following the division of Germany, two superpowers — the USSR and the USA — fought for ideological control of the global agenda. The parallel development of the aerospace industries of these two countries engendered a detailed literature on alien planets, their inhabitants and ethical and social issues associated with meetings on territories unknown to man. A literature that in itself represented a dystopian and/or paranoid scrolling through the scenarios of ideological struggle also appeared during this period. Reaching for the stars and other worlds was put on a par with criticism of the concrete circumstances embodied in the form of a grotesque escalation of one or another aspect in the interaction of the superpowers and their internal politics.
In our own era, there is again talk of a cold war, of two incompatible value systems — the allegedly traditional and the European. True, Russia doesn’t have a monopoly on any special path, as in the pursuit of alternative ways of life the lead is taken by other countries with different relationships with the world economy – they are either leaders, such as the United Arab Emirates and China, or veritable victims, like Uganda and Nigeria. The dynamics of the displacement of imposed and/or popular societal morals from the European space to the East and vice versa, since the era of Peter the Great, has inspired in Russian journalism and debate disputes about principles and positions. The ideological debates were waged by the Slavophiles and Westernizers in the 19th century, the Constructivists and the heirs to the Itinerants (Peredvizhniki) in the 1920s, and then the Westernizers again and the Villagers (Derevenshchiki) in the 1970s. The duality of these public guises aped an internal duality that expressed itself in an inability to ascribe one or another reality in personal life to an unambiguously “western” or unambiguously “eastern” phenomenon. A way out of this situation was seen as being a synthesis such as that in the Symbolist Fyodor Sologub’s novel “Drops of Blood.” The central character, the chemist Georgii Trirodov, explains the First World War as a confrontation between Christianity and Buddhism in which there can be no sole victor: “We see two movements, equal in might. It would be strange to think that one of them might win out. It’s impossible. You cannot destroy half of the entire history of energy.” In answer to the objections that are raised in the discussion, Trirodov asserts that “there will be a synthesis … You will mistake it for the devil.” The issue of the geographical localization of this synthesis in the novel is not clarified, but one can assume that the site at which the Christian and Buddhist rivers merge is Russia.
The mode of action of the central characters in the film “Like the Sun” reveals them to be colleagues of Trirodov, although the professional affiliations of the young man and the two girls remain a mystery. The film’s geopolitical space takes into account the movements described by Trirodov and proposes an ironic version of this synthesis, localizing it in Moscow. Part of the action takes place in Christian America, almost in the Ark – in the Biosphere 2 base, in the state of Arizona, which is being used to study Earth. Another section unfolds in the utopian commune Auroville, founded by the testament of Sri Aurobindo, who fought for the independence of India from Great Britain. The two movements meet in the Russian capital, in an old Soviet research and development institute where the samples collected by the characters produce the sought-for synthesis. The question of whether it will be productive is left unanswered. Thanks to an additional source of heat, Russia’s geographic location between the East and the West shifts southwards, into the desired climactic belt. Or perhaps the appearance of a pop art copy of the sun will transform our planet: a second (or third, or fifth) sun in science fiction is a sure sign of another system. Does this mean that a synthesis is impossible?
A satirical game with the future and expectations takes place in the “Nevremya” Show, which is entirely dedicated to the events of the near future as invented by the authors. Here, a futurological prognosis of the role of the artist and the work is given for the next 10‒20 years. The dystopian prediction is not entirely serious. Here, what is important is the very possibility of a leap over energetic striving of contemporaries to provide a decisive diagnosis for time. The present is with increasing frequency experienced as a haunting condition that can only be escaped through catastrophe — in all spheres of the political spectrum there is no shortage of people either calling for catastrophe or demonstrating their readiness for radical change, whatever the cost. To be more precise, such people constitute the overwhelming majority. In the external manifestations of these catastrophe’s witnesses the circular nature of the beloved variant of the development of events is clear: changes are valued in themselves, everything will be different after such changes – whether it will be better or worse isn’t that important. Immersion in an apocalyptic scenario is not new in Christian culture. Today, however, the catastrophe’s witnesses have far more chances of creating the specific picture of the present moment that ideally leads them to their own personal, pocket Apocalypse: propaganda, counterpropaganda, facts and sincerely held delusions serve as ideal construction material for narrations and interpretations. With each new surge in the information current, larger chunks of precious debris are thrown up onto the shore, and they are easily built into a general picture.
In this context, there isn’t even any point in defending a markedly fantastical scenario of the future against accusations of escapism. It is undoubtedly an avoiding of the order of the day, but it is not given to us in all its fullness. Neither WikiLeaks nor Edward Snowden will tell us what is going on at every level of the decision-making process in the modern world. Despite the transparency that appears to be sought out by the visionaries of Internet technologies, we are in a hazy world, before us there is always an opaque screen. It stands between us and collisions of the political positions which we can observe through the agency of varied media. It stands between us and our own position, our economic and personal interests, not to mention the depths of unconscious motivations for submission or protest. The fantastical provides the only opportunity to impartially observe the instincts and stereotypes that drive us in the real world.
[i] Doane, Mary Ann. Temporality, Storage, Legibility: Freud, Marey, and the Cinema. Critical Inquiry. Vol. 22, No. 2 (Winter, 1996). P. 343.