The Cardiff Album

These are two of my favorite snapshots. I’m pictured here with the phenomenally brilliant Babi Badalov at the opening of his show The Cardiff Album at the Freud Museum of Dreams in Petersburg on November 3, 2008. The pictures were taken by the equally phenomenal Sergey Chernov. Below the second photo is the intro I wrote for the show. ||| TRR

Born in Lerik, Azerbaijan, in 1959, Babi (Babakhan) Badalov is a living embodiment of cosmopolitanism’s dark and spontaneously convivial underbelly. In his world, people do not travel from one country to another with polished ease, flashing their passports to the guards as they pass effortlessly through frontiers and effecting the shift from one language to another with fluency and grace. On the contrary, when you are a refugee, exile, migrant worker or itinerant artist, you manage these transitions as best you can, mangling the new idioms you learn and fusing them with half-remembered tongues you picked up along the way, mingling them with memories of a mother tongue that never matured into adulthood because at a tender age you left your mountain village for the capitals, where encounters with countrymen were few and furtive and somewhat beside the point. In the provincial capital, you learned the official language of artificial nationhood along with the (un)official language of the anti-imperial empire, neither of them your own, both of them suspicious (of you and of themselves). This was violence to be sure, but you turned this violence back upon itself, never fully learning any of these codes well enough to pass for a native. Nativity, after all, is naïveté, an identification both outwardly enforced and grimly self-willed. For an artist, whether of life or the brush, submitting to too many of these identity checks means submitting to kitsch and cliché.

Of course you submit to these as well—you cannot help but submit: you are an artist, not a fighter—but when you succumb you always go too far, giving the lie to the endlessly tautological chains of self-identity that pass for human speech, which, as Lacan and others tell us, is the inhuman machinery that undergirds and overdetermines our visibly silly search for selfhood. You do not need Lacan to tell you this, though, because you are confronted daily with its external effects, masked as real people in real lifeworlds, who are kind or cruel or indifferent but rarely anything other than language machines. In your poems, you disassemble these machines, heap their parts into great, disorderly piles, and then begin putting them back together in defiance of common sense and good taste and the rules of art. It is worse than that. You get the words all wrong: you pronounce them with the wrong accent; you confuse tenses, case endings, conjugations, and registers. You use, illicitly, the Latin alphabet when you write in Russian, and most of your Russian texts are chockablock with English. When you declaim your poems, whether aloud, in a smoke-filled room crowded with alcoholic crypto-nationalists, or with paste and scissors, as in your collages, it is hard not to escape the impression that a faulty robot has arrived from the island of misfit toys to tell us something we would rather not hear—that all our projects of empire- and nation-building have failed.

Your art is political, personal and politically (in)correct. This is what Adorno meant by the autonomy of art, but if he had met you he probably would have turned away in horror, as he did when his well-meaning German students enjoined him to join them on the barricades.

You ask us to join you on the barricades, but what does solidarity look like from there? It looks like this. For years, you live in wretched conditions in a magnificent squat in the middle of Petersburg. Outside, in the square, stands a monument to the greatest African-American poet of them all, Alexander Pushkin. Your comrades-in-arms are artistic scapegrace outlaws, and their ambitiously unambitious version of conviviality will finally lead to their tiny island’s recuperation by the new powers that be, for whom art is just window dressing for real estate and financial speculation. So when this experiment in direct democracy goes awry, you are induced by your family to return to your “homeland” of Azerbaijan and live the straight life. This is almost too much for me to imagine: for me you are the gayest man on the planet, in all senses of the word. When this becomes unbearable, you use the second half of a double-entry visa to make your way to England, that green and pleasant land that would have been a much duller place throughout its history without adventurers like you.

But you plan this particular adventure all wrong, just as you write poetry the wrong way. You declare asylum as soon as you arrive, but in the New Labour UK—in the midst of a war on terror that has also opened a front running straight down the middle of the country—you are treated both as a potential combatant and an obscure object of bureaucratic desire. At the first asylum center (prison) to which they send you, a riot—complete with helicopters, media coverage, and armored police—breaks out. When you tell the story later, it is quite funny, though of course there is nothing funny about it. After a grand tour of Britain with brief sojourns in another few such oases, your case is officially accepted for review and you are dispatched to Cardiff, where you are given a tiny stipend and a council flat. It is all very civil, except for the weekly check-ins with the UK Border Agency, the more or less constant threat of deportation, and the grinding poverty. That does not faze you, however; or rather it does, but you turn that fazing into art. What kind of art? Dolls made from scraps of fabric; dogs fashioned from Wellington boots; and “visual poems” patched together from clippings and other printed detritus, embroidered with whorls of off-kilter, ham-fisted linguistic ravings, and asylumed on the pages of an old photo album you pick out of a rubbish bin.

This is the Cardiff Album, the diary of your journey through the underside of UK immigration policy. You are the Persian Ambassador (a role you played at an evening in solidarity with Salman Rushdie held in the former Persian embassy in Petersburg in 1995), but the marvels you record on your visits to strange lands look like nothing so much as the end of history having its revenge on the last romantics. Your ambassadorial credentials are recognized only by a ragtag band of Welsh anarchists who make your case their cause célèbre, even though you are a celebrity only in the minds of the people you have stitched together in your wanderings and in “alternative” Azeri news outlets starved for news. When it looks certain that you will be deported, the first half of this inoperative community begins bombarding bureaucrats, parliamentarians, and airline officials with faxes, letters, and e-mails. I have not seen you in years, but I would rather not see you again in such circumstances, so I spend half an hour on the phone telling a Pakistani (or was he Bangladeshi?) call center operator that he should not be party to this horrible crime against human freedom that his airline is about to commit. I tell him to get up from his desk and leave work. What right did I have to tell him that? Rights are not given, they are taken. (Did Bakunin say that? Or was it Kropotkin? Or perhaps it was Gorky? Or maybe no one said it?)

Much as I would rather not seen you again, see you I do a couple days after my stupid conversation with your cleverer immigrant non-brother. You and I have nothing in common, just as no one really has anything in common with anyone else. It is too bad that more people do not realize this sad, happy fact. If more people did, they might actually be able to begin making something in common.

NB. The full Russian version of this text was published in Viktor Mazin, ed., Kabinet Iu: Kartiny mira III (Saint Petersburg: Skifiya, 2010). An abridged English version was published in Babi Badalov, Menilmontant Book (Murcia, Spain: Manifesta 8 & transit.cz, 2010). The Cardiff Album was exhibited in full at the Freud Museum of Dreams (Saint Petersburg) in November–December 2008. Parts of the album have also been exhibited in the group shows Monument to Transformation (City Gallery Prague, 2009); On Geekdom (Benaki Museum, Athens, 2007); Progressive Nostalgia (Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, 2007); and The Return of Memory (Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, 2007).

Source: Chtodelat.org

In Edenia, a City of the Future

‎אין דער צוקונפֿט־שטאָט עדעניאַ
In Edenia, a City of the Future
Yermilov Center, Kharkiv
June 8–July 9, 2017

In Edenia, a City of the Future is an art exhibition inspired by the eponymous Yiddish-language utopian novella, published by Kalman Zingman in Kharkiv in 1918. Nearly one hundred years later, artist Yevgeniy Fiks has invited an international group of contemporary artists to read the novella and create artworks as if they were from the museum of the imaginary city of Edenia. The artists’ different visions are an invitation to look at our dreams from various angles, to take note of their colors, intonations, forms and rhythms.

Zingman’s Edenia (a projection of Kharkiv twenty-five years in the future) is serviced by “airbuses” and fountains that keep the temperature at a comfortable level year-round; it is a place where ethnic communities live side by side in peace and harmony. The protagonist of the story, returned to his native city from Palestine, makes a stop in the art museum: “He […] looked at the sculptures of Kritsenshteyn, Lisitski and Roza Fayngold, then he went to the top level. The door closed behind him, and he looked for a very long time, thought for a long time, and got lost in his ruminations.”

At a time when many Ukrainians are divided in their respective idealizations of the Soviet past as a golden era of social justice or the European Union as the promise of a future utopia, In Edenia, a City of the Future (based on a novella written in a language that has practically disappeared from Ukraine) invites the public to examine the country’s multicultural history and its early Soviet dreams and nightmares in light of present-day political challenges and potentialities. We urge visitors to think critically about the appeal and comfort of a utopian dream, while simultaneously remembering past actions taken in the name of making an ideal image of society a reality. How many of these dreams and arguments are we still repeating today?

At the same time, we acknowledge the utopian nature of the very project of 21st-century contemporary art, where visibility (as revelation) has come to replace the visionary projects of the past.

Curators: Larissa Babij (Ukraine/US) and Yevgeniy Fiks (US/Russia)

Participating Artists:
Ifeoma Anyaeji (Nigeria)
Babi Badalov (France/Azerbaijan)
Concrete Dates Collective (Ukraine)
Curandi Katz (Italy/Canada)
Sasha Dedos (Ukraine)
Aikaterini Gegisian (UK/Greece)
Tatiana Grigorenko (US/France)
Creolex centr (Ruthie Jenrbekova & Maria Vilkovisky) (Kazakhstan)
Nikita Kadan (Ukraine)
Kapwani Kiwanga (Canada/France)
Yuri Leiderman (Ukraine Germany)
Mykola Ridnyi (Ukraine)
Haim Sokol (Russia/Israel)
Agnès Thurnauer (France/Switzerland)

Exhibition designer: Ivan Melnychuk (Ukraine)
Publishing partner: STAB (School of Theory and Activism Bishkek) (Kyrgyzstan)

Supported by Asylum Arts
Special thanks to Dr. Gennadiy Estraikh

About the Curators
Yevgeniy Fiks is a Russian-American artist, who has been living and working in New York since 1994. His artistic practice, which includes making artworks, exhibitions, and books, often seeks out and explores repressed microhistorical narratives that highlight the complex relationships between social histories of the West and the Soviet bloc in the 20th century. To learn more, please see http://yevgeniyfiks.com.

Larissa Babij grew up in the US and has been living and working in Kyiv as an independent curator, writer and translator since 2005. Her work focuses on representing Ukrainian contemporary artists in the English-speaking world, organizing contemporary art projects (usually in collaboration with artists) in Ukraine, and critically discussing current cultural conditions.

Yermilov Center
Freedom Square, 4
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Tel: +380 95 801 30 83, +380 57 760 47 13
www.yermilovcentre.org
Open Tuesdays–Sundays, 12.00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.

The exhibition will involve several public events, including guided tours with the exhibition curators, meetings with participating artists, and talks by historians specializing in early Soviet Ukrainian history. Please see www.yermilovcentre.org for details.

*****

A short excerpt from the translation of novella, as kindly supplied to me by Mr. Fiks.

“Where then do you hide the corpses? Or has the Angel of Death discovered another way?”

“Don’t laugh, my friend. For years, our Medical Institute has been conducting tests on rabbits and other animals that have died or been killed, squirting serum into their noses and bringing them back to life. And the Director of the Institute, Professor Rabinovitch, writes in the journal Health that it is possible that very shortly we will be able to insert a new soul into a person who died of old age and bring him back to life. But for now it is still a medical experiment. Yet you asked where we hide the corpses that have died. And I will answer you. Once we’re in the Green Garden, you will see a 40-story building, the Crematorium. There the corpses are cremated, and the ashes of each one are given a separate number and a box. In addition, very few young people die here. Life is so well ordered that one only dies of old age, of weakness, and not as it used to be, from accidents when young. The older generation dies. There has not been a war for the last twenty-one years. The young people only know the term war from history class in school. The other classes are concerned with guarding their health. In the upper grades, both boys and girls learn about sex, not as they did in our time when they went through all the swamps of life before they got married. Here, in our times, no one knows what the swamps of life are. In addition to natural science, a schoolgirl studies history, literature, culinary arts, sex education, and child-rearing. And if you were to see our young mothers—that is, our children! They are completely different from the children of the past, who used to know life, intimate life, only from the pornographic novels they furtively read.”

Translated by Khane-Faygl Turtletaub 

Halluci Nation

BabiBadalov8light

__________

Maybe there is no direct connection, but soon after the first article, below, ran in The Moscow Times, the following message appeared on the newspaper’s web site: “Due to the increasing number of users engaging in personal attacks, spam, trolling and abusive comments, we are no longer able to host our forum as a site for constructive and intelligent debate. It is with regret, therefore, that we have found ourselves forced to suspend the commenting function on our articles. The Moscow Times remains committed to the principle of public debate and hopes to welcome you to a new, constructive, forum in the future.” When I glanced at the comments to this article, it did seem that a lively “debate” was underway, but I no longer read such things to preserve what is left of my mental well-being. The emphasis, below, is mine.

Russia’s Empire State of Mind
Pyotr Romanov
October 26, 2014
The Moscow Times

Following World War I, the Russian Empire bid farewell to Poland, Finland, the Baltic states and Bessarabia [in modern Moldova]. The Soviet Union later regained only some of that territory — and yet that did not prevent the world from continuing to view the Soviet Union as an empire. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia decreased in size even more than it had after World War I, and yet many today continue referring to it as an empire.

I recently read an impassioned plea on Facebook from several Ukrainians that God call down on Russia a host of biblical chastisements and hasten its demise. In their view, the only way to escape the claws of the Russian bear is to kill the animal. At the same time, they have no intention of fighting the beast themselves, convinced that Europe and the U.S. alone have the power and the responsibility to vanquish the foe.

In other words, they prefer that others break their bones in the bear’s den so they can mount the pelt over their fireplace. I somehow doubt that the rational West finds that prospect very attractive.

In fact, a number of historical figures dreamed of dismembering Russia. Peter the Great’s arch-rival King Charles XII of Sweden held that dream even before Russia formally declared itself an empire. The French ambassador in Stockholm at that time said, “The king will make peace with Russia only after he has arrived in Moscow, toppled the tsar from his throne, divided the state into small principalities and summoned the boyars to divvy up the kingdom into their personal provinces.”

In hindsight, knowing how the Swedes suffered defeat at the Battle of Poltava, it is tempting to assess such a claim as pompous bravado. However, that was a serious plan that the Swedish king and his allies had discussed on more than one occasion. Charles really did plan to install his own puppet ruler on the Russian throne. He dreamed of Pskov, Novgorod and all of northern Russia as Swedish possessions. He planned to allot all of Ukraine and the Smolensk region to Polish King Stanislaw Leszczynski. Charles agreed to give Russia’s southern lands to the Turks and Crimean Tatars. There are countless other similar stories in history — but where are all those dreamers today?

However, this is not the main point. I see no reason to blame my ancestors for their imperialist actions. Russians have no more to feel ashamed of in this regard than do the British, Germans, Spaniards and French. All of their imperialist pasts were dictated by fate, God, geopolitical factors and their national character — that with which it is absolutely pointless to fight.

The collapse of the Russian Empire deeply troubled many of its citizens, and the later collapse of the Soviet Union gave them a disturbing sense of deja vu. Even today, millions of Russians wax nostalgic for the past — particularly for the Soviet Union — recalling much that was also good from that time.

This is the second time in a century that Russia has gone through such painful “withdrawal symptoms” while overcoming its imperialist mentality. Russians have nothing of which to feel ashamed: the same process was no less painful for other “imperial” nations.

Of course, modern Russia is not an empire, and it is unbecoming to act like a broken record, continually repeating the same old cliches. It is just that the process of adapting to the new realities is not moving as quickly as some in the West — and also in Russia, by the way — would like it to. But it is impossible to hurry it along.

It is decidedly easier for a tiny little ship of a state such as Monaco to make a sea change than it is for a massive ocean liner such as religiously diverse, multiethnic and multicultural Russia. A little patience is needed.

I understand that what seems fast by historical standards might appear painfully slow to people. History is measured in ages, but individuals measure time in terms of a single lifespan. Nonetheless, it takes nine months for a baby to come into this world, and no amount of impatient fingernail-biting will change that.

Making a baby come into the world any sooner is not the healthiest option either. In the same way, it does no good to keep impatiently tugging on Russia’s sleeve. Every fruit has its given period of maturation. When the time comes, Russia will let go of the last vestiges of its imperial past.

Until then, praying for God to curse Russia with a swarm of locusts or the 10 plagues of Egypt is not only unseemly, but also a bit archaic and completely meaningless.

Pyotr Romanov [sic] is a journalist and historian. 

___________

Post-imperial melancholy has also got the unnamed editorial writer (the West’s most beloved Russian “leftist”?)  at Russian “leftist” web site Rabkor.ru waxing poetical in the vozhdist mode in the run-up to November 4, National Unity Day.

The West intends to play hardball in its long negotiations with Moscow. Zeal and rigidity might betray it, and then events will not go as planned. That has already happened in Ukraine. However, the US and the EU understand that Russian liberals have increased their grip on power and will stubbornly seek a compromise. Dmitry Medvedev has already said that a “reset of relations” requires a return to the “zero position,” meaning normal trade without sanctions. The ruling class will do anything for its sake, particularly if its position is complicated by economic problems. If solving the problem with Western Europe and the US requires presenting Putin’s head on a platter, then that it is how the problem will be solved.

But Russia is not a banana republic or a tiny country in Eastern Europe, where you can just organize a color revolution by gathering several thousand “civil society” activists on a central square. And so only Putin himself can remove Putin’s head for the US, and not only through his own carelessness.

Patriots stubbornly dream of persuading the current president to become like Stalin or Ivan the Terrible. Members of the liberal intelligentsia scare each other and the gullible western public with this same prospect. However, with each passing day, our ruler [sic] becomes like a completely different predecessor, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was also, incidentally, a politician who banked on compromises.

The growing prospect of a “liberal putsch” becomes more apparent with each passing day. The final act has not started, but the play is already underway. Liberals are making ritual sacrifices. They are sacrificing the exchange rate of the ruble and social policies. They are sacrificing Novorussia [Novorossiya]. They are sacrificing the country’s dignity. They are destroying the possibility of Russian society’s development. They are even willing to sacrifice the one who protected the system for many years. Only none of this will bear fruit, because only a different course can save Russia from economic disaster.

And let no one be deceived: if the liberal coup becomes a reality, its authors will quickly discover how correct the thesis “Ukraine is not Russia” was. Unlike its neighboring country, Russia, with the exception of the capital, will turn into one solid Donbass.

The preceding was an excerpt from “Who Will Bring Them Putin’s Head?”, published on October 20, 2014, by Rabkor.ru. You can read the entire editorial in English here, as translated by other, less shaky hands.

__________

After a friend mailed me the following “news” item, he wrote, “This is how the whole ‘television—Levada—television’ scheme works.” As Kirill Rogov has argued, many people will tell pollsters what authoritarian state television has told them to think, especially when it comes to things that don’t really matter to them, like musician Andrei Makarevich’s alleged “treason.” It’s no wonder that one of the world’s leading offshore Putin apologists was worried, last year, when it seemed as if the state was cracking down on the Levada Center. He needn’t have worried. My friend titled his email to me, “Levada will receive the Stalin Prize posthumously.” That about sums it up.

Almost Half of Russians Consider Makarevich a Traitor to the Motherland 
October 27, 2014 | Gazeta.ru

Almost half of Russians believe that when he performed in Slovyansk, which is occupied [sic] by the Ukrainian army, musician Andrei Makarevich betrayed the interests of the motherland, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Levada Center.

45% of those polled agreed with the statement “Makarevich betrayed the interests of Russia, and now the public does not want to go to his concerts.” However, among Muscovites there was a high percentage (32%) inclined to believe that Makarevich “acted in good conscience” and that he had been the target of a defamation campaign. 28% of respondents admit that Makarevich behaved unpatriotically, but that administrative resources have been used to disrupt his concerts in various Russian cities.

The percentage of those supporting Makarevich and condemning the defamation campaign was quite low—13%. Respondents with a higher education were generally more supportive of what the musician did than Russians with less than a secondary education.

The poll was conducted among 1,630 people aged eighteen years or older in 134 municipalities in forty-six regions of the country.

Earlier, Makarevich recorded a song about how he has been hounded. On October 27, news came of another cancellation of one of the musician’s concert, this time in Kurgan.

__________

Image (above): Babi Badalov, Halluci Nation (Orna-mental poetry), 2014; ink on paper, 26.5 x 19 cm. Courtesy of La Galerie Jérôme Poggi, Paris, and the artist.

Free Babi Badalov!

Babi Badalov is an old friend of ours. From the late eighties until the late nineties, Babi was one of the brightest figures on the Petersburg independent art scene, especially that part of it that centered on the artists squat at Pushkinskaya 10. When the squat was closed, in the late nineties (to be replaced by an “official” alternative arts center with much less room for artist studios and independent creativity), Babi fell on hard times, eventually returning to his home country of Azerbaijan. He continued to pursue his art there, although under quite different circumstances. Not only is Babi a radical artist in the personal sense of the word, he is also openly gay. Faced with a society that was growing both less tolerant of political dissent and becoming more socially conservative, Babi found a new home in Cardiff, Wales. There he has become fully integrated into the local arts community. He has also become the focus of a spirited campaign, led by No Borders South Wales, to support his asylum application and, in the last few months, after his application was rejected, to resist his repatriation to Azerbaijan.

On September 16, Babi was detained during his weekly sign-in at the UK Border Agency and taken to the Rumney Police Station. On Thursday morning, Babi was transferred to the Campsfield Immigration Removal Centre. It has now been learned that British authorities are planning to deport him to Azerbaijan on Saturday, on an Azerbaijan Airlines flight from London to Baku. Continue reading “Free Babi Badalov!”