mister deviant

Mister Deviant, Comrade Degenerate: Selected Works by Yevgeniy Fiks
June 15, 2019–July 31, 2019
Voorhees Gallery (Entrance)

Within the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, political, sexual, and artistic nonconformists were conflated and viewed as dangerous internal enemies that terrified the insecure and paranoid governments and societies. The political deviant, the sexual outlaw, and the uncensored artist became the shared “others” for the Cold War-era Soviets and Americans, a problematic political legacy that still resonates today.

This exhibition offers a lesson in history for twenty-first-century societies and confronts the instrumentalization of homophobia, anti-liberalism, and anti-modernism as tools of propaganda and ideology in both the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War—providing a learning tool through which we can critically examine contemporary developments in world politics and societies. It explores the Cold War era’s persecution of various nonconformist groups on both sides of the ideological divide, including political dissidents, queers, and avant-garde artists, who remain targets of contemporary witch hunts all over the world.

Ranging from dry factuality to humor and farce, the exhibition begins with a series of prints and photographs titled “Homosexuality is Stalin’s Atom Bomb to Destroy America,” highlighting the interlocking histories of the “Red” and “Lavender” scares during the McCarthy era in the United States, when anti-Soviet and anti-gay sentiments were fused together in the Cold War witch hunt rhetoric. Pundits and government officials went as far as envisioning a sinister conspiracy: the Soviet Union is promoting homosexuality as a tool to destroy America. At the same time, the federal government purged homosexuals that it employed, calling them “security risks”—vulnerable of being blackmailed by Soviet agents into working for them. Ironically, in the Soviet Union, the ideological enemy of the United States, homosexuality was officially criminalized after 1934—with a prison sentence of up to five years—and stigmatized and tabooed as an anti-Soviet “capitalist degeneracy” that comes from the foreign and “decadent West.”

Born in Moscow in 1972, Fiks moved to New York in 1994. Since then, his multifaceted practice has bridged both worlds, exploring themes of memory, repression, and the legacy of the political Left in Russian society and the United States. Fiks’s engagement across time periods resonates strongly with the Zimmerli’s commitment to contemporary issues in art and its rich collection of Russian art from the Soviet period, as found in the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union.

Organized by Thomas Sokolowski, Director of the Zimmerli Art Museum

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Fulda Gap

fulda gap-e

My neighborhood in the former East Berlin harbors some of the last anarchist squats in the city. All the dogs here go for walks without a leash. The odor of marijuana lies heavy in the air. And the sharing economy is practiced as a matter of course.

This means that when someone decides to get rid of something that someone else could use, they often as not set it out on the pavement for the taking.

In this way, several valuable finds have come into my temporary possession.

What I found while we were strolling the neighborhood yesterday, however, was a gift beyond price, and yet it was completely free, to rephrase a line from Rush’s greatest song, “The Spirit of Radio” (1980).

Rush recorded all of their best records during the Cold War, whose moral and intellectual were palpable in Neil Peart’s hippy libertarian fantasy mini-epics, sci-fi short stories, and sonic sermons on the virtues of freedom and individualism.

I was a Rush fan from an early age, but little did I know that as Rush were in Toronto composing and recording the soundtrack of my adolescence, a company called SPI (Simulations Publications, Inc.), headquartered on Park Avenue South in Manhattan, was churning out extraordinarily complicated “conflict simulation” games by the hundreds.

Many of SPI’s conflict simulations were based on historical battles and campaigns, ranging from the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Austerlitz to “fantasy & science fiction games” such as Invasion: America—Death Throes of the Superpower and (in the interests of “balance”) Objective: Moscow—The Death of Soviet Communism (“A hypothetical invasion of the USSR by a world coalition”).

Oddly, the first game retailed for $18, while the second cost $27, a decent chunk of money at the time, considering SPI’s target market and the fact that their games consisted of lots of instructions, charts, tables, diagrams, maps, playing pieces, and game boards, all of them printed on cardstock and heavy paper, not on embossed cardboard, etc.

In 1977, when I was ten, and the Cold War informed most of the zeitgeist one way or another, SPI released a remarkable conflict stimulation entitled Fulda Gap: The First Battle of the Next War.

Yesterday, I found what looks to be a completely intact, serviceable specimen of Fulda Gap in a cardboard box along with other things clearly left there for the taking by a kindhearted Berliner.

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My first impression of Fulda Gap is that it is a thousand time more complicated than the actual Cold War was. The “Rules of Play” alone run to sixteen pages.

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Fulda Gap also features three sets of “Charts and Tables,” a large folded sheet containing a “Turn Record / Reinforcement Track” on one side, an “Untried Unit Table Analysis” on the reverse, and, of course, a foldout map of West Germany and East Germany where, apparently, the main action takes place and the players pretend, variously, to invade West Germany or fend off the cunning, treacherous Reds.

 

fulda gap-b.JPG

Finally, Fulda Gap contains what SPI’s mail order catalog of its other games honestly identifies as several hundred “die-cut cardboard playing pieces […] packaged in ziplock bag[s].” The playing pieces are printed with such arcane combinations of numbers, letters, and symbols it is easier to imagine they have something to do with the Kabbalah than with all-out warfare between NATO  and the Warsaw Pact.

If I were a contemporary artist I would stage a performance involving Fulda Gap in one of the ex-Cold War settings and current Cold War memorials with which Berlin teems.

If I were a real gamester I would just find a few other comrades, figure out how the game works, and play it.

In any case, I would appreciate your comments, suggestions, and reminiscences about Fulda Gap and SPI’s other remarkable products, as well as information about the company and the people who produced its games. {TRR}

Overtaking America

Despicable but predictable. My heartfelt thanks to Mr. Shuvalov for finally having the guts to admit what has been obvious for years: that the Russian elites and mostly nonexistent Russian middle class are sick off their asses on catching up with and overtaking the specter of “America.” So, which side never stopped fighting the Cold War? The greedy mid-level KGB officers who have been running Russia for the last eighteen years. If you didn’t know that already, it means you’ve been looking in the wrong direction all this time. And to think this is what the “struggle against imperialism” has come to. Oh, and the VTsIOM “polling data” about “happiness,” cited at the end of this article, is total bullshit, yet another smelly burp from the well-funded belly of Russia’s rampant pollocracyTRR

slogan
Screenshot of the alleged slogan of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, currently underway in Sochi. Courtesy of the festival

Shuvalov: Russia’s Goal Is For Russians to Be Happier than Americans 
Fontanka.ru
October 18, 2017

By 2024, industrious Russians with higher educations will be able to catch up with and overtake abstract [sic] Americans in terms of happiness. Such were the horizons painted by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov at the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students on October 18 in Sochi.

“Goal number one is that, when the next political cycle [sic] is completed, in 2024, anyone who has a basic [sic] higher education and the ability to work would feel happier than in the United States,” said Shuvalov, according to Lenta.ru, as cited by RIA Novosti.

A presidential election is scheduled for 2024.

According to the Monitoring Center at RANEPA’s Institute of Social Sciences, nearly 45% of working Russians do not understand the purpose and meaning of the government’s economic policies. Only 47% of Russians have a sense of the government’s actions vis-à–vis the economy.

In August, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) published the results of a poll, according to which approximately 84% of Russians consider themselves happy.

Earlier, in April, according to VTsIOM, the percentage of Russians who felt happy reached its highest level since 1990, amounting to 85%.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

Screenshot of the homepage of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, currently underway in Sochi, Russia.

Alexander Markov: A Soundtrack to Soviet Africa

Alexander Markov
Soviet Filmmakers in Africa from the 1960s to the 1980s

In 1960, seventeen African countries gained their independence. For the two superpowers, competing for influence in the Cold War, these “new” countries were obvious opportunities for deploying their own power. Under Khrushchev’s Thaw, Soviet foreign policy increasingly focused on Africa and the Arab world, which became priorities for proactive Soviet diplomacy.

The 1960s thus witnessed the heyday of African studies in the Soviet Union. A number of Soviet filmmakers were dispatched to the continent to produce newsreels and documentary films whose mission was to record the “friendships” between the Soviet socialist specialists at the helm of scientific progress and the African socialist hopefuls who had just broken free from the yoke of colonialism.

The films were given titles such as Hello, Africa!, We Are with You, Africa!, and Good Luck to You, Africa!, to convey that desire for friendship unambiguously, and to contrast starkly with films produced on the other side of the Iron Curtain, such as the notorious Italian documentary about the “dark continent,” Farewell Africa (Addio Africa, 1966), which speculated that civil wars and bloody conflict would set the continent ablaze after the European colonialists exited it.

Despite the fact that Soviet film production was centralized in Moscow and Leningrad, studios in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan also produced documentaries about Africa. The best filmmakers were involved in their production, and Saving Bruce Lee focuses on four of them: Yuri Aldokhin, Mikhail Litvyakov, Vladlen Troshkin, and Rimtautas Šilinis, who made films about Mali, Congo, and Tanzania between 1960 and 1980.

There was also an interest among Soviet filmmakers in documenting wars of independence and armed conflicts (Ethiopia, Libya, Algeria, Congo, Egypt, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and Namibia), but such films were produced differently. Only cameramen were dispatched to film on location, and most of them were veteran WWII cinematographers.

Nearly half of the Soviet documentary and newsreel films about Africa recorded official visits by Party leaders, government officials, and heads of states. The other half presented partly imaginary Soviet constructions of African reality.

On the one hand, the filmmakers were under the spell of a revolutionary romanticism. In factories, schools, and universities, in streets and in squares, Soviet citizens had marched and rallied in support of the aspirations of their African comrades for liberation from colonial rule and the right to self-determination. On the other hand, Khrushchev’s Thaw itself contained a promise for better times for Soviet citizens themselves that echoed the hopefulness of the newly sovereign African countries. The imaginary construction of socialist Africa was fashioned according to Soviet paradigms, with soldiers and youth on the march, collective farms, and one-party rule.

The documentaries produced during the Thaw are peculiar, because while they toe the ideological line, they are nonetheless imbued with the loosening of inhibitions that permeated Soviet society at the time. So while an ideologically motivated eye will only see what it wants to see, in these films, the cinematographer’s lens betrays a tangibly genuine curiosity about the “otherness” of African reality that would be impossible to counterfeit.

In contrast with the footage of official parades and collective farms, the films also capture ordinary people going about their everyday lives. The camera conveys the contradictory emotions and mindset of the people standing behind them, in which simple, unfiltered affection and enthusiasm blend with the cinematic idioms of the era.

Ordinary Africans were shown at the helm of a historical transformation, thus embodying the journey toward the “radiant future.” This was another echo with the spirit of the Thaw that, paradoxically, made Soviets more congenial to Africans. It was a seemingly naïve illusion in retrospect, but it was emblematic of the period.

The dramatic structure of these Soviet documentaries about Africa produced in the 1960s and 1970s is perhaps where the ideological conditioning is most palpable. Almost all fit into a particular generic scheme or pattern, because they were commissioned by a state that valued ideology more than the art of documentary cinema.

The footage was edited to fit a script, drafted in the studio back in Moscow or Leningrad, and narrated in a voiceover. Soviet composers were also commissioned to provide the musical scores. In other words, the soundtracks rarely featured sound from the locations where they were filmed, and the voices of everyday Africans were almost entirely absent. Instead, the Soviet narrative carefully guided the viewer’s experience of the moving images.

In this exhibition, the soundtracks have been severed from the images, and the cinematic footage has been freed from its bondage to the master narrative. I would thus like to propose a critical rethinking of the era and the language of Soviet political film.

__________

These are Petersburg filmmaker Alexander Markov’s notes to his contribution to Saving Bruce Lee: African and Arab Cinema in the Era of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy (A Prologue), an exhibition curated by Koyo Kouoh and Rasha Salti, in collaboration with Alexander Markov and Phillippe Rekacewicz. The exhibition is on view at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow from June 12 to August 23, 2015.

Alexander Markov’s documentary film Our Africa will be released in 2015 or 2016.

Beautiful Village, Ugly Fate

Beautiful Village – Ugly Fate
The houses in the villages of Akonlahti are bigger and grander than those in Viena generally. The village was a wealthy one. Conditions were favorable for farming, fishing and hunting, and the proximity of the border made trade fruitful as well.

Before the border was closed, the villagers of Akonlahti dealt with the people in the Finnish village of Rimpi on an everyday basis. Even after the border was officially closed in the 1920s, contact between the villages continued for some time. During the Continuation War (1941-44), the villages of Akonlahti were occupied by the Finns, and not all of the people succeeded in leaving the village before it was occupied. Life continued – as normally as possible under the circumstances – but when the war ended, many of the villagers moved to Finland, fearing that they would be accused of collaboration with the Finnish enemy if they stayed in Russia.

After the War, life in the villages continued around the collective farm that had been established in the area. The post-War population comprised former permanent residents of the village, returning evacuees, and people from villages whose houses had been destroyed in the conflict. Efforts were made to concentrate habitation in the village of Akonlahti proper.

When the Soviet Union began the process of destroying small villages in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Akonlahti came to be considered a village “without perspective”. Vis-à-vis the district center it was on the periphery; it was difficult to maintain the roads leading to the village and to arrange the transport of food and other goods there. The main reason, however, for the village falling into disfavor was its proximity to Finland: it was a stone’s throw from the border at the height of the Cold War.

The destruction of the village was extraordinarily violent, although various explanations have since been advanced to tone down the harshness of the event. In 1958, the authorities responsible for liquidating the village sent in airplanes, which landed on the ice of Lake Kiitehenjärvi. The villagers were given a few hours to gather their belongings. And then it was time to leave. Children, the elderly and calves were taken by plane to Uhtua; everyone else had to walk there with the livestock. Yet virtually every family had to slaughter their animals, because there was no hay or other fodder for them where they were going. To seal the village’s fate, all of the houses were then burnt to the ground, so that no one would have the remotest chance of returning.

Fortunately, Väinö Kaukonen and Vilho Uomala had photographed Akonlahti and its surroundings during the War. Future generations will at least have these images to help them appreciate the village that played the most significant role in the Karelian building tradition.

When Finland and the Soviet Union established a “Park of Friendship” in 1991, the Akonlahti area became part of a nature preservation area. When the Park was first founded, only researchers were allowed to go to the shores of Lake Kiitehenjärvi. Later, however, Park administrators and the Folklore Villages Project, set up to preserve and revitalize the culture of the song-lands of the Kalevala, reached an understanding whereby buildings can once again be built in the Karelian style in Akonlahti and the village will be opened up to travellers interested in culture and nature.

source: The Viena Karelian Folk Villages

“Howard Zinn, a Leftist Intellectual of Jewish Descent”

In the mid-1990s, I used to remark, only partly in jest, that Russia was the greatest country in the world because there were more Nirvana albums for sale here than in any other country. The country’s kiosks and shops were then flooded with a dizzying number of bootlegs of recordings by many of my favorite bands. It often seemed then that the Russian bootleggers were having a ball reinventing and re-imagining their discographies.

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In a similar but much less innocent vein, in more recent years some Russian publishers have repackaged and retitled translated works of nonfiction by non-Russian authors in response to perceived ideological demand.

You might not guess it from the cover and the description, below, but this is a new (authorized?) Russian edition of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States:

Govard_Zinn__Amerikanskaya_imperiya._S_1492_goda_do_nashih_dnej

American Empire: From 1492 to the Present Day
Howard Zinn

ISBN: 978-5-4438-0662-4
Year of Publication: 2014
Publisher: Algorithm
Series: Mankind’s Greatest Empires 

Description
Howard Zinn, a leftist intellectual of Jewish descent, was along with Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag one of the most consistent critics of American foreign policy. The well-known American political scientist, author, and doctor of historical sciences, taught at Boston University, Paris, and Bologna. His book, reprinted several times in America and across the Atlantic, contains a view of the most important events in American history from colonial times to the beginning of the twenty-first century that largely differs from traditional American historical science.

It is packed with unusually vivid and interesting facts, enabling the Russian reader to better understand our potential enemy in the past [sic] and, quite possibly, in the near future.

This work will certainly attract the attention of not only professional historians, sociologists and political scientists but also anyone interested in the history of the United States.

For those over 16 years of age.

Further information about the publication:
Hardcover, 752 pages
Circulation: 1,200 copies
Format: 60 x 90 cm/16 (145 x 215 mm)

source

A big thanks to Comrade VT for the heads-up.

UPDATE. It might not be clear to readers outside of Russia or unfamiliar with Algorithm publishing house that this repackaging is something akin to Mormon baptisms for the dead, who against their already unknowable will are converted to Latter-Day Saints. In this case, Howard Zinn has been made after death to serve the Russian neo-imperialist/neo-Stalinist cause. That this is the prevailing tendency at Algorithm is apparent from their September 2014 catalogue, which features such titles as Russia’s Eurasian Revenge, by the now-ubiquitous fascist warmonger Alexander Dugin; The West versus Russia, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (who never published a book with this title in his lifetime), described as “a unique collection of incisive polemical texts about the standoff between western civilization and Russian civilization by Dostoevsky, one of the most widely read Russian classic authors”: Stalin’s Wolfhound: The True Story of Pavel Sudoplatov; and A Future without America, by Lyndon Larouche (this is another book whose title, at least, seems to exist only in the Algorithm universe).

“In the Breast of Mother Russia Speaks a Kind and Loving Heart”

Rich white Americans have so much fun. Here they are thrilling to the duo of Phil Donahue and Vladimir Pozner in Nantucket this past spring.

This is Russian soft-powerism of the highest order. It is strange (or is it?) that Pozner somehow thinks (or does he?) that he went from being a Soviet “propagandist” (as he admits in this conversation) to being a real “journalist” in the post-Soviet era.

And it is amazing that the otherwise skeptical and cranky Donahue has bought into this self-flattery. It is one thing to be more critical of the actions and policies of one’s own government: that is how it should be for any intelligent person anywhere, and especially for Americans, whose country bears more responsibility than most other countries for the world’s current saggy, miserable, often vicious shape. But here Donahue plays second fiddle to the virtuoso Pozner, who by the end of the talk seemingly has everyone in the tent convinced, especially his old TV buddy and the event’s moderator, that the US also bears sole responsibility for the current hyper-reactionary regime in Russia. Pozner accomplishes this with a spiel seamlessly woven from home truths, sentimental journeyings, and charmingly delivered lies or fudges: for example, about how everyone in the Soviet Union were true believers except for a miniscule and thus meaningless dissident movement or that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US and the West engaged only in relentless humiliation of the new “democractic” Russia under Yeltsin.

As Russia’s hook-line-and-sinker self-submersion into extreme right-wing nationalist hysteria continues, expect more of this kind of song and dance from certain Russian liberal and leftist intellectuals. The thought that Putinism 3.0 is entirely their own fault (if only because they have signally omitted to do almost anything about it) or that not all societies in the world today are equally bleak pits of the blackest political reaction, is nearly unbearable to them. Hence, their frantic need to revive the Cold War paradigm or, via Brahminical critiques of its alleged illicit and opportunistic resurgence on both sides of the old divide, their equally frantic attempts to imagine that the choice between the “free” West and the “internationalist” Soviet bloc back then, during the real Cold War, is somehow comparable to a choice nowadays between a bloody mess with occasional breaks in the clouds and a system that already long ago had no redeeming features whatsoever and seems hell-bent on getting much, much worse very quickly.

__________


The first “spacebridge” or “citizens summit,” between Leningrad and Seattle in 1985, moderated by Vladimir Pozner and Phil Donahue: