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 

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Talk of the Town

You would be forgiven if you imagined Russia’s liberal, leftist, technical, creative, conservative and other intelligentsias were abuzz right now with righteous anger or triumphant glee about what the country’s air force (now officially known, bizarrely, as the Russian Aerospace Forces or VKS) has been up to in Syria and, more specifically, Aleppo, these days.

No, many of them are terribly exercised, in various directions, about the controversy over an exhibition by American photographer Jock Sturges in Moscow.

This was borne out by the websites of some of the country’s leading dailies this morning.

vedomosti-syria

The liberal Vedomosti, a business-oriented newspaper, listed its top stories this morning. The top story was entitled “Faces in a Queue for the iPhone 7”; the second most-read story was about the Sturges show.

True, Vedomosti readers are serious lads and lassies, so the number three story was about Syria. It was headlined, “Five World Powers and EU Demand Decisive Steps from Russia in Syria.”

Earlier today, I posted a few bits from the bizarre article about yesterday’s emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, published in the country’s other serious, formerly liberal, business daily, Kommersant.

Similarly, Moskovsky Komsolomets could not figure out what its readers would find more titillating: reading about how the VKS’s top guns were bombing Aleppo to smithereens or how astroturfed patriots were threatening the God-given right of every self-respecting intelligent to implement Dostoevsky’s maxim that beauty would save the world.

mk-syria

By way of splitting the difference, this morning’s website featured a picture of a chap obviously meant to embody the most average-looking Russian bloke on earth, sadly contemplating one of Sturges’s blasphemous nudes, while a sidebar headline shouts, “Everyone [sic] Is Bombing: Churkin Thinks Peace Impossible in Syria.”

Izvestia has become a particularly noxious loudspeaker for the regime in the past years, so the front page of its website contained a fair number of articles and op-ed pieces chockablock with baldfaced lies about the bloodbath in Aleppo, but at least it had the dignity not to yield to the fake moral panic brewing around the Sturges show.

The relative paucity of Russian media coverage of the Syrian conflict and publicly accessible grassroots reactions was confirmed by the following completely unscientific Google search.

“Джок Стержес” (“Jock Sturges”) got 12,000 more hits than “бомбардироква Алеппо” (“bombing Aleppo”), even though, one could argue, the bombing of Aleppo by somebody or other has been a more topical item in the news for a longer time than Jock Sturges, whatever his longevity or virtues as a contemporary artist.

Results of Google search for
Results of Google search for “Jock Sturges” in Russian, September 26, 2016
Results of Google search for
Results of Google search for “bombing Aleppo,” in Russian, September 26, 2016

When I did the same search (“bombing Aleppo”) in English, I got over a million hits.

Results of Google for
Results of Google search for “bombing Aleppo,” in English, September 26, 2016

Certainly, we immediately have to factor in the sheer numbers of Anglophone media and readers in the world. There are quite a few more of both than there are Russophone media and readers, and so one would expect to find more responses to particular topics of global interest in English than in Russian.

But what about the vox pop?

An even more unscientific survey of the Russophone segment of Facebook this morning (that is, the part of the segment to which I have access, amounting to several hundred people, most of whom could be identified as intelligentsia or quasi-intelligentisa) showed that quite a few people were up in arms over the Sturges show or coolly editorializing about it to their extended communities of invisible friends, while literally no one was writing anything about Syria.

This has been the case for the past year. Not only that, but I have shared a fairly large number of articles and opinions about Syria, including my own, over that time, and have elicited a total of zero likes and comments from my Russian Facebook friends.

Non-Russian friends, on the contrary, like and comment on these posts in the same numbers as they and their Russian counterparts usually react to the other, non-Syrian things I write about.

Maybe I have the wrong Russian friends, but my hypothesis is that “politically engaged” or “socially conscious” Russians are literally afraid to say or write anything in public about the Syrian conflict. They have the good sense to know that their president-for-life has sunken his teeth into this geopolitical chew toy and has no intention of unclenching them.

Hence, anyone foolish enough to comment on this catastrophic attempt to reassert an increasingly impoverished country as a super power might get themselves in trouble with the powers that be. Over the last year, they have been hauling in utterly ordinary people  on “extremism” charges in fairly large numbers for reposting or commenting on the most innocuous things on Facebook and its Russian equivalent, Vkontakte.

Even more telling, there has not been a single public demonstration in Russia against Russian military involvement in Syria during the past year—to my knowledge, at least.*

Again, this has to be taken with a grain of salt. The current Russian regime has gone out of its way to make public demonstrations and pickets an unattractive pastime for all but the bravest of Russians.

Still, the war in Syria is the central international conflict of our time, and Russia’s best and brightest have literally nothing to say about it, even though their nominally elected government has not been merely a party to the conflict, but has come firmly down on one side, arguably, the wrong side, the side causing the most damage.

I find this deafening public silence about Syria more disturbing than anything else happening in Russia right now.

* After I posted this, Comrade BN wrote the following to me: “In Moscow last year there were some very small pickets protesting against the war in Syria, and the people who organized it attempted to set up an anti-war committee. As far as I know, though, the authorities pretty much intimidated them with varying degrees of extremity into giving up.”