Women Commentators Festival (Russia and Ukraine) - programme

Performance: Alevtina Kakhidze, “Ukrainian Reality Adaptation Course” 

“Ukrainian Reality Adaptation Course” was a performative event, a playful practice aimed to comprehend the political reality. The artist presented three pieces: Christmas Eve (Christmas tree, texts on paper), Acceptation (colored seed bead) and Variations (painted objects). The exercises for “Ukrainian Reality Adaptation Course” were created and rehearsed during February’s evenings in Muzychi Village and Kiev (Ukraine). 

Concert by AVTOMAT with PLEŚNI project

PLEŚNI is a name of a new project as well as a new album by vocalist, composer and music producer from Toruń, Kajetan Łukomski alias AVTOMAT. Project PLEŚNI combines Ukrainian, Belarusian, Siberian and Georgian polyphonic folk songs with the modern electronic bass background, which introduces young people to these often forgotten traditional compositions. The initiative aimes at reminding people of their roots. We do not come from geometry, symmetry and mathematics, we stem from the mould (Polish: Pleśń), prehistoric soup, chaos and biological thicket. The concept of mould allows for the combination of modern, technology-based life in the citysphere with very primal modes of expression. Concerts combine singing a capella together with 2-step beats, post-dubstep, future garage and afrobeat sounds. 

Lecture: Liza Babenko, (Post) Maidan: critics and revision. From ultra-right nationalism to socialism

The lecture by a culture expert, curator and documentarist Liza Babenko explored ideological, political and economic reasons which caused the non-acceptance of Maidan’s revolution at its very origin by a considerable part of Ukraine (Crimea and Donbass). As polls indicate nowadays, Ukrainian areas which were not accepting Maidan, did not need a national-bourgeois protest such as Maidan, but searched for a real class struggle, directed against the local oligarchy and its feudal forms of management, which in fact did not transform even after Yanukovitch’s banishment. 

The rejection of Maidan protest by Crimea, Donbass and other regions is in some way connected with the nationalist shape, taken by this revolution. The current carriers of ultra-right Ukrainian idea, while standing last winter at Maidan square next to other people, did not manage to get over the trauma brought by the colonial history of the Russian Empire and USSR , which have taken millions of Western Ukrainian lives. As a result, the national-fascist symbols and ultra-right statements and programs were widely utilized, being imposed upon the pro-Russian eastern and southern regions of the country, historically disengaged from the Western and Central Ukraine and not involved in the same colonial trauma connected with the presence of Russian influence. 

The lecture further investigated what is hidden today behind the notion of ‘Ukrainian fascism’, and real threats of right-wing radicalism which has emerged in Ukraine only after Maidan, regardless of what is being said by the Russian media propaganda. The neo-colonial interest of the lecture not only touched upon Russia’s imperialism, but also the geopolitical colonialism of the US and EU, each of whom is following their own strategic interests in the Ukrainian war in the middle of Europe, where the rhetoric about the fight for Ukrainian democracy in Ukraine is just a populist move. 

Debate: Pros and cons of rape. Post-colonial syndrome. Contemporary understanding of ‘Colonialism’, its potential within the frame of interpretation in politics, geography, and culture

Participants: Agnieszka Morawińska, Małgorzata Jacyno, Tomasz Stryjek (moderator)

The debate was inspired by the attempts to look at the Central and Eastern European countries through the prism of postcolonial theory, which have become increasingly frequent recently. To come closer to understanding the current situation in Ukraine, it is crucial to explore the relationships between the countries of the ex-Soviet Block, and the Russian Federation and USSR as Imperialist/Colonialist. 

The objectives, formal characteristics and instruments of colonization differ from other types of Imperial domination in Eastern, Central European and Baltic countries. They define possibilities and instruments of restoring national identities of these countries. In the context of the current situation in Russia and Ukraine we talked, among other issues, about relations between Ukraine and Russia from the historical perspective, what tools for interpretations postcolonial theory provides and how can we understand the role of art in the process of coming out of a subordinate position.

Artist Talk: Lesia Khomenko, Actions of R.E.S. (Revolutionary Experimental Space)

The artist talk was based on the actions of R.E.S. (Revolutionary Experimental Space). R.E.S is an artist union, established in November 2004. It consists of artists: Nikita Kadan, Zhanna Kadyrova, Vladimir Kuznetsov, Xenia Gnilitskaya, Lada Nakonechnaya, Olesya Khomenko. The “Revolutionary Experimental Space”, which gave the name to the group of young Ukrainian artists appeared on streets, in the midst of extreme political situation of the Orange revolution. The fake political posters were exhibited the same way as the real ones, but they contained absurd slogans and symbols. It is significant that many of the posters by RES were in the end expropriated and used for genuine revolution’s agitation. Thus, the first appearance of the group happened agains a background of increasing performativity of the Ukrainian political situation. Artists have recorded some ruptures in reality which caused the disappearance of the sense of reality itself.

Artist Talk: Olga Jitlina, Agency of Utopian News, Russia – The Land of Opportunities, Hodja Nasreddin Joke Contest

Olga Jitlina spoke about her practice, which employs non-conventional platforms and is focused on the issues of human rights, along with that of nationalism and neo-nationalism in Russia. Jitlina elaborated on three projects of hers. The Agency of Utopian News, a series of publications in mass-media treated as a humorous and absurdist attempt to explore the power of political imagination and confusion. The migrant board game “Russia, The Land of Opportunity” (presented at Women Commentators) is an attempt to find a way to depict a variety of life-scenarios of the labour migrants coming to Russia from the post-Soviet states. She also talked about her new project developed during Manifesta 10: the humorous competition named after Nasreddin Hodja that defines humour as the only weapon in the times of crisis.

Debate: David and Goliath. The art of fighting the giants. What is the role of culture in the times of upheavals? Subversive strategies, their impacts and consequences

Participants: Katarzyna Kozyra, Agata Czarnacka, Jan Śpiewak, Anna Łazar (moderator)

Today the world in filled with various activist strategies, starting from numerous ecological movements, ending with the Occupy Wall Street movement or the Prayer of Pussy Riot. What are the most effective activist strategies of the modern world? Why the mix of creativity and marketing is so important in activism? How to shake the society and at the same time legally protect yourself from the state? Why should we or shouldn’t we use cultural boycotts as a form of protest? The discussion spins around various ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’ examples of activist actions.

Debate: They live! Looking for reality through contemporary media

Participants: Aleksandra Karasińska, Michał Przymusiński, Marek Troszyński, Agnieszka Wołk-Łaniewska (moderator)

Information Wars for centuries have been one of the most effective strategies of social control. With the rise of open media and the Internet we obviously got access to a certain form of freedom, we could not have even imagined  20 years ago. Nowadays every voice can be heard, anyone can create or share any content, which would find its audience. However, this intoxicating freedom has an underlying danger. The possibility of creating and effectively spreading news of a fake reality is being widely utilized. We start to realize that the internet is becoming a dangerous instrument in information warfare, since it allows to deliver specific content to certain groups of people.

Debate: To Kill a Dragon. Notes about personal and civil freedom. Can we understand a bit more about what really happens in Ukraine? 

Participants: All artists taking part in the festival

The current war affects both Russians and Ukrainians. Together, the participants of the festival, some of which went to the cities where acts of war took place, or have close relatives there, tried to discuss their experiences of the current conflict.

A starting point for the discussion was inspired by a Russian-German film-parable To Kill the Dragon (1988) created just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The fictional country lives in the fear of the Dragon. He rules the citizens, oppresses them, plays with their lives. In this country most of the citizens do not want to be saved, do not want to change anything, they are confident that “The only way to get rid of a Dragon is to have their own Dragon.” At some point, the knight appears and kills the Dragon. This brings chaos to the country, because that is how the citizens envisioned "freedom”. One day, in a region immersed in total anarchy, a new leader appears. He calls himself the President, and proclaims the Republic and freedom. However, it is just another Dragon coming to power... Finally the knight is back to fight again. He tries to explain that people must kill their “inner dragons” but he realises that he has turned into a dragon himself.

2013 Workshop: Lyubov Matyunina: Make Piece. Creation of a ritual piece carpet

make peace make peace make peace
and fight no more
and if you fight
I'll bite and biting is not a trick
I'll fight with a brick
when brick is breaking – friendship begins!

The workshop was based on a childhood nursery rhyme popular among Russian and Ukrainian children. They say its words after fights. Unfortunately in a more ‘mature’ world making peace it is not as easy. Inspired by the idea of ‘heterotopia’, coined by Michael Foucault in his lecture Of Other Spaces (1967) and Dmitry Arzyutov's study on Shirdek (ritual carpets from Altai), Matyunina used a carpet as a ‘map’ that structures the surrounding space. Similarly to the piece entitled Wishmaster Carpet, the carpet which was created by the artist together with the participants of the workshop became a mirror of space, a symbolic introduction to the world’s hierarchical structure and rituals. The carpet thus becames a representation of an ideal world. Wars and conflicts become interwoven in its corners, in connection with the inevitable passage of time which cannot be reverted. However, a short break was reserved during the weaving process for entwining of the little fingers. This childhood ritual gesture is after all just as important in the adult world.

Artist Talk: Lusine Djanyan, Art of direct action (Mordovlag / Action of Pussy Riot in Sochi 2014)

Lusine Dianyan presented the concept of the Art of Direct Action. That expression could describe a project created by Lusine Djanyan in the heart Mordovlag (Mordovian Prison where Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was held) in October 2013. The artist was present there during the time of the support campaign - starting from the hunger strike of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, ending with her transportation to Krasnoyarsk. Djanyan talked about her sub-projects form Mordovlag and about the action of Pussy Riot in Sochi during the Olympic Games (2014), which happened right after the release of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina from the prison. 

Lecture: Ekaterina Lazareva, Aesthetisation of politics, politisation of aestethics

In his famous essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", Walter Benjamin introduces the contradiction between the ‘bad’ aesthetization of politics by the rightists and the ‘good’ politicization of aesthetics by the leftists. Examples corresponding to Benjamin's formula can be found in the avant-garde art, in particular, in the history of Italian Futurism and Russian art. However, a number of events and trends do not fit into this scheme, subverting its strictness. However, the philosopher’s statement was extremely influential - to the extent that the official policy was transformed into a thought through performance, artists and curators got inspired to create pieces in a ‘political’ way. The lecture was devoted to a brief analysis of these two strategies based on the current affairs.

Lecture: Alevtina Kakhidze: To be alive or dead / in frame of Manifesta 10

To be alive or dead / in frame of Manifesta 10 — consists of notes, drawings, diagrams, schemes, I created. It was a reflection on my own participation/non-participation in Manifesta 10, The European Biennial of Contemporary Art, which took place in Saint Petersburg in 2014.

So, if I were a ‘dead participant of the biennial,’ like for instance Louise Bourgeois or Joseph Beuys, these notes would have never appeared... Instead, they would discuss the accuracy of the curatorial choice for one or another piece from my oeuvre, exhibited in the frame of M10.

It means, that myself and Pawel Althamer* have right to influence showcasing or not showcasing of our works in the frame of M10, while Bourgeois and Beuys are no longer able to do this.

* Pawel Althamer, a Polish artist who refused to participate in M10. Alevtina Kakhidze accepted the invite to participate in this project with no hesitation. 

 -- Alevtina Kakhidze

Workshop: Mariia Gonchar: How to pack and deliver the food from outside to a detention facility

The event was inspired by the seemingly impossible ways of functioning of the justice system which derives from a modified USSR penal code, where justice is subjugated solely to the accusatory tendency and where the law exists on paper, however, not all that is written is put into practice. Mariia Gonchar presented the reflection on her experience of Ukrainian upheaval through the practice, which was used in Ukraine during Maidan riots to send a parcel for a person detained in custody. 

Film programme by Liza Babenko. “After Maidan: between Russia and Ukraine”

“After Maidan: Between Russia and Ukraine” presents a unique selection of incisively political movies by Ukrainian and Russian directors. All the films have been created during the last several years or (in some cases) recent months, and are conceptually united by a mutual political position, pointing against the ongoing civil war in Ukraine, as well as against the colonial aggression of Russia towards post-Maidan Ukraine. 

The programme generally contained short and feature-length videos by young directors, as well as feature-length movies by renown directors, which already got significance at international film festivals. 

Films by young directors narrate the protest existence of Kiev’s Maidan, while also revealing an ambiguous entity of this revolution, filled with local nationalism and ultra-right radicalism (Katherina Gornostay), which among other reasons caused the following separation of Crimea and war conflict with Russia (Vlad Kazakov). Pieces by other Ukrainian ‘new wave’ directors (Piotr Armyanovsky, Nadezhda Parfan and Maria Stoyanova) refer to Ukranian socio-political context, which is interesting to analysze in the frame of the current post-revolution state of Ukraine. Works by Maria Godovannaya, a student of renown american avant-guard director Jonas Mekas, uses form of parody as a language for critique of Russian government, its conservatism and imperial aggression. 

We also presented a special evening delivered through the partnership with the Against Gravity will featured two films: ”My Joy” by Sergey Loznitsa and “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin. All of them contextualize Russian environment in order to bring a deeper understanding of the military state and its feudal politics. 

Katherine Gornostai, “Lenin’s Teeth”, Ukraine, 2014 (10 mins)

Andrey Litvinenko, “Sleeping”, Ukraine, 2014 (6:05 mins)

Vlad Kazakov, “Revolution in Ukraine”, Ukraine, 2014 (11:38 min)

Armyanovsky Piotr Armyanovsky, “Meat Factory”, Ukraine, 2013 (32 min)

Masha Godovannaya, “Feast during the Plague”, Russia, 2014 (12 min)

Masha Godovannaya, “Non-traditional”, Russia, 2013 (6 min)

Nadia Parfan, Maria Stoyanova, “Exarch”, Ukraine, 2013 (10 min) 

Against Gravity/Planete+ Doc Film Festival (now: Docs Against Gravity Film Festival) screening: 

„My joy”, Siergej Łoźnica, Russia, Germany, 2010
„Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer”, Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin, Russia, United Kingdom, 2013