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Dive Suits of Factography

Andrei Monastyrski, “Skafandry faktografii” (April 2007), in Poezdki za gorod, 6-11 (Vologda: Biblioteka moskovskogo kontseptualizma, 2009), 5-10.

After the first volume of PZG, practically KD’s entire “spatial-event” [prostranstvenno-sobytiinyi] and existential horizon was completely covered over by texts, tracks, marks, and the like. And all of the further work starting from somewhere in 1981 is work in two directions: on the one hand, even more intensive layering of all these tracks, texts, and on the other, an attempt to tear holes in these layers (each action is precisely an attempt at something like this).

In the actions before 10 Appearances and Playback, the events of the actions unfolded in a real exurban field (fields). After these two actions, these were already rather photographs of exurban fields, it was as if we separated ourselves from reality with a factographic membrane. We were clothed in dive suits of factography, in which we maneuvered in the subsequent actions. But even the places of these manipulations were similarly “packaged up” in a membrane of factography, changed somehow – in complete agreement with the theory of intentionality, where in the process of “mastering reality,” the entire system of subject-object relations is altered (“transformed,” like in fairy tales). For this reason, for example, the “removing the helmet” of the factographic dive suit during the action, at one of its “hole-tearing-through” moments, in no way guaranteed a return to reality, to the real field, sky, etc., since this reality was also already of a second order, also covered by a membrane, like a dive suit. And if the helmet could still somehow be removed, screwed off, since it is nearby, on the head, within reach, then to remove the membrane from the field, the sky, the forest, etc., was hardly possible. Out of reach. In other words, that same Kievogorsky field was irreversibly transformed into a space-ship (an artificial thing, a mechanism), flying from action to action not just in the cosmos, but in the cosmos of logos, audio-discourse, etc. In reality, the field investigations of the first volume of actions ended with that first volume. Afterwards, we crossed over into the frames of ordinary art and literature.

In 10 Appearances, the participants of the action already dealt with the traces of their own returns (on the snow-covered field) and with the photographs of the returns. In Playback, the viewers sat before a wall with the traces of the marks left by the hammers during the tape recording. After these actions, all events unfolded not in the space of fields, sky, forest, etc., but in the space of traces and marks.

The image of Bodhidharma, who sat before a white wall for 9 years, is defined not least by the whiteness of this wall, its purity and untouchedness. In any case, there are no indications or commentaries stating that he somehow visibly breathed on this wall or left some scratches on it. In our case however, the Zen Buddhism proclaimed in the 1970s, transformed fairly quickly into a sitting in front of a wall of markings. Already in 1979 in Place of Action, we left a significant factographic scratch on this wall (thus we sat in front of a completely clean wall for merely three and a half years, from 1976). After another year, 1980, we sat quietly, did not charge the wall, and in 1981, in the beginning of the year, already consciously made marks on the wall and sat the audience to face and contemplate them.

All further actions are development, the reproduction of two spots from the strikes of the hammer on the wall of Nikita Alekseev’s apartment on Vavilova street during the action Playback and the tracks in the snow on Kievogorsky field, left by the participants of the action 10 Appearances.

When I lay in the army mental hospital in 1971, among the “ill,” the term “wrapped-up jack” was making its way around. Why “jack,” I don’t remember anymore. I imagined this “jack” hanging upside-down from a tree branch in the form of a kind of cocoon wrapped up in either a blanket or a sheet. This was an image of a seriously disturbed person.

KD after the first volume, after 1981, is precisely this kind of “wrapped-up jack” (in texts, in factography). It is interesting that instead of trying to undertake something in the direction of “unwrapping” (this is what, in reality, Nikita Alekseev was proposing), I went in the completely opposite direction, kind of like “one wedge drives out another”: I “wrapped” myself even more via the psychedelia of the adventures described in Kashirsky Shosse. In other words, I “wound” around myself several heavy “furs” already of an individual, so to speak, order. After which KD in the form of a “wrapped-up jack” hanging upside-down and completely immobilized by the sheets and furs of text, could not sustain such weight, and the rope broke, he fell on the ground and ran or rolled away somewhere, like a huge sphere wrapped up with these “furs.” This might explain the fact that, say, in 1981, there were 3 actions, in 1982, not a one, but in 1983 (after the “jump”), there were 10 at once! This is how the first crisis was overcome.

The second crisis took place in 1989. In one of the folds of these schizophrenic “furs,” I discovered with the delirious part of my mind that KD is not only Collective Actions [Kollektivnye deistviia], but also, for example, Communal Discourse [Kommunal’nyi Diskurs] and even Communist Despotism [Kommunisticheskaia Despotiia], in the sense that, in view of perestroika, it would be somehow better to cease this “communal” activity. What’s more, in the action Relocation of the Audience, I suddenly physically felt, while making my way through the tall and wet grass of the Kievogorsky field, that I no longer have the strength to construct aesthetic positions in such huge, open spaces, neither physical nor mental strength. True, this feeling was dictated by bronchitis, which I was sick with precisely during the realization of Relocation. And indeed from 1983, it turned out that there was strength for spaces even greater (for example, the winter action Sound Prospects was physically very difficult, and the field was larger than Kievogorsky, while Russian World had to be done up to our waists in snow). But nevertheless, in 1989, taking into account all of these considerations, we ended KD. From the aesthetic point of view, this turned out to be a very good decision and a felicitous one in that Sabine and I did volume 6 of Trips by ourselves, which turned out truly very individualized and liberated from communality. There appeared actions that were completely different in atmosphere and even “illuminatedness,” such as Opening, Means for a Series, The Tenth Notebook, etc. I remember them as if they had taken place somewhere “in the heavens” (though in reality, in that same Kievogorsky), despite the fact that at these times—the first half of the 1990s—in a communal and social sense, were the difficult, chaotic times of the beginning of wild capitalism in Russia.

Before the fifth volume of PZG, it was as if were riding on train tracks with planned stops (actions) and there was a certain “goal-orientedness” (though there was no specific goal). We finally arrived at the station Hangars in the Northwest, where we discovered internal expanses, spaces for exhibitions, installations, etc. And afterwards our entire circle started to work with installations, exhibitions. That is, these “hangars” were the final destination of our movement since 1976. Besides, the idea of a “trip to the West” came to be realized. From 1989, everyone began to take trips to the West, and the 6th volume of PZG was done in the West, even though it has actions done in Moscow, but as if already done from the “West.”

I think that we decided to do the 7th volume of PZG and after simply by inertia and because I, Panitkov, Makarevich and Elagina, and Romashko remained in Russia, didn’t leave to the west, and Sabine was very interested in the actions. But in these actions there is no more existential “contact,” not a single existential themes. This is a wandering around different places. The dive suits of factography remained on us, but the connection to the «center» had disappeared, the center was disbanded (it was, of course, in the west, while the affiliated branch was in Moscow in the form of the MANI circle, most of whose members had left for the west).

After the fifth volume in 1990, we did three more actions, as they say, as they say, for the occasion. Cans we decided to do because of the opening of Makarevich and Elagina’s exhibition Fish [Rybnaia] at Panitkov’s dacha, in the then-Mani museum. People came from Moscow to see the exhibition. And we and Panitkov (in a slightly drunken state) came up then and there with an action in the field with cans. The audience was there, the cans were there, we led everyone onto the field and did the action. The action turned out to be symbolic in the sense that we seemed to have “narrowed the field,” including the field of our activities. The audience from the periphery of Kievogorsky field moved into its center and formed there a new circle, a sort of internal field, of a smaller size than the whole Kievogorsky. The same thing happened later with the Soviet Union – the republics fell away and a spatially deminished Russia remained. This action, by the way, was attended by precisely that audience (mostly critics who had not early been present at our actions) who in the 1990s began to work with contemporary art in the new Russia (Degot, Obukhova, Ovchinnikova, Levashov, Orlova, etc.). What’s more, this action felt to us (KD) as foreign, having little to do with us. It was as if we were observing its unfolding from a distance. Our aesthetic category of “withdrawal” seemed to cross over into collapse and into a different history.

The action On the Mount was done similarly on the occasion. Americans putting together the exhibition Between Summer and Winter [Between Spring and Summer] had come and were asking us to do an action in the countryside. I had a lot of pictures from North Korean comics. Panitkov took some of them and said that he has an idea, but that he would not tell us what it was, that we would only see it during the action. Some elements of an action with comics occurred to me and Sabine as well. We asked Panitkov to glue a part of the comics on thick cardboard, which he did. We arrived to Kalistovo with the Americans and Bakshtein in winter, walked for a long time in the snow, climbed up mount “Peschanka”—that’s what the locals call the hill going down to the Vora river (we did Lantern and Slogan-86 there). Panitkov was given a green backpack with a tape player inside. He played the descriptive texts of earlier KD actions (Panitkov did not know about this element). Panitkov built a construction in the tree and cut it in two. At this time, Sabina laid out the boards with the comics in a row in the snow. And after this, once everything was done, I decided to throw these cardboards over the precipice toward the Vora, which is what we happily began to do. Meanwhile, we all got good and drunk on gin and lemonade. My first installation From a Book was based on materials from this action.

The action Slogan-90 (For Leiderman) should have been the first action of volume 6 of PZG based on its subject-matter, though for some reason it did not make it in. We started volume 6 with Rosette, which was correct, since Rosette was dispensable, light, accidental, while Slogan-90 was “underground” and heavy, with allusions to my Kashirskoe shosse and close in method to the action Slogan-89 from the fifth volume (the financial sign-board).

Probably what is important in the 7th volume is that emptiness, the temporal chasm from 1990 to 1995 (when we were doing the actions of the 6th volume outside of KD). Thus it is as if the pause of the 6th volume is built into the structure of the 7th. This pause somehow functioned from then on until it was decided to insert the 6th volume into the normal chronological order of KD volumes.

Thus in reality, the first action of the 7th volume is really The Archaeology of Light from 1995, which was done near Rome. This action, even more than On the Mount, was done “on occasion,” almost on commission. P. Sprovieri had invited us to Rome and to his summer house to do an action there. I proposed an “earth” version of Lantern from 1977 with blue light (instead of violet). Despite the fact that blue marks a “gravitational shift,” a spatial collapse, while violet marks its expansion (“the expanding universe”), neither in the late-night contemplation of the lantern light on the side of the hill during the action, nor in the video recording was there a sense of any collapsing sensation from this light-blue florescence. On the contrary, there was instead a sense that a piece of sky had “come down to earth” or some “internal sky” was being perceived in this way on this hill all night until morning. The metaphysicality of the proceedings is visible on the video recording of the preparations of this whole construction, where in a strange way in the plastics and composition of the arrangement figures on the “mount” (I am explaining something to the Italian photographer and videographer with assistant) there can be seen certain scenes from paintings in the Vatican museums, where we had been the day before, especially the scene on Mount Tabor. In general, if the level of direct action and direct perception (our early actions) is a kind of metaphysics of “thisness,” a metaphysics of always new eventness, then factography (including video recordings) is a self-unfolding (in the successful cases) citational metaphysics of expositional sign-fields, a self-unfolding symbolic reality, which is also in certain cases interesting to contemplate like a self-interpreting reality. And still, if on the level of direct action and perception we always progress in our own existential narrative, then in “dive suits of factography,” we find ourselves in already existing narratives, even if they occur unexpectedly, like views outside the window of a speeding train.


AM, April 2007.

[trans. Y. Kalinsky]





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