Preface to the second volume of Trips to the Countryside
All of our work can be briefly characterized as a unique type of “trip in the direction of the Nothing” in the aesthetic-psychological application. The means for this, though modest—since this direction is not so much lacking in promise, but taboo—are provided to us by plain existence in the form of a very narrow (though nearly constant) circle of interested individuals, the ability to record our excursions by technical means, and a convergence of favorable circumstances. All of this more-or-less allows us to balance on the verge of objectivity for eight years already.
Journeys and Playbacks presents actions whose meaning and experience in comparison with earlier ones are furthest advanced toward the Nothing. In the majority of them, this Nothing already visibly “nihilates” with the nullity of subjectivity. On the one hand, reason is unable to explain, to formulate those regions of consciousness with which it must confront itself both on a semantic level (for example in The Dark Place) as well as on the level of experiences (for example the three “city” actions). On the other hand, the degree of “uninterestingness” as a quality of the action’s artistic material grows. What is more, this “uninterestingness” is presented here in two types. Firstly, the objective dullness of the material despite a subjective interest of the participants in what took place (For N. Alekseev), and secondly, the objective and subjective (from the position of the organizers) disinterest in the proceedings (Group-3). In this connection (although the appearance of dullness is logically defined by the direction of our “journey”) the group Collective Actions—in any case during the last two years—exists in a state of near dissolution, since it is clear that to work on obligation—and where there is “uninterestingness” there can be nothing but obligation and need—in art is rare, and on the contrary, the field of art is associated with the directly opposite emotion, there is even a saying: “for the love of art.”
And so, those “places” where we have found ourselves the last three years are directly bounded upon the subjective reality of perception, with psychic distortions, on the one hand, and with the routine events of everyday existence [nalichnogo bytiia] not subject to “interesting” aestheticization, on the other.
It is likely that each epoch possesses certain limited means and powers in order to conquer, give genesis to, advance in the direction of chaos in this or that way, this or that “distance.” To alter one’s means of progress gives birth to a new epoch. What is happening currently in art—the interest to “live” faktura—speaks of the coming of a new epoch. The epoch of unmediated [neposredstvennoi] interest in structures and in “the Nothing” is, apparently, over, since it has brought forth in itself “uninterestingness” as a quality that is inherent to itself on this stage of its discursive unfolding, which, likely, is its concluding step.
If in economics or politics the means for this or that direction are released according to the “promise” of its formulations, then in art the same is associated first and foremost with “interestingness.” True, we can appeal to the peculiarity of our position, that is, that our aesthetic-psychological formulations have run into “uninterestingness” in its, so to speak, absolute signification; we are, after all, working with the problem of the Nothing itself, with “emptiness.” And where there is the Nothing, even if it is accompanied by a high degree of “uninterestingness,” there is always something, somehow a new creation in its own similar absolute “newness” as in “uninterestingness.” In a word, on this stage of our work, we find ourselves in complete obscurity, because we do not know whether or not culture will subsidize our further searches or subsidize the means in the form of an opportunity to objectivize our material and in the form of audiences interested in our work. And we are not sure of our own existential capacities – after all we too are pressed by this “uninterestingness” and we cannot say with certainty whether this is a temporary phenomenon or if it is a signal that there is nothing further, that we can go no further.
Such are our general thoughts on the state of “empty action” at this contemporary stage of the development of the “avant-garde.”
Let us move now directly to the materials included in this book. It would be good, beforehand, to direct the reader’s attention to the general symptomatic intonation of the actions with the audiences. This is the “withdrawal” [ukhod] from the place of action (the first action in the cycle) and then—in the city actions, the concluding ones—its own form of its “unattainability” [nedostizhimost’]: the actions began and ended on the way to the place where the events were expected to take place.
One of the main goals of the actions presented here was the modeling and actualization of such artistic spaces, in which the following activities were actualized as aesthetically-sufficient: Withdrawal, Walking, the Stop, the Trip, Standing, Leaving, Compilation, the Yell, the Knock, Listening. All of the enumerated elements of spatio-temporal types of art are used, it will be recalled, as methods of creating images and metaphors. In our actions, nothing of the sort happens. If, for example, we were to ask the viewers who have “left” what had actually happened on 1 February 1981 (the action Ten Appearances), then likely, the simplest and more or less complete description of the situation would be the response: “we left.” True, this leaving was unusual, “artistic,” but in principle this was precisely a leaving. The same for the action For N. Alekseev, whose meaning comprised in nothing other than the three-hour walking around Moscow. In other words, the “artistic-ness” of these events did not in a single case obscure the main contents of the proceedings – “leaving” and “walking” in their actual, everyday sense.
If we look carefully at the documentation of Playback, it becomes clear that it was built in such a way as to give form to and aesthetically bring to the center the “listening to the listening” (that is, to make the documentation of the action the plane of its contents) with the help of a musically-minimal effect of knocks and the insertion into the structure of the action—precisely at the stage of “listening to the listening”—of a visual level of perception, and more concretely: to concentrate the viewers’ attention on the marks on the wall that remained after its striking by hammers during the tape recording.
Thus, a very important aspect of the works presented here is documentation, which in most cases becomes its own form of “factographic discourse,” the primary material and “artistic space,” in which the events of the action are realized. As we have seen, it is precisely “factographic discourse,” becoming the object of direct perception, that gives us the “listening” in Playback as aesthetically-sufficient, while the event-driven [sobytiinyi] (in this case becoming pre-event-driven) aspect of the work in the temporal frames of its duration gives form only to “Knocking” and “Marks from knocking,” or the means of structuring the “text” of the action.
The switch to the level of factographic discourse as a really-artistic linguistic meta-level in relation to the chronotopic level of event was realized in the action Ten Appearances. It appeared there as primary and temporally preceding the taking place of the action itself through the photograph of hypothetical appearances of the participants, that were presented to the viewers returning to the starting point at the center of the Kievogorsky field. Returning from the forest after the end of the action (that is, having completed the “departure” and understood it as the contents of the action) and finding themselves in that place of the potential space of appearance, where in the photographs, previously awarded to them, were illustrated the tiny figures of the organizers of the action, it was as if the viewers connected in the “line of indistinguishability” (located for themselves outside the demonstrational field of the action, that is, accomplishing “empty action”) two spaces, translated the event using the mechanism of the “empty action” from one linguistic level to another, and precisely on the level of factographic discourse, which was actually confirmed by them as primary in relation to the event-driven one [sobytiinomu]. Having received the photographs in which “their appearance was represented,” they in a certain sense found themselves in the role of an actor watching a film in which he appeared sometime, but with the difference that for the viewers, their participation in this long-ago filmed movie turned out to be a complete surprise.
In this way, if the action Appearance of 1976 took place in the event-driven [sobytiinom], chronotopic artistic space, then the “Appearance” of 1981 took place within the space of factographic discourse, and since “appearance” is a such an imperceptible, everyday event and demonstrates not so much itself as that environment in which it takes place, then we could speak about the fact that the “Appearance” of 1981 actualized the space of factographic discourse as an artistic environment [sredu], as an element of the demonstrational field. Now, to the definition of the demonstrational field given by us in the “Preface” to the first volume of Trips can be added the presence in it of factographic discourse – at the level of language, whose text-forming material can be perceived as aesthetically-sufficient.
In the action The Sound Potentials of a Trip to the Countryside, the unfinishedness and torn-offness of the even is evident it the action’s “place of action—on the exurban field. Here, the “out-of-townness” of the place of action as an element of the demonstrational structure discovers its inability to form an “empty action,” just as it was in the “field” actions from the first volume of Trips. The active position of the audience in the event-driven [sobytiinyi] space of the action, their shouts “Pull!” were in no way balanced by the tape recorder’s appearance from beneath the sheet. The viewers “did not receive anything in return” on the place of action in the sense of an aesthetic impression, the tape recorder underscored this all the more – it recorded their shouts, swallowed them instead of responding. The shouts of the audience members, and the swallowing on top of that, “driven away” somewhere into the distance, hung in the “unresponsive emptiness.” A responsive aesthetic impression only came in the space of the factographic discourse, when they watched the slide-film compiled out of the documentary material of the actions and additional shoots and recordings.
As fit is evident, the action was built on a very deep entrance into the Nothing of the event-driven [sobytiinyi] level, and what's more this was a "group" excursion of viewers there constructively [konstruktivno] connected with the subjective sphere of the action and the organizers’ experiences of the action, which is what gave the subsequent response to the audience’s “charge” in the form of an aesthetic impression, an artistic image (see the layout of the slide film), whose artistic-ness was pregnant with documentariness, it was created in the process of the self-unfolding of factographic discourse. Having acquainted themselves with the materials of the slide film, readers will see that the visual image of I breathe and I hear, as well as the audio accompaniment to it—the sound of breathing—corresponded to the documentary series of the film’s “color” screen. This image is inherently analogous to the departing tape recorder: the tape recorder recorded its own departure (the sound of sliding on snow). The character I breathe and I hear produces and listens to its own breathing. On the visual level, both take place in the potential space of “appearance-withdrawal,” while on the auditory level, in the hermetic space of “inner” sound. The analogous nature of the auditory series is underscored by the fact that the speaker beneath the “color” screen, from which could be heard the sliding sounds of the tape recorder moving along the snow, project the documentary sounds of my breathing, that is, when I pulled the tape recorder to myself and bent down to turn it off, it recorded my unintentionally intensified breathing (the work of pulling the tape recorder across the snow-covered and bumpy field turned out to be physically very punishing – I was breathing like a steam train from fatigue), and which corresponded with the intentionally intensified (for the recording) breathing coming from the speaker beneath the black-and-white “artistic” screen on which appeared the character I breathe and I hear.
After the audience’s cries of “Pull!” on the exurban place of action, we “pulled out” onto the aesthetic surface first the domonstrational stratum of factographic discourse with the charactier I breathe and I hear and then, along the logic of the unfolding artisticness, which was minimally different from the documentariness, the train approaching the viewers from the screen and from the speakers. This is what turned out to be the “response” to the viewers, furnished by the space of the factographic discourse. The image and loud sounds of the approaching train having “splashed out” onto its own surface, the discourse immediately returned to its calm, stable and alert condition of “exhalation,” in other words, the place of action became “intensely empty” just as it was with event-driven [sobytiinymi] exurban places of action of the field actions (cf. Comedy). In this case, the slide-film concludes with the slide on the black-and-white screen of the text from the “Theory of Expectation” accompanied by the soundtrack of a description of the action by one of its participants made on site right after its completion and next to the colored slides on which were illustrated outside people standing and waiting on a train platform. It should be stated that the text “Theory of Expectation” has no literary or, much less, philosophical significance. It is simply an arbitrary “random” text, “sheets with corrections,” that remain on the screen for only 40 seconds. Clearly, it is hardly possible to read more than two or three lines in such a short period of time.
And thus we discovered that the space of factographic discourse has the potential to imperceptibly cross over into artistic space. It is precisely the display [pokaz] of these “artistic” possibilities of factographic discourse that balanced the entire structure of the action Sound Potentials of a Trip to the Countryside: the action’s “empty action,” begun on the exurban field, evolved in the space of factographic discourse, gave off a “splash” into artisticness and faktura and then once again returned to self-demonstration (“Theory of Expectation,” etc.), connecting with the event-driven [sobytiinyi] level: at the end of the screening of the film, N. Panitkov approached the screen and outlined in red the number 15 on the last sheet of the slide projection of “Theory of Expectation” (the number series in the film carried a structural-faktural character, that cannot be analyzed in the “Preface”). The presence of an exit into artisticness, moreover, gave us the opportunity to include into the space of the action’s factographic discourse and expositional series (a faktural series of velvet papers with Soviet military-railroad emblems [furnitury]) and to conclude the screening with the tape recording of a musical-verbal meditation, that is to include the elements completely outside the framework “film based on the materials of the actions.”
It is interesting that the accent on factographic discourse evident in the actions comprising the second book of Trips gave birth to several completely independent works. For example, the aforementioned series and musical meditation, as well as the envelopes of the “city” performances with literary nominatives on them of the type: “The stop took place at such-and-such time and in such-and-such place,” “The exit took place at such-and-such time and in such-and-such a place,” etc., which could be exhibited requiring no additional commentary.
For seven years, we conducted our performances outside the city. With rare exceptions, when the viewers participated in the action, the events took place on the field, at a significant distance from the viewers. We considered the field its own kind of stage or canvas, where minimal actions were accomplished, whose meaning was not so much in themselves as in the aestheticization—through these events and their interpretation—purely linguistic [iazykovykh], demonstrational relationships: closer, farther, “line of indistinguishability,” edge, center, unexpectedness, anticipation, the passage of time, etc. In other words, we systematically carried out the poeticization of fundamental ontological and psychological phenomena, the simplest of elements from which was constructed a picture of the world, but which necessarily—like the presence of objects or necessary means and conditions—are present in any of these pictures and in whichever version of their perception [vospriiatie]. The function of the audience in all these actions was constructive, their presence was in one way or another was operationalized in the text-production of the performance. However, the division into organizers and viewers, despite the different degree of involvement of the audience’s consciousness or their activities in the action, was always set apart and considered a conscious demonstrational element, evident in the materials of every action, and which we call the "barbell schema." This element along with the "empty action" is that transitional semantic node that connects the psychological picture of the experience of the event with the factographic-discursive apparatus, necessary for the more-or-less adequate perception of the conception and result of the action. In some cases (Place of Action, Ten Appearances), the audience was placed in such conditions that they turned out to be the performers and organizers of the events taking place—usually as receding or appearing figures. This "performative" function of theirs, that is the demonstration [pokaz] of that which is usually demonstrated by the organizers, was then discovered either on the photographs or in slide films.
One of the main and most important aspects of all the actions was the demonstration as an aesthetically sufficient image of the “person in the distance” (in the Slogans – in a verbal-contextual expression). This image of a “person in the distance” in a statically-charged version was given form and recorded in the action Gazing at the Waterfall, in which the author of the action, N. Panitkov, darting along the snow and drawing with his tracks an ancient Chinese master picture Gazing at the Waterfall, at the end of the action, “spatially corresponded” with the figure of the person in the picture, stood in the middle of the field and stood without moving for the duration of three minutes (because this “reproduction” with the feet took place on a large snow-covered field hundreds of times larger in size than the picture itself, the viewers discovered the meaning of the events taking place only after they were given in the end photographs taken of the original picture).
Part of the challenge of the three city actions (Stop, Exit, and Group-3) included first of all the aestheticization in its pure form the second half of the “barbell schema,” that is groups of viewers as artistically-sufficient units.
If the image of the “person in the distance” was created by us in a more-or-less stable (not considering psychological coordinates) space of the place of action—on the exurban field, then the “group of viewers” had to be formed in the space of the trip to the place of action, and moreover this space of the trip had to made into an artistic space ahead of time, to which the first two actions—Stop and Exit—were dedicated. In them, we actualized the concrete moments of the trip: a segment of the way, a stop, an exit from public transport, an announcement of exiting, etc. This was enabled also by the fact that by the time the described actions took place, the “trips to the countryside” themselves had taken on the flavor of a genre.
Thus, an artistic milieu was created in which it turned out to be possible to carry out a kind of “self-demonstration” of audiences in the action Group-3.
This demonstrationally-“zero” action was framed (both in its conception and in the result) by documentation carrying a significant facturally-free layer: the toned photographs, inscriptions beneath them not corresponding to the actual time of realization of the actions illustrated in them, the “posters.” It is interesting that the very fact of the public having gathered on a Moscow square and the “posters” in the hands of the organizers created a situation of a unique “political demonstration” – absurd in its contents, but fully dangerous in the context of the local politically-intense [sotsial’no-napriazhennogo] field. It turned out such that the feeling of lightening that the participants experienced at the end of the “dangerous situation” corresponded optimally to the pre-programmed by the organizers sense of conclusion to a prolonged creative process.
In the context of all our work, what can be said about this series is that its last stage—the action Group-3—seemed to “reverse” the situation, from the position of “they (the viewers) are looking at us (the organizers),” it turned into the opposite: “We (the organizers) are looking at them (the viewers),” who, even though they are not being shown anything, perform precisely in the function of viewers as a necessary element in the duration of an artistic action.
All three actions took place in the environment of the city also because it is precisely in the city that we find groups of people united by some common interests while in the countryside, in the fields, solitary figures are more habitual and consonant to the inner atmosphere of release, a stroll.
Aside from the two “inside-the-group actions”—The Meeting (for N. Panitkov and A. Monastyrski) and For N. Alekseev—we conducted the action The Dark Place, which concluded the cycle of actions presented in the book. It was its own kind of “psychic [psikhicheskaia] expedition,” reminiscent in its structure of the action For G. Kizeval’ter, but intended for 2 people from our constant circle of viewers—I. Kabakov and V. Mironenko. It consists of a marginal linguistic situation constructed around the “dark place” of our consciousness, the sketching of the boundaries of its self-interpreting possibilities.
Emphasizing psychological [psikhicheskom] experience, it is close to the actions of the first cycle, comprising the book Trips to the Countryside. Its entire movement takes place predominantly “inside” consciousness: the “viewer” concentrates on the “dark place” of a section of the forest that gradually, as the viewer gets closer to it, discovers the relativeness of its own “darkness,” depending on the point of view and transforms from an object outside consciousness to a recollection of its “darkness” as a psychic quality. The actualization of this change from “external” to “internal,” the dynamic of the connection of these two levels of the demonstrational field was the central moment of the action’s demonstrational structure. The black oval that the “viewer” (participant) hangs in the “dark place” is factographic in relation to this moment. But at the same time, it opens up to a new stage of the action that unfolds—after the hanging of the oval—in the space of factographic discourse. The oval acquires a very interesting but difficult to define significance. It can be interpreted as a symbol of the “Nothing,” that, upon the participant’s return to the original position, transforms into “that which is lacking” in the visual, external level of the demonstrational field. Joining with the dark place, it becomes, in its absence, an active object, intensely demonstrating its absence. Ceasing to be the sign of the “Nothing,” it begins to “nihilate.” And this “nihilation,” having its basis in the action’s “internal,” psychological, expressed (in a negative sense) externally visual plane of the demonstrational field.
In other words, in its concluding step, The Dark Place organizes an “empty action,” having no pre-planned conclusion, open in time.
In this way, the second cycle of our actions, Trips and Playbacks concludes with the aesthetically organized and “named” nihilation in its pure self-expression, at the boundary between objective and subjective reality of perception.
trans. Yelena Kalinsky