Audience Recollections: Olga Zaikina-Kondur's story

Several days prior to the action, the participants received a link to watch a YouTube video (at that point I didn't know that the link reached only me). The video presented a freight train riding in countryside and recorded from different angles. It consisted of three layers: 1) visual and audio representation of the train going; 2) AM reading a text about the notion of karma; 3) a popular instrumental music of the 1990s.

Contrary to my expectations, the action was not related to rail roads, and I quickly forgot about it as soon as I met AM and DN and we left for the place of action. In the car, DN and I were talking about kidney stones—a bizarre type of minerals produced by human body and a weird artifact of its life. After getting off the car and meeting other participants and organizers on the edge of a small field, we started walking towards the forest on the other side of it. The silence of the surroundings made me feel peaceful and expecting something pleasant and unusual. I was listening to and looking at different details of the landscape as if questing for some indications of the upcoming action. A pair of horses stood in the far distance. A bird flew over the woods. When we were approaching the forest, AM showed us a place where an iron geodetic construction once stood. That construction served as a certain marker for two other CAG actions held earlier nearby, but it was not there anymore.

The weather that day was gloomy. When crossing the filed towards the place of action, a wall of forest looked dense. Fading leaves and grass bespoke the early October. As soon as we entered the forest though, its color and light transformed into luminous green. It seemed as if the sun glimpsed out (maybe the sky indeed brightened while we were in the woods?). This was the first remarkable impression left from the contrast of the inside and the outside.

The richness of the greenery became even more vibrant when the organizers began to unfold the long stripes of red slogans and attach them to the aspen trunks. I was designated an honorable role of holding a red portable speaker, reminiscent of the banners in its shape. The next deep impression was left when the slogans began to reveal stories—more like terse annotations—about certain houses and their former inhabitants. At the same time, the speaker in my hands started to produce a recording of AM reading a text about the same village and its houses. He told us that the text was borrowed from a book about the history of Sergiev Posad settlement. This local study discourse, in some unexpected and remarkable way, resonated with my personal experience of local studies which took place in Urals several days prior to the action. During about a week I was completely immersed into the history of a small settlement. Every day was full of the same scarce and soul-wrenching notes about human lives; stories of living, working, being arrested; for some the only thing remaining were their names, while nothing left of others. The same silent (but not speechless) half-empty houses. And the same feeling of a distance from the past as well as an everlasting poignant connection with it. These stories were like fleeting marks, frozen in the air, hung on the tree trunks, and left there, in the background.

The English language to which the slogans were translated produced an interesting effect: by bringing the local studies discourse to a more universal international language, it distanced the content from its immediate perception and relieved a pinching feeling of relation to the past. It also required a certain intellectual effort of translation. Moreover, the reading of the slogans demanded a physical effort as well; in order to descry the texts overlapped by the growing and fallen tree trunks and branches, one had to move around. Such encumbered walking-viewing-reading suddenly coupled with my recollection of a visit to an old abandoned cemetery during the aforementioned local study research. The cemetery was situated in similar aspen woods, a denser thicket though. The reading of names on faded and slanted monuments required intense peering. During the action, I was not sure what to do with my physical and psychological associations and continued to immerse in its natural and constructed environments.

Another moment of twofold perception came about when the second recording of reading—now about the notion of karma in Buddhist tradition—sounded from the speaker. This was a longer version of the recording which appeared in the video about the train. The text discussed certain metaphysical foundations of the phenomena of the physical world, but being long and rather vague, it produced a meditative effect of elevating the listener into some sort of floating state. It seemed that it meant not to present any information but to force the listener to formulate their own existential questions. Back at the cemetery, a striking moment dove into my memory. One of the old women who walked with me, got lost. I was standing on a small clear spot in the center of the cemetery and crying out her name while looking intensely into the surrounding depths. (The old lady happily came back soon). This particular moment came into my head when the slogans were up and the participants and the organizers, surrounded by the red banners, listened to the text about karma. A pile of some old moss-grown bricks next to one of the banners and a missing person ad, printed on a white sheet of paper and stuck on one of the tree trunks via wide red tape, which corresponded to the red slogans, maintained the enigma of the situation. Everything was a mystery. Not without irony though; I remembered the last name of certain Uzhastiny, whose story opened the reading of the first recorded text ("Uzhastiny" comes fom Russian uzhas which means terror). They were quite remarkable people, by the way.

The third recording, in which AM was reading a text about the architecture of Bagan, started when we were leaving the place of action. We walked for a while down a narrow path along the edge of the woods while listening about Bagan. One could clearly see the adjacent field from that path. The text, therefore, functioned as a boundary connecting two traditions far away from each other in geographical and spiritual terms, that of the Buddhist Bagan and Orthodox Christian Sergiev Posad.

When I was preparing to go to the first CAG action in my life, I was not ready for such a deeply subjective perception of its scenario. The analogies I encountered, however, could not be described as something called déjà vu. The action generated certain channels, which dovetailed my recollections and the current moment on both psychological and physical levels, but at the same time maintained the distance (some kind of cavity) between the two fringes of my experience. This gap was something refreshing like the crisp air of the fall forest, like vibrant red-green contrasts, or like the banners' light fabrics freely floating in the air. Probably this was the very emptiness that CAG have been practicing in the actions; a non-empty and active emptiness.

When we left the place of action and took a bus to go back to Moscow, I remembered about the video I saw prior to the action. It presents a train transporting some freights from one place to another, while the railroad is going under construction and the old wagons sit abandoned along the road here and there. The surrounding forest looks blank, indicating late fall or early spring, but the sun is shining brightly. By capturing the train from sharp angles, the camera reveals the machine's massive iron body with its wheels rasping loudly. By presenting localities remote from each other, such as Sergiev Posad and Bagan, or the local Russian language and the international English, the Action#146 offered a possibility to experience the distance between them. My personal "train" was carrying loads between far-away places of Moscow countryside (the place of action) and Urals (my local research), my personal trips and collective trip to the countryside. The connections between these venues, distanced from each other geographically and psychologically, were not immediately clear, but were involuntary perceived. These connections were left in some floating state, like the slogans hovering in the air. The absence of the geodetic construction, which once soared over the field and the adjacent forest, coupled with a strenuous effort to trace the connecting trajectories between the locales. To do that, one needs to be trained in inflating the mental landscapes into new distances. In terms of the type of movement, one also has a choice: one-way (like a train running, speech, written text, karma, etc.) or multi-directional (like recollections, recording's playback, reading, commentaries to the action, etc.).

146. Five Slogans (Bagan)





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