Split nik, Moscow Biennale – in progress
Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas’ Split nik installation opened in the Moscow Biennale on 22 September and the exhibition runs until 30 October 2011. Split nik is an installation re-reading a book published by Russian author, Alexander Kukarkin, during the Cold War period, discussing Soviet and Western ideologies in relation to consumerism, design and art. I am an ‘embedded writer’ with the project. The installation is a device to look backwards at the history of the Cold War in culture, focussing on the book Beyond Welfare (The Passing Age in English) by Kukarkin, and also to look forwards from now. The installation consists of three elements:
- a presentation of Kukarkin’s book in Russian, Lithuanian and English,
- extracts from a 1970s Lithuanian film Things and People that humorously examines our psychological and ideological relationships with objects,
- and a wooden structure resembling convoluted raked seating designed for dialogue.
Installing the work was fraught with drama. It got held up in customs and then lost in the basement of the luxurious Tsum Department Store in Moscow – our exhibition was on the fifth floor. Then our team was beset with flu, a broken hand, and chronic jetlag – nevertheless after a few 24 hour shifts, Split nik appeared.
THE FOURTH ELEMENT
The Split nik project assistant, Anna Kotova, contacted Moscow artists via Facebook and Nomeda, Gediminas and I ran a week-long workshop which is the developing fourth element of the work. The participating artists are Elle Gard, Liza Izvekova, Anna Prihodioko, Maria Sokol and Vladimir Smyshlenkov. We discussed the work of Future Studies researchers such as the Global Scenario Group www.gsg.org and Kingsley Dennis and John Urry’s book After the Car (Polity, 2009) and artists considering the future: science fiction, and artists such as Lise Autogena, John and Helen Mayer Harrison, Andrew Sunley Smith, Heath Bunting & Kayle Brandon, Kate Rich, Uta Kogelsberger, London Fieldworks and HeHe.
Talking of Khrushchev and Nixon’s 1959 Kitchen Debate, we wondered why the best conversations always happen in the kitchen. We set them a task to sit in a kitchen (their own, their grandmother’s, a showroom kitchen – whatever they like) and make some sketches of their vision of a future scenario – in whatever form they like: drawings, photo, collage, film, text, sound. We will be posting their developing ideas in a few weeks time. You, the reader, are welcome to submit your Future Casts to us too.
THE PEDAGOGICAL TURN
Elle, Liza, Anna, Maria, and Vladmir are also organising dialogues in Split nik during the exhibition with small groups of people. Documentation of these will follow. Sitting in the Split nik structure we discussed with them the pedagogical turn in art.
See Kristina Podesva, The Pedagogical Turn in Art
and artists and projects such as Tino Sehgal, The Long March (China), Platform (UK), Jeremy Deller (UK) and Nomeda & Gediminas’ other projects on http://www.nugu.lt – click on dossier.
We talked about theorists: Clare Bishop’s book Participation and her articles on The Participatory Turn; Christian Kravagna; Grant Kester’s book Conversational Pieces; Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics and Altermodern; Lars Bang Larsen, and then historically Joseph Beuys, Helio Oiticica, Milan Knizak, Marcel Duchamp’s text ‘The Creative Act’, Umberto Eco’s ‘The Open Work’.
Meanwhile, we are also progressing our research on Kukarkin himself, leafing through copies of Amerika magazine and Kukarkin’s personnel records, unearthed by Anna. The top floor apartment in Moscow where we were staying was showing the ill effects of a leaking roof and its age. We imagined it could have been Kukarkin’s apartment. The doors squeak painfully, the floors creak, the lightbulbs blow room by room, the toilet leaks, the kettle has a huge crack down one side but still works. Tea is a small mercy.
Kukarkin was born in 1916 at Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod). His parents died when he was a child and he was raised by his uncle, a doctor living in Moscow. From the age of fifteen Kukarkin worked at the factory Dinamo. During 1934-35 he served as secretary in various offices. From 1936 he studied at M. Gorky’s Institute of Literature in Moscow, graduating in 1940. During his studies he published his first critical essays in the magazines Flag (Znamya), New World (Novyj Mir), Literary Observer (Lietarturnoje Obozrenyje). Due to bad eyesight he was decommissioned from army service and worked for various newspapers and publishing houses. In 1943 he was sent by the Communist Party to the Higher School of Diplomacy, which he graduated in 1945. After graduation he began a diplomatic career and was sent to USA.
He was working as an attaché and head of the Press Department at the Soviet Embassy in Washington from September 1945 to August 1946. His time there coincided with the period when Alexander Feklisov was the KGB handler for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg at the New York Soviet Embassy. The Rosenbergs were executed as spies in 1953 and alleged to have given away US atomic secrets to Russia.
In August 1948 Kukarkin was part of a Soviet Delegation visiting the London Olympics at a time when USSR was negotiating terms to join the Olympics – it competed for the first time in 1952. He was a member of the Soviet delegations at the First World Congress for Peace in Czechoslovakia in April 1949; the United Nations Fourth Session September-November 1949; and the Second World Peace Congress in November 1950. The World Peace Council was established in response to fears of a third world war and the threat of atomic annihilation as the Cold War was escalating in Korea. Peace Congress deletes gathered in Sheffield in the UK, including Kukarkin, Picasso and ‘the Red Dean’ of Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Hewlett Johnson, who argued that capitalism lacked a moral basis and the moral impulse of communism constituted the greatest attraction. The British Labour government sabotaged the Congress and it was forced to shift behind ‘the Iron Curtain’ to Warsaw.
Kukarkin was a member of the editorial board of the magazine The New Times (Novoye Vremya). From 1951 he worked as editor of NEWS (Novosty) a newly established English language magazine for foreign countries. He travelled to France as a member of the Soviet delegation to the United Nations Sixth Session November 1951 – January 1952.
From 1953 he continued his literary work. He took a job as head of the Drama Department at the magazine Arts (Iskusstvo). He then disappears from the official records for five years. According to the personnel file during this time he was focussing on literary translations, and writing on Charlie Chaplin.
During 1958-61 he was head of the Foreign Film Department at the State Film Foundation USSR (GosFilmFond). During this time he collected materials for his major work on American film, which was published as part of the larger book: Cinema, Theater, Music, Painting in USA by Znanye (Knowledge).
From 1963 he started research work at the institute of Philosophy at the Academy of Science USSR where he worked until his pension in 1976. During these 13 years he wrote books, essays and articles on contemporary cinematography and critiques on bourgeoisie ideology and culture. The Passing Age – a book for foreign readers was published by Progress, and The Mass Culture of Bourgeoisie was published by PolitIzdat.
He lived his last years with his daughter and granddaughter – who we are hoping to find and interview. We are also very keen to find out more about his diplomatic career and whether there is any information on him, his book designers and illustrators in the archives of Progress publishers. If you have any information on Kukarkin, or would like to comment on his book or Split nik please contact us.
Also see http://www.vilma.cc/splitnik