Groupe Intervention Video, Montreal 29.10.2014


It is 2015 and Groupe Intervention Vidéo, GIV for short, is now 40 years old. For this anniversary, we are planning a series of screenings and exhibitions that will take place throughout the year. For over 20 years, we have been collaborating with curators and collectives to present video programs.

It seems fitting that one of the last curated screenings GIV hosted in 2014 was DIFFERENCE SCREEN. Bruce Allan and Ben Eastop put together an international program of works by women.

I took a few notes during the screening but I felt it was more important to watch. The program was strong. It flowed. Each work seemed to each be in its correct place within the program. This is a compliment and no mean feat.

My overall impression of the screening has to do with architecture(s) and how structures and spaces are inhabited, presented, transformed and figured. One work, Travelling Fields (Inger Lise Hansen) reminded me of Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale because of the insistent way it flips vantage points. Lénine en Pensant by Sophie Nys features a huge sculpture of Lenin’s head with excerpts of his own texts about the importance of women during and after the revolution. Mantra (Gordana Andjelic-Galic) presents a woman struggling to carry all the flags once associated with the formation of Bosnia. Shelly Silver looks at language, racism and narrativity as she literally builds story-blocks in 5 lessons and 9 questions about Chinatown. Signs figure prominently in Hassan et Amira – Lettre/s d’hotel/s. Director Gesa Matthies uses two images, in a kind of split-screen, to make associations between hotel signs (or typewritten word and sign), as she does with the words ‘Terminus des Ports’ and ‘De L’avenir’.

There are many more excellent works in the program screened at GIV. I got swept up, abandoned my note taking and enjoyed.

Anne Golden

It was a pleasure for me to attend your screening at GIV. I felt refreshed by it. It had something of the past (program of short films I used to watch or be part of in the 80ies in Berlin or East Europe), of the present (it was happening now and was critical about our time) and of the future (I hope these types of programs will keep on happening, always…)

Lysanne Thibodeau


Walk of the Three Chairs Breda Beban


New York – can it be real?

UnionDocs, 25 October

‘That which on first glance is alike, on closer inspection tells us apart’

Like a guiding proverb, these words appear in Barbara Rosenthal’s film Secret Codes shown at Difference Screen’s second New York screening at UnionDocs, centre for experimental film and media in Willamsburg. Black and white hand-print images from prison archives flick between texts in English, German and Yiddish allude to commonalities and differences. The sound track by DJ Robeat (electronic musician based in Germany, who Rosenthal works with) winds up the pitch. A sudden colour image of the artist’s crossed hands indicate that her own identity is key.

New York artist Shelly Silver has lived in Chinatown for 25 years. Her film 5 lessons and 9 questions about Chinatown evolved out of 50 hours of footage from a commission for the Museum of Chinese in America, to bring to light the complicated and difficult 150 year history of the Chinese community in New York – raising more questions than there are answers. It also uses texts – alternating English words and Chinese symbols, like a graphic language lesson, with poignant images of children with bright toys and domestic paraphernalia in cramped apartments. We, the audience, are part of the lesson, invited to reach out, and back in time, to understand a little more about this community’s history and in so doing, linking artist, subject and viewer.

Zohar Kfir’s film Sometime.Somewhere re-uses found footage of people in the snow and trees set against resonant voice recordings of Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett, like a blurry dream, reminds us of growing old. Zohar is Israeli, had been based in Montreal, and is now moving to New York, epitomising this huge city of people who come from somewhere else.

UnionDocs panel
Panel at UnionDocs
Left to right: Ben Eastop, Shelly Silver, Barbara Rosenthal, Zohar Kfir, Bruce Allan, Lydia Matthews

In the discussion with 35 or so present that followed the screening, we were asked by UnionDocs director, Christopher Allen, whether ‘difference’ is a unifying force for the project. Although the notion of difference was a starting point, and is of course an underlying feature, the intention of the project was not to present a blithe or simplistic message of diversity.

Difference is a trigger for motivating creative enquiry, and is what drives the project forward, with dialogue and interaction from meeting new artists, curators and venue hosts along the way…as Gareth Evans states in his essay, difference is an ‘engine’….by ‘creating new constellations of location, artist, and unpredictable sites of projection the project generates difference’. (See Essay page on this website).

Perhaps Barbara’s phrase, inverted, can also be a guide for New York: difference is everywhere, but on closer examination lies a commonality, people with origins elsewhere are linked in a struggle to forge their identity in this city that never stops.

Panel discussion – Shelly Silver, with mic (Photo: Oli Eastop)

Shelly’s film prompted a discussion about the nature of documentary – arousing a passionate contribution from an activist in the audience who has been campaigning for many years to elevate the issues facing Chinatown’s communities – especially rising rents and property prices – in an attempt to bring them to the notice of the city’s authorities. It raises the question of whether art has a utility in bringing about social change.

Audience at UnionDocs (Photo: Oli Eastop)

Cordelia Swann’s film, Desert Rose, also employs a documentary style, in which a silky voiced narrator tells us about the horrific effects on ‘down-winders’ – people near Las Vegas who suffered terrible afflictions from the radioactive dust that blew in from nuclear test sites in the 1950s. Shot in black and white, the casino lights of ‘the strip’ create patterned motifs set to a seductive country and western soundtrack which makes you question the authority of the narrative – can this really be true?

Ben Eastop, October 2014

New York’s East River (Photo: Oli Eastop)

ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington St., Manhattan, NYC 15 October

We hosted Difference Screen here in New York on October 15 at ABC No Rio, a scrappy anarchist art space on Manhattan’s lower east side. This coincided with the arrival of friends from the Netherlands who were responsible for bringing me to Bosnia last February, where I first encountered Difference Screen. All in all, it was a happy, drunken event, rife with a sense of reunion and possibility.

The program was a showing of five short films: three from the former Yugoslavia, one from Bulgaria, and one from Georgia. By the special request of my partner Vandana Jain (who largely organized the No Rio screening), Gordana Andjelic-Galic’s wonderful film ‘Mantra’ was shown, depicting the artist walking down a newly paved street, while an overwhelming number of flags are thrown, one by one at her from offscreen. These are the flags of the many powers that have historically held sway in Bosnia Herzegovina. The artist repeatedly drops them, and is nearly brought down by the weight. It was a real delight to see this work again, all the more so because I met the artist and travelled with her last February.

By bringing together a mix of society and creative production, screenings like Difference Screen are immensely important. A night of short films is a one of my favorite ways to experience culture. It’s like going to the movies, but on an individual, human scale. The multi-film program, made possible by the shortness of the films shown, allows several creative minds to express their vision in one evening. They are events celebrating smallness and intimacy. Best when the film-makers are present, the line between passive audience and active participant can disappear.

What makes Difference Screen so uniquely interesting is it’s nomadic global nature. From town to town, country to country, it rolls snowball-like through its travels, accumulating participants from each new location in a hopefully unending effort to bring together beautiful short films, and the artists who make them.

Travel, community, creativity- a trinity of sorts that, for me at least, defines a life well lived.

Mike Estabrook

ABC steps : Mike, Bruce, Stephen, Mona, Glen, Jessy, Marlies, Manny

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ROOMARTSPACE October 4 London

Video screenings of works by artists can sometimes be joyless, or tedious affairs in which outsiders struggle to suspend their disbelief for the full duration. This might be because the films were under, or overcooked, or because the artist saw no need to moderate his narcissism in a way that will enlighten others. Most of us are accustomed to well-manicured movies that are the fruits of a budget big enough to rally an army of fully trained professionals. By curating a rich body of work from many European countries, Difference Screen re-splices some of these disciplinary differences and provides a high quality of content that stands for itself.

Our visit to a London presentation of Difference Screen in early October 2014 was a pleasure, despite its somewhat primitive venue, which contrasted strongly with the surrounding opulence of the W1 area. We were welcomed warmly by the hosts and ushered up some cranky wooden stairs and into a series of viewing rooms. Many of the screenings were running in parallel, although sufficiently spaced out to avoid interfering with one another. In the initial hour or so, the atmosphere was similar to any small gallery space, but it rapidly thawed up as the visitor numbers swelled into respectable house party size.

When the time came to run the main movies the audience was too big to fit into the largest room, so it was decided to have two parallel viewings. Even then, we only just managed to fit into the spaces. After a brief introduction by Ben Eastop, we kicked off with a disturbing video by Inger Lise Hansen. This consisted of a ponderously slow-moving tracking shot of an industrial landscape, shot completely upside-down. The unusually high quality of the image means that we get a worm’s eye view in which the sharpness of focus is matched by a vast depth of field. It is hard to say how an unpopulated apocalyptic wilderness can be so heart-wrenching. There is something about rusting iron and concrete that reminds us of our callousness and, yet, of our existential frailty.

This was not the only bafflingly emotional film. In Walk of the Three Chairs by Breda Beban, a woman and a man on a barge are serenaded by a gipsy band as they proceed slowly down a river. The atmosphere is tense. The man looks into the woman’s face and sings a phrase, perhaps in Serbian. She tries to respond but her voice fails her. The woman is close to tears. She valiantly tries again and manages to raise her spirits. After the screening we learn the title of the song they were singing, ‘Who Does Not Know How To Suffer Does Not Know How to Love’.

A range of work from other countries offers an impressive range of ideas and emotions. Perhaps the international nature of this selection makes politics the common denominator. However, not all make references that are explicitly political with a big ‘P’. Adad Hannah’s Russian KAMA3 seems to take more of a playful interest in the formal qualities of shooting a still image with a movie camera and tripod, rather than a still camera. A man and the woman are trying to keep their poses without laughing, while the camera runs for three and a half minutes without a break. In an Afghan film, A Drone Wrapped Up in Flying Carpets Riaz Mehmood weaves ancient fictions and contemporary media snippets together to make a narrative that seems childlike, yet hauntingly cynical.

Tischler & Wood

Peter Wareing discussing his film From Tiziano Vecellio to Barnett Newman and back

Siranush Galstyan / Difference Screen / Naregatsi Art Institute

Film critic Siranush Galstyan reflects on Difference Screen at Naregatsi 8.7.2014

Film is always some private look, a view of life. And it means difference of views… During its existence cinematography became an archive of mankind that is fixing and keeping the human memory. What do we feel when see a photograph or a film, which represents a place that does not exist anymore or has changed so much that one can not recognize it? A Polish pharmacy that disappeared during war. We watched it on the screen with confused feelings. Pharmacy still exists in the film, on the screen but not in factual actuality…

Among different films that were screened almost non-stop at Naregatsi Art Institute I would like to distinguish a film Walk of the Three Chairs performing a Serbian song like a ritual; and in some sense the ironical and surrealistic documentary Hollywood shot in Georgia.

Monuments of communist leaders that seemed “eternal” at the time, but fortunately were removed successfully after the collapse of the Soviet system… Historical context can be accepted as similar for all post-Soviet people and not only for them. Cult of leaders by means of big monuments, portraits; churches transformed into cinema or cultural clubs… All these are sad signs, emblems of that era. When the system was destroyed we could observe the opposite process: a cinema that transformed into a church…

What makes the difference between things and views? When we find a likeness between some occurrences in different parts of world, right then the differences appear. Just we notice the differences and at that very moment some community of phenomenon appears…

I kept in my mind also a film Russian KAMA3 where a man and young woman were standing beside a car. It was like freeze frame as they were waiting too long to be pictured by a photo camera, but indeed, they were shot by video… It is really funny for nowadays. On the other hand, it recalled an episode from the first full-length Russian film Defense of Sevastopol which also contains documentary footage. In that episode we can see real heroes of war who stand immovable behind the camera, because they think that their photos would be taken soon. At that time, in 1911 they have no idea about film-making… And now, about 100 years later, we could watch almost the same situation. So, likeness and difference of the screens and times!

Siranush Galstyan

Armenia: 3 screenings

Naregatsi Institute, Yerevan 8.7.2014
Naregatsi is a philanthropic non-profit organization pursuing the preservation and promotion of Armenian cultural heritage The Institute was an excellent venue for presenting film and video in Yerevan. My thanks to events manager Victoria and programme director Eka for their warm welcome and to the Naregatsi photographer who documented the first screening.

Diff Screen Yerevan poster PRINT.jpg

The theatre/cinema boasts a brand new screen and a rather old projector (HDMI will follow soon). Following Victoria Antabian’s initial introduction Mkrtich Tonoyan translated my synopsis of the Difference Screen project to an audience of 25 people including film critics Artsvi Bakhchinyan and Siranush Galstyan. Four young women film critics sat in the front row very engaged with the programme albeit with a limited understanding of English. Russian and Armenian are the commonly used languages in Armenia with English peripheral at best.

IMG_3014Artsvi Bakhchinyan, Siranush Galstyan

With Mkrtich as translator I was able to expand on the films during a short interval.

Bruce, Mkrtich and Eka

Arpine Tokmajyan’s A 3000 times walked way opened the second part of the programme. The work records a walk through Yerevan made almost every day from her apartment to studio over 10 years, a walk that became second nature and about which Arpi observes “On the one hand it became a part of me, while on the other it became invisible.”

Arpine joined Mkrtich and myself in the concluding discussion.

Arpine Tokmajyan talking about her work

Arpine, Mkrtich, Bruce with Naregatsi pomegranate, Siranush, Eka

The following day Mkrtich and I made an early start to Gyumri, Armenia’s 2nd city devastated in the December 1988 earthquake. We arrived at the Berlin Hotel, which was originally built as a hospital. Today it provides accommodation and functions as an arts centre while providing hospital services in a separate wing. Mkrtich invited me to join him for a meeting at the City Research Center who are beginning a cultural mapping of Gyumri to explore situations for research and creative engagement. In recent years Gyumri has been awarded world heritage status. Alexandrapol, Leninakan, Gyumri – names that reflect eras. Yerevan was still a village when Alexandrapol (Gurdjieff’s birthplace) was a thriving commercial city. Located beside the closed Turkish border the city has lost its trade routes.


Continuing restoration 2014

State Art Academy, Gyumri 10.7.2014
10 years after the earthquake Vazgen Tadevosyan, Azat Sargsyan and others staged the 1st Gyumri International Biennale of Contemporary Art, an affirmative event designed to bring art and culture back to the broken city. The Gyumri Biennale has endured and this year Difference Screen was presented at the State Art Academy within the frame of the 9th Biennale.

State Art Academy, Gyumri

Setting up

Students absorbed in wide ranging techniques shown in the programme

About 40 people, students, lecturers and others, attended the screening at the impressive Academy theatre. Ben and I were concerned at the length of the proposed 1- 4pm programme. We need not have worried, some people left during the interval but many stayed until 5pm. We recorded a radio interview and enjoyed a lively Q/A discussion. Afterwards we joined Academy Director M. Ghukasyan in his office, who was interested to discuss contemporary art issues in Britain. The director hoped there would be a chance to work together in the future.

Gyumri to Yerevan – Aragats

Naregatsi Institute, Yerevan 11.7.2014
Our 2nd screening at Naregatsi took place on a hot Friday evening with other exhibition openings competing for attention. Around 15 people attended a revised programme with less English language. Our original programme ended with Cordelia Swann’s Desert Rose a film I felt would have been difficult for many. Once again the audience was very appreciative of the films they saw.

My sincere thanks to Arpine Tokmajyan and Hratch for their hospitality and to Mkrtich Tonoyan for organising three screenings at short notice. Mkrtich is a co-founder and president of Akos, and founder of the Artist residency program ACOSS


Ararat from Yerevan through the haze of 37C

Beyond Mount Aragats the road to Tbilisi via Vanadzor passes frequent encampments of beekeepers and their hives testifying to the richness of flora at this time of year, a beautiful moment to drive through this magnificent rugged landscape. Arriving at the border I presented my passport with the following message written in English and Armenian.

“The passport accidentally appeared in a washing machine after being washed with clothes. It has since been checked, verified and cleared by the passport and visa office at Zvartnots Airport, Yerevan and by passport control. Entry to Armenia is date stamped in pink 07.07.2014 at the bottom of the 6th page of the passport.” Examining the more or less illegible pink smudge, the official consulted others before waving me through with a smile.

The journey continues…

Bruce Allan


What is the continuing relevance and longevity of publicly sited monuments and how are their future lives viewed? A stimulating question Maria, and perhaps as you suggest “only the external interventions or actions of vandalism can animate the forgotten meanings”.

Every city, town and village in Britain has at least one monument, not all figurative. There are countless statues of people, predominantly men, who’ve made an impact at some moment of time on their community or country. How do we view our monuments in Britain? They can be missed if they disappear, sometimes stolen for profit, or re-located often inappropriately. Occasionally one is vandalised as a direct political or social statement, but usually pointlessly. Like the historic characters mentioned in earlier posts, many people now find some publicly represented figures reprehensible. However, not many permanent monuments in Britain have been recently deliberately damaged or de-commissioned because of the politics or actions of the person/subject depicted.


Nelson’s Pillar Dublin erected 1843 removed 1966

The most famous incidents are probably those resulting from events in neighbouring 20th Century Ireland, notably attacks to statues with controversial figures such as William of Orange, Nelson’s Pillar (blown up by the Irish Republican Army, later demolished in 1966 and subsequently replaced by the Monument of Light) and the Lord Gough monument. An enlarged photograph of Daniel O’Connells’ statue to the Winged Victory of Courage, showing bullet holes in the angel’s breast, was shown in a recent Tate Britain exhibition – Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm. Such events undoubtedly remain live in some people’s consciousness.

My sense is that generally monuments in Britain tend to become like comfortable shadows, not quite invisible, their meanings blurred, their commissioners and makers equally obscured. They may be appreciated as familiar sculptures or ornaments by local communities and serve a purpose on the tourist trail, like labelled archaeology. If raised on steps they provide visitors with somewhere to sit and eat sandwiches and have their photograph taken. Is this a reflection of comparative peace and ease in the land or complacency and indifference. Or they can be ignored and compromised by town planners and developers, in any country, when profit over-rides history and sentiment.

Fourth Plinth
left: 2005/7 Alison Lapper pregnant, Marc Quinn
right: location

Monuments come into the foreground mainly as a focus point for state or national events. Perhaps it’s time to revise the concept. Has the ubiquitous but successful temporary site-related intervention taken the place of monuments? An enlivening buzz around a subject that doesn’t clutter up the place for too long, like the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square? This monumental platform was never completed with a monument and is now used for a major new, publicly commissioned sculpture each year,_Trafalgar_Square
Nevertheless monuments prevail. Recently impressive is a distinctly permanent, gigantic bronze horse-head in Central London, which highlights and commemorates the plight of working animals that perished in wars across the centuries.

I sense that western interest in Soviet monuments, whether as scholars, artists or tourists, remains because they locate unfamiliar and fascinating historical contexts and provide reference points for consideration. People and events represented, such as Lenin and Stalin, had a huge impact on their country’s citizens and the world, yet mysteries still surround them, and we are fascinated in this history. It feels necessary, as part of our understanding and sensitivity, to know whether such monuments are still ‘visible’ to and have an affect on local people, particularly anyone who has a direct memory of or has suffered under an oppressive regime.

It is also possible that, as ‘westerners’, we find some of our own monuments ‘exotic’, especially the more obscure or ancient or simply unfamiliar. In which case understanding the subjects and contexts for both our own and other nations’ monuments opens up questions and reveals attitudes. This approach is evident in the film Hollywood by Swiss artist Daniel Brefin, set in Kutaisi, Georgia, which illustrates a contemporary public’s ambivalence to the Stalinist era in an amusing and lightly ironic way, despite some misgivings and the fact that Stalin still remains a terrible figure in present consciousnesses.

Novvy 9.6.2014

How accurately is context read?

I would like to continue the issue of soviet heritage in post-soviet countries because I am not sure that context is read accurately.
I will show the work “Mutation” of Central Asian artist, sculptor and photographer Yerbossyn Meldibekov.
This multimedia installation was shown within Venice Biennal 2011 in Central Asian Pavilion and in Art Brussel 2013.
Yerbossyn Meldibekov made visual examination of ten archival photographs of one of the squares of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where during 90 years 10 monuments have been replaced by successive Governments.

Due to the big trend in post-soviet artistic discourse Yerbossyn Meldibekov again try to debate on the topic of architectural and monumental heritage in Central Asia and neighboring countries.
Within post-soviet artistic discourse Monument is seen as the most vivid language that power seeks to communicate with the society.

07_Erbossyn Meldibekov-Nurbossyn Oris (Kasachstan)

Kind regards,

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Wroclaw Perspective

WRO Art Center

Wroclaw 21 May 2014

There seems to be so much to Wroclaw that is no longer here – histories and people that have passed and gone. It’s survived a millennium of changing rulers who have swept across this part of central Europe since the end of the old Polish Piast kingdom – Czech Bohemians, Austrian Hapsburgs, Prussians, Russians – Napoleon came through its gates – then the grotesque Nazi occupation followed by communist suppression.

The evidence of such enormous changes is still there, but harder to find. Before the Second World War, Breslau was Germany’s third largest city. As Poles from the east repopulated the evacuated city after 1945 – every vestige of German nomenclature was eradicated. Whole streets reduced to rubble were rebuilt in the new Wroclaw in the years that followed, despite the past, mostly in the Germanic vernacular. Some gaps remain but more recently the familiar retail names of local and global capitalism are rapidly filling them in.

Yet the city seems in good health, youthful and energetic. The Wroclaw Art Academy has a brand new building, with an expanding printmaking department and impressive facilities for glass and ceramics. In 2016 Wroclaw will host the European Capital of Culture.

Difference Screen opened at the WRO Art Center with a moment of inspiration – with Polish artist Daniel Rumiancew’s witty one-minute film Training in which the artist, viewed from behind, head bowed, slaps his forehead with an accompanying puff of smoke as he’s hit by an idea. More of a struggle is suggested, both physically and perhaps in life, in Anna Molska’s Perspective made during an annual workshop in Dłużewo. The artist pulls an unseen load through snow with bungy cords stretching out behind her creating a perspective of tight lines which break as the pressure increases with her exertions – an absurdist comment on visual art’s classical construction.

Screening at the WRO Art Center.

New additions to the Wroclaw programme included Bruce Checefsky’s photogram film Pharmacy based on Stefan and Francizsk Themerson’s influential 1930 abstract photogram film Apteka. The artist reconstructed this experiment in animation from a drawing made by Stefan Themerson as the original film no longer exists.

The programme ended with Wroclaw based artist Hubert Czerepok’s Reaching the Stars which follows the ascent, literally and chronologically, of Poland’s meteorological rocket programme, made from original black and white footage obtained from an eccentric hoarder, custodian of the only remaining film record. The strange remoteness of the landscape, and DIY nature of the early rocket tests, leaves you wondering whether any of this is real. The programme was closed down in 1970, ostensibly by the Soviet authorities, when the rockets reached 100km altitude, the outer limits of the earth’s atmosphere, and portended a space programme that might have challenged Russia’s interests.

In the discussion that followed, Mariya Gonchar, an artist from Odessa doing a residency at the WRO, asked why is there such an apparent interest in the West of Soviet era monuments in public places which don’t have the same power they used to have, apart from attracting vandalism. Is this the same fascination with ‘exoticism’ that the East aroused during the Age of Discovery?

Exoticism isn’t our motivation of enquiry for Difference Screen, but viewed from the perspective of central Europe, the British Isles seem insignificant and peripheral compared to the enormous sweeps of European history – monuments of significant leaders perhaps remind us in Britain of the power of events in Europe which are of a different magnitude and inspire awe.

Plac Solidarnosci demo edited

Plac Solidarnoski today
Anti-communist regime demonstration in Wroclaw, 1982 (top), and Plac Solidarnoski today (below).

Ben Eastop, 7 June 2014

WRO Art Center

Maria Gonchar asks

Dear Ben and Bruce,
I formulated my screening questions at WRO ART Center in written form.
Mussolini-Obelisk is still situated in the center of Foro Italico / Foro Mussolini in Rome and even was restored recently. Engelbert Dollfuss, one of the leaders of Austrofascism, has a very groomed grave in the Hietzing cemetery in Vienna. During the Ukrainian independence I have witnessed the process of restoration of monuments which was destroyed or was victims of October revolution’s iconoclasm, as for example “Catherine the Great and her companions – De Ribas, De Volan, Potemkin, Zubov” monument in Odessa, and these companions are an example of monstrous embezzlement during the Russian Empire, as well as Catherine the Great was also not so kind to Ukrainian people. Why the issue of soviet monuments and the issue of their presence in public space are still in big interest of western intelligentsia? In our post-soviet city perception soviet monuments don’t have inner power or inner energy at all, and only the external interventions or actions of vandalism sometimes animate the forgotten meanings. Is it only the question of “exotism” which can be brought to the countries with advanced economies, the “exotism” in the meaning of the Age of Discovery? These questions and this partial comparative example of the controversial historical figure’s monuments in public space I asked during the screening “Difference Screen” in Wro Art Center, Wroclaw, Poland, and I still try to find the answers.

Kind regards,

hi Maria its good to have your ‘screening questions in written form’ as I couldn’t hear what you were saying at WRO.

Several of the films shown by Difference Screen at WRO explore subjects relating to East Europe, the former Soviet Union, or further afield as in A Drone Wrapped up in Flying Carpets (2012) by Riaz Mehmood set in Afghanistan.

Two films in the roster include monuments: Lenine en pensant 2005 Sophie Nys (Belgium) and Hollywood 2004/2013 Daniel Brefin (Switzerland). Lenine en pensant is set in Ulan Ude, Siberia now a part of the Russian Federation. Hollywood was filmed in Kutaisi, Georgia after the country had seceded from the Soviet Union but before fast changing developments in the 21st century. Hollywood screened at WRO.

Maria Gonchar asks ‘Why the issue of soviet monuments and the issue of their presence in public space are still in big interest of western intelligentsia?’ an unexpected and stimulating question.

My immediate thought is the history they embody. Rather than consciously exploring the exotic I feel artists from different countries have often recorded their views and responses to places and events at specific times. Or, as with A Drone Wrapped up in Flying Carpets created a scenario appropriate to a time. There are many approaches in technique and subject.

Stalin’s statue is one of several elements in Hollywood, which set the context of the film. Many of these elements, including the statue and various slogans, have subsequently been removed in a massive makeover of parts of the city during Mikhail Sakaashvili’s term as president of Georgia.

Writing about his film Daniel Brefin considers the context and location of a former outdoor cinema with the recorded thoughts of passers by

“Kutaissi, a city in West Georgia, 13 years after the end of the Soviet period. The territory of a former open air cinema has been transformed into a church, the projection screen is still visible – a picture carrier that lost its pictures. Some are happy about the Lord’s house, others regret the loss of the cinema or wonder about the Stalin statue that was erected by a donator some years ago.
By the means of cinematically animated photography and interviews with passers-by, the film attempts to transmit an atmosphere of a certain ieu and to allow an approach to the dreams, hopes and fears of the local people.”

Interviews provide the narrative of the film. In one a Georgian man observes ‘Here is the monument to Stalin who was acknowledged as a genius. Behind it the toilet, beside it the church… Can someone tell me what this combination means? What can you call something like that?’

Screen shot 2014-06-04 at 16.10.00
Hollywood Daniel Brefin

In another a woman says ‘I am a mother and an icon painter. You have already met my children. When they come to church they learn many good things: not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery. When I go out and leave my children at home I know that my nine year old daughter will turn on the television and see sex, murder and so on. You need television even less than the cinema. They are both the same. God will save man, not the cinema’.

Daniel Brefin’s film succeeds through the minutiae of conversation concerning the scene, the statue and the cinema.

The views expressed are those of ordinary Georgians after a difficult decade of post Soviet change. Ironically, in the opening conversation a cobbler says ‘I work here but I don’t make enough to support the family. Times were better with a cinema here. People would pass by on their way to the movies. There is no electricity here. For two or three months I haven’t had any electricity.’

In Lenine en pensant Sophie Nys documented the V.I. Lenin monument in Ulan Ude, Siberia. The monument is notable for being one of the largest heads ever made. Sophie had previously travelled through parts of the former Soviet Union and was drawn by the enormity of the head. As I remember in conversation with Sophie she had no clear outcome of how she might use the film footage taken on encountering the statue. To conjure Lenin’s thoughts she subsequently used fragments of a documented conversation between Lenin and Clara Zetkin considering the position of women in the communist regime. The film ends with the postscript “At Clara Zetkin’s urging Lenin established International Women’s Day as a holiday in 1922.”

Screen shot 2014-06-04 at 16.27.16
Lenine en pensant Sophie Nys

In my travels through some former USSR countries in recent years I’ve noticed how the Soviet impact can still be felt. The name Ulan Ude means Red Ude. Ulaanbaatar the capital of Mongolia is not far away. I was there last year and discovered Ulaanbaatar is also a Soviet era name meaning Red Hero. Both names reflect the Soviet Union’s Communist ideology. It’s unclear to me why Mongolia continues with this name after the crimes, murders and devastation committed by the Soviet regime against Buddhist lamas, monks and monasteries. Ulaanbaatar was previously known internationally as Urga (Residence), surely a more suitable name for post Soviet Mongolia to return to.

Lenin and Stalin were huge figures of the 20th century. Icons of their time, they are now fragments of history. Once ever present, many of their statues have been removed or broken up since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

Monuments to public figures and others signifying cultural values are often among the first to be destroyed when nations are at war or ideologies clash. In 330 BC Alexander the Great destroyed Persepolis the city of Persians and the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire.

After Indian independence former statues of important public figures from the British Raj were taken down to be replaced by national heroes.

Maria Gonchar writes ‘In our post-soviet city perception soviet monuments don’t have inner power or inner energy at all, and only the external interventions or actions of vandalism sometimes animate the forgotten meanings.’

In England most public statues and monuments have become largely invisible over time. War memorials are the exception with annual days of remembrance. One monument did re-emerge briefly. In his work Villa Victoria at the Liverpool Biennial 2002 Tatsuro Bashi reanimated the monument to Queen Victoria in Derby Square by constructing a fully furnished and functioning hotel room and reception around the statue refocusing the forgotten monument and distant queen.


Villa Victoria Tatsuro Bashi

An unforgettable, Alice in Wonderland experience for those who were there.

Another iconic, huge and popular commemorative sculpture is Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North located at Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, NE England. Antony Gormley has written “The angel has three functions – firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears – a sculpture is an evolving thing.”