So-called “Ostalgie” has attained a place in our cultural imaginary that fetishises the well-worn geographical binary between East and West. D’EST: A Multi-Curatorial Platform for Video Art from the Former ‘East’ and ‘West’, released online and in selected cultural institutions between June and November 2018, questions this easy distinction in its 6 screening chapters of video works, experimental and documentary films selected by 15 international curators.
The archive as an organizational format is distinctly non-hierarchical compared to its counterpart, the canon. It does not position works against one another but in conversation, across arbitrary borders of prestige. Such is the nature of D’EST, launched this week by DISTRICT Berlin and initiated by cultural studies scholar Ulrike Gerhardt. There is already, within its title, a hint to the critical nature of the project, which explores how the sociogeographical distinction between East and West has even shaped our appreciation of works produced in the post-socialist era.
In her 1993 film D’Est (From the East), acclaimed Belgian director Chantal Akerman records the transitional period following the end of the Cold War. In the first screening chapter of the platform, The Suspension and Excess of Time curated by Kathrin Becker and Jana Seehusen, the pace of Akerman’s cinematography in this film—her slow and observational real-time shots of post-socialist daily life—sets the theoretical stage for meditations on time within two political systems.
Among the screenings presented in this section, a work by Russian filmmaker Sasha Pirogova (Moscow, 1986), titled Queue, provides a visualization of Vladimir Sorokin’s novel The Queue, in which the Russian author proposes the act of waiting in line – a result of the distortions of a socialist planned economy – to have a profound impact on life in Soviet Russia. Exploring the poetics of time, live actions and live sculptures, reenactments and speculative temporalities, The Suspension and Excess of Time centers feminist political practices through the work of Sanja Iveković, Sasha Pirogova, Eglė Rakauskaitė, Józef Robakowski, Ulrike Rosenbach, and Clarissa Thieme.
Positioned alongside these visual chronology studies, the second screening chapter Performing Words, Uttering Performance, turns to linguistics, beginning from the notion that the authoritarian speech act—a complete merging of language and gesture—is at the root of performative experiments in post-socialist video art. The chapter, curated by Creative Association of Curators TOK—a curatorial collective based in St Petersburg and founded by Anna Bitkina and Maria Veits—and Inga Lāce, includes women* and collective positions on memory, identity, power relations, gender roles, and sociopolitical change through language.
The Lithuanian collective CORO’s dance performance, Vocabulary Lesson, described as ‘a hypnotic horror session’ inspired by Vogue— a 1970s Harlem dance subculture that allowed people to perform, juggle different identities and reinvent themselves—combines the brutalist architecture of the Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports with dance, Dada-inspired costumes and a reference-heavy text. Through this work, CORO has created its own performative language for dealing with the past and describing the future. Željka Blakšić aka Gita Blak, Shvemy Sewing Cooperative, CORO Collective (Eglė Budvytytė, Goda Budvytytė, Ieva Misevičiūtė), Ira Eduardovna, Gluklya (Natalya Pershina-Yakimanskaya), Polina Kanis, Marge Monko, and Katrīna Neiburga will be screening their video and film works in this chapter.
The first and second screening chapters of the D’EST platform are set to be launched by Filmwerkstatt Düsseldorf at the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen on June 30th, 2018.
Image caption: Sasha Pirogova, Queue, 2014, video (HD), 9’21”, color, sound, 16:9 | Courtesy: the artist