Collection of essays about artistic statements in Belarusian contemporary art

The Belarusian Climate group: photographic performance The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts, 1988

ZBOR #14

Tania Arcimović retraces the history of development of the Belarusian Climate group (BC), analyzes one of the key art works by the group The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts (1988) – and provides insight into the term ′environment′, which became subject to the group’s creative studies in their numerous exhibitions.

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© – Belarusian Climate group, fragment of the documented action The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts, 1988. Photo by Igor Korzun

Work′s resume:

Group: Belarusian ClimateIgor Korzun, Miroslav Nisenbaum, Dmitry Plaks, Iryna Sukhy, Philip Chmyr, Yevgeny Yunov, as well as Valentin Grishko and Alexander Kravtsov. Certain projects were supported by Gennady Hatskevich, Mak Ryazanov, Liudmila Salodkaya, Dmitry Litviakov, Inna Mokhova, Anna Sytko and Marat Zhumagulov.


Title of the art work:
The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts.

Time and venue of the action: July 1988, sand quarries near Zaslavl.

Media: staged performance / action, photography.

Creators and participants: Philip Chmyr, Kiryll Hohlov, Yevgeny Yunov, Valentin Grishko, Aleksandr Kravtsov and Mak Ryazanov. The action was photographed by Igor Korzun.

Current location of the art work: the group’s archive

The artwork has been demonstrated at the following exhibitions: the project The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts has never been exhibited.

Key articles in which the art work has been mentioned:
Valery VedrenkoMeeting the Legends: ‘Belarusian Climate’ / ZNYATA Portal.
Olga Bubich, Freedom and Myths of ‘Belarusian Climate’ / pARTisan.
Must knows for Minsk natives: what is Belarusian Climate and why it is important for Minsk / CityDog.
Olga Rybchinskaya, Public art in the Belarusian context of the 00th. Unofficial stage / The European Café: open lectures about contemporary art.

 

Belarusian Climate: Myths and poetics of the transition era 

The Belarusian Climate art group was founded in 1987 and implemented projects in various areas, types and genres of contemporary art: photography, painting, graphics, installation, ′verbal film′ (invented by the group), theater, Happening, Performance, conceptual art, music and public art. So far their activities have not been explored thoroughly, and information about certain areas of creativity and certain participants of the group is presented fragmentarily. This article will cover only the group’s exhibition activities, as well as their performative practices illustrated by the photographic performance The Conquest of the Belarusian Deserts.

 

HISTORY

The Belarusian Climate group: photographic performance The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts, 1988

Belarusian Climate group, fragment of the documented action The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts, 1988
© – photo by Igor Korzun

 

When night falls, each of us takes a camera and a small hammer and climbs out of a tiny hatch … We climb to the top of the ruins, and it’s not so easy, and we look into the distance. We have to climb the moss-grown stones (scared of falling down), then we sit on the top and look into the distance. Gradually, the moonlight becomes viscous and yellow and closes the picture. Then we take out the hammers, break the back of the cameras and the lenses and look through the holes that we’ve made. In a while we start yawning, and then we get off and go to sleep″.

From the text of the Belarusian Climate′s manifest, Minsk, 1987.

The artists from the Belarusian Climate started their work with radio shows, home concerts, flash mobs and screenings of ′verbal films′ (stories of imaginary films [1]). They gathered in the basement of the photo club Minsk, of which Irina Sukhy held membership at that moment. Everyone photographed a lot. For example, they hitchhiked to Vilnius, arranged night festivities and photographed spontaneously born actions. In parallel, Performances and Happenings were done with the involvement of general public in them. ″They shocked, surprised – actively interacted with passers-by, with people who live in the city. It was an ′aesthetic′ provocation… They processioned the town in african masks, walked in the streets dressed in the costumes of Red Army soldiers of the civil war period… They arranged installations from snow-capped women in the form of stonehenges with lit torches, used fire a lot, highlighting paths in yards, kindling campfires from newspapers and so on″ [2]. The city itself was their space, for which they composed a ′legend′ of their own. For example, the action The World′s Unofficial Seven Wonders consisted of a series of night excursions, during which artists showed ′another′ Minsk – with an old castle (the House of Officers), fights with axolotl-like dragons (a ventilation pipe in a courtyard in the center of the city), and a romantic story of Ivan and Mary. There were also actions with more open political connotations, for example, Modest Charm of the Proletariat in May 1988, when the group celebrated the 20th anniversary of the student spring in Paris: they went around the dacha villages of the Union of Writers and Journalists of the BSSR in Zelenoye with posters saying Make love, not war.

However, the official history of the Belarusian Climate begins on November 28, 1987, when the first photo exhibition of the group kicked off in the hall of the Pioneer cinema. The exhibition featured Yevgeny Yunov’s photographic series Current Grass, and it was here that the group’s manifest written by Yunov on a piece of tracing paper, inspired by Roland Barth’s essay The Death of the Author, was presented. It was the first and the last exhibition of the Belarusian Climate, in which photographs were exhibited in a traditional way.

 


©from Dmitry Sortsev′s archive, the first ′authorized′ concert by the Belarusian Climate, Trade Union Palace,
Minsk, autumn 1988

 

By the time this exhibition started, the final decision regarding the group’s title had been made: Belarusian Climate. On the one hand, the name referred to the Swedish metal band Celtic Frost, the name of which Philip Chmyr translated as ′Celtic severity′ (originally ′Celtic frost′). According to Igor Korzun, it conveyed ′the mood of all that social existence, of the creative atmosphere′ in the most comprehensive manner: ″This title was most relevant to creativity, passion for foggy days, for something depressive that is always characteristic of young people″ [3]. ″We did not even listen to their music, – says Philip Chmyr. – But they used timpani, and that is what we stuck to. The main aim of the name Belarusian Climate was to convey the extreme humidity. Here, in this territory, it feels a little bit frostier, hotter – that is, everything feels unbearable. Trifles become exaggerated because of this extreme humidity. There is no comfortable state here″ [4].

In April 1988 in the House of Cinema (now the Red Church), following the sensational project by Lyudmila Rusova and Igor KashkurevichFragment-event ’87, a large collective exhibition Beginning opened, featuring photographers from the Province and META groups in addition to the Belarusian Climate. The group presented the Vilnius cycle of photographs (trips to Vilnius), the photo series by Igor KorzunSoldiers of Grass, the Homel series with Lenin by Irina Sukhiy, the photograph by Philip ChmyrCrowd by the Coffin, and the photographs by Miroslav Nisenbaum. The first attempt to create ′environment′ (as defined by Philip Chmyr), a format that would later become a priority for all subsequent activities of the Belarusian Climate, was made here. The artists did their best to make maximum use of the space allocated for the exhibition. An imitation of the bombed space was created in the small hall in the back of the church. On the floor near the glass wall there were photos covered with glass, the floor itself was densely strewn with autumn foliage with broken glass beneath it, which crackled underfoot, and refined sugar, which at that moment was in great demand and was sold only for coupons. ″There were brooms intended to sweep away the leaves from the glass. Perhaps, some will think that it looked corny. But at that time the exhibition was short of interactive features, feedback opportunities, and visitors inclusion in the exhibition. We really wanted to involve the viewer in the exhibition,″Igor Korzun comments [3]. There was also a cast pallet filled with water, in which, in addition to foliage, there were mercury-like balls. ″It was a fragment – a dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky, although by that time the ′Sacrifice′ was yet to come. Therefore, it was more a coincidence than anything else,″ – Philip Chmyr recalls [4].

Open quoting, direct and indirect references, especially to masterpieces of cinematography, will become a distinctive feature of future expositions of the Belarusian Climate. That is what Vladimir Parfyonok, one of the participants of the collective exhibition, whose works were exhibited in another room on the second floor, recalls about this exhibition: ″Those guys from the ′Belarusian climate′ approached the exhibition in a very radical way. […] For the photographic Minsk of that time it was something completely new″ [5]. The exhibition lasted two days and was closed by the administration because of its ′lack of artistic value′. At that very time one of the group′s slogans was born: ″Freedom cannot be personal″. The next exhibition was to take place in a year at the same venue. But, according to Philip Chmyr, at that very time they made a strategic mistake: they shared their vision with the administration of the House of Cinema, describing the exhibition in detail. Homosexual motives were to be openly expressed at the exhibition: ″It seemed to us that freedom had come, that it was already possible″ [4], but it scared the directorate, and the Belarusian Climate′s offer was turned down. They invited Arthur Klinov instead of the group, who showed his performance The Spring Song of the Superman.Arthur Klinov was older and much cleverer than us: he did not tell in advance what would happen″ [4].

 

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© – Yevgeny Yunov and Igor Korzun, members of the group,  Narva, 1988

 

In the spring of 1989 another exhibition was held in Belsovprof, The End of Summer in Mesopotamia, which was conceived as a reference to the film Last Summer in Marienbad by Alain Rene. This time in the exhibition space was turned into an abandoned, forgotten house. The floor was covered with sawdust, objects were wrapped in white cloth, windows were clogged with planks to make light enter the room through cracks at an oblique angle. The visitor got into this space and looked at the works (photographs) carelessly hung on the walls, some lying in boxes. Within the framework of the exhibition, there were screenings of ′verbal films′.

 

The same year, the opening of the exhibition She, an Ethiopian was held in the private gallery of the Teacher′s House (currently the Lyceum under the Belarusian State University). The whole space – walls, ceiling, floor – was completely wrapped in tracing paper, and art works were glued directly over it. When someone opened the door, the whole construction moved with a distinctive rustle. The space was in constant motion, reinforcing the sense of fragility and the temporality of what was happening. The exhibition lasted two days, although it was originally planned to last longer. However, the participants had a quarrel with the owner of the gallery, who offered unfavorable commercial conditions for them (for example, if none of the works was sold, he would take a part of the photos). The group decided to close down the exhibition. Finally, a spontaneous last-minute Happening was born. ″With this tracing paper, we walked along Svisloch nearby Minsk Concert Hall and did a photo shoot, – says Philip Chmyr. – Then the river′s waters washed away all the paper. Actually, it was our last indoor exhibition in Minsk″ [4].

In 1988, the group took its works to Moscow, where the Finnish curators came to select pictures for the large-scale project New Soviet Photography (as a result, works by Vladimir Parfyanok, Sergei Kozhemyakin, Galina Moskaleva, Vladimir Shakhlevich, and Igor Savchenko were included in the project). In Moscow, they also met with representatives of the Next Stop movement, who invited photographers from the Province group, alongside with members of the Belarusian Climate to take part in the Next Stop New Life youth conference in Copenhagen. 1990 gave a start to the foreign cycle of activities of the Belarusian Climate. ″We lived in families, discovering a new world for ourselves,Vladimir Parfyanok recalls. – During this trip, the first professional contacts with the editors of the Danish photo magazines Katalog, Foto & Video materialized. […] It was then that works by many of us were first bought for private and institutional collections of photographic works – for the Museum of Photography in Odense and the Royal Library in Copenhagen″ [5].

 

© – Belarusian Climate group, Narva, 1988:

In 1991 the Belarusian Climate returns to Copenhagen with an autonomous exhibition in the AV-Art Gallery. On the way to the gallery, the viewer suddenly saw a fascist cross on a tank in the arch, and in the center there was a burning torch. But as one approached the painting, all of a sudden the picture fell apart, and it turned out that it was a brilliant illusion: just a black background with a white box and a rag hanging on it. The ’provocative’ picture was seen only at a distance, when viewed from afar. Then, to get to the gallery itself, the visitor had to go through a forest of blue satin ribbons with bells tied to them. Upstairs there were two halls. In the first one there were art works, and there were also a table and a chair and an album with the photo series Aeronauts. Music themes created exclusively for that exhibition could be heard (another feature characteristic of the group’s style: original musical themes were written for almost every exhibition). The second room referred to the movie by Bernardo BertolucciThe Sheltering Sky. The artists copied the room from the movie and exhibited their photos taken in sand quarries near Zaslavl (the ’desert’ series) in such a setting. They used the same place to demonstrate “verbal movies” and an audiovisual performance Love Opera. Philip Chmyr played themes with overlain recorded vocals, and Evgeny Yunov read a text against this audio background. A video by Yegor Dudnikov was demonstrated separately. Everything resembled a radio show, the process of creation of which the viewer could directly observe.

 


© – Dmitry Strotsev′s geometric ballet The Seasons, 1992

 

In 1993 there was Berlin: Belarusian Climate′s exhibition was given the entire third floor of the Tacheles. Here the ′deserted′ series was demonstrated again, alongside with several installations and graphics by Alexei Novitsky. Various combinations of solitaire – from matches, cards and burnt objects – were laid out on the floor. Thus, to the hall with the main exhibition could only be reached through a lot of these various combinations. The floor in the room with photographs on it was lined with fruit bones (from plums, nectarines and apples), which the artists, according to Philippe Chmyry, had been collecting over the whole year preceding the exhibition. Also, it was here that a pyramid of ten-kopeck coins with individual elements from one-kopeck coins and five-copeck coins was demonstrated. All this was carried by bus from Minsk. Oranges lying here and there in the exhibition space were a nice bright spot. The exhibition also lasted two days: right after the opening several works were stolen (from the series Birds and Clowns), the management of Taheles said that it could not guarantee safety, therefore it was decided to dismantle the exhibition. The following year, again in Berlin at the Franz-Mehring-Platz Gallery, the album Aeronauts was demonstrated for the last time (after this exhibition it was lost), and Igor Korzun′s paintings were exhibited for the first time. Two halls were allocated for the exhibition. Works in the upper hall were presented in a traditional manner, on the wall. The whole ’game’ took place in the lower hall, where installations with burned books and bookmarks from corn leaves were presented, and the floor was covered with photocopied images of butterflies. The exposition was illuminated with candles, with which the spectators entered the hall. Within the framework of the exhibition, the group demonstrated an audiovisual Performance (delivered by Yevgeny Yunov, texts and music by Philip Chmyry), which had the words ″If I had seen a man with a flag or a person with a torch as a child, then probably my life would have been different. And so now I go out on the mountain with a torch by night and with a flag by the day, so that children can see me. I’m a rat-catcher, I’ll take your children away… You think that the child is looking at you? No, I am there behind your back, and I will take your children′. A scandal burst out: the artists were called fascists for the text of the performance, short haircuts, and burned books in installations.

The next exhibition took place in Eindhoven (Netherlands) in the autumn of 1995, and, according to Philip Chmyr, this was one of the strongest exhibitions of the group. It was also the group’s first experience of mastering large-scale space: a former textile workshop 25 × 25 sq. meters was given for the exhibition. It was decided to pour a square of sand (8 × 8 meters) in the center of the room and put eight panels, on which the photographs were to be placed. And on the walls slide films were shown with the help of four projectors. The rest of the space was left empty. Within the framework of the exhibition, the ′provocative′ audiovisual Performance was demonstrated again, but it did not provoke such a scandal as in Berlin. It was the group’s last black and white show.

 

Exhibition by the Belarusian Climate group in Eindhoven (Netherlands), autumn, 1995. Photos by Paul Beekhuis – ©:

 

In 1997, again in Eindhoven, in the De Fabric space, the Belarusian Climate exhibits its own color photos. The exhibition also featured works by Gennady Hatskevich and Andrei Savitsky. The space was also huge, so it was used in much the same way as it had been two years ago. Photos of the same format hung on the walls, and one installation was made. Initially it was planned that the exposition would have a permanently fluttering flag, but no suitable fans were found. Therefore, the entire floor space was covered with a rug painted with fluorescent paint, which moved like the sea. People came to the exhibition, looked at the works, and at some point the gallery attendant turned off the light and the audience suddenly started to ′fall′ – the space around moved and swayed.

There was also an exhibition in Georgia, a presentation of ′verbal films′ in St. Petersburg and Moscow, etc. In Minsk, the group did not hold exhibitions during these years. Only in 1995 they organized a spontaneous exhibition in the street. Photocopies of individual works, including those from the ′deserted′ series, which  had not been demonstrated in Belarus, were glued on the walls of the first Minsk power station near the circus (where now the unfinished building of the Kempinski Hotel stands), some of the works were hung on trees that were covered with white ribbons ending with bells and pelted with sales receipts. The opening was scheduled for two o’clock in the afternoon. This was reported to friends in the Red Street [6], Boris Stern made an announcement on the B-A radio. A lot of people gathered to see the opening. The artists themselves ′did not come′, but sat on the sidelines and watched the reaction of the public.

© – from Dmitry Stortsev′s archive, a TV program dedicated to the ′verbal film′ festival in Minsk. 1993.

In 1994, the group began publishing the Belarusian Climate magazine that covered the problems of ecology, being an ′art publication′ at the same time. Irina Sukhy initiated the publishing, Philip Chmyr became the founder, Igor Korzun stepped in as a designer. ″We wanted to write about the ecology of consciousness, the ecology of relations, – says Igor Korzun. – Then we raised the question, what is more eco-friendly – electric transport or gasoline? We did not give answers, we asked questions. And in the end it began to put strain on those who sponsored the magazine. They began to demand unambiguous materials. About how good it is to protect mice and squirrels. And it′s not necessary to write about the fact that the real damage to the world, both mentally and materially, is caused by the burning of oil or the production of electric accumulators with subsequent charging, nuclear power plants or the production of ineffective windmills″ [3]. Six issues of the magazine were published (the last one in 1996).

By the end of the 1990s, the activity of the group declined, and the members of the group ′capitalized′: they went into advertising, design, media, and creative industry. (″Those who are closer to visual genres, will recall Igor Korzun, a famous graphic artist. Advertisers will probably remember Yevgeny Yunov, creative director in a major advertising agency, and showmen will most likely appreciate the skill of Alexander Kravtsov, a light designer. Others are much farther: Aleksey Novitsky makes steel in Canada, Miroslav Nissenbaum creates multimedia graphics in the US, Marat Djumagulov works as a translator in Kazakhstan, Dmitri Plax works in the field of literature in Sweden. There are rumors that Dmitry ′Baton′ Litvyakov has left the society for good and moved to the virtual world. The group′s only woman – Irina Sukhiy, who at the time was a photographer, now heads the environmental organization Eco Home″ [7]). But this does not mean that the Belarusian Climate is dead.

Artists continued their creative work, albeit in the framework of individual commercial projects. On top of that, separate initiatives began to sparkle between various members of the group: Dmitry Plaks′s theatrical performances for the live music of Drum Ecstasy; Dmitry Strotsov′s geometric ballet The Seasons (1992) and a play The Monastery; the Fotahoku project by Igor Korzun and Dmitry Plaks, ISII in Minsk / Cultural Center Inkonst, Malmö, (2004-2008); a tour of ′verbal films′ in Sweden and performances in Warsaw; literary cooperation between Dmitry Strotsev and Dmitry Plaks (translation of the book), between Philip Chmyr and Dmitriy Plaks (writing musical accompaniment to the radio show The Sun City: a Small Travel Book by Arthur Klinov in Swedish and the experimental project Barriers and Pressures), and many more. ″All of it was Belarusian Climate. We constantly support each other′s initiatives and are involved in their implementation,″ – says Philip Chmyr [4].

In 2012, the Museum of Contemporary Fine Arts in Minsk hosted an exhibition Retrospective (curator Olga Rybchinskaya), which marked the group’s official ′return′ to Belarus.

  Retrospective, an exhibition by Belarusian Climate, the Museum of Contemporary Fine Arts, Minsk, 2012
© – photo by Yevgen Yerchak

In the framework of the exhibition, in addition to demonstrating the materials of the Belarusian Climate′s activities from 1987 to 1996, there were readings of Dmitry Strotsev′s works accompanied screenings of ′verbal films′. Following that exhibition, the group′s presence on the Belarusian art stage increased (three different exhibitions in the Museum of Modern Art, the Balki loft and the House of Fisher anti-kafe in 2014 and the exhibition Ropes in 2015 as part of the Month of Photography in Minsk, curator Olga Rybchinskaya, performances by Dmitry Plaks and Philip Chmyr, as well as The Evening of the ′Belarusian Climate′ in the framework of the exhibition Minsk: Nonconformism of the 1980s in 2015, etc.).

 

ABANDONING FLAT SURFACE. ENVIRONMENT

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Installation by the Belarusian Climate group. Tbilisi, Georgia, 2015

 

Starting from their second exhibition at the House of Cinema in 1988, Belarusian Climate offers the Minsk public a completely new exposure format that Filipp Chmyr (spontaneous curator of virtually all group′s exhibitions until the end of the 1990s) outlined in the general concept of ’environment’ (alternative term for the genre of ′installation′; ′environment′ implies assemblages and structures, is typically created for a specific place for a limited period of time [8]; it is close to the site-specific art in terms of importance of the space, which in the case of the Belarusian Climate was used to the full extent). In the process of creating the work the artists also used elements of ′total installation′ (if we talk about the way of communicating with the viewer, which, according to the author’s idea, was supposed to interact with the work of art), environmental art (interaction with the natural environment, especially in photo-transformations – The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts, Aeronauts, Birds), performance (staging, as well as the use of other media – music, video), Happenings (spontaneity and uniqueness of the actions). This ′special delivery of material′, on the one hand, was a whole in itself and already contained a certain concept. On the other, ″it was possible to remove the whole entourage, then only photographs of high artistic value remained, and if one wished to ′forget′ about the pictures and dwell on how they had been made, then the discussion shifted to Actionism″ [4].

 

© – Belarusian Climate group fragment of documented action Aeronauts, August 1991:

 

In their search of new forms of communication with the public, the group resorted to the interactive format of expositions. ″We wanted to involve the viewers in action directly (the exhibition ceased to be static – authors note) and provoked them to ′play′, appealed to his tactile sensations and thus, finally, sold the photographs″ [4]. The last remark – on the way of commercialization of its activities – is important for understanding the place and role of the ′environmental′ in the work of the Belarusian Climate. Further on we will dwell on this in more detail.

In the Western European paradigm of contemporary art, the emergence of alternative genres associated with a different approach to the use of space was a definite gesture of protest by artists against the laws of modernism dictating two-dimensional art (Performative Practices of Futurists, Dadaists and Surrealists in the 1910s and 1930s, experiments with stereometry of space of Oscar Schlemmer, etc.) One of the culmination points of such ′experiments′ was Marcel Duchamp′s intervention A Mile of String at the exhibition First Paper of Surrealism in New York in 1942, when the artist literally braided the space of the gallery with fiber, connecting the picturesque canvases hung on each side. Because of the ’obstacles’ that have arisen, it was hardly possible to view the paintings in a traditional way. But the main thing that could be found in Duchamp’s installation was the combination of the figure of the artist and the curator: the work no longer needed to be exhibited, which means that the need for a mediator and curator disappeared, because the exposition itself became a work of art [9]. It is this aspect – the combination of the figure of the artist and the curator – that distinguishes the exhibitions of the Belarusian Climate from other similar avant-garde expositions of those times where the absence of the curator was often obvious and accidental (exposition, for example, splits into fragments, does not have a clear single concept, etc.).

In the Belarusian context the Belarusian Climate did not pioneer the genre of ′environment′. Lyudmila Rusova and Igor Kashkurevich, members of the Blo group, Vitaly Rozhkov and other representatives of unofficial art worked on the installation. The appeal to such a medium was first and foremost a political gesture: a challenge to the canons of socialist realism (the creation of ′artlessness′ as a goal, and accusation of ′artlessness′ as the highest praise), and a protest against the restriction of creative freedom and freedom of expression as such. But if other artists mainly created stand-alone installations that were demonstrated in the framework of an exhibition, with Belarusian Climate individual works were not the case, one complete installation was on the agenda – the space itself as a work of art, in which the key role was given to the viewer that not only perceived, but also interacted, ′played′ with the space. The group forms a characteristic style of its own: they appeal to the cinema (citation), use all planes of space, especially floor, inclusion of other media (specially created music, video, performances). Their special manner of exhibiting is also noteworthy. Usually one main work was singled out from the series and two, six, or eight photographs were selected to accompany it. The central snapshot of a larger format was hung somewhere aside, so that, when approaching the works from the main series, the viewer could recall that he had already seen it somewhere, and he had to return, search, interact with the exposition again.

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Installation by the Belarusian Climate, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2015

It is important to note that although the artists note interactivity as the main task of their ′installations′, it cannot be said that the latter performed only an entertaining function. Each of these works was an expression of the reaction to the local context, often provocative enough. If in Belarus the form itself became a provocation (besides, the artists worked with such concepts as ′time′, ′destruction′, ′home′, ′emptiness′, etc.), in Western Europe the provocation arose at the junction of the form game and the content. A striking example is the object within the exhibition in the AV-Art Gallery (1991), through which the painful phobias of Western European society were manifested, the specter of ′fascism′, which often turned out to be just a ′rag′ hanging on the wall. (In fact, this ′game′ subjected to verification for the strength and foundation itself – the democratic principles – of modern Western society [10].)


CONQUEST OF THE BELARUSIAN DESERTS

© – Belarusian Climate groupfragments of the documented action Aeronauts, August 1991:

 

The Belarusian Climate art group performed one of its key photographic actions – The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts – in July 1988 in sand quarries near Zaslavl. Its idea, according to the artists, arose from the ′total′ sense of absence of any historical narrative in the Belarusian context. Everything resembled deserts that needed to be conquered, creating their own myths and thus filling the gaps in collective memory. ″…The meagerness of historical places; and not because there were none, but because there was no information… We were looking for manifestations in the Belarusian toponymy. For a long time the city of Druja, for example, was the only place for us where you can meet the descendants of the Celts… A whole bright saturated world with stories and facts; we invented [it], we filled it with bigger meanings than it really had,″ – Igor Korzun recalls [3]. The concept of myth-creating also determined the technical side of photos. ″Myths cannot be shown in traditional photographic ways. Something in this photos was supposed to resemble the way we recall dreams with their implicit images, recall a story told in childhood. It was supposed to be in a cloud of defects, features of materials, blurriness of figures…″ [3].

Sand quarries near Zaslavl, where in those years it was easy to find a point from which nothing but sand dunes could be seen, were perfect for creation of mythology. The history of these places refers to the gold mines that arose here before the Second World War after gold had been discovered. Equipment was installed, they began to mine it, but gold quickly gave out. ″But there turned out to be a lot of sand… And again we have analogies with alchemy. They had gold; we have our own search for the fifth element of creativity, the absolute″ [3]. Alexander Kravtsov found and offered this place. (It is these places that would become the scenery for the other key action of the group, Aeronauts.)

The idea of The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts belonged to Philip Chmyr. It was carried out by Philip Chmyr, Kirill Khokhlov, Evgeny Yunov, Valentin Grishko, Alexander Kravtsov, Mak Ryazanov. It was shot by Igor Korzun. For several hours a group of young people ′dressed in white shirts and military headdresses′ ran around ′tearing the silence to shreds and imitating a rebellious army′ [3]. The action culminated in installation of a symbolic flag on one of the quarries sandy hills. It was the first action that took place without participation of the public and was intended exclusively for shooting. Thus, The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts was conceived as a series of photos and should have been presented to the public exactly in this form (the idea was to exhibit photos in the form of a board of honor); however, for various reasons (primarily organizational) so far it has not happened.

 

© – Belarusian Climate group , fragments of the documented action The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts, 1988, photos gy Igor Korzun:

 

As noted above, the culmination of the action came with installation of the flag. On the one hand, it is associated with the ritual of ′conquest′ (usually of mountain peaks); on the other hand, the composition and movements of figures, as well as individual details refer to the painting by the French artist Eugene DelacroixLiberty Leading the People (or Liberty on the Barricades), painted in 1830. But artists do not just use the image of French ′liberty′ which has become a ′popular′ subject of interpretation, they ′play′ with it, ′carnivalize′ it, thus appropriating and mythologizing it already on Belarusian soil. So, instead of a woman with naked breasts symbolizing liberty, we see men with ’bare bottoms’ attacking the ′enemy′. And if Delacroix personifies Liberty, in Belarusian climate it is abstract, it dissolves in the group, and this is what gives strength and effectiveness to it (′liberty can′t be personal′). Here, they no longer ′struggle′ for it, but they enjoy it and affirm it.

Art critic Olga Bubich, analyzing the works of the Belarusian Climate, focuses specifically on the mythology of the art group, which was typical for artists of the perestroika period and is associated with the desire to create a different reality, ′the functioning within which will be more natural and less traumatic′ [11]. Hence the passion for installation, experiments with chemicals, and the replication that distinguish the Belarusian photography at the turn of the 1980s  and 1990s from photography of other post-Soviet countries (see the works by Galina Moskaleva, Vladimir Shakhlevich, Vladimir Parfenok, and others). And if other authors process the ′trauma′ of the era, overlapping images, thus often exacerbating the atmosphere (as Galina Moskaleva recognized, [she] ″let out the negative feelings – not in respect of people, but in respect of the system which I did not accept subconsciously″ [12]), then artists from the Belarusian Climate replace this reality with a construct full of vital energy and affirmation of a new future. Perhaps this is due to the age of the authors: in their frame of reference, the past does not yet exist, the connection with the present is also weak, but it is easy to direct the view into the future, where they draw inspiration and pin their hopes on. ″The remnants of unrealized maximalism here manifested themselves to the full. None of us had served in the army. Sarcasm and irony also concealed our inner feelings and the desire to show heroism at least in the game. There was no clear criticism of the regime or ideology. Everything was woven together here. It eventually led to the creation of emotionally strong pictures. There were nude images in this series. Again it was a tribute to what has become permitted. And suddenly it turned out that nothing terrible was in it! The human body is as good an object of interest as architecture. Why it is possible to paint it, and it is impossible to shoot it? The early total fascination with the nude body can be found in the work of our group. And many famous photographers made lots of great photos in this genre!″ [3]

The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts nullifies history – collective and personal – and becomes the starting point for a new one, gradually filled with (non-)fictional stories. This action will be followed with Aeronauts, Olympia on the Minsk Sea, Birds, Wind Hunters and others, each of which has its own image and myth. Aeronauts, for example, tell the story of the excavations, during which the remains of four young researchers were found, as well as a camera and a large number of films, on which the series was imprinted; thus the past arises in the coordinate system of the Belarusian desert, and the figure of the author is also mythologized, as he is replaced with someone else.

 

© – Belarusian Climate group , fragments of the documented action Wind Catchers, October 1991:

 

In addition to the concept that will turn out to be relevant for the Belarusian cultural landscape for many decades to come and will receive a new interpretation in There is Nothing Here by the belarusian artist Alexei Lunev, the key work of 2000s, the form that the artists are addressing is of interest: a photographic action. Renunciation of performance and happening was associated with organizational difficulties: for example, it was not that easy to take 50 people to Zaslavl. Therefore, they turn down the idea of a live action and photograph their actions instead. ″We decided that we would take a photographer with us and carry out a highly artistic fixation, – says Philip Chmyr. – We stopped carrying out Performances per se after The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts, and started carrying them out for the photographer… It was kind of a falsification of falsification of falsification″ [4]. This decision was also influenced by the use of the ′environment′ format, which very quickly began to dominate, subordinating all other components of the group’s creativity. ″This gave more possibilities for constructing the final work. The photo series became one of the components of the exhibition space″ [4]. That is, unlike the early performances, where the act of art took place directly at the time of communication between artists and viewers, starting from The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts, the actions are just a source material for creating a larger and more interactive work.

Researchers have noted the interconnection between performance and photography – as one of the earliest and basic ways of its documentation – since the moment of genesis of the genre. Initially, Performances or happenings were born as one-time (unique) actions, unfolding in a certain place and at a certain moment and necessarily involving the public, but the photograph immediately took its place in this process, becoming a way to register what is happening. This provoked a number of discussions about reproduction and copying (for example, how can ′live
action′ be reproduced, etc.). In addition, the work of photographers influenced the performance: the artist ′noticed′ the presence of the camera and specifically ′worked′ for it as well. These and many other questions were as important for the Western European art at that time (1960s-1970s), since it must be remembered that performance and happening arose in the context of conceptual art and were associated with the process of dematerialization of the work of artists by artists themselves, with the creation of a work which it would be impossible to manipulate with in the art market [13]. By 1980, the situation began to change, and non-commercial genres of art, including Performance, were appropriated by mass culture, turning into a ′product′ [14]. An important role for their commercialization was played by photography and video, which became the media that can be sold.

Apropos of the performance by the Belarusian Climate, it should be noted that in this case, photography as a medium performed several functions: it was a complete form for a work originally conceived as a ′dramatization′, and also became a ′product′ that could be sold, which was facilitated with ′environment′ (see the statement by Philip Chmyr above).

© – Belarusian Climate group , fragments of the documented action Conquest of the Belarusian Deserts, 1988
Photo by Igor Korzun

In this respect, the Belarusian Climate is also different from the representatives of the Belarusian ′avant-garde′ of the older generation, who created their works even outside the market coordinate system and turned to Performance, seeing in it primarily a way of protesting against the ′sovok′ and affirming the new boundaries of art (most often autonomous from the state and social machine in principle – as, for example, the performances by Lyudmila Rusova and Igor Kashkurevich).

″Idealism and opposition to the establishment, characteristic of the late 1960s and early 1970s, had definitely seized existence,″Rosely Goldberg writes, analyzing the conceptual transformation of the genre of ′performance′ in the late 1970s and 1980s. – ″Artists began to adjust themselves to completely different things – pragmatism, entrepreneurial spirit, professionalism – absolutely alien to the avant-garde of the past″ [14]. These arguments are ideal for describing the situation in the post-Soviet space of the perestroika period, and in this sense, the Belarusian Climate not only denotes a change of generations (including in the art environment), but with its audacity, vitality, slight cynicism and irony, to some extent, becomes a symbol of these changes. It should be specially noted that the phenomenon of collective creativity was characteristic of the Belarusian Climate. Originating in the ′collective′ of the 1980s, the group retained this spirit in the following decades, which already had the spirit of ′individualism′ (incidentally, it is often difficult to reconstruct the facts of the group’s history: names, dates, projects are confused, in some cases authorship is almost impossible to define, however, it does not bother the members of the group at all). This kind of ′anonymity′ for the Belarusian context, and for the new time in general, is more likely an exception and an excuse for a separate study of the phenomenon of the artistic microcommunity in Belarus.

Notifications:

[1] Первый фестиваль «изустного кино» прошел 22 октября 1988 года в подъезде дома №8 на улице Красноармейской. С показами полнометражных и короткометражных «фильмов» выступали Евгений Юнов, Филипп Чмырь, Дмитрий Строцев, Игорь Корзун, Петр Калачин и Николай Романовский («Трышчан і Іжота», «Монжуа» и короткометражки «Весна, Берлин, велосипед», а во вторую — полнометражки «Герой», «Медведь и Охо»). (Изустное кино. Что это такое? // Белорусская деловая газета).
[2] Ольга Рыбчинская. Паблик-арт в белорусском контексте 00-х. Неофициальная сцена // «Европейское кафе: открытые лекции о современном искусстве».
[3] Валерий Ведренко. Встречи с легендами: «Белорусский климат» // Портал Zнята.
[4] Из личной беседы с Филиппом Чмырем. Минск, февраль 2016.

[5] Валерий Ведренко. Встречи с легендами: Владимир Парфенок // Портал Zнята.
[6] Улица Красная в Минске, где в скверике около булочной собиралась неформальная тусовка.

[7] Марина Куновская. Акварельные мужские танцы // Источник: Валерий Лобко. Встречи с легендой. Изустное кино // Форум портала Zнята.
[8] Глоссарий TATE.
[9] Vince Dziekan. Virtuality and the Art of Exhibition: Curatorial Design for the Multimedial Museum. 2012.

[10] Подобные «провокации» делал другой белорусский художник Виталий Рожков (Бисмарк). См. «Бісмарк: паміж партызанкай і арт-тэрарызмам, творчасць 1987–2011» // Портал Kalektar.
[11] Вольга Бубіч. Свабоды і міфы «Беларускага клімату».
[12] Маскалёва й Шахлевіч. Дыялогі-2 // pARTisan #20’2013.
[13] Anne Marsh. Performance Art and its Documentation: A Photo / Video Essay.
[14] Роузли Голдберг. Искусство перформанса. От футуризма до наших дней. Ad Marginem Press. Москва 2014.

 

 

The essay was prepared specially for the ZBOR resource.
© KALEKTAR. All rights reserved.
During the use of  the fragments of published materials the link on the primary source is obligatory. The use of materials or their significant fragments is allowed only with the written permission of the publisher.

 

The Belarusian Climate group: photographic performance The Conquest of Belarusian Deserts, 1988
pARTisan (media project)

(founded in 2002)

Media project consisting of pARTisan almanac, a series of albums by Belarusian artists pARTisan Collection and a web portal partisanmag.by.

Founder and the project lead – Artur Klinov.

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