Having written about some of the circumstances surrounding the exhibition on October 1993 curated by Ilya Budraitskis, Vladimir Potapov and Ilya Bezrukov, I managed to visit the exhibition in one of its final days. An exhibition cut short by the museum management one begins to reflecton the strange fact that the smallest exhibitions already marginalized in terms of location still cause the maximum amount of bureaucratic difficulty and scandal. Yet there are things of which one can not speak, at least not in major venues. An attempt to reflect deeply on the significance of October 1993 is, it appears, one of these. At that time Moscow experienced what was, in effect, a mini civil war. The official death toll was 150 but many suggest that it was much higher than this. Even after twenty years an attempt to remember this, to reflect upon it, was confined to one small room of a local history museum that usually attracts few visitors. Still typically Soviet in style, the museum has in the past year or so with Ilya Budraitskis working as one of its scientific advisors started to flower in its role as one of the more autonomous spaces of Moscovite culture. Michael Löwy, the great Brazilian-French Marxist was invited to give a speech on Walter Benjamin here and there has been an emphasis on some more innovative uses for a museum as an open site for collective discussion, including inspirational film showings such as the Italian film of Werner Schroeter Nel Regno di Napoli. This was a location that began to have some life breathed into it. Now, alas, this experiment seems to have been cut short like so many others before it.
There was a triadic concept to this exhibitions reflection on October 1993. A selection of leaflets and official announcements of the time gave some indication of the rhetoric of the opposing sides. However, as the exhibition noted- one side had (often) badly printed leaflets and the other side television.
Then there was a film of an hour and twenty minutes taken from amateur footage and given to the curators by the Memorial society. It was an extraordinary experience to watch the images of those days. An almost festive atmosphere that turned into terrible bloodshed. For me the most extraordinary moment was of a woman with the flag of the Italian Communist Party in her arm almost dancing through the streets singing Bandiera Rossa and laughing. In my mind, I couldn’t help asking which day was this? was it the same day that the tanks were to shell the parliament? What happened to her? The images are still haunting. Also those strange meetings between opposing sides (at time jocular) and the riot scenes. Yet it still seemed difficult to feel any presentiment of great bloodshed,of a whole-scale massacre on the faces of the demonstrators. The film images- rather badly conserved and transmitted on a small PC- were all the more extraordinary for the wretched way they were transmitted. The more you watched this footage, the more the images evoked ambivalently those continued processes and ruptures of contemporary history in the past twenty years. For all the amateur footage and stylistic distance of the times, for someone who participated in the meetings of 2012 October 1993 seems like the beginning of a great freeze that lasted two decades.
Moving to the art work this was surely the most astounding section. A minimal number of works but works which provided a glimpse as to how young thirty-something artists conceived of the events of October 1993 happening when they were around ten years old. They ranged from Diana Machulina’s Это не Мороженое (It’s Not Ice Cream) based on the childhood recollection of a certain Koli who insistently pleading his grandmother to be given ice cream is given cheese spread on a stick instead. Discovering that it isn’t tasty it puts him off ice cream for life. A kind of tale about democracy in which the Russian people are also offered a completely false substitution of democracy and naively believing that this was what democracy was rejected it out of hand.
Another art piece of interest was the piece by Andrei Blazhov entitled Плоды (Benefits/Fruits) which depicts a pregnant woman sitting on a red banner, eating an ice cream and looking out to sea. Here he different ideas of the fruits and benefits of the past, present and future interact.
Vladimir Potapov use of screen shots from youtube footage of October 1993 is highly interesting too.
In Potapov’s works the faces are not possible to make out. There is a further irony in the strange cuts into the artwork. A pop up incision appears throughout the picture – the indecipherable faces and actions give the chosen scenes (from the youtube videos) a strangely odd atmosphere of a broken billboard – although the advert is highlighting civil war and police oppression.
The industrial landscapes of Valentin Kach give us a certain luxuriant joy looking at the. Kasсh’s two works are extraordinary pieces of art and show an industrial dark black and red merging to tell us of the strange smoke, fire and death in an unusual hazy fog of those distant October days.
Koshelev’s Window ’93 is a series of windows through which scenes are painted evoking a childhood memory of watching the events as they unfolded from the windows of his apartment.
Pavel Grishin’s 04.10.93 is a simple enamel blind in the centre of the room which named those 150 people who were officially recorded as dead in those days and etched on to to the blind.
Perhaps the most extraordinary work s that of Mikhail Most which stores in a room a pile of Lenin busts and old papers etc. A curtain sets off at from the room and overall this installation ‘Stocktaking’ is really what it is about. A text intones The end of times, The end of an era, the end of the old slogans. The sets change. The stocktaking of ideas etc. The installation partly recalls “The Man Who Flew into Space” by Kabakov but instead of a broken roof the Lenin busts have a more telluric pull.
All in all a powerful rendering of the legacy and the reflection on this silent moment in which the democratic dream of perestroika and glasnost was crushed and the regime of silence would gradually cover Russia once more. I fear this was a final attempt to breathe life into this museum space in its attempt to intervene in the collective consciousness of the district and the city. An end to the curating team around Ilya Budraitskis here in Krasnopresneskaya Historical Museum which brought a short period of cultural significance to this venue. There is a ray of light in that Budraitskis will now be working at the State Centre of Contemporary Art.