Moscow

Aslan Gaisumov, Keicheyuhea, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 26 minutes. From “One Place after Another.”

Aslan Gaisumov, Keicheyuhea, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 26 minutes. From “One Place after Another.”

“One Place after Another”

Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center

According to Marxist geographer David Harvey, information and communication technologies, along with other developments in contemporary capitalism, have accelerated all aspects of social life, with the profound effect of reducing our experience of space compared to that of time. In hypercapitalist societies such as America, the outcome is a radical forgetting, one that gains momentum with every surreal presidential tweet. What little remains of historical memory is being erased from public use, becoming privatized, or being transformed into a commodity. By contrast, in Russia and Eastern Europe, history has always been a material presence. Reminders of the twentieth century’s grand narratives loom over the present landscape in architectural form, no matter how aggressively capitalist normalization seeks to impose itself and efface the past. Even where genocide, ethnic cleansing, or mass dispossession have left no visible traces, the sites of their occurrence still manage to disturb the present.

“One Place after Another,” organized by renowned Russian curator Viktor Misiano, was the fourth installment of his seven-part exhibition project “The Human Condition,” itself a collaboration between the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, all in the Russian capital. Most of the nineteen artists in “One Place after Another”—the list includes Younes Baba-Ali, Ergin Çavusoglu, Taus Makhacheva, Marjetica Potrč, and Haim Sokol—focus on conflicted geographies, intertwining past and present. The choice of venue is notable, as the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center is the result of a recent attempt to situate, in an educational if coldly high-tech installation, a narrative of Jewish presence in Russia, acknowledging the persistent mistreatment and repeated displacement of Jews throughout the country’s history. (Some of the pieces in the exhibition worked in dialogue with elements of the museum’s permanent display.) Taking his title from a book by art historian Miwon Kwon, Misiano interprets “place” as a geographical location magnetized by epic historical events and inhabited by real people who bear witness to them.

The hour-long film Legend Coming True, 1999, by Deimantas Narkevičius, laid the ground for the exhibition’s peculiar structure of time. It features two stories narrated by different protagonists. One story, told by a girl, is a legend of the founding of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania; the other is the testimony of a Vilnius native, Fania, who bears witness to the survival, dispossession, and migration of Eastern European Jews in the twentieth century. The multidimensional temporality in the piece is supported by the soft power of Narkevičius’s topographical shots, visualizing the parts of Jewish Vilnius that play a role in Fania’s testimony.

Another key theme of the exhibition was how expanded experiences of time reveal the complex mechanisms of memory. The future seems to have never arrived in Ieva Epnere’s video installation POTOM, 2016; its title is a Russian word that translates as “later,” referring, apparently, to a future that is delayed or may never arrive. A male protagonist goes through a soldier’s daily routine in the dilapidated but still impressive spaces of an abandoned Soviet naval base in the Latvian city of Liepāja, as if nothing had changed since the dissolution of the USSR. Soviet geography is a source of inspiration for two works by Yevgeniy Fiks, both titled Landscapes of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, 2016, which explore the utopian dreams and nightmares of socialist urban planning and ethnic territorial construction that overlapped (and clashed) with the Soviet Jews’ hopes for a permanent settlement in the Russian Far East.

As one navigated this ambitious show, some questions came up again and again. Can any potential for a sustainable social future emerge from these phantom places and ghostly ruins? Do eternal homecoming and living in history, as the show suggested, really save us from political abstractions and new ideologies? As Aslan Gaisumov’s Chechen grandmother tells him in the video Keicheyuhea, 2017, upon returning to her birthplace high in the mountains, “There’s nothing to see,” she says. “Let’s go.”