Art Radar looks at the ideas behind Cosmism in Anton Vidokle’s film trilogy “Immortality for All”.
Screening at Tate Modern, Sharjah Biennial 13, and the National Gallery, the film trilogy premieres in London, Beirut and Washington D.C. this autumn.
Forward-thinking philosophy is often conceived as staunchly cerebral, fixated on conceptual matters and removed from the minutiae of everyday life. Yet, the details of contemporary living can provide an entryway into future-oriented thought. Cosmism, an early 20th century philosophy developed in Russia, was a school of thought that combined the ethics, aesthetics and principles of the Western Enlightenment, Eastern philosophy, the Russian Orthodox Church and Marxism to develop a strain of utopian thinking that occupied the minds of thinkers such as Nikolai Fedorov and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
In his film trilogy “Immortality for All”, named after Fedorov’s advocacy of physical immortality and extended life expectancy, Anton Vidokle explores the impact of cosmism both within its time during the 20th century, as well as its implications in the present day. Vidokle, who is most well-known as the co-founder of the journal and curatorial platform e-flux along with Brian Kuan Wood and Julieta Aranda, created the first film of the trilogy This is Cosmos in 2014.
Shot on location in Siberia, Crimea and Kazakhstan, the film explores the legacy of Nikolai Fedorov’s Cosmist thought through an exploration of film, scientific and academic writing, poetry and philosophy. The film excavates the foundational tenets of Cosmism, one of which is the idea that the universe did not constitute an exterior world, but was of the world among us. For the Cosmists, the ultimate goal was utopia, a “new reality free of hunger, sickness, violence, death, and inequality – rather like communism”.
As a result of this distinct similarity, utopian goals of the Cosmist movement coincided with the political upheavals of the Soviet Union. Repressed by Stalin in the 1950s, the legacy of Cosmism was largely hidden from public view until texts began to be republished in the 1990s. This relationship between Soviet-era politics and Cosmist thought is investigated in the second film in the trilogy, The Communist Revolution Was Caused by the Sun (2015), which examines the life of the Soviet bio-psychologist Alexander Chizhevsky.
Shot in Kazakhstan, where Chizhevsky was deported by Soviet authorities, the film explores the scientist’s research into solar emissions and their impact on the populations, from instances of war and economics, to epidemics, sociology and psychology. The film links the agricultural activities of Soviet’s rural population to Russian Cosmism, suggesting that the Soviet desire to reach outer space was motivated by a utopian vision of escaping the limitations of life on earth.
The last installment of Vidokle’s trilogy Immortality and Resurrection for All! focuses on Nikolai Fedorov’s philosophies on death and resurrection. For Fedorov and his Cosmist comrades, death was an accidental feature of life, as “energy in the cosmos is indestructible.” In direct opposition to death, Federov aspired towards immortality and resurrection of all humans, two entwined goals that combined technological advancement with a concern for those who had already passed.
The idea of immortality as a mechanism for utopia gained further importance following the 1917 October Revolution: as communist ideology pervaded the arts, ideas such as Suprematism, Constructivism and other movements became essential for an avant-garde who sought to apply the materialist ideology of the day to a future in which they could realise this ideology indefinitely.
These artistic concerns are directly conveyed in Immortality and Resurrection for All! through the spaces of the museum. In the film, the museum is reinscribed as a locus of resurrection and shots of the Moscow Zoological Museum, the Tretyakov Gallery,and Lenin Library and Museum of the Revolution intimate the connection between collections, archives and the restoration of life.
Preservation and restoration move from thematic gestures of art and archaeology into the materialist utopian visions of the Cosmist philosophers. In the film, contemporary followers of Fedorov enact “live scenes” on Malevich’s “Black Square”, the resurrection of a mummy and constructions by Rodchenko.
Examining the museum as a site of utopian and everlasting potential allows for Vidolke’s Cosmism to transcend its Russian context and origins, and apply it broadly to a swath of institutions across various cultures and geographies.
The film premiered at the Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt in Berlin as part of the symposium Art Without Death, which included an exhibition of Russian avant-garde works from the Costakis Collection selected by Boris Groys, and speakers including Vidolke, Trevor Paglen and Hito Steyerl who focused on the application of Cosmism to contemporary thought. Other panels included a talk on Cosmism and Social Progress, and Cosmic themes in early Soviet culture.
The film then will travel to the Tate Modern in London on 6 October 2017, and will subsequently be screened at Sharjah Biennial 13 in Beirut on 16 October and at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. on 19 November. At Sharjah, Immortality and Resurrection for All! will be screened as part of the Biennial’s concluding programme in Beirut, organised with Ashkal Alwan, which includes the off-site project “Upon a Shifting Plate” and Act II of the Biennial.
In Washington, the film complements a film series entitled “Revolutionary Rising: Soviet Film Vanguard”, and an exhibit of graphic works and photographs from the 1920s and 1930s, including the work of Aleksandr Rodchenko from the Gallery’s collection. Furthermore, the discussion of Russian Cosmism will also continue at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in November, with a series of lectures organised by e-flux and MoMA, with talks by Groys, Steyerl, Vidokle and Arseny Zhilyaev, a Moscow-based artist.
Each of these widely different contexts in which the film trilogy is presented makes a case for Cosmism’s universalist aspirations. Federov and his acolytes intended for Cosmism, with its hybrid forms and intersecting philosophies, to be a truly humanist endeavour. In their search for technological immortality, the Cosmists wished to remove themselves from the limitations of Earth; Cosmism’s resurgence in contemporary art and film signals its similar transcendence of geographical limitations. The resonance of this line of thinking from Sharjah to Beirut to London and everywhere in between suggests that the human tendency to look to the stars is a resilient one.
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- “Dissonant Rhythms”: Australia’s Ross Manning – artist profile – September 2017 – “Dissonant Rhythms”, the first full survey of Manning’s work, runs until 28 October 2017
- Garage International Triennial of Contemporary Art, Moscow – a round-up with highlights – May 2017 – Garage International Triennial in Moscow is the first survey of Russia’s extensive contemporary art scene
- Siberia’s 11th Krasnoyarsk Museum Biennale – in pictures – November 2015 – Siberia’s largest contemporary art event, the Krasnoyarsk Museum Biennale, returns for its 11th edition entitled “Practice of Touch”
- Russian and Ukrainian artists question borders in London exhibition – in pictures – April 2015 – the exhibition “Borderlands” at GRAD in London brings together four artists from Russia and Ukraine
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