“Imagine a swarm of devils, little black devils from Orthodox icons, breaking into a big light hall of a neo-modernist building, the hall of some Soviet scientific-research institute. They enter – and what happens then? They encounter the devils which lived there before.” Nikita Kadan
At times the shared experience of post-communism seems more of a common denominator of the ex-socialist countries than communism ever was. While real socialism allowed for significant variations in its systemic articulation, ranging from a corporativist Yugoslav model to a more dogmatic Soviet version, post-communism more often than not offers a monolithic iteration of the assumption of post-history. It is seen as a return to the »natural« development that was forcefully halted by communism which in post-communism narrative is always seen as foreign to the »national character«, which we are fortunate enough to regain. On the other hand, the experience of communism is, as Boris Buden puts it, inaccessible in its political significance, barred by its reduction to a cultural phenomenon, falling prey to a vast array of simplifications, ranging from demonization to naive nostalgia.
In his practice Nikita Kadan addresses these very issues. In the exhibition entitled Above the pedestal the air condenses in a dark cloud, he tackles the paradoxical status of the Soviet experience and the way it is manipulated in the process of legitimizing the new economic and political paradigm. Kadan renounces the symptomatically post-communist strategy of culturalizing the reading of the past: his project takes an explicitly political focus in both deidealizing the Soviet project but simultaneously offering a relentless critique of post-Soviet forms of anticommunism. This is apparent in the most paradigmatic work in the show, Watchtower, an eclectic combination of a quotation from high modernist architectural idiom (the roof), open skeleton structure of its middle part and the garden as its base. The abstract form of the roof doubtlessly acts as an element of the superstructure, much in the way universalist architectural language of modernism dominated the vernacular elements it integrated, while the organic plinth offers the base and the material foundation overdetermined by the top. Much more ambiguous is the middle, its reference being a watchtower-like structure found in the Moscow Museum of Gulag, clearly alluding to the oppression that tainted the communist emancipation project from its outset. This moment of disconnection between the ideal and its material counterpart hints to a break between the communist idea and the socialist everyday, where the state is regarded an oppressive instance and people can only get by through acts of everyday opportunism. This is highlighted by a Flavin-esque light sculpture Commons, humorously recalling the way public property had to be partly damaged in order to prevent it from being stolen.
The show is dominated by references to communist public sculpture, which have both in Ukraine and in the ex-Yugoslavia become subject to such mass acts of vandalism, to an extent that borders on state iconoclasm. Kadan makes use of their empty pedestals to accommodate the images of stylites, early medieval hermits who took penitence by living on top of towers where they stood relentlessly, exposed to the elements. The images come from the ascetic frescoes by Theophanes the Greek seeming strangely comfortable on modernist plinths they usurp. It would be all too easy seeing them as mere symbols of the new spirit of irrationalism spurring from the restoration of the ethno-nationalist rhetoric. Their cosy symbiosis with the pedestals implies the Soviet era was more than willing to accommodate dogmatisms and irrationalities of its own, warning against the inability of modernity to deal with its own foundations. Rather than dissecting the ideology of post-communism by apologetically showcasing the breakthroughs of the Soviet era, Kadan takes the political stance by reflecting both through an agonistic logic. Here the aspects of pre-modern, modern and postmodern are not to be ascribed to different historical periods, but are moments that permeate both communism and post-communism. And while neoliberal agenda strives to deprive politics of all its dialectical stamina, preaching the futility of unnecessary ideological divisions, depoliticizing the politics of today and neutralizing past struggles, Kadan’s work insists on its complexities. Thus as dark clouds rise to blur the sight of the heroic vision of the past in the series of drawings Dark air that set the tone for the whole show, we are forced to examine both the great emancipation narrative of communism and its manipulation the disillusioned politics of today, with Kadan insisting that the battle for their signification is far from over.
Curated by: Vladimir Vidmar
14th of September, and 28th of September at 6 pm: Guided tours with the curator
Nikita Kadan’s show is part of The Kids Want Communism, an ongoing international project marking ninety-nine years to the October Revolution. Initiated by MoBY-Museums of Bat Yam, The Kids Want Communism network includes Tranzit, Prague, The Visual Culture Research Center, Kyiv, Free/Slow University Warsaw, State of Concept, Athens, and Škuc gallery, Ljubljana.
The programme of Škuc Gallery is supported by Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and Cultural Department of the City of Ljubljana.
photo © Dejan Habicht