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Berlin: Kozyra, Slavs&Tatars, Żmijewski
November 13, 2015 - December 23, 2015
Balagan!!! Contemporary Art from the Former Soviet Union
and other Mythical Spots
among the artists: Katarzyna Kozyra, Slavs&Tatars, Artur Żmijewski
13 November – 23 December 2015
Max Liebermann Haus
75 Artists from 14 Countries
from the Former “East”
Balagan knows no borders. Although the contemporary condition of the world is almost impossible to categorise, the Russians have a single word for it that describes, with celebratory gusto, a farce, a mess, a SNAFU, the most unholy of cock-ups. What existentialism was for war-ravaged Europe, or ‘normality’ for the Cold War, balagan is for the whole world today.
BALAGAN!!! is therefore the framework for an exhibition curated by David Elliott in Berlin, for MOMENTUM and the NORDWIND Festival 2015, that shows contemporary art from just one part of the world, those countries that comprised the former USSR and its allies. In 1999 Elliott conceived the travelling exhibition AFTER THE WALL. Art and Culture in post-Communist Europe, that measured cultural change one decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now, twenty-five years after this momentous event, he shows a world where chaos and misrule, along with the social comedy that results from it, are lovingly shown in art as artists struggle to digest and reconcile what they have experienced and integrate this with their dreams of a new and different way of life.
The exhibition will take place from 14 November to 23 December in three venues: the museum spaces of the Max Liebermann Haus in Pariser Platz, next to the Brandenburg Gate, the rough industrial interiors of Kühlhaus, a former refrigeration plant on Gleisdreiecke, and in MOMENTUM, part of the Bethanien Art District in Kreuzburg. At the same time works by some artists in the exhibition will be shown in Hellerau in Dresden and kampnagel in Hamburg. A lecture, symposium and performance programme will also be organised in co-operation with ICI and the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.
The story of BALAGAN is strongly embedded within all the arts, particularly in the commedia dell’arte that underwent a revival in Russia immediately before and after the Revolution. Derived from the Turkic and Persian for ‘a wooden platform’, the original Russian word meant ‘fairground’, or the lightly constructed booths that characterised them. By the 18th century it had become associated with the activities of the people who worked there: puppeteers, clowns and jesters who made fun of and satirised established order.
In 1906, writer and poet Aleksandr Blok (1880-1921) finished his play Balaganshchik (variously translated as The Fairground Booth or The Puppet Show), the St. Petersburg première of which was directed by the avant-garde theatre director and actor Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874-1940), who also played Pierrot, its lead role. The riotous events of the opening night proved to be the first salvo in a continuing volley of artistic coups that lasted until the repression of the early 1930s. Blok’s intent in presenting such a dysfunctional masquerade to the public was to explode the social pretensions of Realist and Symbolist theatre by exposing its melodramatic clichés yet, in doing this, he was exposed the pain and drama of his times as well as on his personal experience and relationships. The creative fusion between the political, social and the personal is the impetus for BALAGAN!!! today.
Even during the dark years of Stalinist repression BALAGAN continued underground. While Europe was torn apart by World War II, Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) completed his critical masterwork Rabelais and the Folk Culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In this he regarded the upside-down-world of carnival as both a safety valve and a vision of a better life that depended, amongst other things, on the subversive effect of exhibiting publicly the private functions of the human body.1 Cultural dichotomies such as spirit and body, ‘high’ and ‘low’, rich and poor, sacred and profane were revealed as methods of social control, the disruption of which he highlighted in the grotesque realism of Rabelais’ writings and time. In the face of oppression laughter was an uncontrollable, therapeutic, liberating force. The revolutionary politics of laughter and the cathartic release that it promises are a central subject of the BALAGAN!!! exhibition.