Last Saturday a week ago I went to the opening night reception of an art show titled “Engineers of the Soul” in order to do some videoblogging. Thomas Campbell, a member of the Chto Delat (What is to be done) collective and Marxmailer, suggested that it might be worth my time since his group’s video “The Tower: a Songspiel” was on display there. He wasn’t sure what I would make of the other works there. After seeing them, I am still undecided.
If I had read the gallery notes on the exhibit before going down, I probably would have sounded more like Robert Hughes than Robbie the Robot. As will be obvious from my commentary, the works on display—excepting Chto Delat’s intelligent and artistically fully realized video, mystified me. Now that I have had a chance to read the notes at http://chtodelat.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/engineers-of-the-soul-new-york-city/, I have somewhat a better handle on things.
To start off, my reference to what the artists were trying to say with the Mao and Stalin photos was obviously meant to be a question about the gallery’s intentions rather than the photographers who were government-sanctioned “official” recorders of the Communist power structure. Magdalena Sawon and Tamas Banovich, the owners of Postmasters Gallery, describe themselves this way:
For better or worse Tamas Banovich and I are children of Communism, having grown up in Hungary and Poland respectively. We have always wanted to organize an exhibition that brings together Communism’s past, present, and future and shows artists’ ongoing relationships to power and ideology as they negotiate the treacherous zones of propaganda and dissent.
The moment seems right. With growing political extremism at both ends of the spectrum, Communism is on our collective radar. Since the fall of the Soviet block in the early nineties, we have thought of Communism as the past, yet there are millions of people who are still living under communist regimes and many more who live with its consequences and legacies.
Unlike the Hard Times show I reported on last August, this show was not quite so partisan. Although the curators were not making an anti-Communist statement (how could they by including Chto Delat’s hard-hitting anti-oligarch politics?), they clearly were not indulging themselves in nostalgia for the past.
The show continues until December 4th and is well worth a trip to the westernmost regions of Chelsea for New Yorkers.
And for out-of-towners, I invite you to watch “I Hate You, Karl Marx” below. See if you can make sense of it. I still can’t.
And here, especially recommended, is a performance of “The Tower: a songspiel”. Brilliant stuff.