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STUDIO VADIM ZAKHAROV      06/12 - 08/12 - 2015



Of Para-Sites and Hospitality

(Text: Sven Spieker)


In der Studio-Präsentation werden zwei Visitations aus den Jahren 2013-15 zusammengefasst und von drei Kunsthistorikerinnen kommentiert. Die Kommentare werden von den Autorinnen im Video gesprochen neben den Requisiten und dokumentierenden Materialien zur jeweiligen Visitation wiedergegeben.

Ebenfalls sprechen zehn Menschen aus der Region, in der OBAMAINBERLIN sich bewegt.

Die Methodik in der Praxis von OBAMAINBERLIN erschließt ein die Präsentation einleitender Text von Sven Spieker. Das von Spieker thematisierte Motiv der Gastfreundschaft bzw. Bewirtung ist ebenfalls Teil der Präsentation: im Zentrum stehen die sechs 2015 entstandenen Interviews mit Menschen, die in der Region der so genannten Dead Zone leben und dort verwurzelt sind. Sie werden -in einer für den Anlass neu zusammengestellten Anordnung von Elementen- von Kuckucksuhren aus der Creation of a time unit (Venedig 2012) mit Aufnahmen aus Eisenhüttenstadt (vgl. Visitation 16) und von einem für den Anlaß entwickelten Sockel in der von Haim Steinbach geprägten Form begleitet (vgl. Visitation 10).

Auf dem Sockel stehen auf der einen Seite die Lautsprecher, aus welchen die Stimmen der Gesprächspartner zu hören sind, der schwarze Teil des Sockels hält in zwei Töpfen Nudeln und Soße warm, mit welchen die Gäste in diesem Raum bewirtet werden. 

Sven Spieker

The work of the artist duo OBAMAINBERLIN (Niklas Nitschke and Vadim Zakharov) operates in, or out, of what the artists call the “dead zone,” a sparsely populated area in the borderlands between modern Poland and Germany crossed by the rivers Oder and Neisse. With its population, on the (formerly German) Polish side, of Poles from the Western parts of the former Soviet Union—Poland’s former East—who were resettled here after the WWII when Poland shifted westward on the map of Europe, the area is emblematic of the relativity of the terms “East” and “West.” Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Poland was, together with Russia, to the East of the Western world. Nowadays, what Nitschke and Zakhatov refer to as the dead zone (not so far from Berlin), is more like the East of the West, with only Russia left as Europe’s true “East” (Russia’s own East has traditionally been China). And it is here, in this East/West “Zone” that Nitschke and Zakharov, an artist with a longstanding interest in collaborative work, stage what they have termed their “visitations,” a series of carefully choreographed and documented tours within the area that Nitschke calls home. Sometimes these visits involve a drive to one of the nearby towns or a visit to a derelict castle; sometimes a meal is lovingly prepared on the bank of the river Oder, or a banner appears, to the surprise of the visitor, in a small forest not far from the highway.


The exploration of a geographic region in a series of visits by outsiders has a pedigree in Russian art and literature, from Gogol’s novel Dead Souls whose hero Chichikov buys up dead serfs from rural landowners he visits during an extended trip through the countryside to Tarkovsky’s film Stalker who takes visitors to a zone that responds to their innermost wishes and the Moscow-based artist group Collective Actions to whose “Trips Out of Town” OBAMAINBERLIN refer in more ways than one. Chichikov, by visiting his various hosts, surveys the many ways in which Russian rural landowners run, or do not, run, their land and the local economy. Tarkovsky’s Stalker has as one of its explicit themes the possibility or impossibility of the zone’s scientific analysis by means of travel. And the “trips out of town” by Collective Actions teach participants about the difference between inner and outer observation.

Marina Gerber and Alessandra Franetovich

Two video comments to Visitation 13

Apart from moving through the “dead zone,” OBAMAINBERLIN practice a form of hosting. The notion of art as invitation and hosting came to prominence in the 1990s as an effort to enact what a well-known phrase refers to as “relational aesthetics,” the replacement of the art object with convivial exchange mediated by an artist who relinquishes control over the process she instigates. By contrast, while Nitschke’s and Zakharov’s borderland excursions do involve an invitation to leave Berlin and come to the “zone” around the town of Eisenhüttenstadt; and while these excursions do involve exchange and dialogue, OBAMAINBERLIN’s operation is best described not as “relational” or convivial but as dialogic in the way this term was understood by the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin. For Bakhtin, a dialogic utterance is not simply an exchange of words but a response to the many present, past, and future connotations these words carry with them. An utterance, in Bakhtin’s understanding, is a creative intervention in a crowded intercultural field. When we make an utterance, we not only react to our interlocutor, we intervene in the past and present uses of the words we choose as all words are inherently dialogic.

As utterances, OBAMAINBERLIN’s performances should, I argue, similarly be understood as dialogic in Bakhtin’s sense of the term. As such they inscribe themselves into a rich fabric of artistic and literary references broadly between the far West (America) and the European East (Russia), from Watteau to Gogol to Dostoevsky, and others. For instance, Visitation #6 begins with a reference to Goethe’s drama Iphigenia in Tauris (1779), itself a reworked version of a play by Euripides; then Nitschke hands Zakharov a bird’s nest filled with cream—the Russian term for bird’s nest, gnezdó, a reference to a well-known novel by Turgenev as well as to an unofficial Moscow art group to which OBAMAINBERLIN will return during a later visitation—and begins to read a passage from Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment while he struts across a field in the manner of Collective Actions in order to deposit at its opposite end a concrete beam that recalls a painting by Eric Bulatov (The Big Horizon). The visitation ends when Zakharov—not coincidentally seated on a toilet the artists found on a rubbish heap—reads aloud a series of poems he has created from portions of a philosophical text by Boris Groys.


It is as if Zakharov had masticated, ingested, metabolized Groys, a procedure that relates to performance as a form of digestion and to the “dead zone” as a para-site. Indeed, the word parasite, which I want to unapologetically oppose to the current vogue for “sharing” and convivial exchange, is derived from the Greek (via Latin) and denotes a person who eats at another’s table. While in art we have come to think of parasitism as a deadening form of imitation-of-another that drains its original of life, with OBAMAINBERLIN, we learn that it does not have to be this way. Parasitism here functions more like an extreme form of hosting, of ingesting another’s work in order to replenish ones own supply of creative energy. Nitschke’s reading of a text by Dostoevsky, becomes, parasitically speaking, a way of speaking through the author and his characters that tentatively removes the difference between life and performance.


Comment: Giada dalla Bonta

OBAMAINBERLIN’s visitation #17 takes place near Coschen in Germany, in an old alleyway lined by oak trees that eventually meets the dam that is designed to keep the Neisse within its bed. Between two trees Nitschke suspends a large red banner reminiscent of the one used in 1977 by Collective Actions, replacing the text written on that banner (I DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT ANYTHING AND I LIKE EVERYTHING, DESPITE THE FACT THAT I HAVE NEVER BEEN HERE AND DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS AREA) with the signature OBAMAINBERLIN (NIKLAS NITSCHKE). After unrolling the banner, Nitschke, who is wearing an artificial moustache in the shape of a square that recalls Hitler’s, opens a jar with chocolate-flavored yoghurt, asks his guest to smell its aroma, and proceeds in expansive gestures to paint a square on the banner. If on the one hand, the square recalls Kazimir Malevich’s painting Black Square (and Hitler’s moustache), on the other, it points to a specific moment in the history of unofficial Soviet art: the moment when, in 1977, the art group Gnezdo used an imitation of Franz Kline’s painting Accent Grave (1965) for a brief illegal public demonstration, hinting at the time when during Khrushchev’s so-called Thaw period Western abstraction became for Soviet artists synonymous with a different future. But there is more to it: 1977 is also the year when, by his own testimony, Vadim Zakharov met the artist Yuri Albert who introduced him to the circle of Moscow conceptualists, an encounter that made Zakharov the artist he is today.

As a form of productive parasitism, the performance is not content to cite literary works or artists; rather, it embeds these references within the lives of the participating artists themselves. The table (the banner) Nitschke unfolds for Zakharov during his visit becomes a para-site or zone in its own right, an instance where to eat at another’s table is to inhabit a place where cultural signs cease being mere signs and become instances of lived experience, of an active metabolism that ingests, masticates, and digests art in order to produce life. In becoming a para-site, the dead zone becomes the area in which OBAMAINBERLIN enact instances where eating at someone else’s table is synonymous with a form of art production that is dialogic but not necessarily convivial.


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