Art Without Death: Russian Cosmism

2017, Sep 01, Fri — 2017, Oct 03, Tue

“There were always people in Russia who wanted to treat the state as a malignant tumor or to remove it altogether. The more vicious the state, the more vehement the urge for healing, the dream of liberation from suffering. Among these revolutionaries and utopians was a philosopher who lived during Leo Tolstoy’s era as an inconspicuous librarian in Moscow and who was far more radical than Tolstoy, Bakunin or Lenin. Nikolai Fedorov, the still-revered thinker, called the Czarist state a ‘lethal force.’ At the same time, Fedorov believed that only the Russian autocracy was capable of realizing the most important mission of humanity: to abolish death.”
(Boris Schumatsky, FAZ, Aug 12, 2014)

The cosmism movement, which called for material immortality and resurrection, as well as travel to outer space, developed from spirituality in nineteenth century Russia. The doctrine of immortal life in infinite space captured the optimism of science and the arts in those days. Since then, the utopian, science fiction-like thinking of the cosmists had a great influence on art, science, and politics in both: pre-revolutionary and Soviet Russia.

Looking at it today, cosmism, although overshadowed by official Soviet ideology, opens up new perspectives on the Russian avant-garde as well as the ideology and politics of Russia to the present day. For example, in his influential writings Nikolai Fedorov (1829-1903) demanded that the ultimate goal of technology must be to overcome death; all people who had ever lived on earth must be brought back to life. The cosmists were also visionary pioneers of space travel. For Fedorov, for instance, the colonization of other planets would be the inevitable consequence of the lack of space after the resurrection of the dead. The institution of the museum also played a central role in cosmism as the remains needed for the resurrection of individuals would have to be preserved there. Nikolai Fedorov, like the painter and founder of Suprematism Kazimir Malevich, believed that after the death of God, the museum would be the only place where a transhistorical union beyond the grave was possible.

Anton Vidokle grapples with Russian cosmism in his film trilogy Cosmism (2014–2017), the third part of which is premiering in Berlin. Vidokle, discovered cosmism through Boris Groys. Anton Vidokle: “About ten years ago Boris Groys told me about a very strange movement in Russia around the time of the Revolution. His description of it sounded so macabre and vampiric that I thought he had invented it. Then a few years ago I was doing an interview with Ilya Kabakov when he started talking about the same thing. I suddenly realized that it was not just Groys’s invention, so looked it up.”

The exhibition architecture by Nikolaus Hirsch / Michel Müller takes up the association of the museum as a mausoleum and as a location of a potential resurrection. In exhibition hall 1, the films of the Cosmism Trilogy will be presented within structures based on the tomb architecture of the former Soviet Union.

In exhibition hall 2, Boris Groys will present his selection of historical positions from the Russian avant-garde from the George Costakis Collection (State Museum of Contemporary Art Thessaloniki). A “library” designed by Arseny Zhilyaev will make key publications of the cosmists accessible to the public.

A conference co-organized by Boris Groys will take place alongside the exhibition to highlight the current relevance of cosmism: on the threshold between anthropocentrism and materialism, this movement appears relevant again against the background of contemporary philosophical movements 100 years after the Russian Revolution.

Anton Vidokle is an artist, curator and filmmaker. He currently lives in New York and Berlin. He is the founder of e-flux, a publishing platform that is also an archive, artistic project and a forum for curators. He was represented at Documenta 13 as well as the Venice and Lyon Biennials. In 2016, he presented his science fiction film 2084 (with Pelin Tan) at the Montreal Biennial, This is Cosmos (2014) at the Berlinale, the Shanghai Biennale and at Witte de With, Rotterdam.

Boris Groys is a philosopher, essayist and media theorist. After positions in Cologne, Philadelphia, Münster and Los Angeles, he was Professor of the Science of Art, Philosophy and Media Theory at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe until 2009 and has been Senior Research Fellow there since then. In 2009, he was appointed Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University. In 2005, he and Michael Hagemeister published Die neue Menschheit in which he reintroduced Nikolai Fedorov’s “philosophy of the common deed.”

Arseny Zhilyaev lives and works in Moscow and Voronezh. In recent works, he examines the legacy of Soviet museology from a revisionist perspective. Since 2011, he has been co-editor of the Moscow art magazine Khudozhestvennyi Zhurnal and publishes articles in e-flux journal and others. His works have been shown at the Liverpool Biennale (2016) and at the Ljubljana Triennale that same year as well as at exhibitions in Casa dei Tre Oci, V-A-C Foundation, Venice (2015), Kadist Art Foundation, Paris and San Francisco (2014) and at the V-A-C Foundation, Moscow (2012) and the Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow (2012).

Part of 100 Years of Now

Exhibition, conference

Opening 2017, Aug 31