The politics of staying hidden + the momentary ambush of Geometry of Now at Moscow’s VAC Foundation

, 28 March 2017

Machines have been removed; cut out, weighed-in and made safe. Hi-tech audio equipment, lighting rigs and heating systems fill the halls reinvigorating dormant masonry. Built in 1907, this former electrical power station, situated at the western point where the Moskva River and the Vodootvodny Canal in central Moscow intersect, is inhabited by Geometry Of Nowrunning March 20 to 27.

Geometry of Now (2017). Event documentation. Photo by Ivan Gushchin. Courtesy VAC, Moscow.

It is curated by UK-based multidisciplinary artist Mark Fell at the invitation of the VAC Foundation that facilitates the production and exhibition of Russian contemporary art. The programme takes the form of a week-long exhibition, and a four day programme of daytime lectures and workshops, performances and late night concerts.

Stephen O’Malley and Alexey Tegin launch the live performances with a drone collaboration on guitar and vocals in a vast pit arena occupying several thousand square feet at sub-mezzanine level. Transformed into a doom-metal cathedral, it is a spatially and acoustically exclusive scenario for any O’Malley fan. The show is viewed at a distance behind a recently constructed steel barrier on a ground level piazza and toys with the implication of art-context sanitation; we are sonically overwhelmed but nowhere near the pit.

Inga Copeland @ Geometry of Now (2017). Event documentation. Photo by Ivan Gushchin. Courtesy VAC, Moscow.

During the day, through a corridor off this piazza, Theo Burt creates a further audio-spatial meltdown. A choreographed score of light and sound from speakers and lighting rigs strapped to wooden pallets bounce through a rectangular aperture. Short bursts of manipulated samples and club lighting immerses the viewer in a scan of a derelict chasm.

The current renovations are not permanent but transient, much like the events and installations they facilitate. As a site in its raw, gutted state, Geometry Of Now acknowledges the past and future and processes of redevelopment. This acknowledgement feels important to the endangered warehouse-venue model and whether in future geometries, this model will only be re-enacted under the care of an institution.

In the building’s upper rooms, an installation by Jacqueline Kyomi Gordon uses ultrasonic speakers to permeate fabrics and plastics hanging on industrial supports. The materials appear similar to those used for silencing engines or motor rooms. Across several tables nearby, images of GES-2’s previous life and reading resources in Russian creates a visitor information area installed by VAC that gets entangled as a possible component in Gordon’s work. In a further room, windows have been pasted out with newsprint; cut flowers in various stages of decomposition are packing-taped to the supporting network of angular girders. A projected video component of this single immersive work from Richard Sides entitled ‘Imperial Weather,’ depicts an hour-long travelogue around European countryside and cities, accompanied by an eight-channel soundtrack that dips into music, political dialogue and filmic expressions. Through stylised nature footage, shot-durations and the audio track’s countenance, the experiential trip collages into a critical video diary of the United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union.

Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon feat. Sonya Levin. ‘Judy, Surface Substance’ (2017) @ Geometry of Now. Installation view. Photo by Robin Roger. Courtesy VAC, Moscow.

Curatorially, open in its thematics, the artists and musicians who take part in Geometry Of Now— which include Inga Copeland, Lee Scratch Perry, Hannah Sawtell, Equiknoxx, RP Boo and more — are in proximity of a politically site-specific scenario for their work to be read; given the geographical location and its repressive legislations around sexuality and freedom of speech. The presentations and performances become entangled in a live context, and a dialogue not of their own. In many cases they’re predicated on a priori assumptions towards Moscow at a political level that do not find the room in the mechanisms of this space or its artworks to talk about these assumptions or antagonise.

On the Friday of the programme, a lecture with Georgina Born and Terre Thaemlitz opens up a dialogue around these issues at stake. Under the reductive heading of ‘Gender-Politics-Sound,’ and alongside Thaemlitz’s ‘Soulnessless’ performance later that evening, a narrative emerges in solidarity against Russia’s current anti-gay legislation that could be helpful for queer and marginalised communities present at this idealistic, international event. Thaemlitz speaks of the reclamation of the metaphorical closet as a position for the protection of creative content and identity. They are known for releasing very little, controlled through the artist’s label Comatonse Recordings. In a reversal of ideological definitions of the hidden, and against constructed notions of queer pride and visibility as something to aim for, Thaemlitz positions the hidden as a political tool to be occupied and utilised.

Later that evening, they perform their work ‘Soulnessless.’ Recording and photography are banned, and subdued signage prohibits under 18s from entering. The security presence enforcing these rules are felt within the space, with attendees being asked to put away their phones if they are texting.

Terre Thaemlitz @ Geometry of Now (2017). Event documentation. Photo by Ivan Gushchin. Courtesy VAC, Moscow

It doesn’t feel appropriate to describe ‘Soullessness’ further, in keeping with the restrictions of the event, which come in part from Thaemlitz. Shortly after the performance ends, I speak with an artist from Moscow I had got to know over the previous nights. Their position was one of anger towards people who had walked out of ‘Soullessness’ and saw this as a refusal or disregard for the work’s content and political significance. For them, this was an incredibly important event in Moscow. As part of a programme funded by one of the richest people in Russia, several kilometres from the Kremlin complex and Christ The Savior Cathedral, this iteration of ‘Soullessness’ exists in direct defiance of Russia’s current political narrative, against ‘gay propaganda’ laws and breaking laws for ‘offending religious feelings.’ A major aspect of the work, a projected text, is translated and presented only in Russian. Thaemlitz uses the invitation to turn the context of Geometry Of Now in on itself; an autonomous zone protected by a security team following orders. It ambushes the program momentarily, and creates an emotional space for people to talk about what was not being said.**

The Geometry of Now exhibition was on at Moscow’s VAC, running March 20 to 27, 2017.