THE PERILS OF PERESTROIKA
Animated video from Soviet Union 1985-1991, Monday 1st March 2021
Curated by Riitta Hakkarainen and Jude Cowan Montague
Nervous? Is Brexit getting you down? Is the pandemic bad for your anxiety? Spare a thought for the animators in the last years of the Soviet Union who externalised a seemingly collective mental breakdown in grotesque character, threatening cityscape and absurd tales. Whereas in Europe the period of perestroika was perceived as a time of hope, expression and opportunity, in contrast on the other side of the iron curtain many short films made at this time indicate an edgy atmosphere of fear as the end of empire approached.
We present a series of little seen pieces with some subtitles, thoughts and commentaries. Preserved on the underground, many of these movies have VHS artefacts which add to their sense of instability.
The event was curated and presented by Riitta Hakkarainen and Jude Cowan Montague.
1. ‘His Wife Is a Chicken’ «Его жена курица» (Pilot Studio: 1990) 12.46min
Director: Igor Kovalyov
A study of married couple’s relationship. A spying visitor interferes in the relative domestic harmony by revealing to a man that his wife is in fact a hen. A Freudian excursion into subconsciousness in a Soviet apartment.
2. ‘The Incident’« Случаи» (Soyzmultfilm: 1990) 10.02min
Director: Aleksei Turkus
Using the text of a poem by Daniil Kharms a poet (1905-1942), an absurd drama about living with relentless Soviet Union propaganda. Critical of Soviet imperialism, the continued, groundhog accidents translate the onslaught of the state on the individual.
3. ‘Sweath’ «Поте́ц» (Ekran Studio: 1992) 17.27min
Director: Aleksander Fedulov
Like ‘The Incident’ this animation is based on a poem, which written as a an absurd play with three acts, by Aleksander Vredensky (1904-1941). A study of a man’s dying translated into theatre and pictorialised with images that echo Orthodox religion. The sweath is the dew of death which appears on the forehead of the soon-to-be corpse.
NOTE: The poets Kharms and Vredensky were active in the early years of the Soviet Union and were imprisoned and perished in the early forties during the purges. Their work was virtually unknown but continued to be distributed underground. In the 1980’s these authors were published and the animators of the time chose to revisit these poets to help create the voice of this later generation.
4. ‘Delusion’ «Наваждение» (Ekran Studio: 1989) 16.54min
Director: Olga Rozovskaya
A reimagination of an Ukranian folktale realised in plasticine stop motion. When a man finds a treasure, his wife is bound to tell everyone and the treasure will be lost. The cunning husband comes up with a surreal strategy to shed doubt on the wife’s testimony. A tale of peasant culture outwitting those with power.
5. ‘Fru-89. From Left to Right’ «Фру-89. Слева направо» (Soyzmultfilm: 1989) 4.10min
Director: Ivan Maximov
‘Fru’ is short for ‘Frustration’. This is a surreal exercise in morphing, strange creatures shift from left to right in a dance of vexed confusion to techno-beats. Read as a depiction of the broken dreams and breaking up of the Soviet Union. Its machine-lab quality echo Maximov’s early career and family background in professional physics.
Subtitling note: A group effort by London Animation Club and Soviet Child. The Sweath translation is by Victor Pechorin and Kharms translation is picked from the net, translation unknown. Thanks to Riitta Hakkarainen, Martin Pickles and Tom Lowe.
Riitta Hakkarainen is an artist and scenographer who works in fashion, theatre, film, fine art, illustration and product design.
Jude Cowan Montague broadcasts ‘The News Agents’ every Saturday on Resonance FM. She’s formerly Reuters TV Archive a poet and graphic novelist and film historian and is currently working on some expressive graphic memoirs including ‘Breakfast in Shoreditch’ set in the 1990s retro-art-scene.