“Let us not forget that any archive, any collection, sooner or later buries the collector underneath itself as it grows. The archive is a hit man.”

VADIM ZAKHAROV – BETWEEN PRESERVING THE DISAPPEARING AND DISAPPEARING IN THE PRESERVED

It was in 1979 that Boris Groys introduced the nomination Moscow Romantic Conceptualism to describe a circle of artists working with similar strategies. This community, so often just called Moscow Conceptualism, has evolved from a circle of discussions and understands and describes itself as a communication-circle, a friendship-relation that has become institutional. In 1988 Pavel Pepperstein introduced the term NOMA in his lecture “Ideologizing of the unknown” to replace the unclear designation Circle of Moscow Conceptualism. He defined that “NOMA means a specific circle of people who see themselves in cause of the cohesion of their linguistic realisations as a collectiv body.”
The artists of the 70s and 80s had no access to neither the commercial nor the museum milieu, so the only viable context in which their art could develop was that of a “dialogue among friends” “The art of Moscow Conceptualism was occupied above all with constructing such networks: the structures of a real and yet phantasmagoric communicative space.“ The principal aim of the apt art exhibitions was a communicative one, they were usually accompanied by lectures and discussions. „Understanding culture as a system of realationships, we consider NOMA so to speak as a kind of family.“ For Andrej Monastyrskij NOMA ended to exist in 1992. The family has dissolved, its members have gathered all over the world.
Speaking about departure and disappearing, I don’t only mean a process of dissolution of social milieus, but also a topos in the Russian art of the 20th century. I want to refer to the Russian phenomenon, which was for the first time introduced to a broader public through the exhibition Flight Distance Disappearing in 1995, and is better known as PUI-discourse, after the first letters of the Russian title.
Already the first avantgarde has intensively dealt with the topics of flying and floating: Malevich’s black square circling in a white cosmos, Rodtschenko’s photographies of jumping people, Tatlin’s flying object Letatlin, Lissitzky’s Prouns or Chagall’s floating people. So also most of the artists of the 70s and 80s were occupied by the theme of flight, distance and disappearing. For instance the characters of Ilya Kabakov’s albums vanishing in the white, the floating people in Victor Pivovarov’s pictures or the strange cosmic spaces in Eric Bulatov’s paintings. The artists of the next generation interprete PUI in a different way. The actions Andrej Monastyrskij realized within the frame of the group Collective Actions were not just about walking over the distance of a white field outside of Moscow, but primarily about the distancing from ones own consciousness.
Among the younger artists appearing at the beginning of the 80s the disappearing again gets a semantic shift meaning evasion, evading every interpretation of the work or determination of authorship.
Vadim Zakharov is one of these younger artists who like Yuri Albert or Konstantin Zwesdochetov emerged in the early eighties, where he started to work in the milieu of the Circle of Moscow Conceptualists. From the very beginning he established artistic networks and communicative connections through his work, just to mention the cooperations with other artists like Igor Lutz or Viktor Skersis, the happenings he did with Skersis in the group SZ, where many members of NOMA participated, his apt art-exhibitions or his participating in the journeys out of the city by Andrej Monastyrskij. The works of these early years are characterized by an artistic language that must remain enigmatic to any visitor not familiar with the discourses inside the Circle of Moscow Conceptualists, its language codes and its hermetic seclusion. Developing a complex and elaborated system of ones own history and mythology is one significant characteristic of the artists of this younger generation,.

FICTITIOUS CHARACTERS

In this time of political awakening and upheavel at the end of the 80s, when a boom of exhibitions of Russian artists started in the west, Zakharov developed a system of different fictitious characters, whom he assigned specific positions within his installations following a strict hierarchy. Characters like the One-Eyed-Jack, the Dwarf, the Gardener, Madame Shlyuz or Peter the Pioneer. Depending on the character an eyepatch conceals a certain part of the face, that’s how he marks them and embodies them in his own person.
Vadim Zakharov picked up the dicourse of the disappearing and continioued it in the mimikri, in concealing the artist’s identity behind a mask of fictitious characters. But as concealing, also departing and disappearing are unavoidably accompanied by the question of identity. In this context it has to be mentioned, that most of the artists of the 70s and 80s were struggling with the question wether they should emigrate. Those who did stay felt intensively the gap and the emptiness left by the emigrants, those who departed experienced a change of their identity. From 1974 up to 1989 Vitali Komar, Alexander Melamid, Viktor Pivovarov, Oskar Rabin, Leonid Sokov, Michail Tschernyschov, Boris Groys, Ilya Kabakov, Yuri Albert and a lot more left the Sovjetunion.
Originally the term “Noma” meant a territorial unit in ancient Egypt, referring to the name of the dismembered body of Osiris, whose bodyparts were lying in certain territorial areas. This metaphor is appropriate to describe the situation of NOMA after 1989, where many members of this collective body were scattered all over the Western world, every bodypart being in an other territorial unit.
But NOMA was a system derriving its identity not only from the friendship-relations and internal networks, but also from the difference and alterity to a bigger system, the Sovjet society. In the years 1989 respectively 1992 this “cultural”, sozioeconomic context, which constituted this necessary difference broke away.
The process of dissolution, of the fragmentation of the Circle of Moscow Conceptualists leads viceversa to a shattering of identity of the artists. NOMA was perceived, as I already mentioned, not just as a community, but as a family, a collective body and this body experienced its dismembering and scattering.

PASTOR

In 1989 Vadim Zakharov emigrated to Germany, but he was, as he writes, like so many of his collegues not prepared for the dynamic and rhythm of the Western system of art production, and many were broken by this experience.
In 1992 he founded the publishing house Pastor Zond and four years later he donned the pastor’s robe for the first time, the robe of the shepherd, who tries to gather his artist colleagues like scattered sheeps. He published the journal Pastor, which is embedded in the tradition of the samizdat publications and the MANI-files and appears meanwhile once a year in a limited edition of 100 copies (in the beginning it were about 30 copies). Every issue, to which artists, writers and philosophers are invited to contribute, is dedicated to a certain topic that refers to the time of the glorious existing of NOMA.
In the foreword to the first issue Zakharov writes: „As Pastor of Cologne I would like to understand this and the following issues of the Pastor […] as a homely-motherly bridge between people, who are close to each other, and those, who are not” . “For me the real journal lies in the process and not in the product.”
Zakharov has virtually reunited the circle of Moscow Conceptualists, giving the geographically seperated artists a platform where they could continue their dialogues and discussions. From 1989 on he is collecting material on the activities of Moscow conceptualist artists in the West and has filmed their exhibitions, performances and readings. Up to now he has collected more than 100 video pieces.
From the early 1980 s on also an art collection started to grow and Zakharov amounted especially at the beginning to “nothing more than a coat-rack” where the artists who left their country hung all kinds of materials. In course of his publishing activity he received many works from artists for his Pastor, which they never asked back, leaving them as gifts. In his book about the Logic of the Collection Boris Groys writes that identity shall be defined “as a specific cultural form in the context of other cultural forms” . Only those who were collected and presented by a museum were granted identity. But so far there still exists no museum of contemporary art in Russia, which had a collection of Russian art up from the 1960s.
So the archivist, publishing and collecting activities of Zakharov have to be recognized, especially in the early years, as a way of keeping alive the specific structure of the circle of Moscow Conceptualists, to preserve their identity, which they partially derrived from it. This includes especially the identity of Vadim Zakharov himself, who is continously embedding his own works into this system and into this collection.

FLIGHT OF THE PROPHET ZECHARIAH, 1992

In the context of the project Kunst Heimat Kunst (art homeland art) curated by Dr. Werner Fenz for the steirischer herbst 1992 Vadim Zakharov carried out two performances, which paradigmatically show the inclusion of his archivist activity into his art.
The homeland-project intended, that the invited artists realize projects on certain places they had chosen as their homeland. Zakharov picked out the castle grounds Eybesfeld near Jöss and got the owner, an acquaintance of him, to send him a documentation of its history and a photographic stocktaking of the topography. The owner had years ago made 101 photographies from the trees, the surrounding and the different buildings of his family estate. Zakharov took the photographies and reconstructed the locations and the direction in which the photographs were made and buried 101 computer discs with the full text of the Book of Zechariah at these places.
Participants at the performance, which he called Flight of the Prophet Zechariah have been hundred friends and inhabitants from the near village, whom he placed where the photographies were taken. That means, that this community of people from the surroundings were the keepers of the secret informations on the buried discs. They were the visible parts of his concealed archive. What follows was a long waiting, the waiting for the flight of the prophet. Standing in the rain with their heads up to the sky they were waiting for the artist, who approached in a tiny yellow piper, making three rounds over the grounds, vanishing again in the clouds. The artist wasn’t seen any more that evening.

PASTOR’S FLOWERS, 1992

Previously he had realised an other performance in the same area. On the locations of all those reconstructed perspectives he installed flowers, consisting of a monitor on a wooden pedestal enclosed by a corolla made of cardboard. The whole huge area was wired up and at midnight, when all the guests appeared the monitors started to shine. The visitors walked through a park hearing birds chirping in the trees and a brooke murmuring but only from a hidden tape. Out of the calyx, on the monitors, they could see pictures and videos of strange people and situations, they were not able to understand. All the important things these persons seemed to communicate remained unclear, it was all Russian.
Zakharov has installed his archive in a park, in a more or less artificial garden, associated with some kind of utopic landscape. And just for a little while, during the steirischer herbst and just at a specific time, we were able to see and hear a bunch of people, connected to each other, whom we did not understand. And once again the artist was missing.
In the following years Zakharow permanently integrated his Pastor-project into his installations.

PASTOR KILLED BY BROODTHAERS, 1997

In 1997 the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart invited 20 international artists to get into a dialogue with its collection of contemporary art. Every participant received an index of the artworks without any pictures, from which they should choose these pieces they wanted to work with. Zakharov in a way refused to choose, taking the first and the last in the list. For a pastor it’s not surprising that he took the first one and the last one, not alpha and omega, it happened to be Max Ackermann and Zush. As if he would have known about the dangerous suction a collection could develop he clung to the frames of the outer edges gazing carefully in. Like in the dealing with its own collection he didn’t try to recode it or to open new contexts, but he put his own work in relation to the collection, embedding himself into the collection. He fixed a red rubber band between the painting by Ackermann and the picture by Zush and stretched it with a work by Marcel Broodthaers taking directly aim at the Pastor’s robe. Pastor killed by Broodthaers. But it is not so much Broodthaers or his piece of work, it is the whole collection which took aim at the Pastor, the red line from the beginning to the end of the collection has turned against him. “The Pastor has to be killed” writes Zakharov in a short statement on the installation. “The Pastor is a trap for the Pastor himself.” One intention of this unconventional way of presentation surely was the question of the legitimicy of the collection, what immediately must have confronted Zakharov with the purpose and aim of his own collection. “Do we want to collect or to be collected” raises Groys the decisive question. The collection (and presentation) of Moscow conceptionalist art gives Zakharov and his artist-friends a permanent context, to which they can relate their art and where they can embed themselves. It’s evident that he derrives an important part of his identity and his selfconsciousness as a Russian artist from his collection. But collecting itself not just consumes a lot of his time he could have used for his own art production, a collector is also under a permanent change. “His identity flows” Boris Groys writes and therefore Zakharov’s collection is in a way contraproductive to his intention to strengthen his identity as an artist. “The Pastor has to be killed”, because he is responsible that the artist Vadim Zakharov isn’t recognized anymore through this collection.
„The archive is a hit-man […] the artist is always the victim. But sometimes the victim kills the archive”

THE SENTENCE OF THE MADELEINE-SANDCAKE, 1997

In 1997 Vadim Zakharov was again invited to Graz to the steirischer herbst where he took the Madelein-Sandcake from Marcel Prousts On the Quest for the Lost Time to the court and sentenced it.
On the Quest for the Lost Time by Marcel Proust is often characterized as an artwork of remembrance, where the lost time, in the race with ones own passing lifetime, is tried to be recovered through remembering. The dialogue with the past via remembrance is initiated by optical, olfactory and aural impressions. The most famous example is the Madeleine-episode, where the author described, how the flavour of a sandcake put into a lime-blossom-tea brings back the glorious time of youth.
Vadim Zakharov has tested out this effect of the Madeleine-Sandcake with his artist friends, Chuikov, Pepperstein, Monastyrskij, Albert, Prigov, Groys among them, who also partially emigrated to the West and who are also somehow in search of their lost time. Immediately after they tasted the Sandcake with the tea they were supposed to write down their impressions, which were collected in a book (edited by Pastor Zond), which could be seen as the collective subconscious of the Moscow Conceptionalism.
The process of searching for the lost time was took to the court and ended with the capital punishment of the Madeleine-Sandcake. Concerning the declaration of the judgement Zakharov introducingly writes that he wants “to start with the suspicion, that Madeleine contains not only just a part of the souls of Proust or Swann […] but also parts of other egos – dozens, hundreds, thousands of other egos . “The sandcake is the receptacle of what Jung calls the ‘collective unconscious’.”
The past has the ability to appear spontaneously in ones mind and to break into ones immediate present. Vadim Zakharov has sentenced the memories condensed in the Sandcake Madeleine. The archive, like the collection a place, where memories were preserved in a material form has had too much influence on him, invaded his ordinary everyday and deceived him with the illusion of a possible restoration of this time. The artist has made the “punctual archive” to be killed. On the 28. Septembre at 19.57 a sniper from the Austrian police forces shot the Madeleine Sandcake. Months later a requiem by Ivan Sokolov in the honour of Madeleine was performed.
Yesterday I got a picture by Zakharov from an exhibition he did in 1998 in the Gallery Carla Stützer: The Last Point of the Publisher Pastor Zond. You can see the Pastor evidently dead, lying on a red air mattress, a gun and a black point above his head. There is no eyepatch on his nose, the characteristic attribute of the Pastor, but he wears dark sunglases. With this photography he planned to end his activities as Pastor. But he still continues…
I would like to skip now the following years in his work and come to speak about the installation he did at the big exhibition Moscow-Berlin 1950-2000 in 2003.

THE HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN ART – FROM THE RUSSIAN AVANTGARDE UP TO THE MOSCOW SCHOOL OF CONCEPTUALISM, 2003

For this installation Zakharov has lined up five files with a height of 360 cm each one dedicated to a specific periode of the Russin art-history of the 20th century. You are supposed to walk into the files, which are equipped with various archive material, photo-reproductions, prints and small sculptures, only the file which is dedicated to the Russian Avantgarde is closed. Out of the this file for utopic art and society concepts you are able to hear snoring. You may be reminded on Ilya Kabakovs installation The Red Wagon, which also depicts the Russian art-history of the 20th century. But Zakharov once again derrives a piece of art from his archivist-activity, portraying the Russian art not just as archive but as put into archive files, closed, musealised. The Circle of Moscow Conceptualist seems to be embedded in its cultural context and historically fixed. But a change, a shift has taken place in the dialogue between Zakharov and his archive. It’s not him alone anymore who is in danger to vanish in the archive of the Russian art-history, every spectator is now at risk to get lost into it. In 2003 Zakharov together with Haralampi Oroschakoff presented his collection for the first time to the public in the Kupferstichkabinett of the State’s Museums Berlin. And they both donated a part of their collection to the museum with the assignment of establishing “a first permanent place of research in the museum context for this important movement” .

MONUMENT FOR THE ADORNO-PLACE IN FRANKFURT; 2004

In June 2002 the City of Frankfurt announced a competition for a monument for the Adorno-Place, on the occasion of the 100th birthday of the philospher in September 2004. Six artists were invited to the competition, among them Daniel Buren, Jean-Luc Cornec, Joseph Kosuth, Horst Hoheisel, Nedko Solakov and Vadim Zakharov, whose concept was finally accepted with only one vote against it.
The monument to the honour of Theodor W. Adorno includes a (writing) desk, an open book, a lamp, a metronome and a chair under a glascube. The cube itself stands on a labyrinth made of white and black marble in which sentences from Adornos Minima Moralia and his Aesthetic Theorie are carved.
What you see is not just the intimate privacy of the working room, where a large part of the works, for which Adorno is honoured, were written, it is the emptiness itself that is exhibited. Because Adorno himself is not depicted, he is absent.
Because Adorno himself is not depicted, he is absent. The official comemorating is not dedicated to the man Theodor W. Adorno, but “in the name of a thinker to his thoughts” . as Harald Fricke stated in the TAZ. But how could the process of thinking and reflecting be visualized? After all it is invisible and eludes structurally every visual representation. In his speech at the handing-over of the monument Boris Groys said, that in the process of thinking one is “practically absent” . “While thinking, one has always the impression that the own body is disappearing”.
Vadim Zakharov got the assignment to preserve the memory of a critical mind, of his work in times of crisis and of his worriless time in this city. Recurring to his own ambivalent work of disappearing and preserving he has depicted the emptiness, the absence of the thinker and the fleetingness of thoughts in the permanent rhythm of time. The lamp is burning, the book open, the metronome still gives the rhythm, but the glasscube is empty.

CONCLUSIO

The specific topos of the disappearing, though never limited to, was nevertheless closly related to the artists of the Moscow Conceptualism. In the time of deeprooted changes not only this circle of friends but also their discourse was about to disappear. In his attempt to preserve the vanishing context and ties of this sworn community and therefore also the ongoing of the internal discourses Zakharov gets more and more consumed by the activity of collecting the past and preserving the memories. The disappearing of the subject in the sources of its identity?
His dealing with the disappearing is not only specific to the Russian art context but also lies within the experience of emigration. Again I want to pick up a quotation by Boris Groys who said, that the emigrant is “a kind of ready-made, being exposed in the foreign parts as a strange object and exactly therefore remaining invisible in the end” . This invisibility, the status of the permanent disappearing, Zakharov compensates by being someone conspicious, the Pastor of Cologne, Pastor Zond. The evolving struggle for identity between Vadim Zakharov and Pastor Zond is reflected in the confrontation between the artist and his archive. In this enduring dialogue over the years a shift has taken place from the personal to the public. Referring again to the monument in honour of Theodore Adorno, the absence, the invisibility, and Adorno also made the experience of emigration was embodied in the public space – a monument for the disappearing, in a double sense: to the thinking and for the emigrants. For practical reasons a tunnel was made under the monument to get inside the cube to keep the things going. From time to time you just have to come out under the desk to see if still nobody is there.