Friday, December 04, 2009

The End of Ideology?

After the Soviet Empire dissolved in the upheavals of the late eighties and early nineties and the subsequent dominance of global capitalism as the political and economic force of our modern times we believed that the old ideological struggle between left and right had ended. In this vacuum of non-ideologically placed political pragmatism a new global political stability would be created. In the ensuing couple of decades the dominant market based global economy and its associated power systems were to have provided a new stable global structure with which all of the worlds citizens can rely. We now understand that it is not that simple, this supposed stability has still not stopped terrors of many wars, has not lifted the worlds poorest citizens out of poverty across all continents and has seen an increase in the widening gap of wealth inequality both within nations populations and between the established economic powers and poorer nations. New ideological conflicts have been created and enhanced to fill the old left-right
struggles of the late 19th and twentieth centuries.

The exhibition Re-Imagining October at the Calvert 22 gallery displays works by artists from the former Soviet states and artists from outside these states who had visited the former Soviet Union. Most of the works in this exhibition are stunningly produced and accomplished. Natalia Nosova's beautiful black and white photographs from her series “Baku 2007” document the scratched graffiti on the walls of monumental architecture in the city Baku. One stone-carved wall depicts a seemingly idealised revolution era scene of workers united which is now defaced and seemingly irrelevant with the passing of time. Alexander Soukhorov's “Russian Ark” film of 2002 shows scenes of a grand palace thronging with with the regal and military classes of eighteenth century Russia, the actors glide around in highly orchestrated and costumed scenes of contrived and decadent power. Vadim Zakharov's “Red Square behind Black Square” photographic series are subtly composed with the Black Squares evoking concepts of censorship.
One feels that many of the artists have a love/hate relationship with the Soviet past, the references within much of the imagery in the works shows a pride in the greatness of the old order but also pain at the excesses of the State.

The work that affects most deeply is Kristina Norman's video document of the events that unfolded after her placing of a “Gold Soldier” in the place of the removed “Bronze Soldier” at its original site in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. This site sees the placing of flowers on 'Victory Day' , the 9th of May by Russian inhabitants of the city at what is seen as the grave of Red Army soldiers. For Estonians the statue represented Soviet oppression and occupation and since independence the Russian population of Tallinn see this as a site of Russian identity. In this post Soviet world the integration of all communities into a newly independent Estonia is still a difficult process. Norman's act of the placing of this replica statue was not intended to determine a specific solution or attendant with either Russian or Estonian sympathies but to simply reference the current feelings of alienation of the Russian population of modern Estonia and the continuing need for resolution with the past for both Russians and Estonians. As the film unfolds the events we see as the police arrive to remove the statue and Norman who remains at the scene remind one of the excessive force and implacability of the Soviet era authorities replicated by their Estonian successors.

Beyond the view of the era of the Soviet Union and its history within these works ones thoughts return to the end of that era, the supposed death of ideology and the current global political world. The scenes depicted in Kristina Norman's film do not only evoke memories of Soviet authoritarianism and its new Estonian incarnation but also remind one of the surveillance culture and kettling of demonstrators on London's streets, the aggressive manner of the 'liberating' forces in Iraq towards the civilian population, the suppression of anti-government protestors in post election Iran amongst many others. When the Soviet Union dissolved and the new international political world was imagined we perhaps thought we had seen the last of footage of such excessive authoritarianism by the state but in this new world free of ideology we have seen as much if not more. The old struggle has ended but some methods of that regime remain and have influenced others in their passing from that one nation to many others.

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