If there is no archive without consignation in an external place which assures the possibility of memorization, of repetition, of reproduction, or of reimpression, then we must also remember that repetition itself […] remains, accordingly to Freud, indissociable from the death drive. And thus from destruction. […]
The archive always works, and a priori, against itself.
Jacques Derrida Archive Fever.
The archive as cemetery is the potent metaphor at the core of Vadim Zakharov’s Postscript after RIP: A Video Archive of Moscow Artists’ Exhibitions (1989–2014), shown at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow. In order to enter the archive, i. e. to grasp this transient video-documentation stretched over the past 25 years, the viewer has to perform an act of unintended devotion, by stepping on a green carpet of plastic grass, walking along the regular rows of lying, tomb-like folders and reclining on each of them to peep into the porthole-screen.
Zakharov’s installation is, of course, the last visible incarnation of the overwhelming drive toward accumulation and capitalization of memory experienced by Moscow conceptualists over the last 3 decades. From a different viewpoint, it can be interpreted as a mirror image of a precise time in Soviet underground culture, when, due to the impossibility for unofficial artists to exhibit theirs works, an archive – especially if conceived in a portable form – could be perceived as a substitute for collective shows. Such a compensative functions dates back to the 4 MANI (Moscow Archive of New Art) folders edited between February 1981 and 1982 in 5 copies. Each folder contained up to 44 envelopes, each of them devoted to one participant. Artists were requested to insert pictures or texts in their personal envelopes in order to present their activity – thus to make it public— in a narrow circle of colleagues and friends.
This elementary, open-ended schema inspired a surprisingly large range of solutions, reflecting different ideas about how the self-published archive should look like. For instance, Oleg Vasil’ev and Erik Bulatov provided traditional photo-reproductions of their paintings, whereas Ilia Kabakov, Igor’ Makharevich, Ivan Chuikov and Boris Orlov focused on the contextual frame, by taking pictures of their artworks on the background of their Moscow ateliers.
Whilst all the aforementioned artists conceived the MANI archive as a self-made substitute for a typographic catalogue, other contributions radically put in discussion the concept of the archive as an inventory of “external” artworks existing outside the archive itself. This attitude is made clear by a number of oeuvres explicitly conceived for the folder, like for instance the playful series created by the duo Leonid Tishkov/Nikolay Kozlov [ill.], or the tautological series Painting by Mikhail Roshal’ and Gennadij Donskoj [ill.], based on equivalence between concepts expressed in titles and their material realization, as exemplified by A canvas deprived of its virginity and Canvas, oil.
Even more radically, some other participants to take some ironic distance from the very intent of the self-published archive, that is providing a trustworthy image of the Moscow unofficial art scene. In June 1981 Zakharov himself and Viktor Skersis inserted into the fourth issue a number of non-existing, imaginary artists – namely I. Volodin, E. Volodina, E. Shnicer – whose works, in a way, looked like a parody of both conceptualism and Sots Art [ill.]. Mystification conjures here in creating here a more complex idea of archive, where selection and consignation cannot be separated from the creation of an alternative reality. A similar departure from archive as reliable documentation is to be seen in cases where MANI self-archivists frustrate viewers’ expectations, by denying them access to what the envelope could potentially contain, as in the case of Donskoy’s Self-censorship [#4], or Lev Rubinshtejn’s tautological Envelope [#3, ill. ]. In Derridean terms, the archive is turned here into a tomb of its own.
The author wants to thank Forschungsstelle Osteuropa an der Universitaet Bremen for the photos (f. 01-66 MANI).
Valentina Parisi holds a PhD in Slavic Studies (2005). She has researched as EURIAS fellow at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (2014-2015) and at the Central European University, Budapest (2012-2013) on topics related to Soviet unofficial culture. She is the author of the volume Il lettore eccedente. Edizioni periodiche del samizdat sovietico, 1956-1990 (Bologna, Il Mulino, 2013).