Octobriana and the Caves of Russian Underground
The Evening of Marko Peljhan'People of Planet Earth, hear this! We alone are the government of our world'
Velimir Chlebnikov, 1916
Imagine a circle of friends, meeting every four months in an intimate setting. Together they discuss politics, poetics and personal grounds. During their talk the TV is on; the disturbing noise and images from the outside world constantly evades upon their imagination. The friends never agree on anything, not even on a proper name for their ensemble. Still they manage to construct an inspiring intellectual evening, leaving the audience behind in astonishment. Don't be too astound, this is The Evening of Marko Peljhan:
Marko Peljhan is a Slovenian artist/scientist and co-founder of the Makrolab. For his 'Evening of', Marko invited a group of five friends on stage, which inspired him in his work on different moments in time. In order of appearance: Aljosa Abrahamsberg (SI), aka Max Nullo, Brian Springer (US), Ewen Chardronnet (FR) and dramaturge/writer Eda Cufer (SI). Together, this transnational group of nomadic system operators created an inspiring multi-tiered environment for creative communication. The stage in the Van Nelle Fabriek was enclosed by three large projection-screens, showing news feeds from Sarajevo during the Balkan war, signals from an internal Pentagon TV-channel used for military instruction and satellite imagery mapping the surface of the earth. Live signal interceptions from the ether by Max Nullo provided the stage with a sonic and atmospheric setting.
The exchange of thoughts started with Marko Peljhan reading aloud the poetic roots of Makrolab, of which most of the ensemble on stage is or has been involved in. The Makrolab project was born in 1994 during the wars that were raging in the former Yugoslavia. Its initial purpose was to function as an autonomous and mobile performance/tactical media environment. The project was initialized as a response to a poem written by the Russian avant-garde futurist writer Velimir Chlebnikov, whose work is very important for the understanding of the initial motives of Makrolab and the intellectual threshold of the group on stage. Nowadays, Makrolab functions as an ongoing mobile laboratory setup built for the open and integral research and common work of artists, scientists and tactical media workers in the fields of telecommunications, migrations research, weather and climate.
Marko then introduced the theme of discussion for the evening to his friends, sharing his interest in caves and underground worlds with the audience, According to Peljhan, different kinds of caves exist; real historical caves, poetical caves and philosophical ones. Proceeding as a conceptually conspirative ensemble, each member of the group told a personal story, in some way connected to the theme of 'caves'. Brian Springer recollected memories of his father, who excavated a cave in Missouri every weekend for over thirty years. Instead of a treasure, the family dug up a haunted ghost, which, in the search for his diary, possessed Brian's mother. After this puzzling Missouri mystery, Ewen Chardronnet introduced the concept of a metaphorical cave, which encloses us from the outside world. He read aloud a French text, describing 'la condition humaine'; being human is like groping around in a dark cave; even when the human intellect (science) invents ways to measure the depth and height of the cave, it still won't find a way out.
Luckily enough, Slovian dramaturge and writer Eda Cufer lead us through the dark, into the closed and forgotten history of the Russian underground in the fifties and sixties. She recalled the story of a group of communist students, called progressive political pornography (PPP), who practiced passive resistance against the strictly reduced information during the Stalinist regime. In reaction on the free and libertine sexual revolution in the West, small groups in the East gathered in secret, discussing philosophy and politics, whilst indulging in alcohol and free love. Tradition has it that one promiscuous woman in particular, notorious for her experimental sexual sessions, inspired PPP to create a new communist heroin, who would represent what they believed in and would be willing to fight for their ideals. They called her Octobriana, a comic heroine who travels the world getting involved in all manner of bizarre and outrageous adventures, like fighting giant radioactive walruses in Russia or being caught between herds of stampeding Buffalo in China.
But the story did not end there. In 1967 Czech writer Petr Sadecky escaped to the West and claimed he had smuggled out copies of the Octobriana strips, photographs of the PPP and other examples of the group's work. He packaged all of this together into the book, Octobriana And The Russian Underground, which was released in a number of countries during 1971. The dubious authenticity of the book (which has no tangible evidence to prove the contents originated in the Soviet Union) perhaps played a part in the mystification of the group.
Leaning on the conceptually conspirative ensembles of PPP, Marko Peljhan's circle of friends concluded their underground evening with a good avant-gardist tradition: demonstrating the idea of zero point energy (the existence of large quantities of energy in vacuum), a CD was literarily burnt in a microwave oven, setting free the energy inside the object. The shower of sparks in the oven was a spectacular final chord for an evening full of mysterious stories, electromagnetic signals and scintillating ideas.
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