Cosmos Cosmetics: Unresting Memoryscapes and Corpofictions

Screening #3,

COSMOS COSMETICS is the promise of a neon sign on the rooftop of a repurposed military building somewhere deep in the East.* Its flickering lights announce the headquarters of the infamous agency for spatial and corporeal exploration and enhancement, which – as we soon learn – are both a function of time travel. Three Soviet cosmonauts created the COSMOS COSMETICS agency on their first return from cosmic space in a prolonged state of mind alteration: Rumor goes that they either refused to use Phenibut** to soothe their claustrophobic experience when confronted with the unlimited reality of the universe and the Earth (and their borders on their return into Soviet realism), or they took too much of the drug, with their space madness becoming irreversible. To this day, the range of services offered by COSMOS COSMETICS stimulates intersections and movements between bodies, spaces, objects, and multilayered memories.

 

Through a constellation of artistic explorations of the post-socialist universe, our chapter for D’EST, COSMOS COSMETICS: Unresting Memoryscapes and Corpofictions, pays homage to the counter-cosmetics and deviant cosmologies of these three women.* The ancient word kόσμος means “world” or “the universe considered as a system with an order and pattern.” The global political shifts historicized between the 1980s and 1990s were amongst several in a long series of attempts to change the world order and its social, ecological, economic, cultural, and aesthetic patterns. However, there was never a consensus on the principles or procedures according to which such changes should occur.

Indeed, the realities of post-socialism teach us that cosmetic protocols rejuvenate totalitarian dynamics and eliminate unwanted histories. Diverse experiences and socio-political environments of post-/socialist life, trauma, dissidence, commons, and solidarity have been exiled into subcutaneous dimensions. The selected video art and experimental film works are concerned with architectural, bodily, and phantasmatic materializations of these internalized mnemonic and bio-political regimes.

The aesthetic techniques and technologies deployed at COSMOS COSMETICS revitalize the porosities and flow between layers of experience. Applying reanimation practices from various socio-political contexts aims to glean the different politics of refurbishing and reshuffling the world into hegemonic structures. If the monolithic fictions of nationalism, capitalism, patriarchy, and coloniality rely on procedures of cleansing and sealing (complex narratives and forms of life), then how to contaminate such ideological cosmetics? And how to interrupt the straight lines they project into a seemingly unavoidable present/future?

A counter-cosmetic repertoire of fog, wind, viruses, myths, and magic courses through the works – soft powers that address and unsettle such smokescreen histories and their monumental affirmation in architectures of false memory, borders, and dispossession. Re-appropriating smoke and screen, the diffuse and unstable protagonists of COSMOS COSMETICS queer dominant structures of ideology. And they elude the neo-/colonial monuments through the very counter-figures and uncanny interstices that always also inhabit them.

 

*A place that moves further away the more you approach it, until you’ve circled the planet once and understand where you are really heading is the profundity of inner or outer space.

**Phenibut (beta-phenyl-gamma-aminobutyric acid HCl) is a neuropsychotropic drug discovered and introduced into clinical practice in Russia in the 1960s. At first it was developed for Russian cosmonauts under the name Bifren. It has anxiolytic and nootropic (cognition-enhancing) effects. Phenibut is widely used in Russia to relieve tension, anxiety, and fear; to improve sleep in psychosomatic or neurotic patients; as well as function as a pre- or post-operative medication. It is also used in therapy for disorders characterized by asthenia and depression, post-traumatic stress, stuttering, and vestibular disorders. In Tbilisi, pharmacies sell the drug, which has become especially popular amongst young ravers. In the Georgian capital, police roundups framed as “drug raids” released a wave of protests called the rave revolution in 2018. The movement aimed to counteract state attempts to destabilize and criminalize Georgian club culture, which provides some of the singular safe spaces for LGBTQIA* people in the region.

  • In 1957, Roland Barthes stated that in “Western” mythology the USSR would be a world halfway between the Earth and Mars to exemplify that the communist world was considered as foreign as another planet. Similar to Barthes’ literary method in his Mythologies book, curator, filmmaker and artist Xandra Popescu scripted three semi-fictional short stories to introduce major paradigms of her screening program O’ Mystical East and West.

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  • Screening Preview

    Preview: THE SUSPENSION AND EXCESS OF TIME

  • The curatorial selection The Suspension and Excess of Time explores the role of time within a period of radical political, social, and economical change. The selected video works focus on the changes different societies were going through during the Perestroika era, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the soviet empire. Paying tribute to speculative temporalities, curators Becker and Seehusen will trace people’s everyday experiences in the former “East” and “West” before and after 1989 / 1991.

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  • The changing role and function of language before and after the “transition” cannot be discussed without considering the dimension of authoritarian speech acts in the last phase of socialism. Anthropologist Alexei Yurchak shares the observation that during the authoritarian speech act, sign and reference, language and gesture, word and action merge into each other. This thesis is the foundation for an understanding of the variety of linguistic and performative experiments in post-socialist video art. The curators will focus on video works that reflect upon shifts in language and meaning and employ diverse silent, verbal, performative, activist, and other strategies to discuss collective and personal memory, identity, power relations, gender roles, and socio-political change.

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  • Political protocol tends to dispossess, overwrite, and refurbish unwanted narratives. Parallel to this, there are new agencies that enhance the intersections, reciprocities, and movements between bodies, spaces, objects, and memories. The video art and experimental film works of COSMOS COSMETICS: Unresting Memoryscapes and Corpofictions are concerned with architectural, corporeal, and phantasmatic materializations of internalized mnemonic, and bio-political regimes. Meanwhile they address surface porosities and subcutaneous layers of post-socialist cities. Hence this chapter of screenings in D’EST brings together artistic strategies and methods for unsettling, decontaminating, and queering artificial mono-histories, which stem from the urge to untag and distance the subject from the constraints of conformity, imposed belonging to a certain ethnic group or community, and identitarian politics in general.

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  • The chapter examines the body as a collective, as a singular entity, as a social choreography of an alliance of states, as an organless, cognitive-capitalist, cerebral network, as a corporeal reading instrument of past, former socialist indices, as a place of textual and discursive inscription, but also as a genuine place of affective encounters and material practices. The curators focus on video works and films that flare up the affective, somaesthetic, relational and transformative potentials of the body after 1989 / 1991.

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  • Screening #5

    We are Family

    Entwining autobiographical, historical, and fictional narratives, this screening program examines generational, personal, and political frictions, breaks and entanglements, taking place in the dystopian context of post-1989. The tension bears down on the sphere of the personal and the political maintained through the relationship of the four figures: the figure of Neighbor, the figure of Mother, the figure of Lover and the figure of Other.

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  • Screening #6

    ReTopia

    The screening chapter ReTopia acknowledges “post-socialism” not only as a continental but also as a global phenomenon, though with palpable regional specificity and intensity. It looks at transitional shifts and modes of remembrance of historical processes that evoke forms – rejected, outmoded, disposed from power, gender political, architectural, and even full of potential. Without being afraid of utopian ideology, it looks back and forth and sideways in search of radically different futures. Both curators, Bettina Knaup and Katja Kobolt ask these questions against the backdrop of their individual and collective endeavors to create “temporary archives”: re.act.feminism (2009-2013), a travelling performing archive Bettina Knaup initiated with Beatrice E. Stammer; and Perpetuum Mobile. The Artotheque, a collection of videos and other digitized works initiated by feminist curatorial collective Red Mined within the Living Archive (2011-2015) through the simple act of giving.

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