Art Exhibition Encourages Discussion About Revolution During Russian Revolution Centennial

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Propositions on Revolution (Slogans for a Future), installation view at Krannert Art Museum, 2017. Photo by Julia Nucci Kelly
Propositions on Revolution (Slogans for a Future), installation view at Krannert Art Museum, 2017. Photo by Julia Nucci Kelly. Featuring Tacita Dean, The Russian Ending, 2001. Gravure on Hahnemuhle Butten 350 gr. Edition of 35. Printed by Niels Borch Jensen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Published by Peter Blum Edition, New York. Courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery, and Marian Goodman Gallery. © Tacita Dean.

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Coco Fusco, a/k/a Mrs. George Gilbert, 2004. Video. Courtesy of Video Data Bank, www.vdb.org, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. © Coco Fusco
Coco Fusco, a/k/a Mrs. George Gilbert, 2004. Video. Courtesy of Video Data Bank, www.vdb.org, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. © Coco Fusco

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Chto Delat’, Partisan Songspiel: Belgrade Story (detail), 2009. Video. Courtesy of the artists.
Chto Delat’, Partisan Songspiel: Belgrade Story (detail), 2009. Video. Courtesy of the artists.
Jodi Heckel - University of Illinois News Bureau
Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — An exhibition opening at Krannert Art Museum this week uses the centennial of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and contemporary artworks to spark conversations about the broader concept of revolution.

Propositions on Revolution (Slogans for a Future)” treats each artwork as a “proposition on revolution” that encourages viewers to think how changes in power and perception come about.

Co-writing slogans was a working method of early 20th century political organizers. The writing process was a device for thinking about their situation together and deciding how to move forward. The slogans were the product of collective writing and were intended to be debated by the group, said Kristin Romberg, a University of Illinois Art History professor who curated the exhibition. The art exhibition comes out of Romberg’s research on Russian constructivism, a movement that emerged in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.

“I’m interested in people thinking about their relationship to the social and political environment, both being constrained by it and helping to shape and form it, about how day-to-day life affects the world,” Romberg said. “Artworks can give people some concrete form to think about and talk about issues. It helps them to think through another side of things.”

All the artworks in the Krannert Art Museum exhibition were made after 2000, and four of the six are videos. They were selected for their potential as starting points for conversation, Romberg said.

A Russian collective called Chto Delat’ – the title of a 19th-century utopian socialist novel by Nikolai Chernyshevsky – produced a trilogy of videos that dramatize contemporary political struggles. The highly theatrical portrayals use devices such as a Greek chorus and stereotypical characters to politicize a current event and engage viewers to become active observers. The video in the exhibition, “Partisan Songspiel: A Belgrade Story,” is about the removal of Roma people from a Belgrade neighborhood in the late 1990s. The “proposition on revolution” for this artwork is: “Revolution becomes a possible narrative when spectators become partisans.”

The exhibition also features a series of 20 photogravures by British artist Tacita Dean. She made the prints from postcards depicting disasters that she found at European flea markets. When making the prints, Dean etched notes onto the plates with affective descriptions that also suggest film directions for lighting or camera movements. The series of images is titled “The Russian Ending,” after a Danish film industry practice of making two endings for a film – a happy ending for American audiences and a tragic ending for Russian audiences. The “proposition on revolution” for this artwork is: “Revolution is choosing how we tell the stories that determine how things end.”

The exhibition also includes:

  • “a/k/a Mrs. George Gilbert,” a film by Coco Fusco that uses documentary footage to tell a fictional story about the search for black activist Angela Davis in 1970. The film explores how blindnesses and attachments shape how specific bodies circulate within structures of power.
  • “Revolutionizing Revolution,” a TED Talk-style video by Jennifer Moon that uses the language of the self-help genre to discuss a revolution from within.
  • Two tapestries created by performance artist Tameka Norris, from bedsheets and linens salvaged after Hurricane Katrina. The fabric, stitched together and stretched on wooden frames, “suggests violences, kindnesses and rifts in the social fabric revealed in moments of crisis.”
  • A five-channel video work showing an ad agency group brainstorming ideas for creating a commercial to promote Communism. The agency was hired by The Propeller Group, Vietnam-based artists who were intrigued by the idea of Communist countries rebranding themselves in world politics. The finished commercial is also presented.

The exhibition is part of a series of programs at the University of Illinois that will commemorate the Russian Revolution and look at its global impact over the past 100 years. The series, “1917: Ten days that shook the world / 2017: Ten days that shake the campus,” explores the aftermath of the revolution through lectures, a symposium, film, music, theater, poetry, an archival exhibition and a new undergraduate history course, in addition to the Krannert Art Museum exhibition.