TOOTHLESS RESISTANCE: THE FRIENDSHIP TREE. 2021
Film still. Video. 2K, 07’58’’
Zeeburgerdijk 25P, 1093 SK Amsterdam
Nederlandse tekst is binnenkort beschikbaar
Utopian ideas about new forms of life often appear on the ruins of societies collapsed after the recent crisis, when they are about to resurrect, and the new world is to be built.
At the end of the first third of the 20th century, after the October revolution, the First World War and the Civil War in the USSR, and after the First World War and the peak of the Great Depression in the United States, both so called ‘camps’ experienced economic difficulties. However, a period of active scientific development, the formation of new disciplines and branches of knowledge has come in the world. One of these new branches was genetics, which, in turn, contributed to the development of plant breeding. And in the 30s, it was breeding that became extremely important for the rise of the agricultural sectors of the world economy.
The Soviet Union was focused on achieving self-sufficiency in growing various types of fruit plants that would provide food for the country. So Soviet botanists were actively engaged in conducting breeding experiments and creating new varieties. In the USA, there was a problem of dried soil and dust storms on the Great Plains in the early 30s. Farmers could not work on the land and provide themselves and the country with agricultural products. So the US Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace was faced with the task of restoring arid territories and saving the country from famine.
The exhibition at Tilde, which will open during Amsterdam Art Week, explores two utopian botanical projects both initiated in 1934.
The work of artistic duo Pejvak is telling the story of an expedition led by artist and scientist Nikolay Roerich and commissioned by the US Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace. Roerich and Wallace had a double agenda. Wallace regarded Roerich as his spiritual leader and secretly supported the painter’s mission to establish a Utopian society based on high spirituality and cooperative labor, known as the Sacred Union of the East. While Roerich in turn was supposed to collect drought-resistant plants that would be able to save American soil.
The work of Polina Kanis explores an ideological project accidentally started by Soviet scientist Fyodor Zorin in the botanical garden of Sochi. He planted a wild lemon tree and then grafted other citrus fruits onto its crown. A tradition grew up: throughout decades prominent international figures added grafts of different citrus varieties to the tree. Today there are more than 630 of these additional shoots, representing 167 different countries and a utopian vision of political and ecological symbiosis.
Against the background of this new world creation, new geopolitical claims were also being outlined. Ideological apparatuses of both imperialist blocs started shaping at the time, which later, having become sufficiently developed, entered into force as weapons of the Cold War.
But then, in 1934, it was as if everything could have gone differently…
Wallace could have become Roosevelt’s vice president for a second term in March of 1944, then become president after Roosevelt’s death in April, then never given the order to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and prevented extremes of the Cold War.
Stalin could have not retained power and not created the NKVD in July 1934, which became an institution that fostered Russian civil cruelty. The assassination attempt on Kirov in December 1934 could have not been crowned with success and not resulted in the beginning of the great terror in 1937, and the creation of a new propaganda and repressive machines, which later have given rise to Putin and his ilk.
Would the conceived utopias have become true then? Would have not these alternative developments been a utopia in itself?
Nevertheless, paradoxically, these utopian projects in the field of international cooperation and the commonwealth have been initiated just then, before the beginning of the new Soviet and then new Russian imperialism, which horrifying start of ending we are witnessing now.
In Polina Kanis’ film, the narrator asks the question: Why is the Tree of Friendship still alive?
But the fact is: it is still alive. And the Roerich expedition still succeeded, as he managed to collect no less than 900 samples of drought-resistant plants. So maybe there is still a hope? Among the people of small homelands, among the partisans, among whom “not only people, but also the forest, mountain, and grass, and animals all rise together to fight1″.
1 Oxana Timofeeva. How to Love a Homeland. Kayfa ta, 2020.
Polina Kanis (1985, Leningrad) is an artist, based in Amsterdam. Her works interrogate the suspended moment and expose the dialectical relationship between action and non-action, dissolving the boundary between human and non-human. The artist aims to create shifts in accepted temporalities to decentralize the ‘normal’ human temporal perspective. She considers re-describing and re-sensing our surroundings as crucial for developing an alternative outlook on the planetary.
Her work has been presented in numerous solo and group exhibitions, film festivals and film screenings, including a solo exhibition at the Haus der Kunst Munich (2017), the VISIO program at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (2019), the parallel program of the Manifesta 10 (2015), at the Ural Industrial Biennial, Garage Museum (2014, 2018), the VI Moscow International Biennale of Young Art (2015), the Hamburg Short Film Festival (2019), The Contemporary Art Festival Survival Kit, Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, Riga (2020), Artist’s Film International Program (2021-2022) and many others. Kanis was an artist-in-residence at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten programs in Amsterdam (2017-2018) and ISCP New York (2020).
Pejvak is the long-term collaboration between Felix Kalmenson and Rouzbeh Akhbari. Through their multivalent, intuitive approach to research and living they find themselves in a convergence and entanglement with likeminded collaborators, histories and various geographies.
The most recent Pejvak solo exhibitions were held at Z33 Museum, Hasselt (2021), State Silk Museum, Tbilisi (2019) and Hay Art Cultural Center, Yerevan (2018). Pejvak films were presented at Sao Paulo Internationl Film Festival, Kyiv International Film Festival, Istanbul International Experimental Film Festival and Sharjah Art Foundation. Recent residencies of the duo include M HKA / Van Abbemuseum Research Fellowship, part of L’Internationale, Antwerp/Eindhoven (2021-22), Jan Van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht (2020-21), ACSL, Yerevan/Meghri and Si Shang Art Museum (2017).
Rouzbeh Akhbari (1992, Tehran) is an artist working in video installation and film. His practice is research-driven and usually exists at the intersections of political economy, critical architecture and planning. Through a delicate examination of the violences and intimacies that occur at the boundaries of lived experience and constructed histories, Akhbari uncovers the minutiae of power that organizes and regiments the world around us.
His work has been presented at numerous exhibition and film festivals including Fundacao Amelia de Melo, Lisbon, Blackwood Gallery, Missisauga (2021), IDFA, Shefield Docfest (2020), University of Toronto Art Museum, Toronto (2018), Paadmaan-Platrom 3 project, Sao-Paulo, Art Science Museum, Singapore (2019), OCAD University, Toronto (2016, 2017), Y+ Contemporary, Scarborough and Art Mur, Montreal (2016) among others.
Felix Kalmenson (1987, Leningrad) is an artist whose practice navigates installation, video and performance. Kalmenson’s work variably narrates the liminal space of a researcher’s and artist’s encounter with landscape and archive. By bearing witness to everyday life, and hardening the more fragile vestiges of private and collective histories through their work, Kalmenson gives themselves away to the cadence of a poem, always in flux.
Kalmenson has exhibited internationally including at Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, Ramallah (2021), Maclaren Art Centre, Barrie (2020), Kim? Contemporary Art Center, Riga (2018), Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2018), Pari Nadimi Gallery, Toronto (2015, 2017), The Sculpture Center, Cleveland, Success, Perth, Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach (2016) and The New Gallery, Calgary (2014) among others.