Death is the mistake, according to Nikolai Fedorov. As if, were it not for death, humankind would find a harmonious, immortal utopia in the cosmos. Russian ‘Cosmism’ was the school of thought founded by Fedorov, which went on to influence Russian, Soviet, and post-Soviet art, Science Fiction, the historical avant-garde and even the Russian space program. The concepts of Cosmism were outlined in his posthumously published ‘Philosophy of the Common Deal’ in 1913. The work enthusiastically illustrates the possibility for a total transcendence of the human condition through the resurrection of all the dead, which was to be achieved through the continuation and advancement of science and technology, and the mastering of the cosmos. The problem with physical space on Earth would be amended by the re-location of individuals to the cosmos. And the distinction between space and the cosmos is to be noted.
The doctrine of immortal life in infinite space sparked enthusiasm in both science and the arts at the time. Vasily Chekrygin’s futurism, Pavel Filonov’s analytical art, Malevich’s Suprematism, Kandinsky’s abstractionism and Alexander Labas’s utopian subjects, are just a few examples of its powerful influence on art, science, and politics in both pre-revolutionary and Soviet Russia. There has been a resurgence of interest in the daring, utopian movement in recent times, as a conceptual framework for contemporary art, literature and philosophy. Russian Cosmism provides an alternative perspective to Russian history that opposes the dialectical materialism of the Soviet one.
‘Art Without Death’, the current exhibition at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, delves deeper into Russian Cosmism and its philosophical, scientific, and artistic concepts and their current relevance, nearly 100 years later. It interweaves historical material with contemporary contributions in the space, curated into a comprehensive historical timeline and an abundance of relevant literature in the building’s foyer, including works like ‘Soviet Science Fiction’ by Solomon Nikritin and Anton Vidokle ‘s film series ‘Immortality for All!'(2014–17), which screens in three built structures based on Muslim cemeteries in Kazakhstan—where specific film scenes were shot—and Lenin’s mausoleum on the Red Square.
The concepts behind Cosmism and immortality are visually actualised in the film trilogy, presenting an engaging contemporary interpretation of the Cosmist worldview. They re-mix excerpts of Fedorov’s writing with texts by the likes of Voloshin, Maria Ender, Alexander Chizhevsky, Ilya Kabakov, Andrei Monastirs, and others. ‘The Communist Revolution Was Caused by the Sun’ was shown at the 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, and reveals the connection between solar cycles and human history. Each is a feast for the intellect and senses that transports the viewer to scenes from cemeteries in Kazakhstan to close-ups of mosquitoes interacting with water, to Egypt, the cosmos and back.
In our contemporary moment—as we are seriously looking towards the colonisation of other planets, as civilisation has worn Earth’s resources thin, and our eventual relocation may inevitably be the answer for the survival of humankind— this near-future seems grim in comparison to the utopian ideals and exciting possibilities that the Cosmists visualised. The exhibition aims to examine this and the reasons why artists have continued to evoke the legacy of Russian Cosmism—with all its esotericism, mysticism and naïveté. A comprehensive volume relating to the exhibition, ‘Art Without Death: Conversations on Russian Cosmism’ will be published in September 2017 by Sternberg Press and HKW will hold a book launch, including a conversation between Inke Arns, Jörg Heiser and Anton Vidokle.