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Soviet Spaceship To Land In Manhattan Next Week

The curators behind 'Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module' at the New Museum talk Czech sci fi and space exploration.
January 16, 2014, 1:39pm

A scene from Ikarie XB-1, a Czech sci-fi classic from 1963.

A spaceship will land at the New Museum next week. As it lands on the fifth floor in D.I.Y. pieces, the latest exhibition Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Moduleuses the Czech sci-fi film Ikarie XB-1 as a point of inspiration.

Opening January 22, the Eastern Bloc spaceship showcases works by 65 artists–including pieces by the Azerbaijani visual artist and poet Babi Badalov and the award-winning Hungarian conductor Miklós Erdély. There will be a Skype station, video projections, the “Futures of Eastern Europe” conference on January 25th and 26th, as well as a sci-fi film marathon (bring-your-own popcorn).

Just as we noted that new media is thriving in Slovakia, the west has recently become enthralled with Eastern European art. How did the Cold War affect the art of its time, and how much is postwar utopia and Soviet utilitarianism still reflective in art today? Pretty relevant. The work here draws upon futuristic fantasies from the side of Eastern Europe that was under the shadow of the Iron Curtain, revealing how outer space was a utopic, visionary shining star of its time. The curators say this show blends together the history of sci-fi imaginations, slapped with a D.I.Y. approach.

Curated by the non-profit association Tranzit, we spoke with co-directors Vít Havránek, Dóra Hegyi, and Georg Schöllhammer about their D.I.Y. approach, and how this show is a retrospective of their ten-year history, looking back at Eastern European art from the inside of a spaceship.

Stano Filko, Sculpture20thCentury (1026x1280)

Creator’s Project: Starting January 22, we’ll be able to see a giant spaceship on the fifth floor of the New Museum. Could you tell us more about the Tranzit collective?
**Tranzit: **Tranzit is a network of autonomous but interconnected organizations based in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. Tranzit organizations actively collaborate with artists, other organizations, and between Tranzit offices to produce historical and curatorial art research, exhibitions, and new commissions. The exhibition at the New Museum traces ten years of activities of three of these organizations (Austria, Czech Republic, and Hungary).

How did this show come about?
The exhibition is an attempt how to display–in an allegorical way–what a contemporary art institution is or could be today: a research-focused, imaginative, experimental, and socially-based structure that also has many practical, technical capacities. The exhibition offers an allegory of “anthropological science fiction,” where the exhibition space becomes an estranged and exciting universe that dramatizes the cross-cultural translation involved in the presentation of art. The unique model of this “capsule” evokes the challenges that contemporary artists experience in exhibiting works, or that curators come across in organizing exhibitions that stitch together diverse art, selected across generation, cultural context, personal narratives, and time.

How close will your spaceship be to the one from the Czech science-fiction film Ikarie XB-1 (1963)?
The form of the spaceship started as a loose sketch of Ikarie. And during its design and planning phase, it developed into a simulated interior of a spaceship—a composite of shuttles featured in Eastern European science-fiction films from the Cold War period. In its structure and design, it recalls future fantasies from the socialist Eastern Europe side of the Iron Curtain and explores the ideological role outer space explored during this time. Its design references past movie designs, as well as current ones, and anticipates future plans. Quoting a book title from sci-fi writer Piers Bizony, the question is “How to build your own Spaceship?” So it’s a blended history of sci-fi imaginations—past and future designs with a contemporary D.I.Y. approach.

You are showcasing the works of 65 artists. How much of this show digs into the ideological role that outer space played in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War?
The works do not all respond. We selected some works based on past futures of the Eastern Bloc, subjective imaginations of Cosmos in times of Cold War binaries (that was specific for the “Conquest of the Outer Space” after WWII). But we are also employing the exhibition environment to estrange the works of art themselves. Our aim is to create an aesthetic and cultural distance that confronts the viewer, by unmooring the works from time and place, and circulating them in space.

Is postwar utopia and Soviet utilitarianism still reflective in art today?
Yes, certainly, I would say it is present in contemporary art in different forms. It can take the form of “Ruinofilia” as Svetlana Boym describes it. Ruinofilia is a need to re-discover the paradises of dreams and imaginations lost to history. The conquest of the Cosmos can appear under a sign of “heroic” modernist heritage–as part of a fantasy that art, culture, and civilization shapes and is shaped in relation with our vision of the future society. And of course, there is a nostalgic sentimentality in the ruins of a parallel modernism of the East that just now is getting rediscovered in the West.

Babi Badalov, Nuage (1280x906)

Babi Badalov, Nuage (1280x906)

I heard the spaceship is available via Skype? What’s the Skype name? Will the artists be available for talking, and if so, about what?
Actually, we use the Main Communication screen inside the exhibition space for a long program of contributions through Skype discussions. So the Skype events will connect the spaceship interior with various places around the globe to discuss the urgent issues of different individuals and collectives as well as some works and contexts present in the New Museum HUB.

What do you think lies in the future for Eastern European art and discourse?
There brings a certain lucidity and urgency for artistic communities (like collectives and organizations) to develop on the micro-level. In the post-communist countries, now there is the urge to retell the stories of communism. In the past 20 years, these stories have simply been suppressed or understood in a reductive way as the negative to the other ‘new order.’ The Cold War robbed people of their lives, experiences and capacities, so there is still a lot of discussion. The debates can be brought in a productive relation to post- and de-colonial, as well as other post-totalitarian currents that artists reflect upon in other regions.

Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module runs until April 6 at the New Museum, fifth floor.