In Festive Dream, which was shot only recently around neocapitalist Moscow but looks as if time and social progress had stood still, we are in a classless world of equality, brotherhood, and, yes, freedom. Free time is obviously the only occupation of most of the inhabitants of a small city. Mashed potatoes in a canteen are so homely they seem to be free of charge. Women, with their happily plump and willingly middle-aged bodies, are not intimidated by competition from glossy magazines. Children explore the neighborhood without any fear. This is communism.
One of the characters ﬂashing through the brief broken narrative climbs up a slippery pole to get a nicely packed prize. We do not know if he ever gets to the top. Instead, we are shown how much support, including physical, he is provided by friends, passers-by, and competitors. Strangely, this pole’s unattained height may remind us of the blatantly missing vertical dimension in this world. There are no monuments to Lenin around. Or, at least, Chernysheva is not interested in them; neither is her usual crowd. At the end, children launch a toy plane into the air— a classic image of triumphal Soviet propaganda. Repeatedly, it fails to ﬂy, which does not seem to bother anybody. Former Soviet citizens have reduced their existence to the horizontal dimension of everyday life. In this humble universe, coffins are being sold in the same store as beer. In her shrewd ﬁlms and poignant photographs, Olga Chernysheva explores the current economic climate in Russia and often documents the debris of the Soviet world, human as well as material. From such a position one usually expects crude evidence of an end—tragic even if historically necessary. But Chernysheva’s attitude is very different. Her communism is still present; it is just completely forgotten and left to its own devices.
In nineteenth century Russian literary criticism, the ubiquitous term “redundant man” described overeducated aristocrats, eager to change things for the better but unclaimed by power and society. The Soviet intelligentsia, including artists, loved to think of itself in a similar way, bemoaning its tragic fate. Now, however, artists like Chernysheva, who are sensitive to the social and human condition, are turning their attention to the outside, to the real redundancy of the whole communist civilization and its subjects. Former class becomes what Chernysheva calls anonymous “protrusions” of urban landscape. Far away from the capital as well as in the middle of it—on ﬂea markets and provincial dance ﬂoors—Chernysheva always ﬁnds some modest remains (or maybe shoots) of different economy and world order: community, neighborliness, low tech, nonproﬁt. Some contemporary artists are seeking to reconstruct all this in their activist groups, political projects, and theoretical manifestoes. For Chernysheva, however, things are much simpler (or more complex …): we just have to be more attentive to what is going on a half-an-hour’s drive from Moscow.
Born in 1962 in Moscow, former USSR, lives and works in Moscow, Russia