Post-diaspora: Statement and Premonition
Over the last six months, the term "post-diaspora" has often been applied to the generation of post-Soviet artists and intellectuals who had moved to the West in the 1990s after the collapse of the Berlin wall in the age of discussions on globalization and the general demoralization of the local. The post-diasporic generation is highly inhomogeneous: the representatives of post-diaspora include both subjects that have "settled-for-good" in the West (the post-Soviet version of the local Western Other) and "temporarily-displaced" nomadic individuals, who are at times virtually undistinguishable from traditional colonial travelers.
Anton Ginzburg. "Week bullet belt", farfor, kozha, model, photo, 2003
The formation of a post-diaspora would not have been possible if it were not for the policy of "flexible citizenship" as well as the relative ease of border-crossing for residents of Central and Eastern Europe in the West of the 1990s. The rhetoric of globalization, the policy of "flexible citizenship", nomadic dynamics, as well as the hope that the gap between the East and West would soon be overcome, all contributed in the 1990s to a situation in which the post-diaspora continued to perceive itself as both part of the post-Soviet art scene (and therefore the post-Soviet reporter or "plant" in the West), and a rightful participant in what are commonly thought of as exclusively Western topics of discourse. As to the view from outside, a post-Soviet diasporic subject was perceived (and still is) in the West as an imitation of the "authentic" subject from the mainland (geographical post-Soviet space), and this perception further complicates this situation of ambiguity.
In the cultural sphere, the post-diasporic generation is characterized by its pluralism and active destabilization of the division of intellectual labor between East and West (practiced over the last fifty years). Since the 1990s, the post-Soviet diaspora, just like other diaspora in the West, has been questioning the steadiness and the unshakable nature of borders between individual nations-states. In local contexts, however, post-diasporic subjects refuse to accept the title "Other" and keep mistaking themselves for "another" member of the First World.
As a consequence, a significant number of post-Soviet artists of the 1990s and 2000s residing in the West progress along the trajectory of "Western modernism," a term that is accepted as synonym for "international contemporary art." The "Western modernism", produced by diasporic artists, becomes one of the components, among many, of the post-Soviet diasporic mosaic: The authenticity of the work of such artists as Alexej Koschkarow, Slava Mogutin, Anton Ginzburg and to a certain extent Anna Ermolaeva, is complicated by their "sticking" into the discourses traditional to the First World. In the work of other artists, identity politics surfaces only from time to time, as in "Anna Karenina Goes to Paradise" by Olia Lialina for an example, or in certain projects by Olga Kisseleva and Pavel Braila, only to be later substituted by the "international common place." Post-Soviet diasporic consciousness works intermittently, and its manifestations are highly fragmented. The post-diasporic generation is characterized by various stages of diasporic consciousness as well as by different levels of integration into the art scene of the post-Soviet mainland. This integration also determines the level of these artists' "diaspora-nationalism."
Nostalgia for the departed Second World, experienced in the 1990s and 2000s, is paradigmatic for the post-diasporic consciousness. For instance, Anton Ginzburg draws on the "aesthetics of ugliness" of graphic and industrial design of the 1980s Soviet Union. However, Ginzburg's method commodifies the nostalgic attractiveness of "Soviet ugliness" and completely dissolves it in the contemporary Western form. The nostalgia that manifests itself in Ginzburg's works or in the project "Music on Bones" by Pavel Braila, however, fails to become an effective "work of memory." One has only to hope that after a period of stating the fact of the post-Soviet nostalgia, there will come a time when the nostalgia for the Second World will become a tool of the new critique directed towards the excesses of contemporary Russia and the post-Soviet space in general.
In the 2000s, the post-diaspora, at least in the United States, seems to have settled down, coming to accept its geographical location, a traditional locality, to a large extent thanks to the cooling of the political climate that followed the events of September 11th, 2001. Today, "flexible borders" do not seem as flexible as in the 1990s. The post-Soviet diaspora is coming to a realization that it is indeed a distinctly new narrative, different from both the authentic West and the post-Soviet mainland. The post-diasporic symptom starts to part with the "fragmentary globalistic cloud."
Among the artists whose politics is most closely akin to the classical politics of diasporic identity is the New York-based artists' collective, vydavy, which since the mid 1990s has published "Vydavy", a publication by the same name, in the as-if deformed in diaspora, "broken" Russian, employing deconstructed ethnic imagery. With remarkable consistency, vydavy cultivate their own "ethnicity" and "Otherness." In addition to publications, vydavy practice activism and social intervention within the immigrant communities of New York and beyond, as, for example, in their 2003 project "Kit 1", an action to distribute packets "for activation of senses in the event of the war on Iraq." Handing out these packets at different locations in New York, vydavy performed/functioned as "good citizens" of a Western metropolis, ethnic, yet true activists.
Among video artists, the works of Yuriy Gavrilenko & Sviatoslav Solganik and Joanna Malinowska perhaps the most consistently reflect the post-Soviet diasporic subjectivity. Gavrilenko & Solganik began their investigation of the life of marginal post-Soviet subjects in New York with the film "20 Cans of Chunky Beef Soup" about the New York homeless man, Maxim Vakhmin, a Moscow artist in the past. Gavrilenko & Solganik work with documentary material and non-simulative language, reflecting, without moralization, the reality and fates of concrete post-Soviet subjects in the West. The work, "In Practice," by Joanna Malinowska draws on both gender and ethnic politics of identity. This video installation documents Malinowska's work as a cleaning lady in American homes, a typical occupation for Polish female immigrants in New York. However, Malinowska is compensated for her work, not with money but instead with lectures on philosophy, presented by an American male intellectual, an exchange that is both diasporic and gender- specific.
In accordance with the dynamics outlined above, the future of the post-Soviet diaspora in the West can perhaps be anticipated as developing along the following trajectory: a post-diasporic artist and intellectual of the 2000s no longer presents him/herself as an intermediary or translator between the post-Soviet mainland and the West, which s/he did so well in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, s/he begins active negotiations with all the post-Soviet diasporas (including Baltic republics), with diasporas of the countries of the former Socialist bloc, as well as with more traditional diasporas in the West, such as African (Black Atlantic). The post-diaspora accepts its condition as "Second World in exile" and finally assumes the much-needed new critical stand (1) towards the West, (2) towards the post-Soviet space, and (3) towards the Soviet-era diaspora ("high diaspora"). The realization of the symptom of post-diaspora becomes possible only through obedient acceptance of the terminology of "self-imposed displacement" and "accidental deterritorization" and through admission to the fact that the 1990s were a time of hysteria. A special effort is applied to resist assimilation, which is rather uncomplicated for "white" Central and Eastern Europeans (a simplified admission into "Western modernism" often leads post-Soviet artists and intellectuals to playing roles of secondary importance in the traditionally Western discourses). Diaspora becomes a place of new critique and of real, non-simulative activism.
In the 2000s, "imagined communities" become a unique site of contact and interaction between post-diaspora and post-Soviet space, transcending the borders between both different nation-states and between nation-states and diasporic communities. These "imagined communities," aided by the latest technology (chat-rooms, mailing lists, etc.), allow diaspora and mainland to function as a single entity. "Imagined Communities" – at times nostalgic and at times seeking revenge – become forums for serious discussions about the fate of the Second World, of its utopias and dystopias.