Interdisciplinary project ПУСТ* in Berthold Centre

ul. Grazhdanskaya 13-15
St. Petersburg

The artists’ collective behind the project ПУСТ* consists of four representatives from different artistic genres: the composer Yuri Akbalkan, the video and media artist Snezhana Vinogradova, the choreographer Alexandra Portyannikova and the visual artist Sergey Shabohin. Although the artists work with different types of media, there are similarities in their approach to art and the themes they deal with.

All four collective participants have left the academic concept of art behind them, stepping outside the limits of traditional formats in their artistic practice. Additionally, all four artists work within the framework of art in public space and incorporate elements of physicality into their work. Common themes in the artists’ respective works are archives and maps and the inclusion of political as well as historical elements.

The project ПУСТ* refers to events that took place on December 7-8, 1991, during which the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the Belavezha Accords, officially dissolving the Soviet Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

This extremely important political event occurred in a hunting cabin in the woods of the Belavezha Forest (Belarus), the last primeval lowland forest in Europe. These events, which took place under a veil of secrecy, are still mythologized to this day. Various sources report a variety of controversial events. Some assert that the premises where the treaty was signed had been surrounded by secret services that did not intervene. Other sources state that the treaties were signed in a drunken state. There is a prevalent rumor that that, once signed, the documents temporarily disappeared and were then found in the trash bin the following day. Others conjecture that the signatories feared being accused of treason and had made preparations to flee across the border to Poland by walking through the forest.

The authors of the ПУСТ* project are representative of a generation that witnessed the disintegration of the Soviet Union and thereby helped shape the historical trauma of the era.
Using artistic methods, the collective attempts to imagine the events in the Belavezha Forest from the perspective of its participants, drawing parallels between fear of the “wild forest” and fear of wild politics, between being completely adrift but also spontaneously decisive, between the enormous impact of this political decision and a series of unpredictable and absurd factors that influenced it.

The interdisciplinary project consists of light, movement, sound, video and objects. The artists employ a variety of objects and artistic methods — a ring-like arrangement of analogous sinuses, the crackling sounds of joints and branches, the frenzied sounds dice being thrown, physiological allegories, views of the forest, Soviet crystal decorations and other found objects create a space that help the viewer to experience the power of this historical event.

The title ПУСТ* has several connotations: on the one hand, it signifies a “wild, uninhabited, dense, pathless forest” (Belavezha Forest) that would otherwise consist primarily of emptiness and desolation. At the same time, the word means “let it be”, signifying a kind of acceptance of inhabiting the political wilderness. This is a criticism of society and ourselves.

* ПУСТ (PUST) — the title of the project refers to the Old-Slavic etymology of the word пуща (Puschtscha), which means a “primeval forest”. The word was formed from the short form of the adjective пуст (empty). Several words from the same root can be found in Slavic languages: пустота (emptiness), пустыня (desert), пусть (let it be).

The project initiated by Goethe-Institut St. Petersburg