"VENERA-9" work in progress (in collaboration with Alexey Orlov)
The Soviet space industry had two main strategic lines: manned missions (that employed actual cosmonauts) and unmanned missions (that used automata to research outer space). For obvious ideological reasons, the latter has always been overshadowed by the former. During the apex of space exploration, my grandmother Margarita Naraeva, who was the head of the Cosmic Television department at Glavcosmos (the Soviet equivalent of NASA), designed optical equipment for spacecrafts. Some of the first photographic images and thermal mappings of Mars, Venus and the far side of the Moon were made thanks to her inventions. This film combines her actual recorded recollections with the fictional stories narrated by “suicide cameras,” as Harun Farocki has termed them. Those mute automata that were constructed, “trained” and tested just for one final and fatal shot on the surface of a heated planet, describe their childhood experience on Earth.
"Robert Pasternak’s Technê Evolution Timeline," 2017
This collaborative work, made with Arseny Zhilyaev, is an imaginary timeline of artificial intelligence art historian and archeologist Robert Pasternak, who, as if through the Lacanian “mirror stage,” reconstructs his own image through artworks, technological artifacts and data found during his expeditions throughout the Solar System. If Johann Joachim Winckelmann opened the eyes of Western culture to “authentic” antiquity, the first robot-historian discovers and interprets the stratum of our era. The focus of his research is the visual culture, whether digital or analogue, that survives. The evolutionary chronicle of technê presents technical, artistic, and natural objects not as fixed substances, but rather as undergoing an eternal process of individuation and becoming. All delineated chronologies conclude with the emergence of space ships, digital technology and artificial means of perception. In other words, just as major art historical narratives are retrospectively constructed as background to the present, so too does the genealogy in question gradually lead to the invention of super-intelligent machines. Pasternak’s system is an imitation of scientific models made popular with the emergence of structuralism. Art is presented not merely in terms of linear time, but also as a matrix which determines its own internal logic and immanent rules.
The timeline is divided into several eras which rhyme with the traditional division of the art of ancient Greece: Early, High, and Late Antiquity, as well as the Archaic, a proto-historical period not yet canonical. Between the Archaic and the Classical period which negates or overcomes it can be found a grey area — the Interplanetary Internet Crash. In this time of troubles, sketches begin to show of traumatic episodes and scenes of violence enacted toward technê: protests on behalf of Luddites, the loss of space capsules, the gestures of avantgarde artists or even contemporary iconoclasm. If the archaic introduces three circles preceding morphogenesis, to antiquity correspond three opposing tendencies in which a genealogical search is realized for sources which are also broken down into three main principles.
I. In the modernist paradigm, visibility became possible through the accentuation of the figure in the foreground. Yet the history of vision, as seen by the robot, begins with the digitization of the analogue world, which makes possible its decipherment. At its base lies the division of one into two, the splitting of something continuous into discrete. This is later followed by face recognition: Pasternak sees the history of portraiture as training for deep learning, the recognition of the baselines of the face, and then the inhuman agents. Thereafter “reconnaissance” is introduced, the observation of enemy territory. To this is added the development of surveillance techniques, opening up the interplay of art and military technology: planes (Italian aeropainting), the documentation of land-art, drone perspective or the filming from manned space ships and manned orbital stations.
II. Horizontal structure of canvas painting, due to the earth’s gravity, flourishes with the emergence of linear perspective. It is historically overcome through an ascent — the metaphorical or even real overcoming of gravity. It may be a verticalization: man’s acquisition of bipedalism, the “verticalization” of the sick, and the installation of an object, perpendicular to the earth, whose form aims upward. Even humanity’s dreams of the air (gliding, levitation, flying, cosmic travel), finding expression in various aspects of culture. Finally, acceleration determines the logic of the acquisition of speed through both technological improvements, raised capacity and increased number of working details, as well as through the evolution of forms of design and configuration of machines (streamlined, smooth forms) or even its representation (speed-lines).
III. Entropy is contrasted to negentropy (or negative entropy), which is normally associated with the evolution of life or the development of technology. The first notion is the proliferation of forms, from uncontrollable reproduction to the assembly line production of goods or the serial forms of minimalism. The second is provisionally characterized by crystallization, that is forms of spontaneous entities of chaos into order in the inorganic world. Similar structures, as one could guess, can be found in ancient art (the depiction of rocks in orthodox iconography) as well as in modernism (so-called Crystal Cubism). The timeline concludes with a complication of systems investigated by “complexity science” such as systems within systems, fractals. They lead to contemporary multiscreens, CCTV and space station mission control centres.
Collaborative work with Arseny Zhilyaev
"Descent Into the Fungal", 2016-2017, installation (video, objects)
Andrey Shental’s work consists of constantly alternating plot lines: the mystification-investigation “Descent into the Fungal” and the film “A Message from Underground.” In the first, generally known scientific facts and the latest discoveries in the field of mycology are laid out in a popular manner. In the second, this subject is interleaved with the utterances of the fungal bodies themselves, which declaim something akin to their own particular manifesto. This combination results in the revelation that the relationships fostered by the fungi with their surroundings (through mycorrhizae, parasitism, saprotrophy and endophytia) refer unambiguously to contemporary political programmes for a coming world order, proposing a unification of forces in the fight against capital. The film also plays with the homology between mushrooms and the Internet – another popular subject of mycology. The natural becomes the digital, and vice versa. As a constant reminder of fungi’s presence in the world, the video monitor stands beside a sculptural element representing the living fungal organism, starting and completing its life cycle again and again.
Two constantly alternating plot lines are present in the installation. On the one hand, the generally known scientific facts and latest discoveries in the field of mycology are laid out in a popular manner. This subject is interleaved with the utterances of the fungal bodies themselves, which declaim something akin to their own particular credo or manifesto. This combination results in it becoming clear that the relationships the fungi foster with their surroundings (mycorhiza, parasitism, saprotrophy and endophy tia) refer unambiguously to contemporar y political programmes. In addressing the human audience, the turbantop, hard-skinned puffball, saffron milk cap and other fungi present revolutionary scenarios and a programme for a future world order, proposing a unification of forces in the fight against capital.
Mapping, computer animation, 3D scanning, industrial painting and chromakey are used in the film, making the fungi resemble solid three-dimensional sculptures. By this, the film plays with the homology between mushrooms and the internet — another popular subject of mycology. The natural becomes the digital, and vice versa.
"Andrey Shental’s video installation Descent into Fungal features fungal mycelium networks that enable connected plants to communicate in addition to transmitting nutrients and energy. While certain forms of life benefit from this network of connections, others fall prey to it. Today, a growing superorganism of algorithms and databases increasingly filters how we perceive, learn, communicate, and remember. Sprawling around the globe like a fabric of mycelium, today’s digital infrastructure has more resemblance to living systems than to outdated analog technologies."
The work was commissioned by V-A-C Foundation for the project "Hosting the Inhuman." In November 2017 the new edition of the video-installation will was presented at "The Electric Comma" (25 November 2017–31 March 2018) and "The First Person" exhibition (3 November 2017 – 2 December 2017) at SkateCafe, Amsterdam.
Camera: Alexey Orlov and Andrey Shental, color: Alexey Orlov, animation: Olga Pokatilova
"Fervent Revolutionary Women", essay film, 16mm, ongoing
This film is dedicated to the women who participated in revolutionary struggle, political terrorism and feminist movements in Russia and the Ukraine. Based on reprinted archival photography and shot against a picturesque landscapes, it explores the obsolescence of images and erasing of historical memory as if through the process of organic deterioration. It features figures such as the first terrorist and writer Vera Zasulich, “the grandmother of the Russian Revolution” Catherine Breshkovsky, socialist revolutionary Maria Spiridonova, who spent most of her life in prisons, feminist and the first female ambassador in the world Alexandra Kollontai, “rock-hard” Bolshevik Rozalia Zemlyachka, who allegedly participated in the red terror, Ukrainian anarchist and guerrilla Maria Nikiforova. Despite their different political views, ethical positions and controversial deeds, their fascinating commitment to emancipation in a patriarchal country such as the Russian empire may be inspiring during the present times of neoconservative backlash.
Presented at "Bring Your Own Body", Public Assembly, London, 2013.
"Pinturas Negras", 16 mm digitised, 6 minutes, 2012
In the early 2010s, the time of the proliferation of smartphones, the Russian media was full of alarming news about children bullying and beating each other up (sometimes with lethal consequences). Most of the crimes committed in Asbest, Perm, Ufa, Dnepropetrovsk and other cities were made just in order to record and disseminate the resulting videos through social networks. In this film, made at the no.w.here Summer Film School in London, I reshot some of these videos and others representing violence on Bolex 16mm camera (from the computer screen, showing myself watching them.) While the title refers to Goya's famous group of paintings, the footage also combines classical paintings using with poor-quality found footage tamed and aestheticised through celluloid. This work questions the innocence of different mediums and technologies of representation in the post-digital age.
Film analyses the dissemination of images and documentation of violence in the web and our relationships with the new digital media. How our feelings of compassion regarding others' suffering transform when pain of others become at the same time so close and distant? Do we commit a crime even by watching a person beaten or killed and simultaneously shot by the aggressor? Is new technologies of documentation and proliferation are synonymous to collective act of violence or just epitomises our growing alienation from "analogue" reality?
"On Knowledge Production", powerpoint presentation with voiceover, installation, 2013
This work analyses the overproduction of knowledge and resulting contemporary forms of neurosis created by the constant consumption of information. The central part of the project consists of actual tickets left behind as a material testimony to such “immaterial” events such as exhibitions, symposia, films and panel discussions that I have attended around the world. The price indication shown on the ephemera indicates the commercialization and commodification of education after the Bologna Process that was resisted by art institutions, but maybe in fact enhanced by the phenomenon of a “pedagogical turn.” In the installation, one viewed both the actual, ever-growing collection of tickets, as well as a pseudo-theoretical lecture describing a personal obsession with knowledge-production, presented as a Powerpoint presentation.
The work has been presented at "Inconclusive Analysis" exhibition (strategic project of 3d Moscow Biennale for Young Art (2012) and "V=AB" at Katarsis Project Space (Tallinn, Estonia).
From Egor Sofronov's text "To Perform Knowledge":
"Russian artist Andrey Shental in a similar fashion to [Rainer] Ganahl has been collecting all tickets and sometimes badges (i.e. passes) to lectures and discussions, exhibitions and performances in order to make "On Knowledge Production: From the History of a Neurosis" (2012), a power-point presentation made of slides with scans of these printed, bureaucratic objects: an impressive list of speaking luminaries, logotypes of institutions and official-clerical inscriptions of ministries, departments, typographies, indexes of dates and dislocations pass in front of the viewer's eyes. Dozens of pictures go one after another beyond any chronological order for six minutes, registering in a quasi-diaristic way indexes of author's presence on the events that legitimise him as an agent. On the slide projection, that realising strategy of administrative cataloguing in a mass-produced visual medium is superimposed with reading an English text by the author, because knowledge is one of hidden imperialist legitimising criteria of this or that practitioner. The text theorises in a typical artistic-critical parlance and syntax the nod of diachronic time, its reification in libraries and the role of production of knowledge in post-fordist condition.
As in ration cards made for UNOVIS school by [Alexander] Tseytlin, in his work "On Knowledge Production" knowledge manifests itself historically and geographically a specific character of artistic institutions, but already nit in world-revolutionary, but in the period of its neoliberal rebirth, that seizing discourse as an instrument of symbolic and monetary authority. In juxtaposition of different slides one could see the very change of design of the tickets of Russian institutions, how in a short time they were reborn from dusty rudiments of late-Soviet apparatus into fluorescent, plastic and austere distributors of modernity. In 2005 many of them were raster design ration cards or book of vouchers for privatisation, typed with a serif typeface or imitation of manuscripts, others were designed in pseudo-classical cannon, and soon all of them dramatically all of them became sharp with a catchy directness of sans serif and brightness of their logos. The title of the piece gives itself a diagnosis problem of aesthetisation of discourse and appropriation neurosis with parts of narcissistic satisfaction. In the name Shental has condensed conditional neo-marxist ("production of knowledge")and freudian ("from the history of a neurosis") vocabularies — two pillars, master discourses, that still perform a function of a more or less universally accepted code of interpretative and intersubjective communcation in globalized art world.
"Stories of Anastasia Georgievna", documentary video, 2010-11, 26 min.
We have met Anastasia Georgievna in 2007 and were fascinated by her storytelling talent that reminded us of famous Benjamin's lamentation of this talent. The film represents her flow of consciousness, where different personal memories interlace with literary narrative, villages stories and biblical parables. The main protagonist, who at that time used to live in a decaying flat in one of the most luxurious houses in Moscow. Having a successful career as a house painter in Soviet times when she decorated flats for major ministers of the USSR.
After Perestroika she was left alone in her flat that she hoarded with different memorable or curious paraphernalia. In our film the surrounding objects also become self-sufficient narrators. The hectic plot-lines told by Anastasia Georgievna are somehow reflected in the things around her. For instance, the stars are transformed into hotplates and lamps and vice versa. The juxtaposition of her exalted speech with the actual living conditions reveals what could be called “the human” dimension that survives despite all the vicissitudes of personal life.
Film made together with Katerina Beloglazova