An EXCLAMATION: Sergei Paradjanov
Where: Animate Project/ APEngine
Date: February 2010
Flamboyant non-conformist! Anarchic filmmaker; a thorn in the side and a
spit in the face of Soviet Russia! Three times imprisoned, who spent
five years in a labour camp! Who was lobbied on behalf of by Tarkovsky,
Yves Saint Laurent, Francoise Sagan, Godard, Truffaut, Fellini,
Bertolucci, Marcello Mastroianni, Antonioni and John Updike!
Paradjanov’s Soviet Union is an exclamated sense of place. A sense of place that between February and May 2010 will be hosted by the National Theatre, Arnolfini, Pushkin House and the Armenian Institute, where exhibitions, events and symposia will be held to honour the twentieth anniversary of his death by lung cancer. Particularly notable are the public events at BFI Southbank, where a retrospective film season will showcase his features and the gallery will show a newly commissioned work by Mat Collishaw, made in response to the great man. The first mention of a Young British Artist being commissioned to create a piece for the BFI Gallery in response to the work of Sergei Paradjanov did, in all honesty, inspire a short intake of breath and a reservation of judgement however there is, of course, a rationale, and the BFI Gallery rarely (if ever thus far) misses its intended mark.
Mat Collishaw’s work feels violent (I’ve never felt I could fall in love with, or to, one of his works) but his retrospective – Retrospectre, as it is billed – is head over heels with Paradjanov. Paradjanov! Whose works are nothing if not filled with a unique, exquisite beauty! (Sorry). And Mat Collishaw does have an inherent interest in concepts of beauty, moreover how beauty is perceived and represented. And he, like Paradjanov, has a similar fascination with the allusion of religious allegory. Both re-appropriate and finely craft a conceptual narrative, utilising collage and mosaic-based composition, giving an affected contextualisation to (meta-)physical personal, spatial relation and interaction.
As preparation for the new work, Collishaw visited Paradjanov’s Armenia, now Georgia, as well as the sites most associated with the director. The footage that he filmed there is back-projected onto the installation, through windows and mirror-spaces of his large-scale construction. We can forgo the obvious ‘look into the artist’s world’ line of investigation; however, what is interesting is the comment previously made of Paradjanov’s work that his films are ‘…not about how things are but how they would have been had he been God.‘ Paradjanov! With the matchless sense of vision into the artist’s mind! Precisely what the films of Paradjanov encounter are the symbolic impressions of the manner in which an artist formulates and manifests thought.
There’s no better example to illustrate this than the film considered his masterpiece (arguable): The Colour of Pomegranates (1968). A biography in the Orlando sense of the word, the film tells the life story of Sayat Nova, the Armenian troubadour. Actress Sofiko Chiaureli took on not only the role of the character known only as The Poet, but also The Poet as Youth, his love, his muse, the mime and the Angel of Resurrection, in what might be described as Paradjanov’s love letter to the actress herself, his muse.
To muse on muse, Paradjanov for Collishaw, with indirect strands of reference to Sayat Nova, Chiaurelli and not only. Paradjanov’s obsession with the artist’s obsession cannot be overstated. Ukrainian Rhapsody (1961), telling the story of a soprano passing on international stardom for the memory of her fiancé, Ashik Kerib (1988), the titular wandering minstrel on a voyage of heroism to save his beloved, or Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964), traditional Ukrainian folk culture transposed on-screen in the most sumptuous, fabulist communal communique, set to heartbreak and violence. Here lies a man whose artistic vision forced him out of the nation of his beloved heritage; the artist unwelcome in his own country. Accused of rape, homosexuality, bribery – ‘Appreciate these beauteous works, direct antecedents to an historic tradition, still manifest today! Mine is not a unique voice.’ he pleads! His subjects, worn and battered, forced in continual travel else violence befall.
Collishaw! With your occupation – the production of work that highlights the personal, social and political fascination – a grotesque fascination – with sex and violence, a glorified sex and violence. Unwarranted beauty, superfluous aggrandisement on a mass-conscious level. Subvert, overt, covert. The form is irrelevant once your theme has been identified. That theme: Paradjanov! (with an onus the exclamation mark.) Subtlety is not your bedfellow. A horse’s eye peering at me – in fear, in wait – on a backdrop of unobscured, yet legitimate, beauty.