If we compare an archive to a grave, then reading, or more precisely research, will be the path toward exhumation, and an exhibition, as it were, the resurrection. – Nikolai Fedorov
Anton Vidokle has been making a series of films that explore Russian Cosmism through cinematic devices and an engagement with biopolitics, universalism, revolution, and museology. His latest exhibition, ‘Citizens of the Cosmos’ (9 September – 16 October), was curated by myself with Alexandra Balona for Rampa in Porto, Portugal, in co-production with SIRIUS.
Russian Cosmism is a constellation of theories and projects – philosophical, artistic, scientific – informed by the writings of the Russian philosopher, Nikolai Fedorov (1829-1903), which two of his adherents organised into a publishable form, resulting in the posthumous book, Philosophy of the Common Task (1906/13). It brings together discourses of Marxism, Russian Orthodox Christianity, Enlightenment, and Eastern philosophies through the lenses of mysticism and utopia, and involves conceptions of technological immortality, resurrection, and space travel, speculating on how these might be materialised through artistic, social, and scientific means.
Russian Cosmism emerged in the late-nineteenth century and developed through the 1920s and 1930s, when a new generation pursued Fedorov’s vision. As a movement, it rejected the contemplative for the transformative, aiming to create a new world, and thus appealed to those in pursuit of a classless society after the October Revolution of 1917. It entered a period of relative obscurity in the Soviet territories following the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, and reemerged in Russia and elsewhere following the publication in 1979 of Nikolai F. Fedorov, an Introduction by the historian George M. Young. It has permeated Western intellectual circles in recent years, and has impacted the art scene thanks to the efforts of philosopher, Boris Groys.
Vidokle’s films form tableaux vivants, situated between fact and fiction, reality and otherness, poetics and ideology. He shot them in Moscow, Siberia, Almaty and Karagandy in Kazakhstan, Tokyo, and beyond. They feature scenarios such as deserted landscapes, former industrial sites, and Moscow’s Zoological Museum and Lenin Library. They employ local amateur actors and extras, including artists, farmers, taxi drivers, dancers, and security guards.
The films mix voice-over narration (usually performed by the artist himself), soundtracks (music, audio effects, and original scores – usually created by the artist Carsten Nicolai, a.k.a. Alva Noto), acting styles (influenced by the ‘distancing effect’ put forward by the playwright Bertolt Brecht), and editing techniques influenced by the Nouvelle Vague, particularly the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘jump cut’. They ‘enact’ quotes from essays by Fedorov and other thinkers, and incorporate multiple intellectual and aesthetic references, ranging from Russian Constructivism to science fiction, historic understandings of death and immortality to speculative interactions between natural phenomena and societal transformations.
This Is Cosmos (2014) introduces the cosmos as not only outer space, but something involving invisible cosmic energies moving through the currents of terrestrial-aquatic ecologies, both within our bodies and as part of our everyday lives. The Communist Revolution Was Caused by the Sun (2015) meditates on the philosophical and political semblances between Russian Cosmism and Communism, as well as the sun’s impact on history. Immortality and Resurrection for All! (2017) considers the museum as a site of resurrection, looking at practices and techniques of collection and conservation as means for the material restoration of life.
Citizens of the Cosmos (2019) continues with key topics previously examined, now specifically through references to the 1921 ‘Biocosmist Manifesto’ penned by the poet Aleksandr Svyatogor (1889-1937). It presents an imagined community articulating the ambitions of Biocosmism – immortality, technological resurrection, and interplanetarism – through the regenerative and transformative potential of blood transfusion. The film is set in contemporary Japan, using urban shrines, cemeteries, a crematorium, tatami rooms, a bamboo forest, a natural gas-fueled power plant, and city streets as its open-air stages. These locations serve as backdrops for dreamlike scenes, including funerary processions, demonstrations, the danse macabre, the cremation bone-picking ceremony, attempts to communicate with the dead using stethoscopes, and a theremin orchestra recital.
In tracing the history and contemporary relevance of Russian Cosmism, Vidokle’s films position it as a precursor to more recent movements such as transhumanism –centering on the enhancement and rejuvenation of the body through biological and technological prostheses – artificial intelligence, and genetic programming. They show examples by artists, writers, and scientists committed to bringing ancestors back to life, thereby erasing death in the evolutionary process – for example, the biophysicist Alexander Chizhevsky (1897–1964), who designed an aero-ionisation apparatus to prolong the lives of his peers.
The sensorial and regenerating qualities of the films themselves attune to the principle of the transcendental and the emotional impacts of art, whose invisible energy affects us in indeterminate ways. For example, This Is Cosmos addresses the health benefits of the color red for animal and human cells; The Communist Revolution Was Caused by the Sun resorts to elements of clinical hypnosis that are commonly employed to break addictions; and Immortality and Resurrection for All! uses flashing light at 40 Hz to improve memory for Alzheimer’s patients, a frequency believed to directly communicate with brain cells. As an audience, our relationship to art becomes one of reciprocity, intimacy, and symbiosis as the interactions between us and the works reverberate.
Vidokle’s films appear in an era of growing investment, both private and public, in extraplanetary prospecting, geo-engineering, atmospheric manipulation, cryonics, and genetic and artificial intelligence experiments. They elucidate how Russian Cosmism aims to overcome time-space finitude through cooperative, creative endeavors toward a ‘more-than-human’ universalism and propose critical perspectives that enact a sense of hopefulness in the face of a general decline of reason.
Miguel Amado is a curator and critic, and director of SIRIUS, Cobh, County Cork.