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Irina PIVOVAROVA – viewer recollection (1980)

Appearance – action by Collective Actions Group

The first action that I attended, Lieblich, took place about four years ago. We rode to the Izmailovskaia metro station and exited. The park was next to the metro, and there were trees there. We decided to wait for everyone else who was supposed to come. The latecomers were just arriving, and we all soon gathered—I think we were 15 people in all. Although it was early April, it was cold and there was still snow on the ground. This gray, porous snow was melting and it was still quite wintry. Everyone headed to the park, walking for a while along the slushy snow, and soon came to the place where, as though from beneath the ground, from underneath the snow, there emerged a quiet buzzing, something like a ringing bell…I don’t know how to put it—there was a sense that some kind of little bell was ringing underground. Everyone began to look at the ground and at each other in surprise. It was apparent that everyone wanted to ask, “What is that?” or to say, “Aha, so this is what we all came here to see!” But just in case, we all continued to look around, wondering if there wasn’t anything else that could be connected to this unexpected little bell under the snow. But I don’t think there was anything else curious there, just the usual gray sky, the early spring forest, puddles that had melted, alternating with lumpy masses of snow. Everyone looked around at each other, the trees, the sky, and then stood listening to the little bell. Everything was completely casual: some people chatted amongst themselves, some asked about each other’s health, the news in Moscow. We stood around this way for some time and then left, and the little bell, I think, continued to ring. Then we all took a stroll around the park, and it was very nice. One unexpected experience I remember from this walk was seeing some hearty young men in swim trunks take a dip in the cold pond and rub their giant muscles conspicuously for our amusement.

* * *

The second action I attended was called The Lantern. This was also a long time ago and so my memories are not very distinct. We rode the Moscow Railway to the Kalistovo station. There were four of us: Nikita Alekseev, Andrei Monastyrski, Igor Yavorsky, and myself. The day was strikingly similar to the one on which Lieblich had taken place, although it was the height of winter. The snow was melting, and we also walked through the forest along a narrow little path. It was wonderfully pleasant to walk. I liked the people and had known them a long time. We walked one behind the other, talking along the way. My feet were completely soaked, and Nikita and Andrei each gave me a plastic bag, which I knotted around my feet to make a pair of impromptu galoshes. We came out to a ravine and stopped at the snow-covered slope. Below was either a little river or a half-frozen pond; there were some reeds and some dry, yellowing, half-frozen sedge growing there. After crossing the little bridge to the other side of the ravine, we began to climb the hill. We chose two suitable trees on the slope, and Andrei climbed up one of them and tied the rope to it. Then we threw the rope over to the other tree, tied the lantern to the middle of it, attached a big inflatable toy ball to the lantern, and twisted the rope up tightly. When we let go of this twisted-up lantern, it began to spin and the light began to flicker, flashing very fast around the clearing. The light of the lantern was filtered by a purple glass. It was very pleasant and very fast flickering. It lit the trees up one by one and the spaces between the trees seemed to snatch them out of the darkness, and this impression was intensified by the fact that a very thick and dense dusk quickly descended. We seemed to be watching a film starring the trees, each one different: tall, thin, thick, white, brown, covered in leaves, or bare. It was like a circular panorama of the forest: in the small space around the lantern, one by one, each tree revealed its face and instantly disappeared, and then flickered anew. The ball had been attached to the lantern apparently in order to slow down this flickering, or, perhaps, so that the fairly strong wind could act its part once we left. Without us now, it used the ball to swing the lantern. We watched for some time longer before starting the descent. Retreating, we constantly looked back at this flickering purple light. Then we crossed to the other side of the ravine and stopped. At this point, the snow started to fall, a white snow, falling in the dense twilight. I clearly remember the fast movement of the snow, and behind it, this flickering of the lantern, the flickering of a purple glowing point. It had the appearance of someone standing there making signals, although we knew that there was no one there. And all the same, the place we had just abandoned seemed alive, to operate on its own: that little clearing with the trees and lantern putting on a small surprise for us. It was as though we were witnessing the creativity of that place, of this clearing, of these trees. This was enjoyable, not forced, and calm. We watched with pleasure through the flying snow. And then there was a nice coincidence of different movements. The sheet of snow before us, and farther along, completely far away, an entirely different movement, not corresponding to this one. But all the same, everything had a rhythm, the rhythm of the approaching night, perhaps, or even the rhythm of our mood. Everything was extraordinarily calm, peaceful, and, I would even say, pure. We stood there for some time until it got completely dark, and then we turned and walked through the snow-covered village streets to the station. We no longer looked back, as we would not have seen anything but the roofs and the houses of the village. Instead, we boarded the train and returned to Moscow.

* * *

The next action at which I was present, Time of Action, took place two years ago. This time, the day was completely different, a bright day in the early fall. We rode from the Savelovsky rail terminal to the Lobnya station, boarded a bus, and were on our way. We exited at the stop and walked to a large field, half ploughed and half overgrown with green grass. Apparently, there had been potatoes planted there and these potatoes had been gathered up. Some lone spuds were still lying around; you could see them in the thick black earth. We came up to the edge, where overgrown grass ended and these ploughed-up furrows began, and this is where the action itself began. The clearing was surrounded by forest, and from the other side, the rope stretched out to us along the field, its end lying before us. Somebody, most likely Monastyrski, took it up and started pulling. He pulled and pulled. We stood and waited to see what would happen next. Everyone watched as he pulled the rope, understanding that the action had already begun. But Monastyrski still did not stop pulling. It was taking a very long time. Some of us sat down, some began to walk around and gaze in different directions. Somebody else took up pulling the rope. There was a decent amount of it over on our side already, but the rope still did not end. Then a third person—a gray-haired Moscow artist—began to pull the rope a bit coquettishly. But the rope did not even think about ending. Zigzags of rope fell to the earth and everybody thought: my goodness, but what could this be, what will happen next, how interesting. What if the other end of the rope is tied to a rabbit or, say, a pot of boiled potatoes? But no, nothing of the sort materialized, and instead the endless line of rope continued, which someone reeled in very energetically, in big swinging motions, while someone else reeled like a sailor on a merchant ship. Someone, having replaced the sailor, did it with graceful, flamboyant movements, and then someone else played to the gallery, with antics and theatrical effects. Somebody did it extremely steadily, somebody else very timidly. Those who did not take part in the physical process itself continued to walk around the field and watch. The day was very beautiful. And the rope kept coming and coming. The audience had time to grow hungry. Some took out sandwiches and apples and began to eat. There were children, and they began to get mischievous and fool around. And the rope kept coming, and coming, and coming…It seemed like an hour had gone by, two, but the rope kept coming, and coming, and coming. Then we saw a person walking along the edge of the field gathering potatoes into a sack. This attracted everyone’s attention and entertained them, since we had all had time to get a little bored with this never-ending rope, thinking to ourselves, so what? A rope is a rope—very nice, of course, outstanding, fabulous. But the public seemed to be hungry for some new action, some new impression. That is why everyone looked on with much pleasure at this elderly citizen gathering potatoes. We had all had the greedy thought ourselves already: should I gather some potatoes? For a time everyone forgot about the rope and secretly yearned to exercise his domestic tendencies, since I think there were no potatoes in Moscow at the time. And what came next? Next someone, some of the women, I think, Masha, Natasha Shibanova, yes, appeared from the other end of the field, from where the rope was being pulled, and then went back, and I went with them. I wanted very much to see what it was all about, what the trick was. They were leading me there. And there, next to a large tree, stood the very tall Kolya Panitkov beside a drum on which an enormous amount of rope was still wound, a massive amount. I thought, Lord, when will it end? It will probably last until evening. This is, of course, terribly wonderful, very interesting, but nonetheless, a bit unusual for Moscow’s bustling, hurried life. We are people used to guarding every minute, every second. We are perpetually running, perpetually in a hustle and bustle, always hurrying, never having enough time, and here all of a sudden this inexcusable waste of time. How can this be? Time flows so freely, wastes itself on practically anything. At the same time, it was nice to become aware of this. Aware that…and why not? Maybe all of this economizing that we are doing is actually empty. And maybe this very long action is actually time filled up. At any rate, it did not have a sense of emptiness, but of abundance, sufficiency. I cannot explain why there was this sense of abundance. Maybe it was not in the rope itself, but in the lovely fall day in combination with the ploughed field, the potatoes, this rope, in the children running around nearby. Everyone seemed busy with his own task, and the rope still continued to come. Or maybe, somehow, purely subconsciously, the analogy occurred to me that the rope is time, which comes and comes. We are all busy with our own lives, while the rope comes and comes. But all the same, despite its endlessness, sooner or later, it will run out. And that is how it was. Despite its endlessness, it ran out. The drum on which it had been wound was emptied, and on the border between the grass and the black earth lay an enormous pile of rope. Everyone sighed a certain sigh of relief—finally. Though it was not clear why everyone sighed this way. It must be because we each have some reflexive feeling of the necessity of an action’s conclusion. The action’s span must end with something; we are not used to action all by itself, without a “full stop.” And so, the “full stop” arrived in the form of an enormous pile of rope in the field. It is fairly extraordinary, if you think about where this pile came from—it was perfectly impossible. Imagine, once we leave, that citizen or some other lady citizen coming to the field for potatoes and chancing upon this rope. They will be guessing for a long time where such a fine rope had come from. Some thought that we should take it home, but there was so much of it, such a gigantic amount. Then in the end, I think, it was dragged away anyway to the dacha. (Kolya Panitkov had a dacha nearby.) We all went to the dacha, too, and had a very nice time and a few drinks there. The more distant acquaintances left and the closer circle stayed at the dacha. We stayed there until evening, and then in the evening, contented and tired, went home.

Source: Originally published as “I. Pivovarova. (Ob aktsiiakh ‘Liblikh’, ‘Fonar”, ‘Vremia deistviia’)” [I. Pivovarova (About the actions Lieblich, The Lantern, Time of Action)] in the section of audience recollections contained in the first of Collective Actions’ hand-bound volumes of documentary materials, called Poezdki za gorod [Trips out of the City], (1980); later compiled and published as Kollektivnye deistviia [Collective Actions], Poezdki za gorod [Trips out of the City], (Ad Marginem, Moscow, 1998): 73-6; the English translation appeared in Collective Actions: Audience Recollections from the First Five Years, ed. and trans. Yelena Kalinsky (Soberscove Press, Chicago, 2012): 2-10.

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