HD video, stereo audio, 5 min, 2016
Mayakovsky’s Prisoners visits a number of spaces haunted by voices from discrete sites of writing, utterance, and encounter.
In a dilapidated theatre where the Russian Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky once performed, a record player sits amongst the debris. We hear Mayakovsky’s poem ‘What is good and what is bad’ recited in a child-like voice.
In a Russian prison, inmates recite Mayakovsky’s breakthrough 1915 Futurist poem ‘A Cloud in Trousers’. Over 100 years since its authorship, inmates take on the muscular language as they learn new ways to express, using all the vocal grit and power Mayakovsky once employed to shake the manners of Imperial Russia. Written to be voiced aloud, Mayakovsky’s language continues to inject a sense of shock and anarchy.
Radio transmissions bring a disembodied song into other rooms, the source of which appears to be the Russian space capsule Vostok-1 suspended in orbit. From the vastness of space, the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, is heard signing a popular song ‘The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows’. Gagarin’s act of singing claims territory in the boundlessness of space, both for himself, and for his Soviet masters. Later, his transmitted voice is deterritorialised as it hangs suspended in a loudspeaker back on earth.
The human voice is at once the most pervasive and elusive of mediums. Throughout Mayakovsky’s Prisoners, doorways, archways, windows, record players, and loudspeakers act as portals for the detached voice. These portals serve as site thresholds that allow ‘acousmatic’ voices to flow between different sites of writing, utterance, and transmission. Along each journey, the expressive grain of the voice is mediated through the distortions of materials, technology, and time.
The artists gratefully acknowledge the performers from the Art Amnesty project, led by Olga Kalashnikova (Rostov-on-Don, Russia). Translations by Irina Stefan.
- Vladimir Mayakovsky, ‘A Cloud in Trousers’, 1915, poem
- Vladimir Mayakovsky, ‘The Children's Room', 1925–1929. Nine poems for children, including ‘What is good and What is bad’
- ‘The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows’ 1951, song composed by Dmitri Shostakovich, lyrics by Yevgeniy Dolmatovsky; (Yuri Gagarin sings this during the first manned space flight in 1961).