On the Cloud Commission by Arkady Nasonov and Pavel Pepperstein
On the series “Cloud Commission Forms”, 1991–2023, and “Infantile Cosmogonies”, 1992–1996
Observations of the CC (Cloud Commission –ed.)
Thirty Years Later, or a New System of Vision
I was amazed to discover that one of my
favourite illustrators, James Thurber, was
so short-sighted that when he worked,
he would lay large sheets of paper out on the floor,
and literally crawl over them as he made enormous drawings.In his books these illustrations look like miniatures…
Over 30 years ago, in 1992, when Cloud Commission officially came into existence, in the “inter-putsch” year of open skies when the USSR had ceased to exist and Russia had not yet formed, all the paper that was produced was never intended to be exhibited. Cloud Commission forms were photocopied and given to the newly recruited Cloud commissars, involving them in the commission’s epistolary exercises. A barrage of elusive celestial bureaucracy was amassed.
Some old gilded paper from the 1930s came into my possession after an old neighbour—an artist and designer of confectionary packaging, — died, and for a while it I used it to illustrate the internal mythologies of the Cloud Commission. All of these papers were a kind of side product. It was not the papers themselves that were important, but the invisible channel, the embryo of the body of artificial collective ideology that they created, the shapes of which, like the elephant in the Sufi parable, became visible as a constantly decreasing side product of the work of the CC. We were blundering in the dark, past the shapes of this elephant with an open diaphragm, and only shining vague lines on a black background appeared. Now, twenty years later, like in a change of focus, the background and horizon have shifted, and the gaze can shift away from the grammar of headlines and captions and pass calmly through the bars of the semantic grill. We can now move away from the collective phantom of the Cloud Commission, which has shifted to a virtual, or rather to a nominal existence. We can put on the clean arm coverings of the observers of clouds who have stepped out of the artistic context of contemporary art. Finally, we can concentrate on points and lines that form something like pictures that speak for themselves, but always preserve the warmth of this elusive outline of the invisible elephant…
Arkady Nasonov, 2017–2023
From a text on the project “Ascension of the Observer”, 1992-1996
The Wooden Lion’s Paw
It’s surprising, or rather not surprising at all, to discover that the issue of surrealism remains open. As the surname Nasonov contains the Russian word for dream, “son”, and this artist’s work is devoted to dreaming, we should start this piece by recounting a dream of Arkady Nasonov. Arkady told this dream to me recently, and I will describe it as I remember it. In the dream, he learns that when people are born, they receive two bodies — one living and the other dead. The living body lives, and the dead one is stored somewhere. When the person dies, his dead body is buried, and the living one continues to live. At this moment, Arkady’s mother, father and grandmother appear. His parents are guiding their doubles by the hand, while grandma is alone. (This corresponds to reality in that Arkady’s parents are alive, but his grandmother has passed away). They enter a space resembling a specially equipped cabin for scientific experiments, and each of them takes their place. Above the heads of the “living bodies” are wooden handles in the form of lion’s paws (like in old lifts), and above the heads of the “dead bodies” are similar handles, but made of aluminium. Arkady notices that there is an aluminium handle above his grandmother’s head. He says that this is incorrect, because his grandmother is alive. The handle is changed.
What stops us from being tired? Sleep. We can see a work of art once. This is not a problem. The problem is to see it twice. The problem is to look at this work once again. Between the first glance and the second, there should be sleep. Everything that attached to the sources of sleep may appear before us again and again. We do not feel tired or irritated. Everything that is not attached to the sources of sleep has the right to flash in our field of vision again. There are strategies of memory and strategies of forgetting. We try to control how we are remembered, but we are not able to predict the taste of oblivion that will cover us. To be an artist means to demand that you are remembered. But memory works only thanks to breaks in oneself — thanks to oblivion. Memory is based on sleep. It is hardest of all to remember the forgotten. This is an achievement that involves the gentle violation of memory, which turns it into a tool, and records what should be forgotten. This is the heroic feat that Arkady Nasonov tries to achieve. Dreams are observed just as clouds are observed, just as one’s own delirium is observed, fleeting thoughts which according to the Zen precept should not be stopped (“thoughts come and go — they should not be stopped”). We may recall a phrase from Dostoevsky’s novel “The Adolescent”. “To write like delirium or a cloud”. But behind these seemingly inoffensive streams of cloud or delirious forms stands the most terrible and inexorable power in Russia — the power of the weather. Behind everything that happens here, one thing stands — the weather: frosts, winds, drops in temperature, thaws, storms, precipitation, cloudiness, atmospheric pressure, the infamous and mysterious “magnetic storms”, which were especially fierce after the abolition of Soviet power — evidently as a result of the dysfunction of the centralising compass. Weather stands behind events, it stands like a concrete wall, and events are only adornments to this wall. We all live in rhythms of alternating seasonal depressions and seasonal euphoria, increasing and declining strength, ailments and unexpected bursts of energy. Whatever people say, the discourse with which we inform the world of our “feelings” — this discourse is always the most intimate and relevant for us. But in this discourse, there are deep gaps, one might even say wells, from which ecstatic states gush, whirlwinds, which always bind collective feelings with individual feelings into one pattern (usually a torturous one). Therefore, the activity of the Cloud Commission, a large artistic organisation headed by Arkady Nasonov, is always in the shadows (in a similar way, the building of the meteorological centre, in fact the Central temple of the entire country, was modestly located on the quiet Zamoryony street in Moscow). The low profile of the Cloud Commission is one of its chief merits. Even large oil paintings on canvas are hung in such a way so that they can both “be seen” and “be unnoticed”. These paintings do not hide, there is nothing coquettish or intriguing in their behaviour — they are simply hung “categorically” — the line that they hide themselves is the line of category — in this case a category of indistinction, which was developed thoroughly in the past, in the practice of the KD. In general, Moscow artistic life at present is determined by a kind of “micro-scheme” framed by four groups — KD, MG, Cloud Commission and Fenso. (KD — the group “Collective actions”, MG — the group “Medical Hermeneutics”, Fenso — “Phenomenon of Consciousness” — ed.) Attempts to “charm” the weather, to make it part of culture (and not nature) is one of the most painful nerves of Russian art (especially poetry and landscape painting). However, regardless of whether these shamanic “charms” are successful or not, there should be at least a thin film of “bureaucracy” between “nature” and “culture” — inspections, commissions, visiting groups and so on. If one takes away bureaucracy, then heaven and earth, god forbid, will combine in ecstasy. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “nature is full of infinite reasons that never fall within the boundaries of experience”. Freud, citing Leonardo’s words (“la natura è piena d’infinite ragioni che non furon mai in isperienza”), calls them “cloudy”. For people of our time, on the contrary, they should appear crystal clear. The words of Freud himself are much cloudier, with which he attempts to “continue” Leonardo’s statement: “Every one of us human beings corresponds to one of the countless experiments in which these ragioni of nature force their way into experience. (Freud, ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’). Freud secretly (under the veil of similarities between words) makes a replacement, once more theologizing Leonardo’s statement. Instead of ‘infinite reasons’ which nature if full of, he speaks of the ‘reason of nature’, which manifests itself in the form of endless experimental beings (people). Thus, the monotheist Freud comments on Leonardo’s pagan idea. When we, experimental beings, occupy our proper places in experimental space, we cannot see ourselves what ‘handles in the form of lion’s paws’ are attached above our heads — wooden or aluminium. However, this is visible to others, we may assume. Among the numerous ‘aluminium lion’s paws’ which exhibitions seemed to be, which were held in exhibition spaces in abundance, the Cloud Commission exhibition was clearly a lion’s paw made of wood. It bore witness to the life of an experimental being, and so it gave rise to a therapeutic effect, bringing liveliness and calm.
Pavel Pepperstein, 1996
On the series “A Bird on a Shelf is Worth a Book in the Bush”, 2003
I don’t remember myself, of course, but my parents told me that I started to read before I was four. I chased them around with an open book and constantly tormented them with the same question: what letter is this? I started to form letters into syllables and syllables into words. In 1972 I went with my father to Leningrad, as he was making a film there. At the airport, I amazed my parents by reading the signs out syllable by syllable. Several years later I began to read maniacally. Sometimes I read books that I took from the “adult” shelf. I didn’t understand the meaning, but I fell into the trap of the magic process of text formation. The lowest shelves of the bookshelf which I could reach contained the 51 volumes of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia in black bindings. I opened a heavy book at random and immersed myself in the magical world of the letters that jumped up to my eyes. Once my parents found a whole food herbarium on the pages of the encyclopaedia. On the photo insets for the entry “horse”, there was a bookmark in the form of a dried omelette, with a trail of crumbs and the remains of vegetables. Evidently reading didn’t make me smarter, but it made me more cunning, and I hid the leftovers of food on my favourite pages, so that I was allowed to leave the table.
Later there were periods when I didn’t read at all, as reality came crashing in and pulled me away from the bookshelf. This protected me from turning from a bibliophile into a bibliomaniac.
To sleep in a room full of books is just as pleasant as sleeping in the reading room of a library. The accumulation of books in itself acts on their potential reader. For the last quarter of a century, in my parent’s apartment the guest bed has been placed right next to the bookshelves. Thus, they form a fantastic centaur-like being. A kind of book bed for incredible dreams.
One of the first objects that Dmitry Ligeros and I devised in the early 1990s, but like many others was never actually materially embodied, was “The Dreamer”, later renamed “The Insomniac”. The viewer inside the object was intended to feel like a bookmark inside an enormous book made of blanket pages. Later in our practices, the book discourse was combined with dreams in the theme of cinematography.
At the age of seven I decided to become an animator. I was very excited about being able to bring inanimate objects to life. The things running away from Fyodor, talking radios and dancing exercise books in “Moidodyr” really struck a chord with me. But most of all I was intrigued by bringing books to life.
As a teenager, unlike all my friends I was not interested in science fiction at all. Of course, I read classics like Bradbury or the Strugatsky brothers, but I wasn’t interested in science fiction that was set in outer space. I liked literature with its “starting point” in recognizable Soviet reality, from where you could enter the cracks of the strange and the lacunae of the unknown. There were plenty of writers like this in Soviet literature of the 1970s, a group of writers who fled from ideology into the worlds of children’s literature. Perhaps this was the only niche in which they could publish their writings. Viktor Golyavkin, Yan Larri, Rady Pogodin, Alexander Sharov, Vladislav Krapivin, Yury Tomin and others. At the age of 20, when I went to hospital to avoid being conscripted into the army, I decided to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and read some classics of science fiction set in outer space. I rang my friend from the hospital phone and started to dictate a list. As soon as I had read out one of the names, an unusual patient emerged from out of a corner, in dark glasses, with an elegant cane and the characteristic moustache of a detective, villain or romantic hero from the cinema.
There was plenty of time until lunch. The patient was practically blind, so he didn’t write or type, but dictated his works in a lisping, spitting voice. The “Electronika” tape recorder was covered in coloured squares taken from several Rubik’s cubes. A click of the button, a crack and characteristic lisp — and somewhere from the depths came the voice of my new “sci-fi” friend.
“The flying saucer illuminated the meadow with a greenish, unearthly light. Jack and Bill took their blasters from the belts of their silver spacesuits…” Then came a click, evidently the author had pressed the pause button, thinking of the next sentence…
As you may imagine, I rang my friend again and told him not to bother. For a whole week the sci fi writer tormented me with his mysterious flickering, strange glows and interplanetary spying… It wasn’t until 15 years later that I felt the wish to read science fiction again… I also didn’t really get into detective stories as a child. I was put off by the need to solve the mystery that was lurking on the pages. The fact that in the end the secret would be revealed somehow devalued the reading process. Of course, there was Edgar Allan Poe and Conan Doyle, but Poe interested me more for the mystical context, and Conan Doyle for the delicious details of life in Victorian London. I only discovered the charm of the detective genre later.
When people invite me to their homes, I like to look at their bookshelves. I’m not so much interested in their content, as the combinations, the constellations of books. What books are placed next to each other, how they communicate, what they are silent about, what intertwined meanings they form. Sometimes owners arrange their books by chronology, sometimes by subject, sometimes by authors, but the most interesting, of course, are coincidental juxtapositions, accidental ties, dangerous ties. Living in Amsterdam by the Waterlooplein flea market, I find myself unable to walk past the enormous piles of old books which the sellers leave out on the street when they are unable to sell them. When I had filled my workshop up with books, I started collecting their covers.
From this collection of covers, my childhood love for bringing books to life and my old conflicts with the genres of sci fi and detective fiction, the museum of criminal histories came to life.
Arkady Nasonov, 2003
On the series “Without Sound”, 2007
When I was a child I heard that at the first showing of a film by the Brothers Lumiere, people jumped up from their seats in panic and ran out of the theatre. I must admit that this puzzled me. Were people really so stupid 80 years ago that they couldn’t tell a flat black and white projection from colourful 3-dimensional reality?
And only recently I discovered the meaning of the question that had bothered me all this time… The viewers were not scared by the illusion of a train hurtling towards them. They were scared because the train did not make any sound. The lack of train noise was a traumatic experience for these first ungrateful viewers. This was worse than the psychological attack in the film Chapaev…
Any painting, besides the fact that it builds a third spatial dimension from two dimensions, also creates sound while being silent. Any picture may be given a noise based on the subject, whether it is the rustle of branches and leaves of Shishkin or the melancholy howl of the barge-haulers or the roar of the crowd in Repin, or in the case of a conceptual work, the authorial interpretation of the text, behind which we may hear the moans of Dmitry Prigov or the mumbling of Pavel Pepperstein. And even when the work speaks of silence, muteness and speechlessness, it is still given sound and thus significance… When do we begin to understand that we are surrounded by silence? Only when the same monotonous repetitive sound makes us aware that other sounds no longer exist. Silence is emphasized by a dripping tap in the kitchen, the chirping of cicadas in a field or radio signals. When we hear these unnoticeable, or rather unheard sounds, we understand how quiet it is. So quiet that we could fall asleep…
The same year when the Brothers Lumiere showed their first film, another event took place, which just like the great silent cinema (the bed for the poor, as Guattari called it) shed a ray of light in the darkness. I mean Freud’s discovery of psychoanalysis…
The modern cinema exists as an inverted system of memory and imagination. Like dreaming, it is occupied with programming the future, but unfortunately mainly in the form of gloomy apocalyptic disaster films and anti-utopias. The director in this case is like a priest. He employs an eschatological discourse.
“Utopia serves to create the contemplated, ” Eisenstein stated at the beginning of the 20th century, and the Soviet science fiction film Death Ray in 1925 predicted the discovery of the laser by a year.
Eisenstein assured us that the principles of film editing derive from the matrices of archaic thinking and dreaming. Indeed, we may note that film editing reflects the main principles of language: metonymy and metaphor. But the same thing also happens in the oneroid (a dream-like blurring of the consciousness — ed.). We may recall Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams”, or Lacan, who noted that the unconscious was structured like a language. But which came first, dreaming or language? The unconscious of the modern person is a structure as a system of mutually reflecting screens. The screen, in the form of the dominance of abstract thinking that is more archaic than language, turns into the main means of communication. This dominance of the visual allows us to immerse ourselves in the screen head first. Or rather without our heads.
Quiet on set…
Cinema is made by sleepers, just like dreams. To make the viewer sleep for 100 minutes in a dark movie theatre, so that the screen with images sucks in the viewer’s mental space, the deep dream of the film director, lasting at least one year, is required. The intensity of the directors sleep emanations affects the immersion in the oneroid of the film crew, actors, and consequently the viewers.
Like in an oneroid state, in the hypnotic conditions of the cinema in which the viewer’s emotions unfold, in the darkness of the movie theatre, the viewer yields to what is shown. Like regression in psychoanalysis, regression in film gives the subject the chance to experience their own self-alienation and decentralization.
If the first film viewers who saw the works of the Brothers Lumiere, Meles or Eisenstein could distinguish fragments of their own dreams and inner emotions on the screen, the modern film viewer encounters famous film actors in their dreams, or enter the film themselves. Dreams may be dreamt in the style of a Hollywood sci-fi movie, in the style of the early Truffaut or Soviet films set in factories.
What will come next? Will we dream of TV series of the past, or will blockbusters be filmed based on the dreams of oligarchs? Time will tell…
Quiet on set… Quiet, so we can fall asleep…
Arkady Nasonov, 2007
On the series “Red Clew or Small Knots for Memory”, 2011
“What is the first thing after all the things you’ve forgotten?”
“Oh I see. (Pause.) I’ve forgotten the question.”
Tom Stoppard, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”
All my childhood I remember my mother sewing and knitting… Patterns like maps of constellations, tangled wool. The ritual of untangling clumps. Wet woollen items crucified on boards. The Soviet logic of the art of sewing and living…
“Do you think someone will wear all of this? I think it all needs to be sewn”
One of my first memories (I was three) is a bright red ball of wool rolling across the floor. It was used to make me a jumper, which later, when I grew out of it, became frayed and once more turned into a ball, and was later reincarnated as a red patch on Dad’s grey knitted jacket.
A red ball of wool is a tautology, it is a matter of memory, and at the same time, in the collective mind, it is a model, a gestalt of the very process of memory. This is the Aleph, and Proust’s madeleine, with an aroma to excite the memory. This is the creeping blot that comes out of the print of the registration of the inner homeland, which as it expands captures the tasty morsel of the collective soul. The ball travels from one plot to another, acting as the hero and the director of the kaleidoscopically unfolding narrative…
In this exhibition, all the vectors of other people’s stories are provoked by the finding of old torn photographs. Thus, the creation of this series of collages for me was meditative handmade knitting, a way of filling in time at the dacha. This is an agitational white poem, sewn with red threads.
My first comic book in my childhood was a Polish picture book about the adventures of the accident-prone Professor Filutek. It was not even a comic book, because there were no speech balloons in it, simply a selection of illustrated stories. Every story consisted of three pictures: the first picture illustrated the professor getting into a “situation”, the second showed how he reacted, and the third showed the absurd result of his reaction. The drawings were black and white lines, but occasionally the publisher indulged the luxury of using additional red or green colours. So sometimes, I found it more interesting to observe the life of these details floating in the black and white space than the adventures of the hero. This took place because of the displacement and discrepancy of these coloured details and the background: a scarf refused to wrap around the neck, or a ball of wool to fit in the hand. This dismemberment caused the visual space to be split into the semantic and the aesthetic.
If the red thread proclaims linear or mythological time, knitting is non-linear time. But in any case, the New Year holidays are striped measuring columns, around which time is twisted into a cyclically repeating round year through the ritual of annulling time. At zero hour all knitted items turn into bundles of wool.
The growing event horizon around the black hole of collective oblivion meets the frayed, dusty warm wool of torturous memory, in which the person remembering is absent. These are layers where person and historical memory cross.
One employee at the Kurchatov Institute told me about the curious practice of extracting the preparation of memories. To remove a memory, you need to recall it at the moment you are in the black box of amnesia, for example so drunk that you probably won’t remember it the next day. So, when you remember something in this state, he said, it is possible to remove it from your memory…
Why do I remember the day Brezhnev died, for example? Because this was the day of Brezhnev’s death. But it’s in my memory through the grimacing face of the physics teacher, when she tried to pretend she was crying, the smoke rising vertically from a chimney on a rainy day, happily running home after the mourning assembly, the sound of the radio signal of the Voice of America from my grandfather’s room. For someone, this day was remembered for spilt milk, an umbrella found in a phone booth, a phone call from abroad at night or myriads of other mnemonic traps.
What is worth forgetting in the situation of total amnesia of the 2000s? What should be loaded on to the next boat on the voyage across the Lethe? Perhaps this exhibition and the theme of amnesia together with it? And if anyone ever remembers my red ball of wool, then the question is, how will this happen?
Arkady Nasonov, 2011
On the series “Topos Lost, or Banquet Dialogues of Figures and Beings, Created as Subjects Specially for Painting on the Surface of New Vases…”, 2015
“Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here”
— inscription on the gate of Plato’s Academy
It is no secret to anyone that the Greeks, starting with Parmenides, separated Existence itself and the Being of what existed, which can sometimes be glimpsed under the veil of our psychology. However, the Greeks were not the first to do this. A similar division existed in the Upanishads, in the division of the concepts of Brahman and Atman. In A. Pyatigorsky’s pithy definition, Atman is responsible for supervising dreams, and Brahman is the one who knows that everything that Atman sees is just a dream.
Plato banishes artists from the ideal state he envisages, because he believes they are not capable of depicting the ideal (the Being of what exists), and only depict existing things imperfectly. However, artists could have found a use in the Aristotelian state model. But what would Plato have done if conceptualist artists had existed at that time?
The Cloud Commission continues to test the term of “co-spatial” art. Co-spatial, like an inversion of “con-temporary”, of the actual. This time the author is co-spatial in his studies on the sciences of topology, geometry and even the spaces of Ancient Greek thought, entering into dialogue with it, using ironic, polemicizing and listening to the pulse of co-spatial extratemporal thought.
If one imagines the model of the antipodes co-spatially, then perhaps this is possible by eternally moving between “will be” and “was”, like the stream of Heraclites, the social network newsfeed, from which we can only blow off the Foam of Days, formed on the crest of the wave of time. I mention social networks here simply to provide a clear attachment to contemporaneity.
Before Socrates drank a cup of hemlock, he pronounced the word “Banquet”. A banquet involves ritual dialogues about essentials.
At Hellenic banquets, where these ritual dialogues about essentials took place, there were quite specific forbidden topics, but the most common ones for the Heraclites social network stream are:
1. It is forbidden to talk about politics (the most popular topic in the stream, the prerogative of actualist art).
2. It is forbidden to talk about good and bad rulers (a topic which now even smacks of certain pillars of Russian conceptualism).
3. It is forbidden to talk about money (rankings of the best-selling artists, expensive works and sales at auctions).
4. It is forbidden to talk about bad and good people (reposts with subsequent discussion of acts by bad people and the tearful adoration of good deeds).
5. It is forbidden to talk about children and the family (this topic, besides toddlers, can also include endless photos of our four-legged friends).
6. It is forbidden to talk about one’s belief (no need to comment on this one).
All of these topics are connected with the concept of the Temporary. The conversation at the Banquet began with a discussion of a drawing on a Greek vase. As we know, vases usually showed a certain mythological subject.
In this exhibition, different encounters of incongruities are displayed. These are not surrealist encounters of an “umbrella with a sewing machine”, and not metaphysical encounters of geometric figures in suprematist compositions. If we look for equivalents in classical art history, they are probably still lifes with staffage.
Thus, these are encounters of quite definite spatial and flat (possible and impossible) figures — absolute signs with living creatures. This involves an interaction of incorporeal eidoses and “imperfect images of real beings”, which Plato was so eager to avoid. They interact inside the topos.
The topos, in this case, is a general place, a meeting place which cannot be changed. Or which cannot be betrayed.
This common place, like paradise, is for medal-wearing, karmically fortune beings. They enter this park of Culture and Leisure of these geometric and 3-D figures. And these figures start to talk with animals and people in a language we cannot understand. They do not just talk, we might say that they engage in special discursive practices. Practices like the ones that were conducted during Plato’s walks with his pupils in the academy gardens. These talks give rise to ideas for new post-Hellenic and post-Shakespearian subjects. The depictions of these subjects will be drawn by the skilful hand of the artist of the future on the surface of new vases, and these pictures will serve as a pretext for new dialogues about the essential. However, from all appearances, these Topi are lost, as the structure of the subject presupposes development… But what development can there be in timeliness?
Arkady Nasonov, 2015
On the series “Backing Track or Motifs of the Kandinsky-Clérambault Syndrome”, 2017–2018
This time last year, I was returning from an Arctic journey. Speaking with pathos (in the original meaning of this word that the Greeks gave it) and indeed this is the only way to talk about such events, this journey divided my life into “before” and “afterwards”. I can’t say that this was the first and only event that divided my life, but it is certainly one of them. And this is not just because of the impressions left in my memory and digitally, but rather in the special state of mind that I had never experienced before. Secondly, I had never travelled by sea for so long and spent so long travelling away from the coastline. Once I sailed a yacht from central Germany to the north of Holland. But this voyage lasted for less than three days, we made stops to sleep, and also I was the pilot, so I was active and there was no time for reflection… But this time… This is what I wrote a year ago onboard the Somov icebreaker…
“The monotonous horizon and the grey northern fluffy snow plunge me into an almost pre-natal state. It resembles the light that is called the light of Dharmakaya in Tibetan Buddhism, the light in which attention is concentrated in the corridor of the afterlife, to avoid being distracted by bright temptations of illusions. The light of the Great void. This grey light and the endless space of the ocean overboard helps me to concentrate and finish writing my script. The closer we reach the pole, the more I am thrown back into myself. Like an icebreaker entering the zone of eternal ice, I internally enter the zone of memory, which I have never studied before. I died on shore and now my afterlife existence has begun… we are moving towards the zero point, absolute whiteness, purity and emptiness. Two poles. If we imagine that these are two poles of the human consciousness, for me the world Antarctic is the rational left hemisphere, and the Russian Arctic is the right irrational one. And approaching this pole, I start to feel states previously unknown to me… The grey gauze of the sky wraps me like a fluffy blanket. I feel like a cosmonaut in an isolation bath. The minimum of external irritants causes the brain to gush”.
I could not compare this state to any previous psychedelic experiences. Within it there were comfort zones, complete disorder, euphoria and misery. The only thing that was not in this new state was I myself. I lay in the cabin the whole time, dozed and wrote down dreams in my notebook. Instead of myself, I sent a double to eat meals or land on another Arctic island, or even draw at the desk. At meals the consciousness of this double was not just incapable of keeping up with the lively and healthy talk of experienced Polar veterans, but its reserves were not even enough to follow the thread and meaning of these conversations. I felt like a warmth-loving spy among maniacal frost-lovers. I constantly regretted going on this expedition. I regretted it every day, but then a fantastic sunset reflected in the northern ice, a landing on another island to see walruses and polar bears, round double rainbows or the northern lights distracted me from self-pity.
Once we landed on Bennett Island, where there is a memorial cross for Kolchak, who visited the island in 1903 in search of traces of the expedition by Von Toll, who in his turn visited the island in an attempt to find the land of Sannikov. We travelled around the island by helicopter. The wind was strong enough to knock you off your feet. While the spirits of De Long’s lost expedition hovered over my companions, completely different spirits whirled above me… The wind blew the biting snow into my hood, and suddenly I (or rather the double I sent to the island instead of myself) distinctly heard a melody by Purcell under the hood. And he (this anesthetized double of myself) did not recall it or sing it inside him, but he heard it… Then something distracted me. The cold and the wind… And I forgot it. I have to say that for me, and not just for me (who knows will understand) baroque music is connected deeply in the unconscious with a feeling of cold, freezing or anaesthesia. Just as “passionate” music in the European tradition is connected with a lack of feeling — this is a mystery… The poles join. Icy passions… Later I remember the incident on the island and it struck me! What do you think the melody I heard was? It was the Cold Song, or the Aria of the Cold Genius from “King Arthur” (!!!), which Klaus Nomi once sang so unforgettably… But on the island I only heard the backing track, without the vocals. I was a “backing track” myself at this time… I began to analyse my state, and the mechanism of playing the Cold Song through me, on the northernmost Arctic island, and tried to give myself a diagnosis. The syndrome of mental automatism seemed closest to this state. I quickly overcome this syndrome, called the Kandinsky-Clérambault syndrome, as soon I came back to the mainland from the icebreaker. A new syndrome was waiting for me, but I’ll discuss that some other time.
Arkady Nasonov, 2017–2018