The tension between the book as individual copy and as mass reproduced object is reframed and even collapsed in samizdat literature, the illegally copied and circulated typescripts that created an entire world of literary and intellectual life in the late-Soviet period. Samizdat texts were reproduced, four or five copies at a time through the act of retyping and the use of carbon copy. In these works, the acts of writing, copying, and publishing effectively fuse.
Beginning in the 1970s, conceptual writer and artist Dmitri Prigov sought to investigate the relationship between text and copy in laboriously reproduced samizdat texts, which in spite — in fact because — of their poor quality became fetishized objects for members of the Soviet samizdat community. Prigov exploited the nature of the samizdat text to produce singular works in which the materiality of the book plays a key role. At the same time, he stressed the relationship between the writer and copyist, between unique work and reproduction in samizdat book culture.
Today I present a guest post from Gerald Janecek, who has contributed so much to our understanding of the visual, verbal, and sonic breadth of Russian avant-garde poetry from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. Jerry’s and my shared interests include the work of the conceptual artist and writer Dmitri Prigov, whose iterative practice spanned a vast range of genres and media from sculpture to performance, poetry to theatre. Some time ago, Jerry shared with me an extraordinary video of Prigov performing with the musician Vladimir Tarasov in the apartment studio of Ilya Kabakov in Moscow in 1986. Below, I present part of this video: Prigov and Tarasov’s performance of the 49-aya azbuka or 49th Alphabet from Prigov’s Alphabet series (you can read the Russian text here). Jerry’s commentary on the work and its performance follows. Together I hope they will serve as an introduction to a writer and artist who deserves to be far better known in the English-speaking world.
Paal Bjelke Andersen Vanessa asked me to suggest someone to write to, I immediately thought of you two: Marco because of what you read when we meet in Paris—an elaboration of some accidents in Mexico's contemporary history—and where you are living, at the crossroad of the US and Mexico, in Tamaulipas; Robert because of your fascination for the surface of the American cities—a fascination I never have really understood until I went to Los Angeles in August and saw the eclectic series of private homes, one building looking as if the owner wanted to live in a house from a Brother Grimms fairytale, while the neighboring house looked like a miniature Mexican hacienda (at least to my Norwegian eyes). I the context of “Global conseptualism” thought it could be interesting to pair this with the place I come from: a social democratic, post-war optimistic, homogeneous Norway where the welfare state now is consequently reduced to a neo-liberal society.