I think we still have four night on the train. Some kids on their way to serve the army engaged with us. Most drunk, one sober and hungry for knowledge. He stayed a bit longer asking for advice on career paths. He wanted to learn how to organize studies abroad. We all hugged as he left. Socializing on the train reveals the density of our situation. During a gang-chat with the posse, I made a gesture indicating a flat surface. The person I was talking mistook it as a sign of me making fun of their height.
We engaged in a conversation with the train attendant. Each compartment has one, they maintain order, clean corridors and opened cabins on a daily basis, check tickets on stations and keep the samovars warm. They have numerous responsibilities behind the front. She worked hard to keep the posse constrained, coming inside the cabin, sitting close to them, making jokes, touching the lads on shoulders or calmly on their chests keeping them grounded. Perhaps she knew them forehand but at the time it felt like she was an emotional labor specialist, shifting focus, providing attention and keeping the situation just light enough. Once she laughed hysterically and crouched to wipe tears. I payed attention and noticed that while crouched her impression was numb. Her mother works the train too. Interviewing them on tape would be incredible. Today she’s been locked in her cabin. A cellphone alarm was heard at a station and her mother took the responsibility of opening the compartment doors to let us out.
I’ve been writing a travel-log-critique of the Ural Industrial Biennial and negotiating a synth trade trough a Finnish music gear forum (if it goes as planned I’ll be really happy!). We only get online on stations, for two to five minute on stops and a daily 20-30 minute break. Occasionally the train slows down and I pick up an email. Luckily there is a restaurant cart. I’m developing a habit of sitting there in the mornings for coffee and writing. I’ve been reading Yuk Hui in an effort to grasp “techodiversity” and “cosmotechics”, which are referred in the biennial catalogue.
Listening to Soviet Nostalgia In The South Caucasus (2016) SRB podcast with Maxim Edwards made me think of Donald Trump as a weaponized politician for a hybrid war, a spectacle designed to overshadow Putin.
Later in the night, after Ulan-Ude our train hit a person. The cabin attendant informed us he was taken inside the train to be transported to the closest town. Later we were informed the man had died and he was carried out at a stop. I went to the restaurant wagon in hopes of meeting people effected by the event and met Pavel. I believe we chatted about his career as a fire and rescue officer. He drew a map which showed a planet, much like earth and drew himself in the center of it. Then he performed a pantomime, showing himself carrying people to the surface and performing cpr. We smiled, he asked me to share drinks but I was too tired.
Vladivostok was the capital of pirates and brand cannibals. People looked stylish and the city center felt energetic. There was a pedestrian boulevard for tourists with Asian food novelties and gift shops. Visitors were from South-Korea and there was a lot of them. The city revealed itself as the South-Korean equivalent of what 2001 Tallinn was for Finns. Dolce, Supreme, weird Japanise sneakers with self illuminating laces. Referencing construction work and nuclear power. All straight from Chinese factories across the bay. All the goods in open street markets were tainted with a light layer of oil, it was meant to give the vinyl a shine but collected dust.
The cities makings were visible a stroll away from the boulevard. Away from the Kawaii shops, trams raddled like wheelbarrows, the pedestrian paths faded away and broken city heating pipes busted boiled trash fumes across the hilly skyline. Blockhouses like snakes, wrapped around hills as morbid rims. Solidified polyurethane dripping eternally from building seams. Cars moved furiously, using intuitive mutant patterns as lanes, in a choreography which echoed a collective death wish or lust for life. I loved it.
The city made me understand contemporary Russian infrastructure as the decaying corpus of the ex-soviet, presently habituated by a thin layer of privatization. The streets are rubble but people had pretty cars and clean albeit faintly oily Italian shoes.
Our one night show in Zarya felt really nice. The exhibition was more coherent and I enjoyed the videos in the screening more. Total atmospheric mean (2010) by Maija Timonen felt very fitting to the trip. Her analysis of a Shakira music video provided a ground to read styles which women are exhibited in Russian popular medias (that I’ve seen along our route). It has something to do with violent self-objectification and how this renders bodies non-penetrable and non-cavityish. I had some technical difficulties but apparently the audience didn’t notice any. My statue-stretch-poses were perfectly vague and I used my grandfathers voice as an underground cavern. It was porous and missing limbs. A line of men cued to have a taste of the water I prepared.
We are now on route to Moscow. Elina is working with a canvas for a text, photo, etc. piece. She’ll use the train and it’s movement trough the continent as a display. What I know of the work so far makes me think of our group as an Alkovi gallery in motion. Katja managed to aquire her more canvas material. The canvases will be delivered to a station stop on the way! Iona is working on her notes and Miina is reading. I’ll boot up my eurorack after Khabarovsk and attempt to link it to the train using piezos. I’ll also record noises and ambients of the trip.
Last days on the train were dense. I managed to carve a daily routine of writing, practicing and eating on regular intervals to keep time moving. There was a drunken group of army boys on board last night or the night before. Slumber kept us awake and made the cabin feel like a closet. Felt that we were kids hiding from domestic abuse. Chats with group members have been sincere. We’ve gone trough family histories, some personal fears and analyzed our experiences of the trip openly. Being open about an ongoing experience is laborious.
I listened trough Pattern Recognition (2003) and Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson. The first started intensely but lost its trail midway, the second was a neu-romantic macho fantasy and I enjoyed it. Now I’m boring trough Mountain of Madness (1936) Lovecraft.
By observing scenery from the train window I learned that the Finnish narrative that Mansard-roofs are rooted on French attic regulations and designs is a bluff. Vladivostok looks nice but with all honestly every city we’ve passed looks like somewhere in Russia. There are a lot of tourists, mainly form Korea I think and people look young and fresh.
We’ve been on a train for three or four days crossing four of five timezones. Arttu bought an extension-cord from Moscow which we’ve used to claim control over the train corridor electricity sockets. With it we’ve recharged our mobile devices, boom boxes and last night I used it to power my modular. As I was preparing for Saturdays gigs a lady passed asking: “Perpertum Mobile?”. I didn’t understand what she was asking and replied “Techno” (I’ve used the same reply during train security checks). Saturday will be my most complicated modular synth set to date, I’ll use samples and attempt to make electro-acoustic grooves live (D-2 in Karplus mode, C-5 with melodies from my Turing Machine).
Iona has read us train horror stories, we’ve listened to podcasts and made short presentations on various topics. We passed Baikal, endless forests and mountain ranges. Sprinted to shops during short station visits for eggs and pastries. We’ve learned to bathe in the toilets in an upright position, pouring warm water from plastic flasks which are mangled in the hot water. Some conflicts in the group seem brewing. Nothing serious.. I occasionally feel my pride clogging my perception and notice my nervous macho-chatter disturbing folk engaged in each other, views or reading. At our best we operate extremely politely. People have begun to ask permissions to enter discussions others are having and intentionally not-talking when others are concentrating.
Right now we are above Mongolia and Katja spotted a white horse on the north side of the track. It was the same mere which produced the fermented milk in Kazan. Working on the train is difficult due to the comforting motion trance (the soothing tremors of the tracks and infra-deep hums). Social causes are also to blame for the observable non-focus. We are learning about each other indirectly, though subtle ques which require time to spot and using energy for this labor is way more rewarding then fixating on art.
I believe that if repeated methodologically, this practice (moving in a train as a group of artists) could inform our praxises by building into a holistic cosmology of inside jokes and theories, which could be identified across our work. This ethos could build into a creative robustness. At present I can identify possibilities for this shift but I think we would need to expose our practices more to make this experience transformative. Becoming pourus is laborsome. The transformativity I imagine, is not radical or violent.. It’s subtle, like the taste of cucumber but persistent like the oder of sweat in clothes washed in the sink.
We had a short stay over at Novosibirsk, it felt like a nice place. Miina made a brilliant move and got us a single hotel room. We sneaked in small groups to store stuff, rest and bathe. It was noted that hipsters exhibited their personal styles. We stayed for some 10 hours and by chance witnessed the last moments of the 48-hours-nsk festival. As the name suggests the festival presented an array of exhibitions, events and performances during a two day period.
I witnessed a performance by Barbara Caveng at a metro station. A performer was wearing a spacesuit and moved slowly while waving a burned wood branch from siberia. Participants scratched cole from the surfaces of branches and mixed it with acrylic medium to make paint, which was applied to form black squares on postcards that the bypassers could take with them. One member of the group also collected audience comments and wrote them on a sheet of paper: “We are all from siberia, we know this already. Get a real job!” one comment read.
We ate at the most generic orientally themed restaurant I’ve yet to visit. It was a physical manifestation of 90ties spiritual-corporate music, mixing signs and objects from all ethnicities across the globe to form a singular, smooth experience. There were no Russian dishes available.