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Sergei Buagev. Photo: Nikita Pavlov

“Since the time of the Fayum portraits—the era when the Egyptian Empire collapsed—practically nobody had worked with these things. In Fayum, people had an understanding that life beyond the grave is something very important, much more important than our mortal lives. But in the Soviet Union, metaphysical preconditions like this didn’t exist…”

I suggested to Sergei that perhaps this was related to the fact that the ordinary Soviet person sharply distinctly felt his inability to influence anything, that he was destined to be quickly forgotten. Because everything around us is constantly changing, heroes quickly become “enemies of the people,” traditions are destroyed, citizens migrate. And people somehow wanted to deepen their significance and the significance of their deceased relatives, leaving behind even just this visible sign.

“Without a doubt,” he answered. “Yet in all of these phenomena we search for a confirmation of the fact that not everything happens according to a person’s will. And here lies a microelement of ‘Cage’s teaching,’ as well as Zen and Taoist teaching: Everything comes into being somehow, infinitely. And I think that a certain logic is at work here: no matter what kind of atheists or communists we’ve been, if only everything works out, if we make it to that part of the Kingdom of the Deceased where another chance is given, where they’ll say, ‘Well, see, you lived in the Soviet Union…you didn’t live all too well, you suffered. Well, here’s another chance for you. Here there will be slightly different preconditions, a different gravitation; everything is visible only in part, everything is only semi-transparent. But still, so that you better recall what and how, here is your photograph. There you’ll meet other similar people who will also materialize with photographs…’ Without photographs nothing will happen—how else is it possible to give format to a person?”

After another cup of coffee we returned from the visibility/invisibility rituals of the world beyond the grave, and came back to Cage and his context in world culture. “Cage, just like Malevich, has given the world works that to a certain extent are invisible, though they are available to everyone. Right now there is lots of information in the world, yet it is related less and less to actually existing objects. Before, just the opposite was the case. Objects existed, yet there was a lack of information about them available to everyone. For instance, you knew that theBlack Square was at the museum, yet it wasn’t exhibited, and that’s why nobody else knew about it. All you can do is say to somebody, ‘Hey man, it isn’t enough that there was a moment in art history when someone simply went and drew a black square. See, an object exists, too, in this museum. It’s just hidden.’ What is more, you can’t say that this type of black square works less effectively than the Black Square that ordinary citizens now walk up to and are incredibly surprised to see that they have once again been cheated—they’ve put up who-knows-what in place of a masterpiece. The ordinary viewer doesn’t understand that he is being offered a chance to substantially expand his border of perception. He decided that he has been cheated once again, turns around, and leaves. I recently stood for a whole hour near the Black Square in the Hermitage Museum. It’s truly a very strange place, and a camera should be set up nearby to document how contact occurs with the audience. That would be something similar to a unique indicator of public development.


Photo: Nikita Pavlov

“For John Cage, in turn, Marcel Duchamp was very important. There was a table in his garden. And on this table was a chess board, covered in dust. This was the same board on which Cage played against Marcel Ducahmp for about twenty or thirty years. They chatted  together there… And today, when we race toward cyber reality without reducing our speed, I still think that some information must be personally given from one person to another, without the help of a machine, the way it was done in the previous age.”

Afterward Sergei and I spoke about Petersburg and the role it plays in Russian’s current cultural situation. Sergei complained about the institutional lack which would allow the interest in non-banal culture and non-mainstream music felt by the new generation to be raised to another level. “In order for something to change, you first have to sit down somewhere. You must find a comfortable place from which everything is clearly visible and audible, and from there you must announce some sort of other principles. A different rhythm is needed, a distance. Otherwise this constant rush, this conveyer belt, brings us to a state where we draw along with us to this newly arrived space—this cyber space—all the trash from our material world, all of these relations between goods and money.” 

 “Yes,” I say, “the hope for a cyber revolutions has diminished. But in what other sphere could this revolution take place now?”

“Cage’s territory—sonic territory—is the territory of a constantly occurring revolution,” Sergei answers. “The ear is directly linked to the essence of the imagination, to the foundations of thinking. In the 1990s my friend the writer Pavel Pepperstein and I conducted a string of experiments on Radio Rekord about the power of audial influences. Visual influences and the influence of television don’t even compare. For example, we played out the following situation: We announced to listeners that there are ten beautiful women in the studio right now, that they are totally naked, and that we are going to select the very best of all the women. The reaction was incredibly interesting. If we were to really show ten naked girls on TV, I doubt such a fuss would have been raised. But here an unimaginable drama began. On the one hand, there were those who wanted to vote for the girls whom we described on air; and on the other hand, there were the outraged defenders of morality who demanded that we immediately cease this foolishness. Which in the visible world didn’t even happen. See, that’s interesting.”  

And with that Sergei emptied his third cup of coffee and stood up, so that he and art historian Olesya Turkina could travel to Cēsis to check out the site of the forthcoming exhibition. A place where in some way—a way known for now only to Sergei “Afrika” Bugaev—the invisible yet constantly and universally extant substance known as “John Cage” would materialize.