Revisiting people’s suffering in the gallery screen
What power does the moving image have to access collective trauma? Can the experience of documentary film be cathartic for an ethnic group at large? The work of Aslan Gaisumov poses these questions in “All That You See Here, Forget” on show at Emalin Gallery until the 28th of April – a meditation on collective and personal memory for the people of Chechenya.
Documenting the life of Chechen elders, Gaisumov gathers the survivors of the 1944 mass expulsion in a room; he interviews a woman who was a young girl when Stalin ejected her people into Central Asia, away from Chechnya. These two films are projected on two sides of the same panel, which suggests a dialectic in which the outpouring of grief is tied hand-in-hand with the physical gathering of survivors. Curated by the Polish Anna Smolak, this fact only adds to the narrative of active remembrance of Soviet atrocities upon diverse peoples surrounding Russian territory. This is still a contentious history in Moscow, and one that the current nationalist revival does not seek to acknowledge.
The virtue of HD film projection is well employed in the process of documenting. These films actively engage the viewer with the urgency of shared spaces — the first film is shot with the totality of the room in sight, as we witness the Chechen elders and survivors slowly sit in every single chair, occupy every single space until they fill the screen, which previously showed an empty, mirthless room.
The second film shows the elderly interviewee being driven through the country and then walking in the mountains she had not seen since her childhood. The vastness of the valleys and peaks is shown in its desolate and awe-inspiring magnitude. However, the space quickly becomes historically and politically charged – it was a homeland robbed from the Chechen and the woman becomes shaken and visibly upset. We witness the hills and paths that she tells us Soviet soldiers ordered them to vacate “in fifteen minutes – with only what [they] could hold with the hands.”
Gaisumov is explicit about the pain of remembrance without tipping into pity or sentimentality — the filming maintains an objective distance without losing any of the pathos in the charged act of collective recollection. The Chechen woman summons the place again and again in her words “Hail, place!” whilst near the end fills with sorrow and confesses that, due to her painful memories, she “cannot stand this place.” Gaisumov, an art student from Russian institutions, reveals the material nature of memory – it is about pebbles and walking sticks and headscarves. The archival work and documentary process in the writing of a people’s history has never been more important. The giant leaps in technology allow researchers, artists, and research-artists, to revisit the places of mourning and continue writing the history of suppressed people – in HD projection screens.
Words by Rodrigo Carlon