“TUNGUSKA EVENT, 2017

INSPIRATION FROM THE BOOK “INCOMPLETE & 

UTTER HISTORY OF CLASSICAL MUSIC” 

BY STEPHEN FRY

Concept, Scenography, Costume, Choreography: 

Vadim Zakharov

Production Manager: Kamal Ackarie 

Costumes and Wardrobe: Erin Adair

Casting Advisor: Dusty Limits

Cast:

Philip Bedwell, Anthony Best, Harry Boyd,

Sam Conway, Jia-Yu Corti, Victor Esses, Philip Gill, Suzy Halstead, David Jones, Mark Kitto, Lloyd Morris, Benjamin Murray, Roderick O’Grady,

Lee Ravitz, Carey Thring, Songhay Toldon

V-A-C Foundation:

Polina Filimonova, Teresa Iarocci Mavica, Victoria Mikhelson, Helen Weaver

Whitechapel Gallery:

Iwona Blazwick, Dan Eaglesham, Jessica Johnson, Anna Jones, Jenny Lea, Priya Shemar, 

James Sutt on, Sofia Victorino. 

Our special thanks to Stephen Fry

Sofia Victorino and Vadim Zakharov

What led you to take inspiration from the book Incomplete & 

Utter History of Classical Music by Stephen Fry?

The eloquent analogies and British humour of Stephen Fry 

provided a unique way of witnessing history in a 3D format. I have chosen a fragment of the text dedicated to the history of music between 1904 and 1917, and highlighted references to Russian music and culture, such as Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Nijinsky... This was also the period of the First World War, the Russo-Japanese War, and the birth of Marxist- Leninist ideology. Tunguska ambitiously encompasses all of the above.

In one of your previous projects, Restaurant Philosophers’ Ships (2015), the audience walked on a set t able. Now, “history marches on a table”. Can you tell us about the origins of Tunguska Event?

Sitting at a table with friends is one of the greatest achievements of mankind. However, in this case, history marches on a table in dirty army boots, barefoot and even in pointed shoes. The absurd thing is that the most iconic works are created with violence as a backdrop. In this performance and in Fry’s book, historical and cultural events absurdly collide. As a result, a cultural explosion takes place. I needed a strong and absurd image to describe this phenomenon The Tunguska meteorite, which exploded 100 years ago over Siberia became that image. You might ask: what do the two have in common? Well, almost nothing, apart from the fact that explosions of a much bigger scale can take place in peoples’ minds.

The staging of this performance coincides with the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Each character embodies a different year, from 1904 to 1917. What questions are you asking through these characters?

The years marching on the table saw the rise of the revolutionary wave that later would destroy millions of lives in Russia, China, Cambodia and other countries. In the performance, every year from 1904 to 1917 briefly tells us about the war, about art and music, and about events considered ‘normal’. Here the main question arises: what is the norm?

There are references to Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka (1911), to Marcel Duchamp’s “Bottle Rack” (1914), to Anton Chekhov’s short story “Lady with a Dog” (1899) and to Valie Export’s iconic 1968 performance where she walked Peter Weibel on a leash. How important is the layering of histories in your work?

Our cultural memory is composed of endless layers of histories and information. Shakespeare, Proust, Borges, Joyce, Tolstoy all brilliantly described these layers. Today, the capacity of our memory equals one day. Old information is replaced by new. What happened on Twitter yesterday? Can you remember? Tunguska Event is an attempt to look at the world through the dimension of time, with its challenges and collisions.

What role does humour play?

The main one. Without humour you cannot understand the 

performance, or the reason why we still exist.

The event encompasses performance, theatre, ballet and cabaret. Bertolt Brecht has been an influential figure for you. Can you tell us in what way?

In 2013, my wife Maria Porudominskaya and I staged an Ideological Defile, a work based on a book by Brecht called “Me-ti: Book of Interventions in the Flow of Things”. I have become especially interested in Brecht’s drama. Perhaps my interest is tied to the political and cultural processes currently happening in the world. Despite Facebook and virtual reality, a return 100 years back is an attempt to understand what is happening today.

How important is the set and costume design in this production?

The production has very simple set and costume design. The main unifying feature is the trench coat, which appeared during the First World War. I tend to think that elaborate costumes might interfere with the words uttered on stage and, as a conceptual artist, words are for me very important – and so is the table on which the actors walk.

 

Looking back at your career, especially as part of the APTART Gallery exhibitions (1982-84), you organised shows in Moscow both in private apartments and outdoors.How has that expe-rience shaped your work? What was its political motivation?

There were no institutions at that time in Russia that supported contemporary art. Artists decided everything; they organised one-day exhibitions, readings, created archives and initiated their own collect ions. Despite censorship, fear and prohibit ions, artists found a way to function within the existing constraints and to exhibit their work within a closed community. The existence of such a model is unfathomable for the Western cultural context. It is precisely for this reason that I have conti-nued the tradition of apartment exhibitions, staging recently a show in my Berlin home titled FREEHOME.

Is Tunguska Event a way of linking ideas of the archive and the performance of history?

 

Absolutely. Tunguska Event dives into my own archive and that of historical memory. I have been working on this archive for 35 years. Without memory and history we would all be mentally ill. Unfortunately, people without memory are now sitting in 

government buildings and banks, preaching how good it is for them not to remember anything! Oh dear!