Oleg Tcherny

The General Line

September 7 — October 16, 2011

Miguel Abreu Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of Oleg Tcherny’s The General Line on Wednesday, September 7th, the filmmaker’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. The show consists of the simultaneous screening of two video works by Tcherny, the recently completed L’après-midi près du tombeau de Falconetti on a monitor in the front room, and the projection of The General Line from 2010 behind a curtain in the darkened main gallery.

In 1632, Galileo Galilei publishes his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which compares the new Copernican system with traditional Ptolemaic cosmology. Some pages of this Dialogue are dedicated to a curious discussion of a ship that leaves Venice for Aleppo. One of the speakers, Sagrado, imagines a pen that would leave a visible mark of the entire voyage from Italy towards Syria. What mark, what sign, what line would it leave? Noble Venetians ponder how it could be that everything on board would remain immobile, while at the same time leaving a thousand-yard-long trace. They discover that a true and real motion can be seen from different perspectives, including those from which this very movement would be as if nonexistent. A year later, the dialogue is banned, remaining on the list of forbidden books until 1835.

In 1926, Sergei Eisenstein begins work on his film, The General Line, which focuses on collectivization in Soviet Russia. He seeks to show the collision between two worlds: the old world of the helpless slave, who is submitted to unknown forces, and the new world, that of the milk separator, collective motion and the borderless earth. Eisenstein famously names this film “an experiment comprehensible to millions.” Interrupted by another project and, later, by Stalin’s intervention in 1929, the film is re-edited and shown under the different title, Old and New. The milk cooperative is still a dream, but the general line has already changed.

According to Giorgio Agamben, most of European cities today have become either museums or are animated by a false life – except, perhaps, Venice. “The most interesting condition for a city is to have survived its own death, to have become a specter. Perhaps the only way for a city to survive today is this spectral condition.”

Once the above occurrences have been recalled, it remains to be said that the two motion pictures on display share a particular procedure of image collectivization that consists in the layering of successive frames over one another, from classical double exposure all the way to the superimposition of every frame in the film into one single image. The horizontal time line here locks in with the vertical axis of frame layers or exposure values, the progressive variation of which becomes a subject of editing. The idea of “vertical montage” goes back to Eisenstein’s work on polyphonic construction of a single shot in a film. He evokes the principle of layering simultaneous movements or vectors of action into a complex expression to attain an image that could be best described in terms of the “physiognomy of a movement.” The two films unfold, however, at the very border separating stillness from the kinetic, a place that discloses an uncanny depth of the present, its tense, allowing the spectator to experience a change in his or her space-time standpoint.