Three Questions

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Three Questions
Navinki Festival
Minsk, Belarus
photo by Inari Virmakoski

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Three Questions
Navinki Festival
Minsk, Belarus
photo by Inari Virmakoski

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Three Questions
Navinki Festival
Minsk, Belarus
photo by Inari Virmakoski

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Three Questions
Navinki Festival
Minsk, Belarus
photo by Inari Virmakoski

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Three Questions
Navinki Festival
Minsk, Belarus
photo by Inari Virmakoski

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Three Questions
Navinki Festival
Minsk, Belarus
photo by Inari Virmakoski

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Three Questions
Navinki Festival
Minsk, Belarus
photo by Inari Virmakoski

This performance was based on interviews in the USA and Belarus of people's memories of the other country during the Cold War era.

event:
the Fifth Navinki International Performance Art Festival
venue:
Museum of Contemporary Visual Art
location:
Minsk, Belarus
sponsor:
The Fifth Navinki International Performance Art Festival
date:
September 2003

Project Notes:

I spent much of the summer debating on what I might perform at the festival in Minsk. While I had spent time in other parts of Eastern Europe, this would be my first visit to a former republic of the USSR. I read books on the history of the region, a book on the impact of the Chernobyl disaster, and articles on domestic politics, its economy, and relations with Russia, Europe and the US. In the end, I decided that it was only possible to make a very personal piece, one which examined my own relationship to the region.

I started by making audio recordings of a number of my friends here in Boston who grew up in the US during the 50s and 60s. They answered three questions: Do you remember what you thought about the USSR when you were a child? Do you remember what you learned about the USSR in school? What do you think of when you hear ‘Minsk, Belarus’?

Armed with that tape, I arrived in Minsk. I arranged to interview a number of people at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and they answered the comparable questions. And in my ’40 Years of Victory Hotel’ room, I edited a tape which alternated between the American and Belarussian answers to the questions. This was what played during my performance.

The performance action was a simple experiment concerning oil and water. Setting up a row of 10 bottles, I started with the first and carefully measured out different proportions of water and oil. I began with nearly all water, and just a little oil. I shook the bottle, and while the water and oil remained in solution, I entered the audience to greet individuals. “Ocenh priåtno!” “I am pleased to meet you,” I said, making direct eye contact with each person. They returned the greeting, sometimes shook my [wet] hand, a few gave me things to eat, and several answered in English. There was much laughter by all of us as they prompted me in my pronunciation of the Russian.

When the water and oil had settled and completely separated again, I rushed back to try another combination, successively increasing the proportion of oil. The performance was completed when I reached the last bottle with the proportions the opposite of the beginning, nearly all oil and just a little water. I had managed to make contact with many in the audience. And even afterwards, they continued to greet me.

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