A wall text, bearing a quote by the novelist A.B. Yehoshua, serves as the prologue to Ira Eduardovna’s recent exhibition A thousand years. In it, the novelist asks questions that are, undoubtedly, asked by almost every human at some point in her or his life. Paraphrasing Yehoshua, he wonders: Who will remember me? A thousand years from now, long after departing from this world, will there be any traces of my existence? And, will these traces prompt another human, in the distant future, to want to know about me? While we can only speculate about such possible futures, Ira Eduardovna’s video works take to task how we construct our understanding of the past and present. By engaging a variety of media formats—sitcoms, documentaries, and reality shows—Eduardovna demonstrates that narrative, memory, and knowledge are convoluted things that must be deciphered, never passively accepted.
Figure 1. Ira Eduardova, A thousand years, installation view, 2015
Eduardovna and her sister spent their childhood in Uzbekistan during the twilight years of the Soviet Union and Eduardovna’s sister exchanged letters with a girl from the former Czechoslovakia through a government-sponsored program. As an adult, Eduardovna attempted to locate this person by placing ads in Czech newspapers, but was unsuccessful. However, several women who participated in the same letter exchange program did respond, and Eduardovna’s video To Prague with love begins as a pseudo-documentary that films these individuals as they recount their experiences. Yet, in a disruptive moment, the documentary cuts away; the cinematography shifts to that of a reality television show—overproduced and artificial. Revealed is a movie theater populated by four stern-looking individuals who act as judges. Almost in unison, these four validate or refute each woman’s experiences by pressing the buttons of brightly colored toy-like objects, whirling and spinning. Like a propaganda machine, the judges tell the viewer what to believe and what is “truth.” After each woman’s memories have been evaluated, To Prague with love transitions to its final scene. A cinematographic counterpoint to the previous segments, the camera follows a young girl as she moves through a labyrinthine space, vaguely reminiscent of an art gallery. Whereas the judges were determining for us truth and fiction, this free-flowing and hazy conclusion functions like an open text, allowing for a greater sense of indeterminacy and mystery. Despite its use of disparate formats, To Prague with love asks us to think critically about the regimes that claim to administer truth and taste, be they aesthetic or Soviet.
Figure 2. Ira Eduardova, Newspaper Ad, To Prague with love, installation view, 2015
A thousand years adopts the sitcom as its “truth” telling format. Each frame of the three-channel projection initially focuses on a quintessentially American interior. The décor is outdated but quaint, and we are introduced to two characters sitting on a white couch: a grizzled, stout, and somewhat sloppy man and a more composed woman. When asked what he is watching on television, the man, disgruntled, replies, “It’s a tragedy.” “Oh, what’s it about?” inquiries the woman. “He kills his father,” we learn. As we ruminate over the meaning of their dialogue, Eduardovna hits us with another reveal: the sitcom cuts away and we are shown that all of this is a set—the fiction we already knew it was. A conductor, dressed in black, directs a chorus that sings Yehoshua’s prologue in Hebrew. As the conductor begins to walk away from the actors and singers, the frames are now completely out of sync, and each focuses on different characters: the couple, the chorus, the conductor. While the couple coexists, and the choir continues to sing, the conductor retires to a dressing room and removes her make-up. She watches a small television that plays the sitcom, looping us back to where we started. Further confounding our easy comprehension of a smooth, linear narrative is this realization that A thousand years was actually played out entirely in reverse.
Figure 3. Ira Eduardova, A thousand years, installation view, 2015
A 1997 Scientific American article by the psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus argued that false memories can be relatively easily implanted into the psyches of human beings. The implications of Loftus’s research suggests that memory is not only unreliable, but something that can be fabricated for and separately from us. To Eduardovna, then, sitcoms, documentaries, and reality shows—despite being disparate formats—all present their own versions of truth and fiction that have the power to construct and obfuscate memory. A thousand years and To Prague with love cast the path to knowledge and memory as circuitous, winding, and fractured. And a thousand years from now, if someone is wondering about what we twenty-first century humans were like, searching for our cultural memories, they might turn to our sitcoms, documentaries, and reality shows for answers as records of shared experience. But one thing is certain—their understanding of us, like our understanding of the present—will be wholly incomplete.
Owen Duffy is a Ph.D. candidate studying contemporary art history at Virginia Commonwealth University. In fall 2015, he curatedThe Tapia Twins: Bringing Together Art & Medicine, the inaugural exhibition at VCU’s Depot Gallery. He is an Editor for the contemporary art magazine ARTPULSE, a Curatorial Assistant at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the founder of ARTSKIP.com, a free digital platform that helps users discover contemporary art based on location and medium. He has published in ARTPULSE, Art in Print, Fjords Review, and Ceramics Monthly, and has presented his research nationally and internationally at such institutions as the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; LASANAA Live Art Hub, Kathmandu; and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
ext. 1708 is an on-line journal funded through a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which also supports 1708 Gallery’s exhibitions. 1708 Gallery’s mission is to promote new art, a mission achieved via a rotating schedule of exhibitions that presents a diverse range of projects. In relation, 1708 Gallery strives to educate the public about Contemporary art and employs artist talks and didactic text panels to illustrate the exhibiting artist’s issues, themes, and modes of working. In an effort to further expand opportunities for education, this journal features essays, interviews and other writings that provide context for 1708 Gallery’s exhibitions and promote further dialogue about contemporary art. 1708 Gallery works with a range of writers, from graduate students to professional writers, to allow for multiple voices and experiences to contribute to this project.