Hi, Great-Grandma!

Anton Vidokle’s cosmo-philosophical films push pre-revolutionary man towards immortality. The result is pan-historic sci-fi of the highest calibre.

Anton Vidokle, This is Cosmos, installation view, Tranen, Hellerup, 2019. Photo: David Stjernholm.

Last Saturday morning, Danish time, the US space transportation company SpaceX sent the Crew Dragon into a low orbit around the Earth for the first time. I woke up just in time for the critical part of the live stream of what ended up a successful test. It appears likely that within this very year, astronauts, and then civilians, may be sent into space in a vessel produced by a private company.  

Not since NASA’s steroid-fuelled and astronomically expensive Shuttle programme was shut down in 2011 has any human being travelled out into the cosmos from American soil. Since then, space travel has departed from the Russian space agency Roskosmos’ base in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Fortunately for science, Russia and the United States have long been able to share more than just technologically virile election methods, which means that Baikonur has lent its launch pad to Soyuz rockets carrying astronauts from almost every space agency in the world.

At Tranen, the exhibition venue inside the main library in Gentofte, a Copenhagen suburb, Russian artist Anton Vidokle (b. 1965) has temporarily transformed the white, clinical exhibition space into an illustrative anti-gravity chamber where vast video screens and Eero Aarnio’s kitschy Bubble Chairs hang from the ceiling in a semi-social triangle. The screens show Vidokle’s film trilogy Immortality For All (2014–17), which takes its point of departure in the work of radical Russian thinker Nikolai Fedorov (1829–1903) as it relates the history of Russian Cosmism.

Fedorov was a utopian, a kind of geo-engineer of cosmos on Earth. His thinking presents a metaphysics that encompasses the axes of space and time, specifically urging all scientific work to devote itself entirely to the resurrection of all dead people and to upholding all life indefinitely. In brief, the objective was to conquer death: a massive adjustment to the earthly cycle of human life accompanied by a total colonisation of the cosmos in order to make room for everyone. 

Simply scripted, Vidokle’s films act as serious audiovisual agents for Fedorov’s utopian-religious ideas. With the first film of the series, This Is Cosmos (2014), Vidokle has created a work that is both beautiful and informative, taking us around Eurasia as Fedorov’s emancipating speeches and theses are repeated in the artist’s voiceover. While the combination of narrative lightness and historical gravitas anchors the film’s content, the imagery – showing rural populations, among other things – owes much of its strength to the interplay between the rhythmic editing and the soundtrack. The totality brings one closer to an appreciation of the ontological consequences required of this extreme philosophy.

The film Immortality And Resurrection For All (2017) analyses the historical function of museums as respiratory aids for the past; by way of Fedorov, Vidokle deconstructs the museum, transforming it into a laboratory for resurrection within a Cosmist worldview. Given that the film does not offer any technically feasible proposals on how this might be achieved, the observer quickly allows the more symbolic potential to govern their thoughts. This shift is heightened further by the linguistic schism between the translations (English subtitles) and the Russian voice speaking, which produces a deliciously megalomaniacal dichotomy of authority and insanity. The film boasts a stimulating soundtrack by the composer Éliane Radigue (L’île Re-Sontante, 2005), prompting a poignant excess of bliss and adding a dollop of cinematic transcendence to the deep extremes of the film.

The light aesthetic and sparse mode of narration in Vidokle’s films offer plentiful scope for continuing one’s speculations on the basis of historic thinking and philosophies. For example, I noticed explicit parallels to contemporary transhumanism and techno-utopianism. However, the further I delve into the films, the more I understand that both Fedorov’s proposals and their simplistic representation in these works entail massive ethical complexity. To render human beings immortal would utterly rearrange concepts such as past, present, and future. Such  temporal levelling is not unlike the consequences of the present-day data war waged in our budding digital era – a conflict that also tampers with our perception of time. With instant techno-archival access to the past, and constant, credible projections about the future, humanity is less governed by linear navigation than before. As suggested by the Cosmists more than a hundred years ago, we are already escaping the chronological shackles of time.

Anton Vidokle, This is Cosmos, installation view, Tranen, Hellerup, 2019. Photo: David Stjernholm.

The idea of revolution is, at its core, social and technological, but Vidokle seems to suggest that it sprouts from a seed that is fantastical and imaginary in nature. After God had been killed, the emancipation of the proletariat was replaced by work and technological progress. Even so, Fedorov was able to transfer religious concepts such as eternal life and paradise to the technological revolution. The extensive timeline of Russian Cosmism that takes up the entire eastern wall of Tranen tells us exactly why thinkers such as Fedorov set up a range of completely essential parameters for macrocosmic and microcosmic world-building to take the world further down the line. If, back in 1874, Fedorov had not mentored the young K. E. Tsiolkovsky – who would later become a pioneering figure within rocket science – we might never have had the accelerating space programme that we do today. Quite simply, someone has to think big, wild thoughts. 

Halfway into the final film, a text message reminds me that I have signed up for the workshop ‘Unleash The Power Within’ held by the high-profile, capital-psychotic, self-help guru Tony Robbins at Hotel Radisson Blu on Amager. I had completely forgotten that, seized by a moment of madness on some lonely night, I had signed up for this course in order to deliberately probe the limits of the real. I toy with the idea of leaving the spaceship in Gentofte and pursue what I see as the Cosmists’ advice of maximum speculative excess, but find myself beaten by my cowardly conviction that this Success Resources workshop would by no means shake me to the core. Far more likely, it would only force me into medical treatment to straighten out my cringe-curled toes.