Intergalactic Mobile Fedorov Museum-Library, Berlin

Arseny Zhilyaev’s installation at HKW, produced for this exhibition, uses an imaginary institution as a framework for creative expression. The artist addresses Nikolai Fedorov’s idea that the library should be considered a research platform connecting the museum and the scientific laboratory with one unified goal: material resurrection. In his late nineteenth-century essay “The Author’s Debt and the Bylaws of the Museum-Library,” Fedorov wrote: “If a repository may be compared to a grave, then reading, or more precisely research, is a kind of exhumation, while an exhibition is, as it were, a resurrection.” By constructing a library named after Fedorov, Zhilyaev reflects on the roles of artist, curator, and spectator in relation to the production of knowledge and also of life. In this installation, visitors have the opportunity to encounter a multilingual collection of books on Russian Cosmism. The volumes cover the major topics associated with the movement: immortality, space travel, evolution, and a new social order based on love, peace, and regulation of the climate, among others. Inside the library one can read rare and out-of-print works by Nikolai Fedorov, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Alexander Chizhevsky, Vladimir Vernadsky, Pavel Florensky, Alexander Bogdanov, Alexander Gorsky, and the poetic group of Biocosmists, while being irradiated by Alexander Chizhevsky’s lamps. Chizhevksy invented these devices in the 1920s for prophylactic treatment achieved through exposure to air negatively charged with ions. Today, the same scientific principles areused in commercial ionizers. Authentic Soviet examples of this invention appear in the Intergalactic Mobile Fedorov Museum-Library in Berlin. This new work is a continuation of several earlier projects by the artist, such as the Russian Cosmic Federation—an imaginary intergalactic empire that has appeared within the context of Zhilyaev’s prior installations and in works such as MIR: Polite Guests from the Future (2014) and Cradle of Humankind (2015). In keeping with these earlier works, the Fedorov Museum-Library is formed in the shape of a five-pointed star that also resembles a flying saucer or spaceship. The political and economic order of the Russian Cosmic Federation is not expressed literally. However, one may arrive at the conclusion that this political order is one variant of a dystopian society wherein highly-developed capitalistic tendencies coexist with socialistic and religious decor. Reflecting both the optimism of the Russian Cosmist imagination and the critical tradition of socialist science fiction, the Fedorov Museum-Library reintroduces nineteenth-century utopian ideas within the context of contemporary political realities.