M.I.R.: Polite Guests from the Future

M.I.R.: Polite Guests from the Future is the first solo exhibition in the U.S. by Moscow- based artist, Arseniy Zhilyaev. Implementing the museum as a medium, Zhilyaev models his approach after the “negative display” exhibitions of A. Fedorov-Davydov, a Soviet art historian who disregarded the authenticity and centrality of the museological object, in favor of depicting social processes. When Soviet museums became institutionalized, they were instrumental in producing a new critical subjectivity where the roles of the artist and curator were not mutually exclusive. In the text Politics of Installation, German theorist Boris Groys differentiates between these two figures, remarking that they “embody, in a very conspicuous manner, [...] two different kinds of freedom: the sovereign, unconditional, politically non-partisan freedom of artistic self-expression, and the institutionalized, politically responsible freedom of curatorship.” Through his practice, Zhilyaev reveals these once-hidden borders between curatorial and artistic installation, demanding a new form of democratic participation from his viewers.

The second chapter of an ongoing investigation initiated at Kadist, Paris, this iteration of the imaginary Museum of Russian History (M.I.R.) focuses on outer space conquests under the flag of the “Russian Cosmic Federation.” The Russian word ‘mir’ means both ‘world’ and ‘peace’ and also refers to the legendary MIR space station. In the context of the exhibition, the cosmos provides the backdrop for new dialogues addressing dichotomies of former East-West and projected Future-Past. A new video work by Zhilyaev serves as the museum’s anchor, and is comprised of a series of commercials for the Polite Guests from the Future program. These commercials appropriate footage from the films, “Planet of the Storms” (1962) and “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women” (1968) (as remade by the U.S.), which were inspirations for San Francisco-based Lucasfilm Ltd.’s vision for space colonization in the late 1970s. With the cyclical repetition of history in mind, the artist suggests that current interest in space exploration has revitalized tensions reminiscent of the Cold War, while also signifying possibilities of unification for mankind in the fight for universal peace.

The title “Polite Guests from the Future,” references the cult series Guest from the Future (1985), a narrative metaphor for envisioning contemporaneity through the lens of a possible tomorrow. For the exhibition, Zhilyaev critiques the political climate of Russia with a revisionist and speculative eye, tracing the nation's intergalactic achievements—from their origins in the “polite politics” of the early 21st century, to the future space militia, charged with defending the Tarantula Nebula RCΦ 0021.

Heidi Rabben