Everything that Comes Close to the Swamp Sticks to It
Evgeny Yufit & Contemporary Parallel CinemaVol. 109 (November 2020) by pantanosumpf
Once upon a time in the suburbs of a big city…”
– from Evgeny Yufit’s Spring (Vesna, 1987).
Buenos Aires, once a European colony, was founded in the swamps of the Río de la Plata, also known as the “River of Silver.” The swampy wetlands along the river, today a densely populated, liminal zone of human existence, gave birth to pantanosumpf (“pantano” means swamp in Spanish, as does “Sumpf” in German), a non-conformist collective of young local filmmakers, musicians and artists. In search of new symbols and identities, the collective engages in diverse projects around the swamp’s topography and its various inhabitants, from butchers and flower vendors over painters and truck drivers to musicians. In the subversive spirit of contemporary Parallel Cinema, pantanosumpf abandons the white cube to explore the swamp and its semi-urban tumors. The group of works shown here stem from the artists’ engagement with the 1980s Soviet movement of Necrorealism, combining their own dystopian impressions from Río de la Plata’s swamps with excerpts from Evgeny Yufit’s films, among others from Spring (Vesna, 1987), Suicide Monsters (Vepry suitsida, 1988), Knights of Heaven (Rytsari podnebes’ia, 1989) and Silver Heads (Serebrianye golovy, 1998). On the occasion of our special issue on Soviet Parallel Cinema, we are publishing a selection of these works alongside stills from the Yufit films that inspired them.
Julián Bordonaba’s hybrid GIFs explore limits of transformation and social oppositions. In what the artist calls “degradation layers,” found images from Río de la Plata’s swamps overlap with images from Yufit’s first 35mm film Knights of Heaven (1989) and Antonio Berni’s La Saga de Juanito Laguna (1958-1978), a series of paintings about the life of Juanito, a young boy living in the slums of Buenos Aires. Marco Rossi’s digital collage Necroconsumism explores the urban swamp of global capitalism. By transforming a poster from an Argentinian supermarket with images from Yufit’s movies, the commodity for sale becomes death itself. In Rossi’s poem, the swamps of Buenos Aires are a phantasmagorical wasteland, inhabited by the degraded man who “finds himself on the thin line between life and death”. In the digital collage 94N74N05UM9F (or six decomposing jars), artist 1134_ manipulates photographs of six jars containing different rotten fruits and vegetables. The result of this Necrorealistic experiment, conducted over the course of two years, is a posthuman reality, in which even the digital image has reached its death. Jantus’ Necrópolis is a video registration, shot with a handycam, of a decomposed soup. Necrópolis, literally the “city of the dead,” invites us to explore the microscopic beauty of decay.
Pantanosumpf’s series of works opens up a ghostly, transatlantic correspondence between the underground scenes in 1980s Leningrad and contemporary Buenos Aires in times of a global pandemic. Both cities are built, to echo Saint Petersburg’s legendary founding myth, “on bones and swamps.” The folkloristic imagery around the swamp circles around madness, death, and feverish nightmares of decay and decomposed bodies. In its truly de-colonial spirit, this project dedicated to Yufit intervenes into our perception of Necrorealism’s legacy. Through the lens of pantanosumpf’s works, we can also reinvent our perception of Yufit’s films and their global afterlife. The swamp is a fluid space between East and South, an eclectic universe in which tradition and trash, chaos and order, rebirth and decay become blurred. Or, to quote pantanosumpf’s words: “Everything that comes close to the swamp sticks to it.”
– Isabel Jacobs
I. We Have to Finish the Experiment Tonight
III. The Degraded Man
IV. We Have Reached the Death of Our Image
Artworks: Julián Bordonaba, Marco Rossi, 1134_ and Jantus (pantanosumpf)
Introduction and Translation: Isabel Jacobs