Polina Kanis

Tilde 1934

Curated by 
Masha Domracheva

Tilde 1934

P/////AKT & Tilde, Amsterdam

26 June – 31 July, 2022

Curated by Masha Domracheva

Utopian ideas about new forms of life often appear onthe ruins of societies collapsed after the recent crisis, when they are aboutto resurrect and the new world is to be built.

At the end of the first third of the 20thcentury, after the October Revolution, the First World War and the Civil War in Russia and thepeak of the Great Depression in the United States, both so-called “camps”experienced economic difficulties. However, a period of active scientificdevelopment, the formation of new disciplines and branches of knowledge hascome in the world. One of these new branches was genetics, which, in turn,contributed to the development of plant breeding. And in the 1930s, it wasbreeding that became extremely important for the rise of the agricultural sectorsof the world economy.

The Soviet Union was focused on achievingself-sufficiency in growing various types of fruit plants that would providefood for the country. So Soviet botanists were actively engaged in conductingbreeding experiments and creating new varieties. In the USA, there was aproblem of dried soil and dust storms on the Great Plains in the early 1930s.Farmers could not work on the land and provide themselves and the country withagricultural products. So the US Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace wasfaced with the task of restoring arid territories and saving the country fromfamine. The exhibition at P/////AKT & Tilde, which will open duringAmsterdam Art Week, explores two utopian botanical projects, both initiated in1934.

The work of artistic duo Pejvak is telling the storyof an expedition led by the artist and scientist Nicholas Roerich andcommissioned by the US Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace. Roerich andWallace had a double agenda. Wallace regarded Roerich as his spiritual leaderand secretly supported the painter’s mission to establish a Utopian societybased on high spirituality and cooperative labor, known as the Sacred Union ofthe East. While Roerich in turn was supposed to collect drought-resistantplants that would be able to save American soil.

The work of Polina Kanis explores an ideologicalproject accidentally started by the Soviet scientist Fyodor Zorin in thebotanical garden of Sochi. He planted a wild lemon tree and then grafted othercitrus fruits onto its crown. A tradition grew up: throughout decades prominentinternational figures added grafts of different citrus varieties to the tree.Today there are more than 630 of these additional shoots, representing 167different countries and a utopian vision of political and ecological symbiosis.

Against the background of this new world creation, newgeopolitical claims were also being outlined. Ideological apparatuses of bothimperialist blocs started shaping at the time, which later having becomesufficiently developed, entered into force as weapons of the Cold War.

But then, in 1934, it was as if everything could havegone differently…

Wallace could have become Roosevelt’s vice presidentfor a second term in March 1944, then become president after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945  then never given the order to bomb Hiroshimaand Nagasaki in 1945, and prevented extremes of the Cold War.

Stalin could have not retained power and not createdthe NKVD in July 1934, which became an institution that fostered Russian civilcruelty. The assassination attempt on Kirov in December 1934 could have notbeen crowned with success and not resulted in the beginning of the Great Terrorin 1937, and the creation of a new propaganda and repressive machines, whichlater have given rise to Putin and his ilk.

Would the conceived utopias have become true then?Would have not these alternative developments have been a utopia in itself?

Nevertheless, paradoxically, these utopian projects inthe field of international cooperation and the commonwealth have been initiatedjust then, before the beginning of the new Soviet and then new Russianimperialism, which horrifying start of ending we are witnessing now.

In Polina Kanis’ film, the narrator asks the question:“Why is the Tree of Friendship still alive?”

But the fact is: it is still alive. And the Roerichexpedition still succeeded, as he managed to collect no less than 900 samplesof drought-resistant plants. So maybe there is still a hope? Among the peopleof small homelands, among the partisans, among whom “not only people but alsothe forest, mountain, and grass, and animals all rise together to fight”.1

Oxana Timofeeva, Howto Love a Homeland, Kayfa ta, 2020.

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