2-channel HD video, 5.1 audio, 26 minutes, 2013
Zaum Tractor considers the tension between freedom and collectivity—contradictory forces within contemporary Russia—sweeping past tractor races, church bells, river barges and the religious and military ceremonies of modern-day cossacks.
From within this backdrop, a series of individuals perform zaum; the experimental performance poetry of the Russian Futurists, that aimed to avoid fixed meaning through revealing pure sound and wild rhythms of language. One hundred years after its invention, zaum is performed in civic spaces dominated by symbolic Constructivist Soviet architecture, presenting a clash between past and present, the rational and the transrational. Elsewhere, Leber and Chesworth reimagine Sergei Eisenstein’s 1929 film 'The General Line' with main character Marfa reinvented as a feminist, Futurist zaum convert.
Zaum Tractor is a speculative portrait filled with parallels and oppositions, of a complex country that moves backwards as it moves forwards.
Architecture Makes Us, UNSW Galleries, Sydney (2019); The Last Reader, annex M, Megaron, Athens (2018); The State We Are In: Collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw at Galeria Labirynt, Lublin, Poland (2018); 56th Biennale of Venice: All the World's Futures, Italy (2015); Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne (2014); and Gridchinhall Art Centre in Moscow, Russia, a parallel event of the 5th Moscow Biennale: More Light (2013). Collection Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland.
'Sonia Leber and David Chesworth revisit Russia and its tense ideological history… One [moment] comes from a sequence where beautiful young people scale the broken masonry of a ruined building. Wearing nothing but bathers, they perch precariously on ledges or beams; and every so often, one of them plunges into deep water below. Set in a pre-revolutionary warehouse, this idyll has no industrial prowess; on the contrary, it takes place where progress has failed and the human spectacle is a remnant of some ritual of heroic youth, no longer organised but random, sublime and wilfully voyeuristic. It's a portrait of a new life after ideology, beautiful, capricious and aimless.'
- Robert Nelson, 'Sonia Leber & David Chesworth's Zaum Tractor: Diving into a brave new world', The Age, Melbourne, 5 February 2014
‘In their presentation at the 56th Biennale di Venezia, Leber and Chesworth’s Zaum Tractor (2013) explores the tension between individual freedom and collective belonging in Russia, which reached its climax with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and its subsequent transition from a centrally planned to a free-market economy. Filmed across Southern Russia, the two-channel video juxtaposes readings of zaum poetry with social events and dramatic spaces. The term 'zaum' was invented by the Russian futurist poet Aleksei Kruchenykh (1886–1968), who used it to refer to the 'transrational' language of his poetry. Kruchenykh envisioned the rediscovery of a universal primordial language in which sounds embodied rather than signified their referents...Read against the backdrop of the tractor-shaped Gorky Theater in Rostov-on-Don, the non-signifying poetry in Zaum Tractor contrasts with the unmistakable symbolism of the building, which doubtlessly formed another attempt at a universal language.’
-Tim Roerig, Short Guide for the 56th Biennale of Venice: All The World’s Futures
Filming, editing and sound design: Sonia Leber and David Chesworth. Filmed in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, with additional filming in Armenia and Georgia, July-September 2013.
Performers: Elena Volobueva, Alexandre Voljensky, Svetlana Lisenkova, Giorgi Gasviani, Andrei Kalinovchenko, Tsolak Mlke-Galstyan, Svetlana Pesetskaya, Victoria Barvenko, Roman Merinov and Alina Klueva.
Commissioning curator: Maria Sigutina. With sincere thanks for the invaluable participation of Olga Kalashnikova. Project supporters and translators: Shoghakat Mlke-Galstyan, Kate Evdokimova, Irina Stefan, Inna Lipovets and Irene Volkova.
Supported by Australia Council for the Arts, Arts Victoria, Fehily Contemporary (Melbourne), Gridchinhall Art Centre (Moscow), Art-Amnesty Project by Olga Kalashnikova (Rostov-on-Don), Theatre 18+ (Rostov-on-Don), CreativeSpace.Pro (Rostov-on-Don) and 16thLINE Gallery (Rostov-on-Don).