Interview with our July resident Cynthia Madansky

Cynthia Madansky (Brooklyn, NY), a filmmaker and artist was the July Resident at the CEC ArtsLink Back Apartment Residency St. Petersburg. CEC ArtsLink intern Maria Ivanova talked with Cynthia about her research for her new project ESFIR a film project that presents a feminist reinterpretation of a seven part unrealized script entitled “Women” (1937-1938) written by Esfir Shub, the early-Soviet filmmaker and editor.

What inspired you about the script that you decided to do work on it?

In 1978 Vlada Petric translated one part of Shub’s script entitled Women, and when I read it a few years ago, I thought that it was very interesting that Esfir Shub wanted to make an “artistic documentary.” This was clearly a departure for her as it was a scripted creative narrative with a specific agenda portraying the status of women after the Bolshevik Revolution. Although Shub is most well known as an editor, her filmmaking methodology of creating compilation films has influenced many filmmakers including myself. Her approach to editing which included long uninterrupted shots was quite unique and experiential, allowing the viewer to actually feel the scene unfold in real time. I was particularly interested in understanding what Shub’s artistic film would look like so the first step was to have the remaining six parts of the script translated. This script is hybrid in form, integrating performance, documentary, cinema vérité, typographic interventions, it had a clear political agenda. Shub clearly was interested in making a very different type of film.


Portrait of Esfir Shub by Alexander Rodchenko

Could you tell me more about the idea behind the ESFIR project?

ESFIR is the final part of a trilogy about the Second World War — the first part Past Perfect was filmed in Chicago and Poland, the second piece E42, was filmed at the EUR district in Rome. Each film negotiates aspects of the war in relation to the specific landscape and narrative. Shub wrote Women in 37-38, and I was very interested in how Shub, who was a Jew from the Ukraine, as well as her Jewish colleagues in the avant-garde negotiated their identity in the context of the war. When I started to think about making ESFIR I wanted to integrate components from her original script, but create a contemporary reading of this script focusing on the status of feminism in Russia, specifically looking at the very rich and expansive history of feminist artists (visual and performance art).

What has been your experience with integrating into the city and interacting with its art community?

My introduction to St. Petersburg through the CEC residency, with the incredible guidance and brilliance of Lizaveta Matveeva was simply astounding. I was able to meet with many women in their studios and began to understand a bit about the history of feminist art in Russia through these conversations. I met with artists, poets, theorists, philosophers, curators and performers. Needless to say, the city is simply beautiful, I was there during the white nights, so it was quite a dreamy and intensive experience.

How do you envision the next steps in the work on ESFIR?

Now that the script has been translated, I will spend a great deal of time reading it and researching the context for Shub’s project. As well I will continue my research about contemporary feminist artists in Russia as well as engage in more historical research about feminist art in Russia from the 60s and 70s. I will return to Russia next year and will continue my research for the film meeting with feminist artists and then will begin to work on my interpretation of Shub’s script. The final film will include scripted narrative, performance, cinema vérité, archival material and images of works by Russian feminist artists.


Image from studio of Polina  Zaslavskaya

What is the place of Esfir Shub in film and feminist history in your opinion?

Shub’s contemporaries, Vertov and Eisenstein are universally known filmmakers. Shub is now finally being recognized by artists and cinema studies scholars for her immense contribution to filmmaking and film history. I don’t know if she identified as a feminist, I would like to ask her grandson and if possible interview women editors who she trained in the Film Factory. Her script Women, was incredibly feminist and her cinematic language inspired many feminist filmmakers like the late Chantal Akerman.


Image courtesy of Anna Tereshkina

Are you interested in the period of the 1920s and Soviet avant-garde aesthetics or are you mainly focusing on the feminist angle, the role of women in this period?

I am very interested in the avant-garde movement and the visual language from this period. For ESFIR the avant-garde history and cinematic language is very important and will be incorporated both in terms of archival material as well as historical references specifically relating to the work of Esfir Shub.

How does the “ESFIR” project fit in with your overall artistic work?

ESFIR is similar to many of my other works, not necessarily in terms of the final film, but in terms of methodology. It is a research based, scripted performative essay film, that is rooted in experimental filmmaking.

Did you visit any exhibitions while you were in St. Petersburg? What is your overall impression of St. Petersburg?

I made many studio visits in various parts of the city as well as visited arts spaces ranging from museums to contemporary art galleries, artists run spaces as well as home based exhibitions and performances. There is a great deal of collaboration, experimentation and dialogue happening amongst feminist artists. The generosity of Liza from CEC as well as the openness of so many artists who I met with during this month was incredibly exhilarating.


Image of installation by Sasha Zubritskaya



Narratives of Rejection


The Non-Conformist Museum, an independent art space in the center of St. Petersburg presented a show this summer entitled, #Rejected. The curators Elizaveta Ordinatceva and Anastasia Patsey created an open call to the artists living in the artists building complex that housing the gallery space at Pushkinskaya 10 asking them to submit work that either was rejected by a curator, by themselves or for some other reason.

The diverse works in the exhibition, along with the accompanying text written by the artists reveal their personal narratives as well as moments of reflection and reconciliation. The exhibition can be seen as a shrine of rejection, a compassionate, humorous and poignant confessional stage for artistic and communal alliances.

Below are some of the works in the exhibition with excerpts from the text by the artists.

VIZIRIAKOAlexander Viziriako
Dance on the Seven Veils, 2015
“The collectors didn’t accept this painting, a few people rejected it. Especially women dislike it, and you dear curators and spectators will probably reject it when you see it!”


Anatolly Vasillev
Explosion at Chernobyl Power Station, 1986
“The painting was made the day after the Chernobyl Disaster (April 26, 1986).
On the upper left part you can see a huge omega sign, the last letter in the Greek alphabet, signifying the world’s end. A bit lower on the right there is a fisherman on the Pripyat river, who told that at the moment of explosion the fish started to jump out of the water. I never felt like I managed to finish the work, therefore I never proposed exhibiting it.”


Marina Koldobskaya
I Don’t Want to Paint This Landscape, 2011
“The artist Alexander Florenskiy initiated a project where each artist received a canvas to draw the scene from their window. I tried to paint something for a week, and then in anger covered it up and wrote this text. I sent it to Florenskiy, thinking he would love it, but he didn’t. I suspect he even got offended and didn’t accept my work.”


Barbara Hazard
Flight, 2009
“I painted this piece 7 or 8 years ago, Kolya who shares the studio with me hung it up, but I didn’t want him to. It’s so different from my other work, all in grey’s or browns, this painting embarrasses me. I keep telling myself to throw it out, fix it up, or accept it and sign it, but I can’t.”

Interview with our June resident Pim Zwier

Pim Zwier, an artist and film director from the Netherlands spent the month of June at the the CEC ArtsLink Back Apartment Residency St. Petersburg. In this interview, CEC ArtsLink intern Maria Ivanova talked with Pim about his previous work in Russia, the influence of S.M. Prokudin-Gorskii (a 19-20th Century Russian photographer) on his work, and his current project in St. Petersburg.

What is the effect in Prokudin-Gorskii photography that interests you?

He needed to take three black and white filters to create a color image, and there are small time differences in between these photos. Every thing that doesn’t move gets a normal color, every thing that does move – the color starts falling apart, which is this beautiful effect. And it becomes a metaphor for our mortality of humans and very often within the landscape your moves become like a ghost.

Still 02

How do you work to achieve this effect?

So when I was looking at these photos, I became really curious how to transform it to the video and what it’ll do if I use it in video. [There is] a short film (“Three Dimensions of Time”) that I made almost two year ago when I was in Kansk in Siberia for the Kansk Video festival. I arrived at this festival, and I already knew the photos of Prokudin-Gorskiy, I knew the technic and was curious about it. Of course, they didn’t expect me there, so they didn’t have filters and I did all the filtering later in postproduction. You can do it traditionally with actually putting a filter on the camera, which I don’t do. I just do it in my editing program.

Still 04

Could you tell me more about the film you made in Kansk?

When I was in Kansk, we were really fascinated with all these traditional wooden houses “izba”. This film really focuses on that architecture and how this architecture as a tradition stands in time and doesn’t disappear and modern life rushes by in different colors. It’s just emphasizing the long period of time of tradition together with modernity, like what’s the contrast between them. So this film just looks at the architecture, but it’s architecture that represents a part of Russia, this is a part of Russian tradition.

You also traveled across Russia like Prokudin-Gorskii…

I’m not literally doing the same circle that he did, but he traveled around the country to get, create an impression of Russia by portraying people, by filming, by taking photos of architecture and I’m doing something similar. I’m looking for a specific form of architecture – in this case the izba. So I’m also trying to create an impression of Russia, my impression. In total it’s going to be a series of short screens or single screen installations, but together at some point it’s going to be a multi-screening installation.

Still 03

What about your project here, in St. Petersburg?

Here I’m actually not focusing on historical city center, I went from the center into the suburbs. I’m focusing on Khrushevka and Brezhnevka and also what came afterwards. And it’s very much what I’m fascinated with is when Khrushevkas were built. It was like a dream house. It was a huge step up for a lot of people. It was a huge improvement. People really loved them when they were constructed. And throughout time they got a really bad name, so there’s this duality between them. And the beauty of it – if you meet elderly people they can still talk about Khrushevka quite enthusiastically and happily, which is quite beautiful.

So I’m trying to portray that they had this beautiful future. [W]e still want to do a few interviews with people, to get a few lines of people saying their opinion about Khrushevka. In the final version, you’ll get every now and then a few sentences specifically about Khrushevka and Brezhnevka. It’s going to be a voice over and meanwhile you look at portraits of people, small details of their interior and then the film will go outside again.

Still 01

What about the colors and how do you use this technique for the work?

I’m actually combining it now with black and white photos. Most of Khrushevka and Brezhnevka are quite grey – because of that technique I can give them color, which make them look slightly more bright and colorful towards a nicer future so I’m looking at this combination. You can feel ideology behind it; some of them were built in a very green area. It was very pleasant there. I want to capture part that there is a pleasant part. To get a positive image also I’m using it to show. Some photographers who’re focusing on it, they make it very depressing; you can make very depressing photos if you want. It’s about what point of view do you use. Putting black and white photos in between is to get the other side. Briefly to take you back, but this is still working progress so it might not stay the same.

The plan is to create a completely different soundtrack for the film because you’re looking at houses, the idea is to only have domestic sounds like washing machine, somebody doing the dishes, cooking – like all those small sounds from houses and nothing else. We’re going to do a lot of folium recordings for this and to completely construct a soundtrack based on all domestic sounds.

What are the specifics of doing this project here in St. Petersburg?

One of the reasons why it didn’t work for me with this technique in Amsterdam is that Amsterdam is also historic except that it’s so renovated that it almost becomes like a film set. You don’t feel the time. And although it’s a historic city, Amsterdam feels like it is only about here and now. And if I move to Russia, it feels like there’s different sort of time here, which is very fascinating. It’s a different mindset and also through a lot of the buildings you can actually feel time. More decay is allowed and you literally can see layers and layers of history. In Amsterdam it’s completely brushed away, you don’t feel it anymore, which is a shame. There’s no connection with history. Here I felt way more connected with history as well.

WELCOME July Resident Artist!

Cynthia Madansky (Brooklyn, NY) will spend her time exploring St. Petersburg and its arts organizations, conducting research, creating new work, and sharing her art with the local community.   Below is information about the participant and her proposed residency project. During her stay, Cynthia will share her experiences and observations as visiting artist in St. Petersburg in the Back Apartment Residency Blog.

Cynthia Madansky (Brooklyn, NY)

cynthia madansky

Working in 16mm, super 8 and video, Cynthia Madansky’s films and videos integrate hybrid forms and traditions including experimental tropes, cinema verité, scripted narrative, ethnographic observation and dance and performance while interrogating the concept of personal responsibility and national accountability. She addresses cultural and political themes and illustrates the consequences of politics on the daily lives of individuals.

Proposed project
Madansky plans to work on preproduction for ESFIR a 16mm film of Women, a script by Esfir Shub. Shot in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia, ESFIR examines the current status of women in Russia, the influence of poetry on Shub’s editing practice and the phenomenon of women film editors in the Film Factory in Russia. During the one month residency, she will also scout locations in St. Petersburg for the film and conduct interviews with local feminists about the status of women in Russia. During her residency Cynthia is going to show her videos Viva Agua (2016) and E42 (2015) at the New Stage of Alexandrinsky theater on July 28. The screening will be followed by a discussion with a local art professional. Also Cynthia is conducting a workshop for students of the School of Engaged Art Chto Delat on July 12.

Diana Shpungin | May Residency Highlights

My residency time in Saint Petersburg was completely inspiring and insightful both professionally and personally.  I was able to meet so many gracious artists and arts professionals, conduct research for future projects, lecture to a group of curatorial students and the local arts audience at both the University and at Anna Nova Gallery and take in the myriad of culture the beautiful city has to offer, –ranging from opulence to decay.

I visited the Baltic sea, a body of water I had not seen since I was a small child in Riga. I toured many abandoned forgotten sites from former soviet times including constructivist architecture, factories, military forts, the “Giant” bath house and numerous former domestic, commercial and industrial structures.

Saint Petersburg is a city of countless museums, big and small. I spent several days at the Hermitage, Russian Museum, Bread Museum and many other institutions gaining a deeper understanding of Russian art and history. I was able to view several important Malevich works in person, attend the opening of Anselm Kiefer, and at the Anna Akhmatova Museum there was a very impressive exhibition of Joseph Brodsky’s archives and artifacts.

Almost everyday had a filled itinerary and the staff at CEC Artslink could not have been better at assisting. Thanks especially to Liza and Susan for making my residency so impactful and memorable. I will fondly remember all the dinners and gatherings, vodka, blini and caviar. It will take several months (or longer) to properly process all I learned and experienced.

Blane De St. Croix | May 2017 | Art & Science Research Residency

Thank you to the incomparable staff at CEC Artslink for all your guidance, assistance and friendship during a remarkable month-long residency. A residency that has truly shaped my artistic and global perspective of the extraordinary contemporary artists, curators, scientists and people of St. Petersburg, Russia. This is a unique and extraordinary research residency and one that I hope will become a model for others in our global art communities.

During this intensive month I was able to complete important and timely research across the arts and sciences. I am grateful to have been able to be awarded this opportunity as this valuable gleaning of information will fuel my future artistic projects as they relate to the memory of the landscape and our changing climate.

WELCOME June Resident Artist!

Pim Zwier (Amsterdam, Netherlands) will spend his time exploring St. Petersburg and its arts organizations, conducting research, creating new work, and sharing his art with the local community.   Below is information about the participant and his proposed residency project. During his stay, Pim will share his experiences and observations as visiting artist in St. Petersburg in the Back Apartment Residency Blog.

Pim Zwier (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

pim zwier

Pim Zwier is an independent filmmaker and media artist focusing on documentaries, short films and media installations. His recent work investigates the link between past and present by examining and utilizing archival materials.

Proposed project
He will use this opportunity to work on a series of multigenerational video-portraits of local men and women. Inspired by the early work of the Russian photographer Prokudin-Gorskii, Zwier will employ a vintage photographic process of color separation to create these video-portraits.