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



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