In my essay “The Geopoetics of the Newspaper from Tret’iakov to Prigov,” just out in Slavic Review, I was able to illustrate my discussion of some of Dmitri Prigov’s work with a number of images. I couldn’t, however, reproduce Prigov’s extraordinary Video Performance with Newspapers (1989). I am therefore posting the video here along with the commentary from my essay.
Prigov’s Video Performance with Newspapers (1989) begins with a close up of his face. He appears to be lying on a pile of newspapers with an edition of Pravda carefully arranged behind his head. For the first minute or so, Prigov silently mouths words apparently read from the newspaper. Then he begins to read aloud as the camera pans out to reveal him lying on a couch of newspapers with further sheets of newsprint engulfing what appears to be an apartment. Prigov then rolls about in the papers, picking up, apparently at random, various items of news, including an article about Gorbachev speaking on perestroika, which Prigov reads with rising volume and agitation.
By placing his performance piece in the interior of an apartment, Prigov emphasizes the newspaper’s role as a liminal object between the domestic realm and the outside social and political world, ironically recalling Benjamin’s earlier emphasis on the Soviet elimination of the public/private divide and Sergei Tret΄iakov’s insistence on the power of the press to reach “every corner” of the Soviet Union. After reading the article on perestroika, Prigov spends several minutes searching through deep piles of newspapers that at one point threaten to submerge him completely. His search illustrates that the newspaper is composed not just of public information but also of dreams, desires, and other feelings that were given new voice by glasnost and that are here experienced spatially and bodily. Prigov’s body touches, is seemingly soothed then roused by the newspapers, whose crinkling white noise matches the confusing and overwhelming verbal noise produced by glasnost and by the rise of previously suppressed nationalisms. Prigov registers these competing nationalisms and their challenge to Soviet spatial unity by reading, in an increasingly hysterical voice, the Central Committee’s condemnation of the August 23, 1989 protests in the Baltic States as “nationalist hysteria.” The disordered newspapers and seemingly disordered mind of the speaker produce a sense of proliferating fracture and dispersion that matches the diverse opinions found in perestroika-era newspapers and the confusion of Prigov’s newspaper-strewn apartment.