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A pop-up anti-war exhibition in the abandoned hotel in montenegro
"Anything Multiplied by Zero Gets Destroyed"
Two researchers in exile launch an anti-war exhibition offering a space for empathy, pain, solidarity and questions many of which remain unanswered
Anna Dial is a multidisciplinary queer artist, co-founder of the micro-publishing house “Unknown Person” and "Kafedra" nomadic gallery, a teacher of contemporary art for adults and children. Works with ceramics, cartoons, graphics and paintings. For more than six years - has been developing print culture.

Anna Dial
multidisciplinary queer artist, publishing house and gallery co-founder, art teacher
Arina Kalimulina - Master of Philosophy, researcher in the field of aesthetics and philosophy of art.

Arina Kalimulina
Philosopher, researcher
Exhibits from "Zero_zero_0_0" project that was presented in Herceg Novi, Montenego (2023). Arists (from left to right): Leonid Kalyazin, anonymous, Daria Andrianova
Anna: In our nomad gallery "Kafedra", Roma Murashov and I held a series of group and personal exhibitions where we, as curators, tried to find anti-militarist forms of art: “Visible emptiness”, “Mirage”, “(don’t)sensate”, and “Chamomile field”. "Zero_zero_0_0" project continued our search.

We are all living in the reality where the war has not stopped for a single day - "zero" stands for the number of days of peace, moreover all our previous values and meanings have been reset to zero on February 24, 2022. In Russia, some are trying to lie to themselves and pretend that nothing has changed and that the war is somewhere far away and they have nothing to do with it. As representatives of art community, we see our task in reminding people of the unfolding catastrophe, of the realness of the invasion, and of the necessity to rethink all these phenomena and give voice to those who speak out against the war.

Arina: My joint curatorial experience with Anya and Roma began with Anya inviting me to write a conceptual text for the open call for their latest anti-war "Zero_zero_0_0" exhibition in Montenegro. Or "Zero Days without War".

My task was to find the right form for articulating the anti-war message and outline the project's themes - the idea of endless cycle of violence and destructions one cannot interrupt; resetting to zero all opportunities and attempts to change something. Actually, zero itself as a metaphor standing for the conept of war is quite simple: everything multiplied by zero is destroyed.
But while working on the text, I suddenly found another “zero dimension” linked to me being from Belarus, and thus - not fully involved on either party's side. And seeing this open call through the eyes of an outsider, I heard my inner censor's voice saying: Why the hell are you whining? You are not Ukrainian, so what horrors of war are you writing about? What have you done to change something? And which art can, in principle, be compared with just a single image of a Kherson woman holding her dead grandson's body?
Visitors of "Zero_zero_0_0" (or "Zero Days without War") exhibition, Herceg Novi, Montenego (2023). On the right - installation by Darya Kalinina
Arina: Unexpectedly, I was at the crossroads of two discourses. Firstly - any war statement that truely deserves attention can only come from Ukrainians. Secondly - moral unbearability of involvement into the nation-wide crime, feelings and reflections of Russians not affected by Z-plague.

The "0_0" icons turned out to reflect the nullification of my own experiences, empathy and fear of feedback in the spirit of “how long can Russians whine about the war?” These signs devalued Russians with the anti-war stance, as if whatever they do would never be enough.

Perhaps my main curatorial challenge was to find the tone that would place the experiences of artists from the aggressor's side (partially in my person) within the framework of the anti-war exhibition. Because possible subsequent criticism is not an excuse to do nothing, but the fear of this criticism results in silence. We did not choose between giving the voice to Ukrainians or Russians. The open call was open to everyone, and although the response was mainly from Russian emigres, one Ukrainian sound artist also took part in it.

We have the right to experience those feelings and they need to be lived through and voiced, otherwise we would just freeze in helplessness and guilt. I don't think it is fair to divide feelings into those that are "genuine" and those that are not. We should not devalue our experiences, but talk about them, choosing appropriate artistic forms - and it is this that will help us to get connected with people who have common experience and live through collective trauma.
Anna: I still naively believe that art can unite people, give them hope even in the times of complete darkness. Now it is important to maintain tranquility and the Human within us, stand up in solidarity and not to give up. In our project we have participants from Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. Our curatorial approach differs from usual propaganda anti-war art. Through aesthetics and working with abandoned spaces, we wanted to create a dialogue, to let people understand what was going on - why the war started, why it was impossible to prevent it, how imperialism influenced all this, and what could be done despite the seeming uselessness of any effort.

The war has been lasting for more than two years, white gallery walls with “no-war"-posters will not work because they do not create any dialogue with those still "outside politics". Thus, it was the abandoned, destroyed space and artists' personal stories that we chose for our exhibition - and in doing so we hoped to attract to the catastrophe more attention of not necessarily activists, of those who remain in the zone of indifference.
Darya Kalinina's installation at "Zero_zero_0_0" (or "Zero Days without War") exhibition, Herceg Novi, Montenego (2023)
Anna: "Kafedra" gallery was running out of financial resources to rent our own space, but we were determined to do art projects. Our fellow artists, who also emigrated to Montenegro, had already made anti-war exhibitions in abandoned buildings and we saw that the public still showed up, despite the marginality of the spaces.

For our show, we found "Monte Carlo" Hotel to be the most convenient because its central location, the entrance that could be cleared of debris, a relative safety and the absence of stinking smell. Also the hotel itself is kind of a part of the mountain, standing on a quite isolated cliff, which was important for us because we held the “vernissage” partly in secret.

The thing is that the local police have a negative attitude towards anti-war actions - they could have simply forced us to dismantle everything. For example, last year my fellow citizens tried to hold “Faces of Russian Political Resistance” project in Budva. At first, all art spaces refused to collaborate with them and later, when they tried to place their posters around the city, the police dispersed everyone.

Arina: "Monte Carlo" is a heavily littered space, into which new life has literally begun to break through - fig trees have sprouted in the lobby, ferns have taken over the wall. But the amount of garbage deliberately brought and left by people was shocking. We decided to set the exhibition up in a fairly spacious hall, divided by partitions into several “pockets”, in one of which the fern was actually growing - our headliner who was showting to become a part of the performance.

I can hardly imagine what this part of the hotel used to be - a kitchen, a room or a service area. And this environment very much resonated with what we see in news reports about Ukrainian cities that get practically wiped off the face of the earth, when what is left of human civilization is broken glass, shabby concrete, fragments of pipes and communication lines. Seeing this was somewhat unsettling. The hall leading to the exhibition passed through such a narrow partition that one almost needed to squeeze between the walls and get physically involved into the space. Any anti-war art, in our opinion, should in no way be
"cozy" and comfortable to consume.

Exactly! Broken glass, crumbled concrete, ferns and moss added even more force to the anti-war art statements. There was no need to think about pedestals and where to screw the works - we had protruding rusty nails, a hole in the elevator shaft, partitions with ceramic tiles, climbing greenery, old frames: in a sense, a dream gallery! No need to pay for the space or worry about damaged walls.

We planned the vernissage during daylight hours, because we didn’t have lights. Moreover, we had no desire run into teenagers who like hanging out there, drinking alcohol and cracking "bombs" out of boredom.
Visitors of "Zero_zero_0_0" (or "Zero Days without War") exhibition, Herceg Novi, Montenego (2023). On the left - installation "Broadcast Interrupted due to Technical Reasons" by "Sougreve" art collective
Now that I think back about my first impressions of the space, I recall having a panic attack imagining for a split second how scary it could feel to be in the epicenter of military actions - when people have to hide among similar fragments of demolished buildings or when someone's house turns into ruins...
Arina: The first and, perhaps, the main difficulty was that the abandoned material should not become a mere background for the exhibition, but its organic part - a material for "inlaying" the art pieces. Therefore, putting the exhibition together mainly consisted of finding individual solutions for each work.

I tried to use formal contrasts - not to hang white art on white plaster, or gray - on gray concrete - and discover the engineering potential for every feature of the space: be it a window into the shaft, clear squares of tiles or randomly protruding wires.

First, I feared that in daylight this huge space risks to simply "devour" the art with the entire exhibition turning into a kind of "find an exhibit" quizz. But in the end, when we placed large works and installations, the dynamics started to play, the scale of the room and exhibits leveled out, the focus did not get stuck on the rich textured background and followed the objects.

Overall, site-specific approach makes the curator's job easier in the sense that you just have to look closely around and the space will do it all. For example, “Topography of Cruelty” series smoothly fit next to the fern on the concrete wall. During the tour, I invited the guests to come up to this wall, place their hand on the cold concrete, and then hold on to the fern's roots and leaves - to get tactile experience of the dichotomy of nature and culture, the author of this project reflects on.
Exhibits from "Zero_zero_0_0" project that was presented in Herceg Novi, Montenego (2023). Arists (from left to right): "Sougreve" art collective, Olga Gorodenskaya, anonymous
Anna: "Unknown Person" publishing house and its "Kafedra" gallery are primarily about print culture. We believe that despite living in an era of digitalization, through printed projects people can disseminate ideas and find like-minded individuals. So, for each exhibition we make we print a small zine with the reassembled "story". The exhibition is over, but it continues to live in the body of the book with texts and visials that can be archived. And "0_0" was no exception.

To put together a group exhibition without funding and with participants based in different countries of the world, we printed works of various formats on a home printer, gluing some of them together from several standard A4 sheets. Video art was the most convenient medium due to the easiness of its sharing and presentation. The physical objects and installations belonged to people who now live in Montenegro, and they shipped their art from all over the country and for me each was valuable and important - because it was a statement against war.

The art that I would like to mention here is an installation in the form of a still life - a vase with flowers, created by an anonymous ceramic artist. The object stands for a vessel in which a so-called “pop” occurred, as if from the inside - we see a hole from a bullet. The vase can be repositioned to make it look intact which suggests that even if we all continue living and acting the way we did before, inside we will still be different because of the war.
Exhibits from "Zero_zero_0_0" project that was presented in Herceg Novi, Montenego (2023). Artists (from left to right): Hamaguchi Anastasiia, Anna Dial,Masha Luch
Arina: Among dozens of art works we received in reply to the open call, “Topography of cruelty” by Mikhail Kurganov resonated most with me personally. The images are film shots of a pine forest with the bunkers gradually swallowed by moss - the scenes that actually ring the bell for me since I grew up in a military town surrounded by the similar forest.

The author captures the landscape as documentation of the relationships between the natural landscape and military history. In the desciption, he speficies that the word "cruelty" refers to the Latin stem "crudus", meaning “bloody, rough, merciless” and “raw, uncultivated,” which kind of gives us the reason to assume that in ancient times cruelty and violence were attributed to nature itself - as something natural and primordial that opposed “cultus” - as ""educated", "refined".

Mikhail Kurganov finds this dichotomy questionable and remarks that with the emergence of a hierarchy between man and nature, the earth itself turned into the landscape function suitable only for the reproduction of violence. When reading this text, I recall Nietzsche with his concept of Apollonian and Dionysian principles in European culture and agree with the author. I think that the artist, probably not even being aware of it, looped in his project the "crudus": bunkers, as artifacts of human culture, remain in the bosom of nature, scarred into the landscape, but with all their essence (long-term firing point) they attribute that part of it which containers cruelty and violence .
Anna: By the winter of 2023, a number of events had already occurred in Montenegro that made us understand that it was not a completely safe country for those speaking out against the war.

In our town, an anti-war activist was attacked and structures were uncovered that helped Russian authorities recruit people and influence opinion inside the country. When living in Montenegto, I saw the locals sympathizing with the situation, supporting Ukraine and being aware of the repressions in Russia and Belarus. But also did I see those with "we-are-out-of-politics" attitude who say, “Yes, war is bad, but our prices are peaking and this is what worries us most." Some even try to shift the blame onto emigres. So, to avoid provocations and problems with the police for illegally squatting the abandoned hotel, we decided to send out invitations to our exhibition through personal messages, and spead the news by the word of mouth. For us, it was most important to, first of all, document and show the project - we did not expect to crowds. But a lot of people did show up being grateful to see the pain shared and collectively experienced in that "here and now" moment.

In Montenegro, thanks to "Kafedra", we managed to create a community of Russian-speaking people in forced emigration, hold public talks, workshops, art laboratories and exhibitions. The locals didn’t come to our events. Once, a local cultural media outlet published my anti-war manifesto for the exhibition - the only interaction we had - and I am grateful for their courage. Montenegro has a lot of its own problems and unextinguished disputes after the Yugoslav wars, and I think that is why they are not particularly immersed in foreign politics. But also I see such a strategy a danger of falling under surveillance from those who help protect the Russian security forces' and officials' property from sanctions.

Youtube video: Unhappy Painter A.C.
Interview and translation into English: Olga Bubich
One of the spread of the zine speficially designed for the exhibition "Zero_zero_0_0" (or "Zero Days without War") Herceg Novi, Montenego (2023). Embroidery art piece - Liza Kuvshinkina