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Dокuмент [x]



Polina Isurin

Presented at DOCAM at Kent State University


August 2014





 (document x slide)


While completing a Masters in Fine Arts, I created Document [x], a lengthy text that is purposively disjointed, although highly influenced, by numerous interdisciplinary artworks.


The artworks were experiments into testing sensory perceptions.


Instead of directly discussing the installations and art pieces,

I will discuss some of the unconventional research that fueled the artworks, and the document that I then chose to present for this conference.




First an overview of what generation 1.5 means:


The questions about the emerging young adults of immigrant origin (the 1.5 generation) is a topic discussed within global immigration research today, particularly with regards to their segmented assimilation in the host societies.


Although I am technically a generation 1.5 immigrant

 (meaning a person caught between the official definition of a first and second generation),

my interest in pinpointing on this in-between placement, is to be able to jump between a reflective and progressive viewpoint, without falling prey to strict cultural perceptions of immigration identity, particularly with regards to nostalgia.


An identity without a known past is shaped in the present. But the present is a mere reflection of history– veiled by new contexts.


Nostalgia is one of those veils. It is a rebellion against the irreversibility of time.


1st generation immigrants, such as my parents, will feel eternally foreign due to a liberation of freedom.


A first-generation immigrant tends to progress without the desire to reflect on what was left behind, or they may be nostalgic for a home they never even experienced.


Their children are born in the new country and become second generation. Those children tend to reflect on the past of their family in order to assist with understanding their origins and heritage. They may be nostalgic for signs of the past and find ways of restoring it.


A generation 1.5 is born in the same country that their family fled, yet their assimilation into a new homeland is during a time when the brain is only beginning to develop a sense of self, causing the physicality of memory construction to be in-between locations.




The 1.5er is born a foreigner without the memory of immigration; yet seemingly can assimilate into a new society, without obvious signifiers that their parents may hold, such as an accent.



It can be argued that the level of estrangement 1.5ers face is due to the varied contexts and documents that surface or that they encounter during their time in the new “homeland”.


The available personal objects thus become imbued with a level of counter-memory that is in constant flux.


So what is Document [x]? (slide)


Formally speaking it is a mesh of Russian and English letters.

It is an arbitrary title to an unknown context,

and a metaphorical trace, where the document’s authenticity echoes the relationship between representation and trace.


The title is also a visual representation of code-switching. (slide)


Code switching operates in similar ways to memory triggers, where the change in language is context and content specific.


“The most general definition of codeswitching [as it is a highly debated definition] is this: the use of two language varieties in the same conversation.”


(Myers-Scotton 2006:239) (Multidisciplinary Approaches to Code Switchng; Studies in Bilingualism).


In uncovering phenomenological relationships with documents, I was well aware that a physical return to my initial homeland would not necessarily elicit a memory, but I still decided to go to Russia, and at most challenge the implications code-switching has on my own memory construction.


Even before departing I was quickly reminded how language is controlled within documents and that “truths” are a matter of word-choice.


(If you take a look at the section that asks to specify if you previously held citizenship and if so, the reason for losing it).


I had to change the line stating citizenship was revoked, and have it stay that I permanently moved; yet there was never an option to keep citizenship.


The multiple visa applications to correct such matters repositioned history into a matter of individual choices rather than communist actions.




Nonetheless I made it to Russia, and once there I was quickly faced with a puzzling and alienating situation. I’m sitting in a café, and in Russian, and without hesitation, I ask for an English menu. I couldn’t tell what was more odd­­– my lack of hesitation in asking such a question, or the server’s confusion as to why I would need one, having asked the question in clear Russian?


Why would someone speak so fluently in a language yet be illiterate in it?


I bring up this point to underline the level of trust that is required in possessing documents that others seems to better understand or decipher, specifically with regards to its authenticity;


this doesn’t apply toward literacy as much as memory of the experience in obtaining the document.


I may not have memories for when my USSR citizenship was revoked, but I knew without hesitation the reason.


And so during the trip information was collected about the people, the encounters, the places, and myself in an assumed homeland.


Here are some examples of the information gathered:


 I documented objects, such as these crates, that supposedly hold sculptures from the Hermitage Museum. The label on these crates is similar to the labels on a passport or a greencard.




Without the context, we are left with a form meant for transportation or travel, and labels giving specific identity to the content.


Numerous Images such as these were captured.

This photo leaves enough to be interpreted, but Judging by the attire, it becomes unclear whether you are in Russia or America. 

It’s also interesting to point out I was abroad during 4th of July.


And I visited the a contemporary museum where I encountered installation art that continues to recreate the “horrid” life of communal apartments:

 is it necessary for us to experience these recreations, or are young Russian artists nostalgic for their parent’s past?


I later took the video shot from inside this installation in Russia and extracted the audio.

I then presented an installation for 2 people to experience collectively--one watched the video of a camera walking through the communal apartment while the other listened to the audio of dripping water and muffled voices.


The 2 participants had no previous knowledge of what they were witnessing. The only thing the two people encountering this piece had in common is that they were both sitting in front of one another and could assume that the other person would assist in piecing together the puzzle.


 Simultaneously a group of students watched their discussion unfold, being fully aware of the content that was provided through the video and audio.


Needless to say, neither participant guessed they were experiencing documentation of a communal apartment.


(image of greencard)


The map never represents the entire territory– it is an abstraction limited by the structure of language. 


Taking a formal document and irrationalizing its function permits the map to exceed its parameters and cross into new territories.


The expired, and thus non-functional green card is able to shift contexts better than a set physical location. 


(national mall)


Trust in a national document is similar to trust in a monument– a condensed storyline with a directed purpose and intentionality, where myth is overshadowed by a collective “truth”.


Monuments and memorials are documents, and a criticality of these documents involves a criticality of history and memory.  


Although they function on a larger scale compared to intimate personal documents, analyzing larger backdrops of national identity, allows a deconstruction of documents of individual identity.


Its undeniable that Washington D.C. serves as an umbrella of national identity and history, and in doing so promotes collective engagement toward examining American history. 


Efforts to control the symbolic terms of national commemoration extend from a broader emphasis on citizen rights in America.


Who counts as an American today and of what causes are now deemed constitutionally fundamental to the nation, are all matters that can be extrapolated from examination of memorials and monuments.




       It is said that, The Mall functions in some ways like a monumental theme park, enabling the visitor to “do” Washington without extensive exposure to the rest of the city.


By coming to The National Mall a person will experience the history of this country, and through that experience become more American.


In 1899, during DC’s City Beautiful movement, art historian George Kriehn noted:


“Why should not the American people be taught patriotism, to a far greater extent  

       than at present? Nothing would be a more effective agent in making good citizens 

        of our foreign population than such monuments… Many of them cannot read

        English books, but they can read monuments which appeal to the eyes”


Although outdated, Kriehn reinforces the power of visual distinctions, and reminds many artists such as myself the need to continue pushing the preconceived notions that exist within visual studies.


Although it is the privileged sense, sight is not what we first develop as human beings, it is simply the easiest for language to grasp.


(FDR slide)


 More and more Americans whose ancestors come from all parts of the world find themselves at a loss when asked to indicate their race. Even though sounds, smells, and touch exists within a memorial, sight continues to overpower. Any discussion of these topics requires a level of negation, enhancement, or repositioning– thus constituting American citizenship as a rather challenging subject to enter.


            The politically correct nature of the memorials at the National Mall can be extensively discussed,

and my research included the changing demographics of our nation’s capital,

the invisible treatment of the homeless at memorial sites,

and the controlled use of water and sound that parallels a larger discussion of controlled religion and patriotism.


(obelisk slide)


I wanted to provide at least one image of an art piece that was created in conjunction with this research.


A wooden obelisk that I erected and then buried under the ground. The idea was derived from a Soviet Children’s game that teaches trust, where a child buries treasures in the ground and only shares the location with one friend.


      This art piece supports the idea that memorial debates do reveal a great deal about the concerns of the present generation. One senses a considerable frustration with political correctness and over whether difference is something to be concealed, overcome, or conversely, be something to celebrate.


 It brings to question how one intends to be remembered and how a collective prefers to expose the struggles within history, providing hope to future generations who feel they need to strive toward a constructed national image of strength and unity.


The National Park Service estimates that they receive an average of three thousand permit requests per year from groups who wish to demonstrate at the National Mall, illustrating how evocative a memorial/monument is as a backdrop for an individual’s entry into American history.


A counter-monument embodies impermanence, mocking the traditional monument’s certainty of history, calling attention to its own fleeting presence.


I wanted to bring up discussions of national monuments and counter-monuments because it helps to explain the reason for creating a photomontage that in a sense acts as a counter-memory.




If a document such as a green card is expired and citizenship has been attained, then what does the possession of the nonfunctional green card do to one’s understanding of their position within society?


This question can be answered by the same reason that groups of people feel an internal need to knock over permanent statues, monuments, and shrines, in order to assert their physical presence onto a national document.


Without the monument the memory still exists,

yet without the physical object to identify the memory, reconstruction of memory is much more susceptible.



So here is my green card: Identified by a photo of a child during the Gulf War. 

It is an unintended memory that history has transformed into an inescapable past.



(2 separate)

Encapsulating the two within one another creates a representation that pushes aside rationality and logic and welcomes a countered form of intentionality;

allowing a handling of memory that exceeds the ramifications the documents originally held.


Neither image is fake…they are simply expired. Expired from a specific time in history, and expired from a utilitarian purpose.


An expiration date is different from an end date. The latter implies completion, while the former infers a possibility of renewal.


An expiration date can be the trigger that allows the purpose to be repositioned, re contextualized, and the memory becomes countered by the person possessing the document.


Their phenomenological presence is much greater now than ever before, because now their intentionality is up to the beholder to decide.


(back to photomontage)

What distinguishes this document, from an inert mass of material is the possibility of lived experience being entangled with it.


This document serves as an example of a transmission of experience.





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