Thank goodness this two-screen film by Sonia Leber and David Chesworth comes with some notes, because otherwise we’d all be in trouble. The pair made the 26-minute video during a three-month residency in Rostov-on-Don, and it is quite… unusual. Take the title Zaum Tractor. Zaum is a form of futurist performance poetry from a century ago, which focuses on word sounds and rhythm rather than syntactic meaning. So even Russian speakers would struggle to get their heads around that one. The tractor, a symbol of collectivism, is the reincarnation of Eisenstein’s tractor Marfa from his 1929 film The General Line, here dually represented by both a machine and a woman doing some Zaum. With us so far?
The youths seemingly intent on killing themselves are actually doing that for fun(!), and to display the traits of athletic ability and courage admired in Russian culture. What looks like the world’s most enormous game of Jenga is actually the Georgian Ministry of Highways building in Tbilisi – one of the most extreme examples of Soviet Modernist architecture out there, but looking a bit more spruce than it did in 1974. Further south we see the ceremonies of the Cossacks, a people re-emerging after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a warrior people pairing repetitive religious blessings with monastic chanting. The rest you can figure out for yourselves. Watch the bonkers but unexplainably fascinating film in its entirety at Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne, until 22 February.