Thursday, January 21, 2010

Costumes in Sci-Fi performance art based on 1924 Russian film Aelita: Queen of Mars

Artist Joanna Malinowska, a Polish-born New Yorker whose work ranges from performance to installation to sculpture, was interviewed recently by critic David Coggins of the website In a cerebral discussion, Malinowska touched upon “Mother Earth Sister Moon,” her fall 2009 installation that examined “the fashion and style elements related to a diverse range of Eastern Bloc phenomena, including the Soviet space program, sci-fi film and literature of the era, and the cults surrounding the mysterious 1908 explosion over the Tunguska River Valley in central Siberia.” Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
David Coggins: The Performa piece, Mother Earth Sister Moon, was a collaboration with your partner, Christian Tomaszewski. It was a large tent structure shaped like a prone space suit.

Joanna Malinowska: Right, the space suit of Valentina Tereshkova -- the first woman in space -- is like a representation of mother earth. The title is a paraphrase of a Franco Zeffirelli film. It was made out of Tyvek. The suit was big enough to fit 100 people and we did a fashion show inside it.

David Coggins: But the people inside didn’t know exactly what to expect. Models came in from different entrances and there was a bear -- it was quite mysterious.

Joanna Malinowska: Yes. The music was important too. It was mixed during the performance. The composer, Masami Tomihisa, who I’ve collaborated with in the past, composed several different melody lines for different instruments and recorded them separately on cassettes. She mixed those different scores during the performance using a Walkman. So it was kind of a chance operation, and different in every performance.

David Coggins: Can you talk about the costumes? It was like an old fashioned version of the future.

Joanna Malinowska: Our project began with the feeling that Eastern European science fiction is always very different than Western European science fiction. The most obvious case would be Andrei Tarkovsky, where woman are wearing crocheted dresses. Science fiction in the East is more metaphysical and more pessimistic and less entertaining. It has a religious aspect to it, too. We decided to analyze the differences as if we were preparing a show for the Costume Institute at the Met. Looking for specific examples of things and trying to reconstruct them. In some cases we created outfits based on descriptions in short stories.

David Coggins: So the costumes are based on something you found?

Joanna Malinowska: Yes, for example in the movie, Aelita: Queen of Mars. It’s a Russian movie from the ‘20s that was science fiction but at the same time Communist propaganda about a revolution on Mars. The outfits were very elaborate and beautiful. We re-created some of those elements, like a strange mechanical dress. Some things were based on Russian Constructivist sculptures.
Check out this three-minute clip about “Mother Earth Sister Moon” from YouTube.

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