About history / Haim Sokol

Haim Sokol

About history

28 Mar - 03 May 2014

In his hew project Haim Sokol uses a lot of different techniques – installations, objects, graphics and even a book. There is a premier of his new film ‘Spartak’ as well. It is a theatrical video performance about the gladiators’ rebellion with the music from the ballet of Aram Khachaturian, but the action takes place in modern Russia, where the main characters are working migrants from Kirgizia. All the works are about history, but it’s not the past the artist is looking into; he is interested in the fate of the past in present. In other words, he shows how present is formed by the interpretation of the past. Haim Sokol appeals to the ideas of a German philosopher Walter Benjamin. He borrows not only the name, but the method of the sensory perception of history. The gist of this method is an emotional openness to the signs of past. 

The traces of past, which Sokol has made important in his works, are the traces left by the official history. A diversity of opinions on history appears in petty, unremarkable details - some sketches, thrown away photo albums, and, especially, plain material things from the history of the oppressed – orange vests of street cleaners and floor clothes from the ‘Spartak’ movie.

The graphical sheets from the series ‘Red scrolls’ are covered with the palimpsest from the old photos, on which the light imprinted the physical reality of once lived people. The technique of using carbon paper is the one that provides the exact material imprint, allowing the past to exist here and now.  The gaps between the diverse elements in Sokol’s works correspond to Benjamin’s idea of the complexity of history. But in spite of all the lyricism these traces appeal to the future, where they would find their places; they are able to become monumental ones like, for instance, in ‘the Mars’ memorial’ (where the rough piece of metal adopts the thinker’s features).

The things, in Sokol and Benjamin’s opinion, have the ability to indicate the possibility of some events – the ones calling for radical and revolutionary changes. 

That’s where the possibility of a rebellion stems from, and then the floor cloth becomes the ‘Red Flag’ and the orange vests are the uniform of the rebel gladiators. The same way the belief in novelty and utopia was the foundation of the Russian avant-garde architecture. That’s why among other things Sokol includes avant-garde drafts in his palimpsests, and the rusty shields of Spartan decorate the Suprematic compositions. Benjamin compares the utopian belief in the deliverance as the result of history to the waiting of Messiah, which is the main idea of Judaism. Benjamin and Sokol are both interested in the Judaist religion in the cultural and their own private contexts (family history).

Despite Sokol’s affection to waste and the secrets of history, in each of his work he expresses willingness to lead the way to the escape. In this paradox there is an inner intensity of Sokol’s works, similar to the one of Benjamin’s texts; it’s something between tender care and didacticism, anxious scrutiny of the diverse past and the belief in the utopian unity. 

Gleb Napreenko