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Archive: Remnants of the Future

Plans for the Past

A second part to Remnants of the Future, this film goes back to the original Mush in Eastern Anatolia. Unlike the ghost town in Armenia named after it, in this now Turkish city the ghosts themselves have become homeless.

Plans for the Past explores how this place is a palimpsest imbued with former life, historical spirits, and topographical particularities; how it is personed. The task of the spectre is to remind us that the past is an unfinished business. The logic of haunting thus disrupts the idea of chronological time, it de-synchronises time and unsettles space.


Chewing The Scenery

ed. Andrea Thal (Zürich: Edition Fink, 2011)

Produced for Switzerland’s contribution at the 54th Venice Biennale, designed by Georg Rutishauser and Anna Frei, with artistic contributions by Maria Iorio / Raphaël Cuomo, Uriel Orlow and Eran Schaerf.



In Aide-Mémoire, Orlow presents salvaged material of a future film and explores the territory between travelogue, slide-show, obscure history lesson and immersive sound-scape.

Chains of association, visual clues and narrative fragments are woven into new configurations of past and future. Biblical Mount Ararat, a Ghost Town in Northern Armenia on the site of an earthquake, a Kurdish village in Turkey built out of the rubble of an ancient Armenian monastery, death masks of Soviet luminaries conjure more symbols, ghosts from the past and constructions of the future.


Art Monthly | Richard Thomas | March 2010

Swiss artist Uriel Orlow’s multi-work installation Remnants of the Future, all works 2010, ruminates on time travel, architectureand Armenia since the 1915 Ottoman-Turkish genocide, the 1988 Spitak earthquake and the collapse of the SovietUnion in 1991. The dominant element – a video loop – is astudy of Mush, a vast housing project in Gyumri, northern Armenia. Mush has had two incarnations. The first Mush was the site of massacres during the 1915 genocide, the second was constructed to accommodate the people displaced by the Spitak earthquake. This project was curtailed by the break-up of the Soviet Union, leaving the reconstruction of Mush in stasis – a hollow concrete exoskeleton haunted by the spectres of failed state capitalism and the neglect of free markets. The video is elegantly shot and edited, with striking sound. Via a sequence of long and horizontal panning shots we see Mush in topographical context, a brooding anachronism set among dun-coloured hills and arid khaki scrub. As Orlow’s camera gradually swoops closer to Mush life, colour and activity are revealed. Hawks hover and finches perch, a blue plastic carrier bag ensnared by a bush trembles frenetically in a breeze (in the gallery an identical carrier bag is suspended from the ceiling to the left of the screen). Scavengers salvage scrap metals, an elderly lady in crimson hangs laundry out to dry on dilapidated fencing, children play in a rusting playground, a cattle herd armed with a scythe walks amongst animals, rubble and thistles. An elderly male in a straw hat straightens bent wire with a hammer, his hammering a delightful series of extra-musical pings. The video’s captivating audio track, composed/designed by Mikhail Karikis, slips furtively between warm naturalism – field recordings of quotidian activity – and the cold chirruping modulations of the electro-acoustically processed radio signals of pulsars. As Mush moves from day to night the soundtrack becomes more insistent, a pulsating skein of sub bass frequencies and telegrammatic sine tones. Then, quite suddenly, an electronically processed female voice begins to speak. This section appropriates text from Mayakovsky’s play The Bathhouse. Premiered unsuccessfully a few months before the playright’s suicide in 1930, The Bathhouse is a time-travel satire that lampoons Soviet politics and bureaucracy. ‘I’m an emissary from the future. I have switched into your time for twenty four hours. Time is short and our aim high … Direction: infinity.’ The sudden introduction of this section of speech provides a compellingly odd perceptual jolt. Like Mush itself, it seems displaced; written in the 1930s by a man out of sync, speaking from the future to the past.

On a plinth, in the same space as the video loop, lies the text piece Top Lines – two heavily redacted British government policy documents concerning Armenian and Turkish relations. In the basement area of the gallery there are other supporting materials: collections of photographs, pencil tracings of Soviet death masks, Soviet Sleep, and After The End of History, a first edition book cover of Francis Fukuyama’s neo-liberal classic The End of History. The photographs consist of production stills, large colour prints of areas destroyed by the Spitak earthquake and Still Aftershock, a selection of colour and black and white images culled from personal archives, the Gyumri public library and the Gyumri city archive. Among these images are two curious shots of politicians and their spouses. One depicts a flustered looking Mikhail Gorbachev pictured with his late wife Raisa amid a crowd, the other a disturbingly vibrant image of Margaret and Dennis Thatcher standing beside a red coach surveying a scene unrevealed by the photograph. Margaret, in a blue suit with white-piping, looks perplexed and Dennis embarrassed. The day I visited the gallery the Wall Street Journal reported that, after decades of tension, attempts to develop positive diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia had collapsed. That same week miraculous stories of survival in Haiti were all over the media as people were dragged out of earthquake ruins days after official rescue operations had ceased. One wonders what Haiti’s fate will be and whether it, too, like Mush will be subject to subsequent indifference and neglect.

Uriel Orlow’s Remnants of the Future is at heart a strange and subtle paean to absence, survival and the resourcefulness of people in the aftermath of a cataclysm. It is refreshing in its empathy, subtlety and resistance to mawkishness. The video is the strongest component, though time with the other elements is necessary despite an initial sense of extraneousness.

Richard Thomas is a producer at Resonance FM.


Remnants of the Future

Remnants of the Future combines elements of documentary, sci-fi and electro-acoustics. It portrays the precarious existence in a post-Soviet ghost-town, an inverted ruin of the modern that is still waiting to fulfil its utopian ambition of communal living.

Remnants of the Future is set in Northern Armenia in a vast, unfinished housing project called Mush, named after the once flourishing Armenian town in Eastern Turkey and built on the orders of Mikhail Gorbachev to house the people displaced by the 1988 Spitak earthquake. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 abruptly halted the ambitious housing development and it has since remained in a ghostly state of incompletion and near desertion, inhabited only by migrating birds and isolated human scavengers who salvage scrap metal out of the hollow shells of concrete and live in parts of the big, skeletal housing blocks. As the day turns into night, the soundscape, composed by Mikhail Karikis, moves from the sounds of animals and everyday activities of the few inhabitants to modulations of radiowaves emitted by pulsars, or dying stars, which still reach us after the star has died. Out of this electro-acoustic cloud a woman’s voice announces: “I am an emissary from the future….”. The time traveling character from Mayakovski’s “The Bathhouse (1930)” invites those left behind by failed state capitalism and the neglect of free markets to join her in the commune of the future.


Soviet Sleep

Soviet Sleep is a series of twenty drawings of death masks – including Lenin, Tolstoy, Eisenstein and Mayakovsky – made by Sergey Merkurov, a Gyumri- born sculptor who became famous for his monumental sculptures throughout the Soviet Union. The death masks are now housed in a small museum in Gyumri, Armenia.


Art in America | Colin Perry | January 2010

When I met Uriel Orlow at his first solo exhibition at Laure Gellinard gallery in London, the Swiss-born artist gave me a few pointers to decode his latest video work. Orlow’s background (he is from an émigré family) resonates throughout his practice, but he’s eager to point out that he’s worked his way out of the cul-de-sac of identity politics. His work is an open-ended flux of questioning and self-analysis: what’s the difference between a peripatetic artist, an anthropologist, and a tourist? Is history something to be untangled or muddied? Do political tensions get resolved, or just conveniently forgotten? (more…)