What are your impressions
of the Polaroid photographs that Andrei Tarkovsky began to make
in the seventies? What is their relation to his films?
All of the images were made
in Italy, so it's kind of his visual diary surrounding his immigration.
What struck me about these images, however, is how they look
like Romantic painting of the nineteenth century, in their composition,
and also in the play light.
It's a sublime mood -
something that I have always been impressed by when watching
his films, because one associates the moving image with the
twentieth-century. Film is almost automatically something technological,
which belongs to modernity. Yet, shining through all the technical
devices is a kind of visual heritage of the 19th century.
It's like a combination of Chekhov and Caspar David Friedrich
- a kind of cottage-life with a bit of the decadent Russian
aristocracy. These images are nostalgic, but not for the Soviet
culture of the Russia that he left. Rather, they're nostalgia
for Russia before the Revolution. They reflect the neo-romantic
mood of the time in which they were made. Their romanticism
is more German than French, like Caspar David Friedrich or Otto
Unger. It's classicist, but with a romantic aspect.
Would you characterize this
nostalgic vision as restorationist in motivation?
It's not restorationist because
it's obvious that one can't restore things like that. It's much
more of an attempt to equate this kind of nineteenth century
Romantic, and at the same time slightly decadent, aesthetic
- some kind of provincial Russian Chekhov or Turgenev mood -
with his own family. So, his family is a kind of utopian space.
Do you suspect that this
is because he left his family for a time?
Not necessarily. Rather, it
reflects the mood of the period of [Soviet] stagnation. Look
at his film The Mirror, which is also very Chekhovian. I saw
this movie in the Soviet Union. It's sort of a gentlemen's life
in the country - a gentry life, not the proletarian Soviet reality.
Everything takes place in Dachas, or private apartments of the
wealthy or upper-class Moscow intelligentsia, people who made
it somehow, or whose families did. It was almost a revival of
the gentry sensibility of the nineteenth-century.
You left Russia in a similar
time to Tarkovsky. Do you recall or relate to this nostalgic,
perhaps even spiritual, mood?
Tarkovsky's daughter went to
the same children's group as our son. We were neighbors in Moscow.
I know this kind of mentality well enough. At the time, 'spirituality'
was another name for privacy or intimacy. Not so much for private
intellectual space but, simply, personal space. What happened
in the Soviet Union was a kind of collectivization of consciousness,
a collectivization of the mood of the population, some kind
of totalization of unconsciousness. Accordingly, people just
wanted to have their personal space back.
The religious mood at
the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s was the first wave
of privatization. This was privatization of ideological space
- a discourse of privatization that historically preceded economic
privatization. Now we have arrived at the privatization of state
property. It was a kind of ideal, utopian, space in the middle
of the collective space. I was skeptical. I have no nostalgia
for whatever the Soviet Union was, and none in relation to these
kind of private spaces. I never believed in privatization and
How might one characterize
the relationship between the fiction of his films and the documentary
nature of his Polaroids?
If there is something interesting
about Tarkovsky it is precisely that he escapes kitsch because
he is very documentaristic and doesn't want to remember or relate
to the past. Both in the polariods and the movies, if he relates
to the past it is only in a negative way - as in Andrei Rublev.
He wants to have this romantic, spiritual, intimacy here and
now. Its very much about the feeling of recognition, a looking
for what Roland Barthes describes as 'punctum'. Film and Polaroid
are quite close, both are rather instantaneous and very much
fix the moment, so it's not about nostalgia or memory, he's
not historicizing and he's not reactionary. In the polaroids,
he's looking for an equation or identification of this momentous
experience in his life with a certain kind of gentrified cultural
history of art.
He doesn't recognize something Russian. He recognizes something
that he looked at in a museum or gallery of nineteenth century