The Cinematography of Agony: On Oleg Mavromatti’s No Place for Fools
No Place for Fools, Oleg Mavromatti, 2015
by Stanimir Panayotov
When Blaise Pascal said that, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” he would have not meant this truism to become a matheme. The mathematician-philosopher would be surprised to know that what was once a description of the human condition has transformed into what conditions humanity. Left alone in the room, man today is obliged to wrestle with solitude, this cunning technology of nature. What was once the incommunicable solitude of singularity is now a routine and socialized exposure of agony. But now you have an entire arsenal of self-objectification to wage a war against being on your own.
You are sitting in a room and in the nick of time you blast it open: you press record, and your agony is no more. You no longer have the tiniest illusion of solitude, nor the desire to secede in singularity. You declare war on being quiet in your room. Everything you do or think is a daily tactic against your inability to sit quietly then and there. Every time you share your new video, however miserably meaningless or meaningfully miserable, you declare independence from independence. You desire the dependence of your agony from the anonymity of one’s gaze. It is the ultimate trick against the deadening silence of your own humanity. Or at least you hope so.
You know you are conditioned and trained in your rituals of self-exposure, you know you are alone, and you want to leave traces. You have a room, a camera of whatever sorts, and plenty of solitude. You do not talk about it often. The more you do not talk about it, the more you feel the agony. You are in agony, but you will never be the subject of this agony, because you share it with the others, therefore you are never exactly alone. You are stronger than your room, because you have a camera, Internet connection, blog, vlog, YouTube channel… The more your agony is visualized, the less forceful its terror on yourself. Now you are a star of the Russian b/v/logosphere. Your video diary is the ultimate loquacious logomachy against logos. The more your videologomachy makes you famous, the more famous your videologomachy. A perfect synthesis of identities that testifies to your being a fool. At least you are not alone.
Oleg Mavromatti and his silent collaborator PO98 know you are a lonely idiot. He is using you, for your own sake. He traces back the agony you are going through – back to your little repertoire of self-aggrandizement, your petty ambition to leave a universal scream of authenticity. He knows you want to scream for all of the Russian faggots and nationalists at once. For your scream is genuinely versatile: you want to suck all the nationalist dicks and not be a nationalist dick.
But Mavromatti cuts your video diary, this illogical logomachy, into pieces and edits them in such a way so that, when all is said and done, you find yourself agonizing in your room alone. Your name is Sergiy Astahov and the more the world knows about you, the lonelier your room feels. Your scream of authenticity is perfectly contained there anyway. Done. This is the perverted version of Pascal’s matheme. You should be a fool to expect that you have fooled yourself. What is left of your diary is the loneliness of your room: “Perhaps you have already guessed, while watching my videos, my photos and everything I shoot, that I am lonely. … But nevertheless, I am not sad about it, everything in this shitty life suits me and thanks God, I do not need anybody, and thanks the devil, I do not need anybody … Everything is fine with me.” There, where you started in the blindness of your idiocy you end up enlightened by your idiotic blindness. Good, you are famous now. Consider yourself gone.
Where No Place for Fools leaves no room for fools, it pries open the space for the fool’s room, his contemporary cell: the camera. A perfect identitarianism: the camera is the portraitist, the portrait is the prison. This is somewhat typical for (former) Moscow actionists and their ludicrous fight against representation. Mavromatti does not rehearse his own agony – the signature of his oeuvre – he lets others express theirs. What No Place for Fools is, is Mavromatti’s specimen of the cinematography of agony. Because Sergiy Astahov’s war is one against agony: but no fool will embrace his pains, small or grand, for the unintended consequences will be revealing of one’s foolishness. This is why everything should be documented. The more you agonize, the more the document should reflect the concave surface of your pains. Is this diary trash? Is this movie art of trash? “Partly yes. To the same extent as it avoids being intellectual and critical reflection…” Is this agony artistic? Partly no, to the extent to which “the agony of the Artist, far from being the result of the world’s failure to discover and appreciate him, arises from his own personal struggle to discover, to appreciate and finally to express himself.” So you are mimicking: now you are a nationalistic faggot, then a patriotic warrior, but both of these identities are so real that at the end the funniest collapses in the saddest.
Mavromatti is famously interested in the post-apocalyptic and much of his work is centered on the political imaginary of death and extinction. And in his work the precious metal of death is carved into the agonizing subject. The more spontaneously unconscious, the more authentic and real this subject is: with Astahov the director finds the merger for a full-blown identity between subject and subject-matter. That Mavromatti’s cinematography of agony is made of a person filming himself at home and a person making a film at home is a kind of ironic technological wedlock between subject and object. Both alone in a room? It is not the same room, but there is a tacit intimacy.
In Mavromatti’s room, the agony of Astahov’s bipolarity is made political through the editing process. Where Astahov’s documented daily routine is seemingly unpolitical, Mavromatti’s editing is perhaps too political. If Astahov’s gestural prances are not political enough, the editing process has forced him to serve a metalepsis too encompassing. Astahov’s grandiose and self-aware idiocy is narrated through Mavromatti’s idiotizing grandiosity. In the long, final – and, ironically, Russian – sequences of the movie the agony translates into speaking in tongues. The metaleptic quality of agony found in and through Astahov is not spectacular: it is the added found footage (which is not Astahov’s own) that is, but only in the way it is edited. The overwhelming (post-)apocalyptic grandiosity is in the dialogue between occasional exploding barrels on a highway and unknown suicidal bodies prostrate on the ground. Behind Astahov’s life and deeds in Mavromatti’s editing there transpires the move from the situationist and intended spectacularity (a political overexposure of the obvious: nothing is more real than reality) to the objectivist, “new ideology of non-spectacularity”. In his cinematography of the agonizing subject, Mavromatti seems to believe that the actionist is not an artist: and if in the 1990s this was more or less true of himself, the thesis is now projected externally. With Astahov, the problem is automatically solved, because the artist is the actionist: to the extent to which Astahov is a metaleptic semblance of both the intellectual and the political order of bipolarity in contemporary capitalist Russia, to the extent to which he both is and is made to be the Janus-faced avatar of social collapse, to that extent the naïvist credo of life-becomes-art is pessimistically realist. Where Mavromatti is an artist – and spectacular at that – is in editing the bipolar life of Astahov’s agony, and by extension Russia’s. But that does not make either Astahov or Russia artists.
Agony unites Astahov and Russia in cruelty; and it makes cruelty fun for both. Where agony is recorded or streamed live in one’s room, there is always the hysterical laughter of YouTube viewers in another. There is nothing spectacular about people’s cruelty, but there is nothing spectacular about one’s foolishness either. So there it is, the identitiarian mechanics of cruelty: you fool yourself, I LMAO. When the Russian idiots laugh at Astahov the fool, at Astahov the faggot, at Astahov the patriot, at least their asses are fucked by their own laughter. So the “outsider who wanted in,” as the movie’s tagline goes, made it.
And so, this move to the non-spectacular explains how what was once the art of trash of Moscow actionism has now migrated to the people of trash. No better example than a truly self-certified village idiot, a “holy fool” from the nethers of Moscow who is there to explain this transition. In fact, to the extent to which the art of trash is now the people of trash, No Place for Fools, with its agonizing editorial minimalism, enthrones the holy fool Astakhov where he once belonged, with his sacrificial status of a ludic mediator: between the circus and the government.
But a holy fool is never alone – not in his thoughts, not in his bodies – and in this sense we should recognize that, when faced with fools, Pascal’s witticism fades away. If you were to ask Mavromatii, he might tell you that, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room full with his selves.”
Or with his foolishness.
 Anatoly Osmolovsky, “Predisolvie,” in: Radek #2, Moscow.
 E.E. Cummings, “The Agony of the Artist (with a capital A),” in: Vanity Fair 2 (April 1927), pp. 68 & 98.
 According to Nele Sasz, former members of the Netseziudik group, of which Mavromatti belonged, have undergone a development from spectacularity and scandal toward such ideology of non-spectacularity, which is “concerned with the ways things work.” See Nele Sasz, “‘Radical’ Art in Russia, the 1990s and Beyond,” in: Art Margins, 10 June 2003, http://www.artmargins.com/index.php/archive/271-qradicalq-art-in-russia-the-1990s-and-beyond.
 See Alexei Shulgin’s “Art, Power, and Communication” (1996) as a possible point of reference for the continued method of questioning the social ir/relevance of the artist, in: V2_, http://v2.nl/archive/articles/art-power-and-communication.
About the Author:
Stanimir Panayotov is a PhD student in comparative gender studies at CEU, Budapest, working on the relationship between desire and space in ancient cosmologies and Plato. His research interests and published work are centered round issues in feminist and continental philosophy, queer theory and gender studies. He is also a freelance translator and has translated numerous articles from the same fields (Sedgwick, Fuss, Butler, A. Rich, etc.), and books by Peter Berger, Wendy Brown, Jasna Koteska, David M. Halperin and McKenzie Wark. Stanimir has also been involved in numerous projects in Bulgaria and Macedonia related with queer issues and has served as a queer activist for various projects and organizations. He is also part of Social Center Xaspel and New Left Perspectives in Sofia, and is co-organizer of Sofia Queer Forum (Sofia) and Summer School for Sexualities, Cultures and Politics (Belgrade).