Chroma’s Annual Film Festival (CAFF) has long been the beacon for groundbreaking experimental films, and this year, the spotlight is on none other than the multi-talented Katherina Sadovsky. Her exceptional piece, “RAGE,” has effortlessly clinched the Best Experimental Documentary/Essay Short award, creating waves across the festival.
About Katherina Sadovsky
Born in 1985, Katherina Sadovsky is not just a contemporary artist; she’s a force to be reckoned with in the Russian art scene. With her expertise spanning across multiple domains like video, CGI, 3D, sculpture, AI, photography, and more, she explores profound themes that resonate deeply with today’s socio-political landscape.
Katherina’s overarching concern lies in unraveling the future, understanding human relationships with Nature, and envisioning how humans can connect with other forms of existence.
Diving into “RAGE”
“RAGE” stands out not only for its unparalleled visuals but also for its poignant narrative. It delves deep into how art and culture have been manipulated as military propaganda tools, especially focusing on modern Russia’s attempts at reigniting Soviet monumental propaganda.
The film offers a melancholic journey through the VDNH park in Moscow, juxtaposing it with the grotesque reality of Soviet architecture from the 30s. But there’s more. As the film progresses, monuments undergo surreal transformations, with their surfaces getting covered by symbolic crystals representing the resources of the Empire.
An Intimate Conversation with Katherina
To understand the depths of “RAGE,” I had an opportunity to converse with Katherina. Here’s a glimpse into our discussion:
Can you share with us your initial inspiration for creating your film? What prompted you to explore the intersection of art, culture, and military propaganda in this experimental video work?
To begin with, it was the filming location that inspired me – the VDNH Park in Moscow, which started to be built in the late 30s and was built in 1939, right before World War II (as an All–Union Agricultural Exhibition, where each pavilion symbolized a country that was part of the USSR). This place served as an example of Soviet utopia for people, what kind of city and life all Soviet people could have. Because the majority of the population of the USSR lived then in rural areas or small, industrial cities. People flocked to this place to look at the incredible architecture, beauty, innovations, and gardens and dreamed of a bright future. I started studying the history of VDNH and found out that the first chief architect of the project, Vyacheslav Oltarzhevsky, was a political prisoner. Stalin exiled him to a work camp in the Arctic. He never saw his creation. There is a legend that when Stalin brought him back to Moscow to build skyscrapers, according to the American project, the architect never came to see VDNH. By the way, Oltarzhevsky lived in the USA in 1924-1935, studied there, got acquainted with modern construction technologies, worked on high-rise construction in New York and, according to his project, the Royal Pines resort was built in New Jersey. And this power and personal human history excited me. I am very interested in the phenomenon of the so-called “humanism of Soviet architecture” (that’s what I call it). When symbols of the Soviet Empire replaced a lot of elements taken from the Renaissance and Classicism, this style was called the Stalinist Empire (1932-1954). So these symbols of fertility, human labor, and military glory were at the head of the monuments and moldings decorating the buildings. In the center of attention was a working man – factory beauties, broad–shouldered collective farmers with large hands, proudly showing us the fruits of their labors – futuristic details for machinery, juicy fruits, ears of wheat rich in gold. Later, after the Second World War – young soldiers in helmets, with bare torsos – defenders of the Motherland, copied from ancient Greek sculptures. The theme of labor and heroism replaced the theme of Antiquity. Work for the Motherland, serve the Motherland, and the highest luxury – die for the Motherland, if it requires it! But the Motherland does not demand anything at all; it is a line of power, competently woven into social and political propaganda, imposing disgusting ideals like patriotism on us.
Your film delves into the use of art and culture as tools for military propaganda. How did you approach translating this complex theme into visual storytelling? Could you tell us more about your creative process in bringing this concept to life?
Of course, figuratively. And, most importantly, technically. I want to tell you precisely about the approach to disclosing the topic of work from the technical side. I tried to take Soviet fragments of monuments and scan them. But I didn’t want to leave this aesthetic, and with the help of CGI and visual programming, my team and I achieved a new aesthetic of the old models. For example, you can watch throughout the video how parts of the soldiers’ athletic bodies appear, fragments of their clothes, and faces overgrown with crystals. And at the end of each action, the monument turns into something cute, shiny, like jewelry or a lollipop made of crystal sugar. Something powerful turns into a trinket.
The sound in the video is also essential to me. It was handled by my friend, composer Sasha Filippova. We came up with the idea to create the sound of empire. Sasha walked around the city with a pickup and recorded the noises and vibrations of Soviet buildings. Some of the sounds were recorded in Moscow, at VDNKh, and at Lubyanka (the FSB headquarters in the center of Moscow, where people were shot in the basements during Stalin’s times for dissent and so–called betrayal – when a significant person in society disagreed with the system of power). And another part of the sound is in St. Petersburg, under the famous sliding bridges and Soviet buildings. That is, the sound in the work is entirely alive and real, slightly modified with the help of technology.
The juxtaposition of Soviet architecture and military monuments in your film is visually striking. How did you decide on this particular visual approach, and what were you hoping to convey through this visual contrast?
Rather, I wanted to create some tension – with the help of repetitive frames with monuments, alternating architecture, and supplemented with an alarming sound. That is, the most important thing is what is happening inside your head (or heart?) now. Because I’m sure, you have a completely different visual perception of this work in the USA. You were born and raised in a different aesthetic. For example, in your beautiful metropolis – Miami – there is an ocean, palm trees, lots of sun, and buildings of skyscrapers made of concrete and glass. In the photos on Google – your city looks like a substantial expensive resort for Russian oligarchs, haha)) And you don’t have to understand Soviet aesthetics at all. It’s boring. It’s even more tedious when I make you watch all this repetitively for more than 12 minutes) But it is very important not to understand aesthetics, what exactly this or that object means, but the fact that we have no way out in this video. We are equally wandering in the enclosed space of a particular city, and it does not matter at all what it is called, constantly bumping into a hall with white columns, it is not clear at all where it is – on the street, indoors, what kind of room it is. The important thing is that we can’t get out. Maybe you and I are waiting for something to finally happen. But there is nothing – only digital monuments and architectural remains of the Soviet Empire, painted with modern construction paints. This is about the state a person is in in Russia. And propaganda gives him hope that he lives in a strong country and should trust the authorities and support the actions of the authorities. But nothing happens. The pictures have been repeating for thousands of years. And I’m talking about the whole world right now. Sometimes I think that the biggest trouble occurred during the period when the first state was formed)) Maybe we should have stayed in the caves))
The transformation of the monuments into crystalline forms is a captivating element of the film. Could you elaborate on the symbolism behind these crystals and their connection to the concept of Empire and its resources?
Of course, if you see this color there, everything is straightforward here – blood, oil, gold… and maybe platinum. Everything that lies in our land and everything that is desperately defended and increases in value at the expense of people’s lives.
Your artistic practice spans various media, including video, CGI, sculpture, and more. How do you decide which medium best suits the message you want to convey? How does your diverse approach contribute to your ability to address complex themes like those in your film?
We mainly work with video, digital art, and AI. I collaborate with Lilia Li-Mi-Yan, our other work was presented at the CAFF in the Cinematic Poetry category. Now is precisely the period when we are working on topics that are ideally suited to the visual language of the video. Because there are no restrictions here and the work does not physically weigh anything, it does not seem to exist until we connect new technologies – screens, sound.. Well, just the aesthetics of the video is magic, which requires the perseverance of the viewer))
Can you share your thoughts on the intersection between popular culture, computer game aesthetics, and the aesthetics of monumental propaganda as depicted in your film? How do these elements contribute to the overall narrative?
I like pop culture and popular aesthetics. If we talk about Rage, there is a symbolic element of a computer game – we are traveling through an unfamiliar space, we have the illusion of movement because we are following the camera, but we do not have a joystick to control. It’s like we’re watching a level-passing tutorial on YouTube, but we can’t manage this journey to anywhere at all. And here, I also enter space warships, which look more realistic than all these buildings and monuments. They fly by, creating a familiar aesthetic from pop culture, to which we have already become accustomed after watching it for many decades. And we don’t know what exactly they are doing here – are these human ships that scan the territory, looking for the enemy? Or did they come from other galaxies and we’re all dead?
The film addresses the war in Ukraine and its implications. Could you elaborate on your intentions in bringing this topic to the forefront and how you wanted viewers to engage with this aspect of the narrative?
This work is a statement about all world wars and tools for influencing people. After all, you and I, Aileen, are doing important things. Art and culture form a personality. But when the question is about the collapse of the ruble or the dollar, art, and culture begin to work so that you and I participate in this ugly orgy of power. The war in Ukraine manifests political ugliness and insolvency on both sides or, instead, all sides. People are dying; people hate each other, and people secretly have to be responsible for the decisions and actions of the government, which they did not even choose. I want to attract viewers to one essential aspect of the narrative – it is to have critical thinking and not succumb to propaganda, which completely occupies the entire media reality. My work is just an artistic image of the instruments of human culture. Our species has two paths – either the sixth mass extinction or we have to implant ourselves a little more empathy.
How does it feel to have your work recognized at Chroma, and what message would you like to convey to the audience who experienced your film during the festival?
Our team and I are immensely grateful to the CAFF festival and you personally, Eileen! This is our first nomination, the first significant art film festival, the first chic museum, and the first unreal multiple projection. This is a magical experience for us! Thank you for your talent, organization, and creativity. I would like to convey to the viewer, I repeat once again, cultivate critical thinking in yourself and your children, let the leading expert of trust be not the person on the screen, but yourself, and read Hannah Arendt)
(Embed the provided Q&A segment here)
A Word on Chroma’s Recognition
Winning at Chroma is not just about the accolade; it’s a testament to the artist’s ability to touch hearts, provoke thoughts, and inspire change. Katherina’s “RAGE” does precisely that. Her unique approach to visual storytelling combined with her technical prowess ensures that the audience doesn’t just watch a film—they experience it.
In Katherina’s own words, “Our team and I are immensely grateful to the CAFF festival and you personally, Eileen! This is our first nomination, the first significant art film festival, the first chic museum, and the first unreal multiple projection. This is a magical experience for us!”