Nikolay Karabinovych
The Still, Small Voice of Calm, 2018
Installation: digital printing, sound
Courtesy of the artist, made with the support of the PinchukArtCentre
"In 1949," explains Nikolay Karabinovych, "my great-grandfather, a Greek, was repressed and deported to Kazakhstan. I heard a lot of stories about this from my father, who had never known him, and only knew the story from the recollections of his mother. My father had always wanted to go to the grave of his grandfather, and I decided to go with him." Such are the biographical circumstances that called this work to life, its creation being an event in the biography of its author and, in turn, an event that became part of his work.

The first step was a collaboration with the Berlin musician Juri Gurdzhi, whom the artist asked to compose a song in the peculiar rebetiko style that developed in Greece in the 1920s and 1930s, after the so-called Asia Minor Catastrophe (the genocide of the Pontic and Anatolian Greeks). He then went on a trip to Kazakhstan, to the village of Shelek (Chilik), where deported Greeks, Chechens and Germans have lived since the Second World War. On its outskirts, he installed a loudspeaker on a solitary column, from which Juri Gurdzhi's song sounded in the middle of the silent steppe.

Karabinovych gave a significant title to his work, one which harks back to the Old Testament, to the 1st Book of Kings. In it, "the still, small voice of calm" spoke to the prophet Elijah on Mount Sinai in the form of a "gentle breeze", which, of course, is nothing but the voice of God speaking with him in silence. However, this event was preceded by three others – at first there was a wind of unprecedented power, that "rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks", then an all-shaking earthquake, and then everything began with an all-consuming fire. All three divine phenomena – as the theologians claim – are correlated with the three hypostases of spiritual experience, by which the wind is wilful aspiration to divine indulgence, the earthquake is the trepidation and thrill of its expectation, and fire embodies the flame of love, which is the innermost essence of the divine. The whole theological construction forms into a single circle of catastrophe, heavy trials, passions and enlightenment, where the latter is impossible without the previous three hypostases. Such is the theology of the event and its structure.

An event, however, is an extraordinary phenomenon. Once it has taken place in the life of a person or of mankind, it irrevocably determines the subsequent course of life for an extended period, becoming a reference point by which we define ourselves while shaping the present. Remaining faithful to such great revolutions or immense dramas (the Holocaust, deportations, genocides), we save them from oblivion, and we retain the ability to learn lessons from them. At the same time, as Alain Badiou wrote, "fidelity is both fidelity to the event and fidelity to oneself as a subject – if the subject ceases to interrogate a situation, he ceases to exist." Therefore, "the still, small voice of calm", i.e. the voice of silence, can be heard only by one who "has reached silence within himself." Therefore, fidelity to the event presupposes spiritual discipline and external rituals. This is why Nikolay Karabinovych made a pilgrimage to the village of Chilik and left his mark there – a trace of loyalty to the place and the event that took place there.

Viktor Misiano

As the stations pass on

Our caravan gets longer.

Carrying deportees to Kazakhstan

Carriage after carriage, no one can help us

Night after day, day by night, going away.

You will hear my cry from the settlement of Chilik

This song is my trace, while I've passed away

A hopeless dead-end.

A lonely old man.

A silent ghost of the settlement of Chilik

Being honest at least with myself –

I don't know whether I'll return home.

We'll stay in this place, growing tobacco,

The hurricane has smothered our hearth.

You will hear my cry from the settlement of Chilik

This song is my trace, while I've passed away

An endless dead-end.

A doomed old man.

The white ghost of the settlement of Chilik

Nikolay Karabinovych
artistic director of the project: Viktor Misiano
National Center for Contemporary Arts
Moscow Museum of Modern Art
Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
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