Can One Guess What Will Have to Be Remembered?
We all know the feeling: at least once in our lives, we have all desperately tried to remember something terribly important while the object of memory resisted forced intentionality. In such moments, the sense of absolute frustration and confusion can only be compared to atavistic fear – fear of losing one’s memory forever, an occurrence automatically associated with helplessness, exclusion from human community, and death.
Many Belarusians find such phrases as “memory” or “remembrance” idiosyncratic. The bombastic rhetoric of the propaganda machine revolving around the concept of a great revisitation of the Soviet past has been joined by a machine of repression. Today, the phrase “removing from memory” stands for more than the literal deletion of all visual records of peaceful protests from digital media. It also references the process of eliminating, deporting and assimilating of those who took part. The sterility of absolute power abhors the contamination of individual stories.
We seem to be compelled to retrace our steps to a mantra penned over two decades before by Belarusian philosopher Valiantsin Akudovich:
Like no other nation, we are rich in “have nots”. We have no history, we have no language, we have no freedom, we have no system, and we may yet again have no state. Can anyone unequivocally declare whether Belarusians do or do not exist?
Having executed her individual “getaway” (to quote the artist herself) from Belarus to Poland in 2014, Ala Savashevich continually revisits the abandoned space of remembering home in an attempt at reconstructing her own subjectivity in a new place. Like no other things, places define boundaries, and forms of grounding humans in space. Associated – regardless of any other concept – with a specific city-state (polis), the Aristotelian topos stood in contrast to opaque and disorderly chaos. What is devoid of form cannot exist, incorporated into the space of oblivion. Having found themselves outside their territorial appurtenance, human beings are deprived of subjectivity.
Whenever asking questions concerning factors contributing to the Belarusian type of subjectivity, we encounter ruin. Space continuously passed from one empire to another, wherein powers that be changed more frequently than banners hoisted up flagpoles, in itself seems to stand in opposition to any form of finiteness or order. While differently to forests, ruins do not grow roots, they do return to nature through gradual decay.
Consider the palace in Terebezhov (the artist’s “small homeland”): Savashevich herself declares it never to have functioned in her memory as a finite material object. Its materiality arose from demise and fall into ruin, producing a bricolage of shredded memories, or – more literally – a mosaic of physical components: the bricks locals would use for buildings of their own. Such a form of reconstructing history from memory has proven to be a strategy of developing one’s own identity, a fact the artist has employed as an artistic method. By using pliable, well-nigh weightless materials (wire and felt) to create monumental sculptures referencing memorials of a Soviet past, for example. Lenin is hollow. History with a yawning void as its innate essence.
With no Polish roots, Savashevich is facing multiple years of awaiting legalisation in her “new country”. Experiencing a condition of the “neutral zone”, of the frontier strip, of eternal liminality, the artist has been revaluating the concept of stability, one the Belarussian propaganda has been reinforcing as the prime accomplishment of the social order, and one expressed through all monuments to power present until this day in every Belarussian city, town and village.
Where does the space of memory begin – and where does it end? Who owns it: the cognisance of a thinking entity capable of conceptualising space as a continuity – or the materiality of the world as such, bent on arranging space by type of forms and boundaries? In one of her works, the artist recorded her grandmother. The video footage shows an elderly woman bidding her life farewell, and singing what she believes is a prayer. That prayer turns out to be the Polish national anthem.
In Savashevich’s works, space aspires to overcoming boundaries and becoming dynamic. It is construed by the subject itself, one moving beyond the point it has found itself in. The artist reclaims her right to her own space, regardless of the perpetual complex of having been uprooted and transplanted and not found a sense of belonging to another “of the same root”, regardless of the inconsolable sense of orphanhood.
Savashevich’s soft forest is one devoid of roots; at first glance, it is ostensibly devoid of any life form – after all, it has been artificially produced, cut and sewn. Yet in something of a paradox, once surrounded by trees of warm fabric standing upright with no inner frames to support them, one can experience a traditional sense of safety of the forest as a shelter, open to anyone entering its welcoming space.
History begins at ground level, with footsteps, Michel de Certeau claims in ‘Practices of Space’. Today, the inability to travel stands for more than a geopolitical humanitarian crisis – it is also a repressive order of the imperative to put human beings in their place, even if that place no longer exists on the map of individual lives. And only the forest hears the footsteps fall.
 Валянцін Акудовіч, Мяне няма. Роздумы на руінах чалавека, 1998 [Valiantsin Akudovich, I Do Not Exist. Meditations among Ruins of Humanity, quote and title translated into English by a.s-k].
 Ігар Бабкоў, Каралеўства Беларусь. Вытлумачэньнi ру[i]наў, 2005 [Ihar Babkou, The Kingdom of Belarus. Explaining Ruins/Runes, title translated into English by a.s-k].
 Henri Lefebvre, La production de l’espace, Paris 1974.
 Michel de Certeau, ‘Practices of Space’, in: On Signs, ed. by Marshall Blonsky, Baltimore 1985, p. 129.