The reenactment of the Storming of the Winter Palace (1920).

by florence cheval

La reconstitution de la Prise du Palais d’Hiver de 1917, réalisée en 1920 sur les lieux mêmes de l’événement, visait à célébrer le troisième anniversaire d’Octobre 1917. Il avait impliqué la participation de l’armée, du peuple, mais aussi des artistes de l’époque.

Slavoj Zizek:
Let us recall the performance of “Storming the Winter Palace” in Petrograd, on the third anniversary of the October Revolution, on 7 November 1920. Tens of thousands of workers, soldiers, students, and artists worked round the clock, living on kasha (tasteless wheat porridge), tea, and frozen apples, and preparing the performance at the very place where the event really took place three years earlier; their work was coordinated by the Army officers, as well as by avant-garde artists, musicians, and directors, from Malevich to Meyerhold. Although this was acting and not reality, the soldiers and sailors were playing themselves. Many of them not only actually participated in the event of 1917 but were also simultaneously involved in the real battles of the civil war that were raging in the near vicinity of Petrograd, a city under siege and suffering from severe shortages of food. A contemporary commented on the performance: “The future historian will record how, throughout one of the bloodiest and most brutal revolutions, all of Russia was acting”; and the formalist theoretician Viktor Shklovsky noted that “some kind of elemental process is taking place where the living fabric of life is being transformed into the theatrical.” We all remember the infamous self-celebratory First of May parades that were one of the supreme signs of recognition of the Stalinist regimes. If one needs proof of how Leninism functioned in an entirely different way, are such performances not the supreme proof that the October Revolution was definitely not a simple coup d’etat by a small group of Bolsheviks but an event which unleashed a tremendous emancipatory potential? (1)

Public Movement, un groupe d’artistes-performers israéliens créé par Dana Yahalomi et Omer Krieger, affirme s’inspirer de cette reconstitution afin de concevoir des performances ayant un impact proprement politique.

Public Movement:
Who designs the appearances of the State ? Who is the choreographer of a demonstration ? Who is the director of a Memorial Day ceremony ? We believe art should design reality and this is why we feel close to Soviet Constructivists. The reenactment of the storming of the winter palace (1920) is an excellent example of an art event that serves the revolution, through a precise repetition of the peak moment of mass participation that overtook the regime. (2)

(1) Slavoj Zizek, A Plea for Leninist Intolerance, Critical Inquiry, Winter 2002, Consulté le 13/10/2011
Eisenstein s’est d’ailleurs largement appuyé sur ce reenactment pour réaliser son film Octobre (1927), bien plus que sur les événements réels de 1917. On a même souvent considéré son film comme présentant de véritables images d’actualité.

(2) The Group of all Groups, Public Movement interviewed by Alhena Katsof, Kaleidoscope, Fall 2011, Issue 12, p. 39.