Xex-rated operatics

ARTISTS Pil and Galia Kollectiv like creating imaginary scenarios to fill missing links in archive material.

Their latest work, Svetlana, marking the completion of their residency at the S1 Artspace, knits together an obscure 1980s band from New Jersey, Stalin's daughter, the aesthetics of the Bauhaus movement and Cabaret Voltaire, pre-radar military technology and the inventor of the synthesiser.

What visitors to the S1 Gallery see is a series of what purports to be photographic documentation of rehearsals for an opera – Svetlana – that was never performed. The style is evocative of pre-War East European modernism and the avant garde but the eagle-eyed may spot locations nearer to home.

A few years ago the Israeli-born London-based artists came across a track of 1980s group Xex and got in touch with their founder, Waw Pierogi. He was apparently touched that there was still interest in the band and revealed that he had once written an opera which was never performed called Svetlana.

When the artists pressed for further details the trail went cold ("He's not very good with emails," explains Galia) so they let their imagination go to work and create a visual piece inspired by the notion of an opera called Svetlana.

All they had was the title, a character from one of the band's songs and the name of the daughter of Stalin, who defected from the Soviet Union twice.

This led them into the inter-war Soviet world she inhabited of military paranoia and certain images from the period that caught their eye were incorporated into a project to create a series of images suggesting an archive of photographs from a session of stage rehearsals and location shots.

In Sheffield they relied on contacts at S1 to provide volunteer "actors" and suggestions for locations.

Pil says: "The thing that struck us when we came to Sheffield was that there was a lot of architecture that could be used.

"At the same time you can see from the landscape that there have been tremendous changes and you can see the past being erased.

Galia says: "A couple of years ago when we visited the city for the first time all we knew was the destruction of its industries and Eighties bands like Cabaret Voltaire, but we discovered it was a student town with lots of vintage fashion shops.".

Among the locations they came across was the National Grid building overlooking Ecclesall Road on the Ring Road which proved to have

Pil says: "We were also attracted to it because it's a building which everyone in Sheffield seems to ignore."

Weaved into the scenario are Leon Theremin – inventor of the first synthesiser or hands-free electronic musical instrument who was later kidnapped by the KGB – and sound weapons created in high secrecy. These were acoustic locators that preceded radar technology and when obsolete were kept in use as props concealing the introduction of radar from the Germans.

The Kollectiv made the props and costumes for the enactment of the theatre workshops, styled after Bauhaus drama class exercises, to give the sense of a story of espionage, sonic weaponry and the clash between love and ideology.

The performers sport geometric military costumes, brandishing sculptural forms fashioned after the acoustic locators which they feel perfectly captures the theatricality of military might and even the political power of art.

Svetlana is on view at S1 Artspace, Milton Street, until November 15.

There will be an Artists' Talk on Tuesday at 6pm.


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