This Machine Is Running
1991’s Thelma and Louise meets 1998’s Show Me Love, the homoerotic sub-context of the former made explicit by the small-town high school girl-meets-girl trope of the latter, add some Eurodance and breakbeat production, a sick music video (could anything appease the angsty spirit of teens more than the sight of their peers rebelliously driving off into the Siberian void?) and you have yourself a global hit — the Americans could never! “Not Gonna Get Us!”
Albeit not being the first nor the most popular hit the pop duo t.A.T.u (consisting of Lena Katina and Julia Volkova) unleashed upon the world, the song has managed to establish itself through the years as the band’s signature anthem. The message is clear and timeless. Specific enough to break through the dense pop sonority of the early noughts, securing them the spot on the global stage as queer icons and trailblazers, yet still subtle and malleable for it to be reframed down the road as a symbol of uncompromising patriotism and national fortitude. Performances at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi or the 2018 Crimean Bridge opening ceremony seem like radical departures from their heyday appearances on (US) late-night television or at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards. Raising the question, is there a limit to the love? To what extent can a pop figure facilitate the affective resonances of its shifting audience before the consistency of its form or brand is lost?
The forces at play are disparate and far-reaching; at stake, more than the enterprise, the brand, and the people that it employs. If the pop figure breaks, what prevents us and our metaverse avatars from suffering the same fate in the not-so-distant future?
Ira Konyukhova touches on the material core of the pop spectacle. The pop figure burns fast and bright. What continues to constitute it, when its main actors — the founder, the producer, the manager, the performer, the ideologue, etc. — burn out in its wake? The video (The Machine Is Running, 2021) reanimates the whimsical apparitions of the band’s archival footage, honing in on the spots where emotions run wild, bodies interject speech, and rumors as well as intrigue fade
into the background. Suffice to say, it is in no way a pop documentary. Abrupt cuts and repetitions, an occasional distorted sound bite, frame its ambitions rather machinic. One could picture an affective seismograph, tracing the libidinal tremors on the ground of a transforming contemporary subjectivity that is becoming ever more indistinguishable from the infrastructures that define and shape it.
A vessel subjectivity, not unlike the malleable ceramic figures occupying the foyer —connected by tubes, resembling humanoid body parts. The flow of capital and power is unrelenting;
how much can they hold? In lieu of bright utopic visions, these ceramics pieces put forward a dystopic rendering of the human figure, expressing a pessimistic outlook on a future already tightening its grip on the present. Their sporadic glaze glimmering like imprinted circuitry, leading the eye in senseless patterns, where it as well — like the pop figures of future past — eventually finds itself misled.
The machine is running and its rotary motion can be felt all over the world. Listen! Can you hear that? It’s like a subtle, persistent hum.
A ringing in the ear. An ear-worm … “Nas Ne Dogonyat!”
1.For the manager and founder of the group, the publicized image of their unstoppable love for each other (constructed and commercialized as it might have been) presented a pacifistic force, an idea that led the band to protest the Iraq war on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2003. This image was later partially abandoned or reworked, as the performers denounced the idea of ever having an intimate relationship. Still, it could be said, that the loss of the love that the performers once (supposedly) had for each other only made space for a love of a different kind: the love for one’s homeland; opening what once was intended to be a global force of peacemaking (i.e. love) to a nationalistic (or potentially even militaristic) reworking.