2011 - 2016 collaboration work with Dmitry Sokolenko
pigment print, 100 × 127 cm, edition 3
Introduction By Peter Constantine x = y → (A(x) ↔ A(y)) x = y → (Sokolenko (x) ↔ Ohno (y)) y = x → (A(y) ↔ A(x)) Fractal² is a series of unique microfictions and art pieces co-created by Dmitry Sokolenko and Shunuske Ohno. The core of the multimedia work of word and image gathered in this beautiful volume, its initial spark, is a fractal trigger that gives the work its self-propagating symmetry. One piece triggers the next, which in turn triggers the following one, which in turn triggers the one after it. This is the impulse behind the artistic continuum, and sheds light on how this work came into being. In Fractal² the written word and the image are two separate but coexisting manifestations of the Ohno-Sokolenko collaboration. In this sense the book presents simultaneous collaborations that are very different: that of Ohno and Sokolenko as literary co-creators, and that of Ohno and Sokolenko as collaborators in visual art. Over the past five years I followed the two artists preparing this book in their unique long-distance collaboration: Sokolenko in his Saint Petersburg studio, Ohno in his studio in Tokyo. I saw the book unfolding in image and word. The first visual work of Fractal² was co-constructed in Russia in Dmitry Sokolenko’s studio, the second in Japan in the studio of Shunsuke Ohno, the third in Russia, the fourth in Japan. This is the visual series’ fractal path, and the interactivity between the artists is part of what makes this work distinctive. But if fractal propagation was the trigger of this remarkable collaboration, then the strategy and game plan of a chess board is the propellant. Running through the iconic and iconoclastic microfictions and artworks in this book is the fractal sequence of the great chess master Bobby Fisher’s winning game plan, both in energy and in the actual algebraic chess notations. Bobby Fisher is also a character in Fractal², emerging in one of the stories set in 1962 from the trunk of a car in Rome, where he surrealistically pays homage to a portrait of Gogol and meets the great Japanese surrealist Kobo Abe, who the New York Times once described as "an owlish figure usually pictured behind large, black-framed glasses and puffing on a cigarette," and who in the Fractal² scene offers Bobby Fisher one of his famous cigarettes. ** I asked Dmitry Sokolenko on his most recent visit to New York about the nature, the identity, of these co-creations in the book that have turned into single art pieces. Sokolenko said that it was a fusion of what is Russian and what is Japanese, an essence and identity which perhaps I, as a translator of Russian and Japanese, would be best qualified to fathom. Sokolenko’s interesting and humorous reply first made me look to Japan. The Japanese philosopher Eihei Dogen once said that seeking the identity of an object is not a matter of discovering a unity in its elements, but neither is it a matter of seeking a variance: "It is not variance," the philosopher warns us, "nor is it actually identity that one should be seeking. It is not identity, but neither is it multiplicity.” Wise words from the great philosopher, and a first key perhaps to understanding the nature of these beautiful and original Sokolenko-Ohno co-creations of word and image. Kitarō Nishida, a contemporary of the Russian Nobel Laureate Ivan Bunin, would perhaps have said: "Do not search for keys, Mr. Constantine, in that British way of yours. Mr. Ohno and Mr. Sokolenko, one Japanese, the other Russian, might well be opposites, though they clearly harmonize. It is what I call gyaku taiō, an inverse correlation. The creative elements of these artists’ co-creations are held together as correlatives that do not have to be sublated into a higher unity that you seem to be seeking. If you insist on a key to these art works, then look to Shūzō Kuki, a peer of your Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. As Kuki will remind you, the formula of the law of identity is the epitome of simplicity: A is A. That is all there is to it. Kuki has written a book on the hermeneutical phenomenology of aesthetics that I recommend that you read." ** What I, as a literary translator, find particularly compelling about the written passages of Fractal² are some of the Russian and Japanese avant-garde trends in literary experimentation that they call to mind. The passages take on the forms of linked as well as unlinked prose pieces with fictional and nonfictional moments, and polyphonic passages with Dostoevskian shifts in vision. Narrative exposition, such as background contexts or characters’ back-stories, is sparse, and none of the micro-plots have a denouement (in the classical sense of a resolution). From time to time there are passages that Ohno—or Sokolenko—preferred to write in Japanese; these have been left in the original. For the non-Japanese reader this brings in an element of mystery, which will not in any way hamper following the line of the narration. Among the different prose forms there are also fragments of scripts in which a cast of characters, including the narrator (perhaps Sokolenko or Ohno?) tend to a whimsical perplexity at the strangeness and alienation of reality. And as in a Ionesco play, one is not always certain where reality begins or where it ends. The reader might well expect one of the narrators or characters in Fractal² to find a nose in their breakfast bagel, as did Ivan Yakovlevich, the hapless barber in Gogol’s story "The Nose," and the reader might well expect the nose to take on a persona and begin masquerading as a human being in downtown Saint Petersburg. In fact, Gogol himself makes various cameo appearances in Fractal²: the narrator in one of the microfictions set in Rome wonders whether Gogol’s Dead Souls, which Gogol wrote in Rome, would ever have been written had espresso machines been invented. One sip of the magical brew might have changed the course of the great writer’s life and the course of Russian and Western literature. We also find out that Gogol, an aficionado of Italian. food travelled through Europe (and perhaps Russia) with "a carriage full of pasta" in tow. The microfictions in Fractal² are in many ways "microfictions à clef," and it is a joy to spot the hidden references which bring unexpected dimensions to the prose. The "certain Soviet man who really disliked children and old ladies," for instance, is none other than the absurdist Russian writer Daniil Kharms, who despite his notorious statement was also a noted Soviet children’s book writer during the Stalin years. Most of the masterpieces of absurdist prose that Kharms wrote during Russia’s dark 1930s—mainly microfictions and short-shorts that might be considered forerunners to the Ohno-Sokolenko prose—were not to be published in his lifetime. As he himself claimed, his writings were "for the drawer," dlya yashchika, a term Soviet writers used to refer to unpublishable works that were punishable by arrest and hard labor. Another interesting author who appears between the lines in Fractal² is Haruo Satō, one of Japan’s most original futurist writers and a near contemporary of Kharms. A graduate student in a Finnish bio laboratory in Turku keeps obsessively rereading Satō’s story "A Record of Nonchalant City," set in a metropolis of the distant future in which a teenage prisoner opts for genetic modification into a plant (the only way out of a lifetime in the dark catacomb-like prisons). The teenager then lives as a rose on the sunny windowsill of an artist, eyeing the chaotic goings-on in lives guided by artistic temperament. The teenage rose may well be bemused, as many of the characters in Fractal² are, by a world that no longer makes sense, and the world of Fractal² can be as bemusing as that of any Ionesco or Kobo Abe play. But even if the characters in Fractal² show moments of whimsical perplexity, unlike the characters of Ionesco or Kobo Abe, the personas that Sokolenko and Ohno have created seem far more ready to embrace the apparent irrationality of their world. In the story "Coffee," one of the characters gets onto a bus to Dover filled with masturbating passengers. He is "somewhat taken aback by the scene, but the driver explains that it is a ritualistic trip to Dover." The hero embraces the absurdity, and is carried forward in the plot by the slanted reality in which he finds himself. The seeming reality and seeming fantasy of the scene lead us to reorient our bearings, our sense of logic.