[-empyre-] post from Olga Danylyuk

O Danylyuk danylyuk at gmail.com
Wed Nov 5 18:29:16 EST 2014

Dear friends,

I would like to share some ideas from my research project about the
cultural imagination of war that was part of my thesis *' Virtually* *True'.
Intermedial Strategies in Staging of War Conflict*. I was concerned that
our attachment to the actuality is largely lost in the mediatised world,
especially due to the proliferation and artful hyper intensification of the
violent imaginary. It seems that mainstream news reporting is in permanent
 'moral crises', paradoxically caught between saturation and sanitisation.
If our culture of spectatorship neutralises the moral force of indexical
records, I decided to avoid familiar templates. If our culture of
spectatorship neutralises the moral force of indexical records, I decided
to avoid familiar templates and considered neutral facticity of museum
setting to present the military side of the conflict, especially the
apparent 'normality' of being a combatant in a war zone. I created
intermedial installation *Soldiers of the Last Empire *that was based on
material collected from my encounters with Russian and Ukrainian military
and police officers, trained initially in Soviet military schools. Being
brought up in the similar tradition they took different pathways since the
split of the USSR. The title of the piece points out to the origin of the
military ethos, which largely informed the expressed worldview in
documentary film, which was part of the installation as well. In the course
of history the soldiers served in various hot spots, like Chechnya,
Nagorny Karabach, Yugoslavia, East Timor, Liberia.

 One Russian officer (military intelligence, two Chechen wars) playfully
responded  to my first email to him:

*… Ask a specific question and you get a concrete answer)) So what’s
required from me? To kill someone and then commit an outrage or vise versa?
Say what’s needed and I’ll do it for you, especially as I am on vacation.
But don’t concern yourself with war. After all, it’s a job.*

Another former Soviet officer ( Nagorny Karabach and other conflicts) wrote

*Why war?...It’s of no interest, dear Olga, And practically not realistic.
Because no one will tell you anything that’s true and reliable. They’ll
either refuse or will laugh it off gently, turning the conversation to more
neutral topics. The ones who excitedly tell you about days they spent in
the war…are likely to be lying through their teeth. You know, the best
stories ever reported about war were written in smoking area next to
military headquarters. Next to staff soldiers always ready to talk a lot
about ‘front-line’ routine.[…] And no movies about war. Everything in them
is lie…*

First question: Is it possible to get to the actuality despite

I was curious to engage with the live world to continue my investigation
beyond mediatized representations, which often limit our perception of
events to what fits the screen. My investigation resulted in a multiple
data archive collected from the participants for the project. The presented
material consisted of personal photographs, objects and photographs of
objects that have been ‘there’, an autobiographical memoir, fragments from
correspondence and video interviews, including personal video archives.

Second question: How I am going to present my participants to the public?

Taking my cue from Foucauldian concept I observed the practice  of
self as performed
by combatants, yet the practices of self are not entirely invented by
individuals. They are models found in culture and are proposed – indeed,
perhaps, imposed - upon the individual ‘by his culture, his society, and
his social group’ (1997:291). My practical project demonstrates that
self-performance of a military group is always connected to the power
structure.  They act in the interest of their national states, which take
the moral responsibility of military actions.To understand the ethos of
this social group that is very remote form civilian life I decided to use
sympathetic imagination and to avoid pre-judgments if I could. It is
important to bear in mind that my interviewees shared the ethos of Soviet
military school, as mentioned above, that held the status of military
officer very high. It was one of the most prestigious professions at the
time, which attracted the brightest men with the ambitious to protect the
country. Even after USSR fall apart the tradition of military ‘noblesse
oblige’ survived almost to the present days.However, in the light of thg
current events in Ukraine it's impossible to unify this group any more. At
the time I conducted my research project,in  2012, Ukraine  was a strategic
partner of  Russia and there was no sigh that we  would  ever engaged in
military conflict with Russians.

           Third question: The ethic of  research and my role  in the

For the sake of this project I became an ‘experiencer’ myself by engaging
into informal investigation in a real life situation. The last thing I
wanted was official, formal talk, prescribed by the
military authority.Being  aware about the limitations of the 'search for
truth' within my subject matter I rather explored the subjectivity of
personal experiences. I was strike by off-camera  confessions of
the intelligent officer from Ukraine ( he wasn't my interviewee, he briefed
me on the  interviewing practice, like never to ask question 'Did you kill
anybody?' and so on) that war conflict was the best experience of his life,
even, as he admitted, there was nothing to be proud of. I felt very
insecure dealing with the most controversial issue of the war conflict,
best exemplified by the title of the book by american psychologist James
Hillman *A Terrible Love of War *(2004).
My interviewing process generally followed the established strategies of
‘getting to the real’ of journalist practice. I relied on basic rules of
documentary film making in order to work on the spot and to avoid a formal
approach to the interviewing process. For this reason my recording
technique was very simple:  use of natural light, simple settings, no
technical crew. I placed the camera on a tripod on automatic recording
while having an improvised, though semi-structured, interview with the
participant. Purposely, I did not send my questions in advance and came up
with some additional questions in the process of conversation. The
conversations lasted from one to two hours in the informal setting. This
overall enjoyable experience to work without the pressure of a media
institution still required extremely focused attention on my part. In order
to keep the conversation alive and fluent I had to spot in the emerging
narrative the key moments I wanted to emphasise, or to provide stimulating
questions for the story to unfold. I ended up with 9 hours of footage that
was a nightmare to edit because conversation created on a spot were
jumpy, slipped
from one subject to another and my job was to make it clear for the
audience. Especially, as the conflicts discussed in the interviews  ranged
from actual combat to peacekeeping operations there was no common
experience of warfare, each case was different.

The other subject that deserve special attention, but was largely omitted
from my presentation due to the time and space limits of the installation
project was the processes of establishing connection with the combatants.
At times it was a hilarious performance in itself. I was very tempted to
pretend to be a male in my email correspondence just for once and see it
will make any difference. Yet that would be a breach of trust between me
and my respondent and ethical misconduct of research, so I never changed my

I'll probably pose on this note. There is plenty more of material there and
I am prepared to write more if there is further interest in the subject.

Olga Danylyuk-
Director, designer
PhD candidate, Central School of Speech and Drama
London, UK
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