Initiated in Spring 2008, REMASTER is an ongoing cinematic adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Ever since, Irena Haiduk’s exhibitions double as filmmaking studios. Hosting institutions became vital infrastructures for recording video and audio sections of the film, providing space, supporting cast and equipment.
Bulgakov called it his sunset novel. Publishers wouldn’t touch it and the author would rewrite the book four times before his death in 1940. Bulgakov sealed his life into The Master and Margarita. The titular character, the Master, writes a play about the life of Pontius Pilate. Censors ban the Master’s play about cowardice and love. Cancelled and driven to insanity, the author burns his manuscript. A satanic figure, Woland, recovers the play from the fire.
He intones,“manuscripts don’t burn.”
In a surrealized reality where actions have no consequence, the difference between truth and lies is beside the point. Censorship is unnecessary. Here, hatred polarizes, and solidarity ends. The occlusion of empathy results in a wasteful loss: displacement and generalized warfare. The only way beyond this place is to not want what we want, to grow the organ of imagination, and to remake world. This requires extraordinary will.
Soviet officials banned The Master and Margarita because they knew its readers would take it to be art—an instrument to imagine another present and a means to realize it. This art demonstrates that no matter how oppressive the system, no matter how complex the problem or overwhelming the bureaucracy, ways exist to turn systems against the wills of their creators. The book embodies a model of production: how to make one infrastructure into another.
The Master and Margarita was finally published in Paris in 1967. At last, its will had guided it past its silencers. The Master’s world could fortify ours. It makes things that do not burn.
Tonight and Every Night.
Two scenes from the film were set and presented publicly for the first time at the Swiss Institute (SI) in 2020. SI became a production studio housing: Apartment 50 on the first floor and the Variety Theater on the ground floor.
The first floor of SI conjured Woland’s bedroom in Apartmet 50 where the heroine, Margarita, and Woland enter into a transaction to save the life of Master. Here, the made world became a cast of living things, full of agency and the desire to act upon their surroundings. The sound of a cat’s purr reverberated around the galleries with both comfort and threat.
The ground floor hosted the locked Variety Theater. Inside, a program rendered a film without images, recorded by five separate audiences over a period of 12 years. Entitled Lunar Interval VI (2008-20), it features Woland’s black magic act, which sets the stakes for a life without imagination. Lit by the flame that set Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris ablaze, the variety drew on Balkan cabaret tradition. On several evenings it played host to Cabaret Économique and other live programs.
In line with the conspiratorial spirit of this underground commons, 500 keys to its locked entrance will be distributed in a key issue ceremony at REMASTER’s opening reception. An economy of swapping, handing off and reserving the keys developed between those who were present at the issue and those who were not. The same key unlocks the doors to future REMASTER scenographies.