Catherine Sullivan

Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land
house of Alex / house of Peter
(and some of those crappy details)


Courtesy of Duvel Moortgat
  Stadhuis (town hall)
United States
°1968, Los Angeles (US)
lives in Los Angeles
Catherine Sullivan first studied to become an actress and director and staged in many theatre productions. Later she crossed over to plastic arts. This explains the dual nature of her work. Since 1997 she has created original theatre and video work, but has also made a mixture of both: performances in which installation art, dance and theatrical dialogues are all combined. Sullivan writes, designs and directs herself.

The starting point of Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land is the violent attack and hostage by Chechnians during a performance of the Russian musical North-East in the opera of Moscow in October 2002. Sullivan interprets this event as an extreme conflict between the real and the ideal, in more than one relation; the real comfort of the ruling Russian class that can afford an evening of leisure in a theatre on the one hand and the raw idealism of the oppressed Chechnians on the other, who use this same performance to brutally make their political demands known to the world. Sullivan: “The encounter ultimately created a new spectacle which would transcend the occasion of the musical Nord Ost and simultaneously feed the theatre of terrorism which currently enjoys a global audience.” (The collision eventually created a new spectacle that surpasses the reason of the musical Nord Ost and gave wind to a theatre of terrorism that prides itself in having an international audience.)

The video is also about the theatre as an ideal place for emotional transcendence. Sullivan explored the whole context of the musical North-East and discovered that the libretto derives from the popular Russian novel Two Captains, a long tale of adventure and the love of a pilot, Sanya, and his loved one, Katya, set against the historical background, from the Bolshevik Revolution until after the Second World War, and with a thrilling ending in the form of a heroïc rescue in Arctic territory. It is a patriotic story through and through that pathetically emphasizes the Russian progress. It was the first musical in Moscow to be staged on a daily basis, in order to attain the same level of famous Western musicals such as Cats and Miss Saigon, in brief, a Broadway musical with a Russian soul. The content was nationalistic, but its publicity continually referred to American entertainment. For these reasons, the musical released a lot of big emotions and became symbolically important to the Chechnians.

Sullivan tries to capture all the elements she discovered in these Moscovian events and brings them to a general human level: the terrorism, the patriotism, as content for the musical, the archetypes that keep on showing up in the musical, the generalized actions, the exotic mise-en-scène, the conventions which are often arbitrary and ridiculous. Moscow, hostage, musical theatre, Two Captains, Russian history, Chechnian despair, everything is intertwined. Eventually, Sullivan has translated the emotions and the story lines into ten pantomimic acts that were studied by all the actors no matter what their part was. To her it is a system of representational impulses found in musical theatre without having to make a musical. The acts are repeated, but always in new combinations of types and clichés, sometimes in large group scenes, sometimes in small individual scenes. All codes are deliberately and meticulously mixed up. The main character of Katya for instance, is played by different actresses of all ages and in different costumes, but sometimes they show up in the same sequence. Revolutionaries can suddenly become participants, etc. Even the setting has a meaning. Most of the filming was done in the Polish American Army Veterans Association in Chicago, Illinois, a social meeting place for the Polish-American community, filled with nationalistic objects, military pictures and works of Polish artists who often rejected communism. The outdoor images were shot in a corn field and close to a nightclub in the Chicago area called Moscow Nights.

The larger screen shows an elaborate, almost didactic version of the story. On the four smaller screens the spin-offs are shown on other locations, at different moments, in other combinations of figures and facts. The location where these sequences are shown also has side wings, i.e. the Council Room, the side wings of political power from the Burgundy rule up until now.

Participating Artists

Vasco Araùjo
Catherine Sullivan
Kerry Tribe
Ellen Cantor
James Fotopoulos
Cui Xiuwen
Sam Taylor-Wood
Pipilotti Rist
Chantal Akerman
Manon De Boer
Runa Islam
Ana Poliak
Hito Steyerl
Anouk De Clercq
Dara Birnbaum
Gülsün Karamustafa
Dany Deprez
Katrien Vermeire
Honoré ð’O


Oude Stadsfeestzaal

De Garage


Manufactuur De Wit
Home Astrid