DAU: the art of making money with exploitation and human suffering

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I saw, in my Facebook contacts, several dithyrambic posts about “DAU”, a gigantic project of film and art installation, halfway between reality TV, immersive theatre and totalitarian experience.
DAU is the project of a director named Khrzhanovsky, who seems to have unlimited power and means at his disposal. He created a set of filming in Ukraine, reproducing a city, full of hidden cameras, and in which, 400 people lived for three years more or less in immersion and in an imitation of a totalitarian system.

Immersive Dictatorship for customers spectators…

The cinematic images produced will be broadcasted in Paris, as part of a kind of immersive show, at the “Théâtre de la Ville” in Châtelet. To view them, one has to fill out a Visa application that asks highly personal questions (by allowing the use of our personal data without any restrictions to DAU), to pay an expensive price, and to commit to staying between 6 to 24 hours inside the facility.

Initially, I was obviously intrigued by this project that seems to be out of the ordinary, but several things in the (very positive) articles, shared by my contacts, quickly made me feel uncomfortable.
In several of these articles, it was mentioned in passing, as if it was only a detail, of unpaid work, authoritarianism of the director, crises of madness or violence, unsimulated and filmed…

This alarmed me and added to the mistrust I already had about the idea of privileged people in France paying to give themselves the thrill of dictatorship. Thus, I investigated a little further.
It did not take me long. It is extremely easy to find on the internet more in-depth descriptions of the conditions in which the shooting was made and about the director’s personality.

What I could read is so horrible, such an assault on the labour conditions (and for some on their mental health) of the filmed people, such a high level of misogyny, of sadism, that I do not understand how one could consider participating in the latter by giving money for such a project on the excuse to not miss this “out of the ordinary art work”.

Immersive Dictatorship especially for female workers

With just a little digging, one can quickly find out many details about the working conditions, in which the people, who participated in the filming, had to live.
Immersion of the workers reality-TV style, with biased consent because many of them do not know exactly what they are involved in, for how long, or how the cinematic images will be used.

Several sources claim that hidden cameras and microphones were used, other sources deny it. What appears to be true, however, is that there actually were devices in intimate spaces (living rooms, living quarters), but not necessarily without the knowledge of the workers who lived there. However, the idea remains to forget the presence of the camera during the daily routine and ultimately not knowing what is filmed or not, what will be used or not.
All sources speak of free or underpaid work. And for the moment this work is paid, the director has set up a system of punishment by the fine (meaning: payroll deduction), if one does not follow whatever crazy or arbitrary rule going through his head.

Many articles deal with these unfair dismissals, on the mere whim of the director, or due to losing your mental health because of working conditions.
Many film participants speak of it as a cult, claim to have been a victim of violence, or developed PTSD, etc..
Adding to that there are the testimonies about the director’s personality described as megalomaniac, sadistic, misogynist, harassing and humiliating women around him, or getting his way with them by using his power.
It is not difficult to access all this by compiling the many articles on this project. However, there is one paper that stands out, just as much because of all the frightful details he gives, as because of its complacency in regard to this project.

Significant Abstracts

Thus, here are some excerpts from the article “The Movie Set That Ate Itself” (relayed in France by the popular Trax magazine as the reference article, we must be dreaming). It was delivered for GQ by a certain Michael Idov, a guy one should remember well, in order to never read him again and change sidewalks when you cross him in the street. This article is a good example of what feminists call the rape culture. After reading, one thinks they should boycott DAU but also wipe one’s asses with GQ paper.

The article is very difficult to read, because the author, while unveiling a list of the directors’ abusive behaviours, does not hide his admiration for this “genius”. He describes scenes that clearly attest to sexual harassment without shame, as if they were just saucy anecdotes, showing how much Khrzhanovky is one of those sweet eccentrics that make great artists (men).

Selected excerpts:

    • The director speaking of an actress, in the third person, as if she was not there:

“Tear off her eyelashes,” he says without breaking stride. “She looks like an intellectual whore.”
“Well, that was the idea!” the makeup artist yells to his back.
“Sure,” says Khrzhanovsky, pivoting on one heel like an ice dancer. “But try to make her look less whorish. Impossible, I know.”

    • Misogyny and unfair dismissals:

“People come and go in disorienting waves. When Khrzhanovsky likes someone—more often than not a young woman—he offers them money and an important-sounding title at once. When someone rubs him the wrong way, he fires them midshot.”

    • Hang in there, in this one, the director meets an aspiring participant of the project face to face (he chooses them especially, if they are physically to his taste). He deprives her of sleep and asks her sexual questions. He traumatises her (she trembles with disgust) and turns her down… SO ARTY!

« There they talked for two hours more, until 3 a.m., this time in private. The questioning quickly switched from art to sex. When did you lose your virginity? Can you come up to a guy in a club and fuck him without finding out as much as his name? Are any of your friends, whores? (“I couldn’t understand whether he meant professionals or just slutty,” Yulia says. “By that time, I was well into my second sleepless night. I just wanted it all over with so I could go to sleep.”)
The director wouldn’t make an actual move—that wasn’t his style—but clearly expected her to throw herself at him. “When I got out,” remembers Yulia, “everyone was like, ‘Did he ask you about sleeping with other women?’ That seemed to be an important part of his interview process.” In the morning, when she saw Khrzhanovsky, she started uncontrollably shaking with disgust. Soon after, an assistant curtly told her to leave: “You and Ilya have very differing outlooks on life.” »

    • The artist’s creative power is related to his sexual virility (faultfinders would call it sexual predatory behaviour):
      (speaking of Khrzhanovsky’s biography)

“A few short years later, he was a dedicated club kid and one of Moscow’s premier pickup artists. The legends of his exploits still make for party-chat fodder. One friend recalls the 16-year-old Ilya approaching strange women, on a dare or a bet, and saying in his soft voice, “Come suck me off in the bathroom.” (It somehow sounds even worse in Russian.) And they would. Some of them, anyway. Khrzhanovsky hit on everyone. It cost him friendships. But it also got him laid, again and again. “His main driving force in life is crippling, animal lust”

    • Looks like real holiday

Some say they’d happily work with Khrzhanovsky again, others claim something akin to PTSD. “It’s almost slavery,” writes one former crew member in a blog. “But Ilya managed to make everyone think they were part of something truly great.”

No surprise to see this journalist assisting to all that without rebelling, since he seems to be very sexist himself. Here he is talking about a participant showing him the room in which she lives on site: “It’s an intensely erotic and odd moment, this tiny pet showing off her cage.”

In short, this article is edifying, because although it tries to draw a positive portrait of the director and his work, it fails to mask all the breaches of labour rights and human rights, under the pretext of art and a social experience.

As if all this were not enough, we also discover that Khrzhanovsky, under the pretext of being closer to reality, employed neo-Nazis, who were, unsurprisingly, particularly violent during filming. The American performer Andrew Ondrejcak was one of their targets. In Le Monde article entitled “DAU sème le trouble et les roubles” one can read: “They molested him several times on the pretext that it would be a « faggot ». Joined by Le Monde, the New York artist said he was “too traumatized to testify”.

These recruitment methods, which are supposed to be “closer to life”, have also led Khrzhanovsky to recruit or try to recruit sex workers (he approached the STRASS in France). Not because he wants them to play their own role or a role close to them, but because sex workers would be stronger and could better handle his violence.

In Paris, a French actress refuses to dub the voice in a scene she considers too disturbing, too violent. It is a rape scene, with a bottle, during a KGB interrogation. Extract from the same Le Monde article: “I cannot support that. the woman is suffering, not the actress!”, she said to the director. “Who cares! She’s a prostitute, I found her in a sadomasochistic brothel!”, he replied.

Don’t you get it: it is Art!

One will say that I did not understand, that all this is precisely the beauty, the depth of the thing. That, by reproducing a totalitarian climate, the director puts up a smokescreen between fiction and reality, the game and life, blah blah. None of your vague artistic or philosophical concepts of pseudo-intellectuals jerking off each other’s noodles, justifies the torture of human beings or animals.

I am tired of minimizing the importance of decent working conditions, and the seriousness of exploitation of human beings, as if ART exempted from these concerns.
I am tired of giving power, money, and legitimacy to people like Khrzhanovsky by hiding their behaviour as sexual predators under the qualification of “genius”.

In my opinion, it is extremely alarming that people are sharing and doing DAU’s PR campaign, without thinking a little beyond the fascinating aspect of the thing.

It is to me inconceivable, that one could consider giving even a penny to this project. All the more so by covering oneself with good conscience, thinking that one would be part of a historical and avant-gardist artistic experience. Without having the honesty to recognize that, if one knowingly goes to Paris exhibition, it will be solely for one’s personal gratification, in defiance of the conditions that rendered possible the existence of such work.

At this price, if you want to immerse yourself in a life-size show, finely detailed by exploited workers, go to Disneyland. At least the employees are still paid.

Antifasciste, queer, trans, féministe et tout le tintouin