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Pop CultureJune 7, 2018

‘Inside the Iron Curtain’ with Jonathan Bree (WATCH)


Jonathan Bree travels back in time to Soviet Russia for this exclusive interview.

Anastasia Doniants, part of the ‘Inside the Iron Curtain’ creative team, writes:

Why should we expect our artists to have something to say, to become experts on subjects they don’t really care about? They’ve done their work, why not preserve the mystique and let their art be the only messenger?

In his first public interview, Jonathan didn’t feel like giving anything away about himself; his only request was to time travel. He picked the year 1974.

We juggled between France and the Soviet Union. Soviet Russia seemed to be the ideal setting for an interview about nothing and being Russian born and bred meant that it was easy for me to facilitate the trip. I was only 7 years old when Communism came to an end, but the warm memories of the days gone by are still alive and well. Back then, no real message ever came through the televised propaganda. Every shape of artistic expression was heavily censored and, since the only channel was busy broadcasting collective farmers praising their machinery, the Soviets mostly used their TV sets to treat insomnia.

Religion was branded “the opium of the people” and subsequently banned; in the same way, stars and anyone with a public persona had to become faceless. The cultural fade to grey opened up a new niche in Soviet hearts  – the love of the facades. Behind closed doors you could listen to The Beatles and read Bulgakov. Outside? Just turn up to work on time and don’t walk around humming ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.

In the 70s, USSR people became obsessed with 60s French movie trilogy Fantomas, named after a masked villain from France. This was a huge hit and it didn’t even matter that the trilogy was released 10 years after the rest of the world had seen it.

Jonathan’s anonymous musical persona makes him right at home in Soviet Russia. A perfect communist hero.

1974 was also a year the Bulldozer Exhibition took place. A bunch of avant-garde artists got together in an urban forest on the outskirts of Moscow to show off their creations. The result: the exhibition was destroyed in its entirety by the police force who bulldozed all the artworks flat to the ground, hence the name. We wanted to reference real events in the interview, so this gets a mention.

I wrote the interview and play the host. It was shot by Kermath, Jonathan’s friend and video collaborator, at his Grey Lynn flat. Kermath used 70s broadcast cameras borrowed from Wellington. Can you tell?

Jonathan Bree’s album Sleepwalking is out tomorrow.

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