After the Fall : Gender Performance After the Cold War 2008-2012-2016

BORYANA ROSSA in collaboration with Oleg Mavromatti

Multichannel video installation, 90 ‘

With the support of : Rensselaer University, Troy, NY; Fellowship of the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences; SUPERNOVA Film Union, Russia/Bulgaria

This multichannel video installation examines “gender performance” in film after the Cold War through re-enactments of scenes from selected cinematic works. These films are from USSR, Russia, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia and span the period from 1920s to the end of the 2000s. By reading these films through the lens of contemporary feminist and gender theory, Boryana Rossa seeks to understand what are some of the transformations of gender concepts in post-socialist countries. Working with actors, Rossa has created reenactments of the following films: Monday Morning (1966), Daisies (1967), Ladies Turn (1980), Hammer and Sickle (1994), Styliagi (2008), and Mission London (2010). In the installation, two video screens display both the original scene and the re-enactment.

After the Fall also explores gender performance cross-culturally, situating the research in a global context. For instance the actors who participate in the reenactments are from the US, which is intended to integrate issues of cultural translation into the process. The film characters are interpreted through the cultural and political prism of each of the participants. The process of creating this project relies on a critical exchange of ideas, where the re-enactment is treated as an interpretation, rather than a copy of the chosen scene. Most of these reenactments were made in close collaboration with the actors. Finding commonalities, rather than cultural differences is the goal.

In keeping with Michel Foucault’s view that power is a productive force in society, Rossa tries to analyze how similar oppressive gender power structures can occur irrespective of the particular political and ideological context. She seeks to represent also individual and collective reactions to these oppressive formations through gender performance.

The theoretical and historical research for After the Fall is part of Rossa’s dissertation for the Rensselaer’s doctoral program in Electronic Arts.

DOWNLOAD program April 2012

1950’s Subcultures and Gender. McCarthyism/Stalinism

This reenactment is a comment on an epoch in which power structures created repressive apparatuses both in the capitalist West and the communist East. The installation features instructional movies from Stalinist Soviet Union and from the US. The Russian feature film Stilyagi (2008) (a.k.a Hipsters for international distribution) is a contemporary comment on the same time period.  The subculture “stilyagi” (a Russian appropriation of the English word “style,” in Bulgaria they are called “swingi”) is the subject of this film situated in a larger historical context, which symbolically embodies youth resistance to moral and political conventions. Parallels to stilyagi in the West are phenomena such as Teddy boys and girls, or Rockabilly. Gender roles are reviewed through the perspective of the repressive ideological rhetoric and the resistance against it.

1960’s Sexual Revolution

The Czechoslovakian film Daisies (1967) is one of the milestones of the Czechoslovakian New Wave cinema and can also be qualified as “Surrealist.” In a stylized grotesque form it features the rebellion of two girls against the societal conventions and expectations for “proper” female behavior. The film’s aesthetic and concept are very contemporary, even now. The reenactment therefore almost blends with the original.

1960’s Internal Critique. Leftist Dissidence

The period of transition in Eastern Europe from socialism to capitalism created the stereotype that the dissidents were mostly people who protested against communism in favor of capitalism. Conservative right-wing figures like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and his influential book, The Gulag Archipelago, had become emblems of “democratic” dissidence. The dissidents from the left, who protested against anti-democratic and hypocritical realization of their ideals, existed from the very beginning of the establishment of the communist rule. Their work and life, if not misinterpreted as “pro-capitalist,” have been buried and forgotten due to the general proliferating perception of globalizing capitalism as an equivalent of democracy. The film Monday Morning 1966, not shown in Bulgaria until 1989, is one of these misinterpreted artifacts. The main character Tony is an embodiment of their political protest, which is intertwined with a critique of the patriarchal society that projects its values on the construction of political power. In this film, female sexual rebellion, which is typical in 1960s film worldwide, is not portrayed as merely girlish naughtiness. It is linked to questions about the betrayal of ideals, including the ideal of gender equality and women’s emancipation, both fundamental principles of the communist program. The reenactment deals with the difficulties of translating these complex relationships and meanings to different culture and time.

1980’s The “tender man” and the “manly girl.” Explorations of the philistinism of patriarchal society

The comedy Ladies Choice (1980) is a film about men’s problems in a society based on traditional gender roles. When talking about patriarchal values and traditional gender roles, it is often taken for granted that they are only favor of men and women who want to submit to them. This film shows a vulnerable man, who cannot find his place in this scheme, although he really wants to. Exploited by women, who have married for money, he seeks escape with the “manly girl,” the only one who is independent. Although appreciating this strong woman’s independence, he is incapable of accepting it. He is trapped by patriarchal rules and his own submission to them.  The reenactment shows variety of characters that are commonly found in many societies.

1990’s The end of the Cold War and the beginning of the cultural and economic “shock
therapy.” Backlash against women’s emancipation and feminism

The Perestroika period (mid-1980s to early 1990s) is a time of dramatic shifts in political and social values. When looking at the films from this period, Hammer and Sickle (1994) for example, there is visible a tendency to eliminate the varieties of previous socialist practices and to generalize the socialist period as “Stalinism.” Negatives and positives of the Soviet era are joined together, depriving the viewer from having alternatives to the current form of neoliberalism that is promoted as being “married” to democracy. In this film, besides “Cold War-style” anti-communist propaganda, we see the presentation of three important “statements” that lead to: a regression in regards to women rights; a technological backwardness; and homophobia. These statements are against the use of technology by women (driving tractors, being scientist, or filmmaker); the participation of women in “male” professions viewed only as “masculinization of women”; and the representation of a sex-change as an evil and “unnatural” experiment, only possible as a brainchild of diabolic leaders like Stalin. The reenactment looks at the final embodiment of all these concepts.

2000’s Historical and gender atavism on all levels of society. Historical woman as a self sacrificing volunteer 

Post-colonialism creates conditions for an increase in local nationalisms. Traditional patriarchal values are viewed by the disempowered countries as properties of their mythologized and mighty past. The Bulgarian comedy Mission London (2010) looks at this complex relationship between global politics and local gender performances. The reenactment elaborates on these complexities.

Interviews with Bulgarian directors, critics and actors about gender representation in film (in Bulgarian)

Interviews with critic Genoveva Dimitrova, actresses Ilka Zafirova and Doroteya Toncheva, director Ivan Andonov and writer Georgi Mishev. Intriguing and controversial separation between artistic work as de-politicized expression and feminism  as only political and social movement. Binary juxtaposition between socialist and post-socialist periods. In some cases denial that equality between genders is necessary.


Directors: Boryana Rossa and Oleg Mavromatti

Camera work: Oleg Mavromatti, Boryana Rossa, Daniela Kostova, Kathy High

Editing: Boryana Rossa and Oleg Mavromatti

Music and lyrics of Stilyagi-song: Chris Skinner, Victoria Kereszi and Andrew Lynn

Production assistant: Olga Timofeev

Actors: Alejandro Borsani, Nao Bustamante, Brandon Costelloe-Kuehn, Geri deSeve,  Jim deSeve, Mike deSeve, Lea Donnan, Adam Frelin, Paula Gaetano, Kathy High, Kara Jeffs, Victoria Kereszi,  Daniela Kostova, Soyo Lee,  Andrew Lynn, Jack Magai, Paolo Milanti, Chris Skinner,  Joshua Thorson, Kian Tjong, Angela Washko, Alex Young,  Adam Zaretsky.


I would like to thank, first of all, my partner in art and life Oleg Mavromatti, who has worked together with me on this project and who has been a constant inspiration for my work. I would also like to thank my advisor, Mary Anne Staniszewski, for being so patient with me and so careful and precise in her advice, and for her and Mark Looney’ inspiring support. Kathy High and Branda Miller were both always available for giving priceless comments on my artistic work, for talking to me, and offering their help on both professional and personal matters, for which I extremely grateful, as I am to Nao Bustamante, who was additionally an influential, spirited, and creatively uplifiting performer in Ladies’ Choice reenactment. I want to also thank Irina Aristarkhova, who, as a member of my committee, has been a great supporter and has offered important insights in regards to my work on cultural translation. I would like to thank all of my amazing actors, and specifically, Chris Skinner, Victoria Kereszi, Angela Washko, Adam Zaretsky, and Soyo Lee, who have spent a great deal of their time working on this project and hopefully enjoying it! I also hope that Olga Timofeev, whose help was essential, has enjoyed her role as an irreplaceable technical and “spirited” supporter. I would like to thank also Jim deSeve and Kian Tjong for their generous hospitality and moral support, also Geri deSeve, for being so giving in her role as the British Queen, and for being also very hospitable and supportive. I would like to thank also Michael Century whose insightful and detailed critique has been extremely helpful in my creative process.  Thanks to Igor Vamos, who has been very inspirational to me. Josh Thorson and Heidi Boisvert deserve thanks for their precious feedback on the editing of some of the most difficult pieces, and as does Daniela Kostova for being a thoughtful critic of my work and important collaborator in the camera work. Additional thanks to Daniela Kostova, and Mike deServe, for their hospitality at their river house, where some of the scenes were shot. I would also like to thank Hezzie Johanson and CAC Woodside for hosting the shooting of Hammer and the Sickle.

I would like to thank the Department of the Arts and everyone, who previously worked and continues to work there, for being enormously supportive and nice to me during all these many years that I have been a member of this community. Thanks to Curtis Bahn, Caren Canier, Tomie Hahn, and Jenn Mumby for assisting me with the doctoral administrative process. Thanks to Troy Pohl, Greg Palmer and John Grady for dealing with tech issues. Special to thanks Laura Garrison, Kathleen Ruiz, Larry Kagan, Eleanor Goldsmith, Todd Palmer, Tim Austin.

Also I am deeply grateful to EMPAC and the kindness of its staff—the precious advices of Mick Bello and Eric Brucker, special thanks to Laura Desposito, Johannes Goebel, Shannon Johnson, John Cook and everybody who worked with me on the installation.

I want to thank to the people who have created the movies, which I used as references, because without them, it would have been extremely difficult to understand these past times, and to explore the reasons for current phenomena. I also want to thank to all the Bulgarian film critics who also have given me ideas and shared knowledge. And finally, but of a greatest importance, I would like to thank my parents, who were not only essential with their first-hand experience and feedback on the past, but also were enthusiastic and quite emotional critics and supporters of my work.