Zaum Tractor

Sonia Leber & David Chesworth2013

la Biennale di Venezia - Biennale Arte 2015

la Biennale di Venezia - Biennale Arte 2015
Venice, Italy

Sonia Leber & David Chesworth
Sonia Leber born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1959.
She lives and works in Melbourne.
David Chesworth born in Stoke-on-Trent, UK, in 1958.
He lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

Collaborating since 1996, artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth create immersive audio and video installations that explore prelinguistic communication and architectural language. Their videos extract the social narratives embedded in architectural forms through readings of their symbolism and exploring their capacity to influence individuals’ behavior. Almost Always Everywhere Apparent (2007), for example, deploys the notion of the unseen observer to reveal commonalities between the architectural functioning of cathedrals and panoptic prisons. The artists’ recent audio works, on the other hand, examine the nature of interspecies communication (We, The Masters) (2011) and the power of a synthesized, genderless voice delivering instructions (This Is Before We Disappear From View) (2014).
In their presentation at the 56th Biennale di Venezia, Leber and Chesworth’s Zaum Tractor (2013) explores the tension between individual freedom and collective belonging in Russia, which reached its climax with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent transition from a centrally planned to a free-market economy. Filmed across Southern Russia, the two-channel video juxtaposes readings of zaum poetry with social events and dramatic spaces. The term “zaum” was invented by the Russian futurist poet Aleksei Kruchenykh (1886–1968), who used it to refer to the “transrational” language of his poetry. Kruchenykh envisioned the rediscovery of a universal primordial language in which sounds embodied rather than signified their referents. Inevitably, his dream of universal communication was to remain unrealized, because only other futurists could understand his writings. Read against the backdrop of the tractor-shaped Gorky Theater in Rostov-on-Don, the nonsignifying poetry in Zaum Tractor contrasts with the unmistakable symbolism of the building, which doubtlessly formed another attempt at a universal language.


  • Title: Zaum Tractor
  • Creator: Sonia Leber & David Chesworth
  • Date Created: 2013
  • Rights: Courtesy the artists, Photo by Alessandra Chemollo; Courtesy: la Biennale di Venezia, with the support of the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body; Creative Victoria; Maria Sigutina, Commissioning curator; Fehily Contemporary (Melbourne), GridchinHall Art Center (Moscow), Art-Amnesty Project by Olga Kalashnikova (Rostov-on-Don), 16th LINE Gallery (Rostov-on-Don); Danielle and Daniel Besen Foundation; John Kaldor AM; Naomi Milgrom Foundation; Catriona and Simon Mordant AM; Annabel and Rupert Myer AM; Lisa and Egil Paulsen; Penelope Seidler AM; The Keir Foundation.
  • Medium: two-channel HD video, stereo sound (26’)

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