On a cold March afternoon in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, Estonian artist KIWA smoked one last cigarette before entering The Department of Signs and Symbols.
KIWA was in New York to perform/lecture/weave a thread through early Soviet sound design, Communist era hippies and Estonian punk rock using a robustly researched YouTube playlist full of noir, cartoon, interviews and Sci-Fi gems.
With the shutters on the Department closed, KIWA spoke over the videos with the charm of a seasoned stand-up comic mixed with the playfulness of a boy discovering his voice through a microphone for the first time.
Twisting the knobs on a small soundboard, KIWA told stories about his childhood full of trippy, (seemingly) acid-infused animations, how he later filmed a documentary about his sound design idol, and how the songs of Estonian punk (e.g. ‘Tere Perestroika/Hello Pererstroika’) ultimately helped overthrow the Soviet Union.
Throughout, KIWA’s playfulness teased out the inherent discrepancies of a Soviet system in battle against forces that could not have possibly existed within its rigid dogma: sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Many of the videos shown during the performance are available on the ‘soviet hippies’ playlist on KIWA’s ‘kiwanoid’ YouTube channel.
The performance, curated by Mary Jordan and Mitra Khorasheh, was the second exhibition at the recently-opened Department of Signs and Symbols in New York.