Director Nastia Korkia undoubtedly had to give a very different introduction to “GES-2” ahead of its screening at True/False than she did at its initial unveiling to the world at Venice just six months ago, denouncing the recent military action taken by her home country of Russia against Ukraine. An open letter from a collective of Russian filmmakers that then graced the screen reiterated that point, though an even greater rebuke followed in Korkia’s spry, fly-on-the-wall look at the redevelopment of a former power plant that once provided electricity to the Kremlin into a cultural center that will provide a markedly different kind of energy as experimental artists flood in and out to inspire with their creativity.
“There are only crazy people on this project,” says a put-upon executive overseeing the project, always appearing inches away from tearing out his hair as he deals with budget overruns and logistics. Still, even the clear pencil pusher of the group can see that there is something truly worthwhile at stake as construction commences on the unwieldy endeavor where neither the particulars of the Renzo Piano building or the exhibits it invites in advance, ranging from a simulation of an aquarium sans water with helium balloon fish to six-hour musical performances with one lyric repeated throughout, may entirely make sense. Korkia clearly is aware of this, opening the film with a tongue-in-cheek introduction from the Italian curator Francisco Bonami giving a definition of art as he reveals himself to be behind glass himself and attempting to transcend the barrier with his ideas. Aspirations of what could be rather than what is drives everyone at GES-2 where the practicalities of presentation are often stress-inducing and occasionally absurd.
Korkia could’ve made an entire compelling film out of the hanging of a priceless Kandinsky in what was once a common barracks, shot from the vantage point of the painting so as to see perplexed patrons wander in and try to adjust to the unusual context, as well as the buff and talkative Channing Tatum-sequel guard assigned as security. However, “GES-2” finds art anywhere the camera is pointed, whether focusing on an exhibit or not. A look inside some pipes being assembled is reenvisioned as the launch of a space shuttle as it is raised by cranes off the ground and the creative impulses of the construction workers are glimpsed from time to time, whether straying slightly from building plans or breaking out instruments to blow off steam. Laced with a wicked sense of humor, the film is disarming when it could be pretentious and beyond the idea that it can bring together so many to achieve something of scale, a delightful reminder of the transformative power of art and those working within uncomfortable places to bring about change that couldn’t come at a more opportune time.
“GES-2” will screen at True/False on March 5th at the Willy Wilson Theater at the Ragtag at 7:30 pm and March 6th at 1 pm at the Picturehouse.