meet the russian video collective reinventing soviet aesthetics
The Great Fruit is a Muscovite collective of filmmakers who are examining Russia’s history to evaluate its present.
Grainy footage shows guys in tracksuits driving in an old black Mercedes, then cuts to bleak skyline of Moscow's tower block suburbs. With raw Detroit techno sound laid over, this video feels like a fuzzy, long forgotten experiment in filmmaking from Russia's wild 90s — but actually it was released in 2015. The video is one of the works by The Great Fruit, a Moscow-based collective reinventing the Russian retro aesthetics for a new generation, worldwide.
"Certain characters in this video had a criminal past; they came over in their own cars with their own guns, so we actually didn't need many props," producer Roman Ruktansky, a member of The Great Fruit, says of the video. "We were thinking of a shoot like this for a long time, and when this idea collided with MGUN's industrial Detroit sound — who just did a release at our friend's label Wicked Bass — we just had to do it. Part of the footage was actually made from a helicopter during a flight over town The Great Fruit co-founder, Valdis Bielykh, was taking as a romantic date with his future wife."
The Great Fruit started in 2011 as a small design studio set up by Bielykh and Ed Blagievsky. Bielykh, who has also worked as a stylist for TV advertising, dreamed of setting up his own video production company with an emphasis on the particular style and atmosphere of Soviet Russia. Finally, the friends were joined by Ruktansky — who had over 10 years of experience working with video — and Tim Motskus. The collective started making videos in 2014.
After a ride with the 90s mob for the video Frosted Lakes, more works followed. The Great Fruit's video for underground rock band Ytro is a melancholic journey to the Russian countryside; it features a small wooden house, open fields, and sand dunes by the lake. For Russian producer Lay-Far, The Great Fruit came up with an awkward 70s love story; for the enigmatic Voin Oruwu, a mystic journey on the glowing waters. But the collective's favorite work is Sirenas, for which its members created a fictional late Soviet-style band to perform a tender and seductive track by Lapti and Nocow.
The Great Fruit has a very distinctive retro-aesthetic, and its members don't deny its nostalgic quality. "The past is, of course, long gone," Bielykh says. "But nostalgia is an echo that is reflected in certain fragments of modernity, including our works. We are inspired by the music and people close to us, by beautiful people, old cars, Soviet architecture, and the Russian wilderness." The collective's references use are drawn from memories, both personal and of the cultural landscape now gone. The visual artefacts its members use — from old tracksuits to specific type of glasses, even down to color palettes — would speak to anyone from the generation that grew up in the 90s. "Our references are mostly from childhood: films, clips, adverts. A good example is this ZAZ ad from 1989", Ruktansky adds. "We try to recreate an atmosphere that's close to our spirit, and while working we are really immersed in it. For example: a lot of the clothes in the videos are taken from our own cupboards."
The Great Fruit's works mimic the past to a point where it could be mistaken for found footage, but that's not the goal. The goal is to reinvent and repurpose the aesthetic to create a vision that reflects the world we live in today. "We shoot everything ourselves," Motskus explains. "We've got our own specific camera set up at this point, both analog and digital. But our main instrument is, of course, enthusiasm."
This year, The Great Fruit also made its first foray into fashion with a video for a relaunched Soviet brand of plimsolls, Dva Myacha. "We had a cool Japanese camera which records on 8mm, a recognizable texture from the 60s-70s", Bielykh recalls. "Dva Myacha is a brand of Soviet sports shoes created in the 60s as a unique Russian-Chinese project. This summer, Evgeny Raykov in Moscow decided to remake them. We did video featuring a soundtrack by our friends BOORANE, who are also very into investigating old Soviet aesthetics with their KingUnderground label, so it was a great match."
While The Great Fruit's work may seem retro, it is also very much about the new generation's growing self-awareness and reevaluation of history. In the past, Russian musicians and artists preferred the more Western idea of glamorous retro; now, 25 years after the dissolution of the Soviet union, they're looking back on their own past with growing curiosity. It's a way of accepting their own roots and also of getting over historical changes — repurposing post-Soviet aesthetics to tell stories of a new time.
Text Anastasiia Fedorova
Image via thegreatfruit.com