Repeat after Me II is an audiovisual video installation created by the Ukrainian Open Group collective. The group’s work is based on exploring interaction between people and contextual spaces, creating the so-called open situations. Performativity and cooperation with viewers and participants are important parts of their work. They have tackled the subject of war on several occasions, ever since the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation began their military operations in the southeast of Ukraine in 2014. Open Group’s projects are created through a long process, and their works’ themes are always intersecting.
Repeat after Me II is a collective portrait of witnesses of the ongoing war in Ukraine. The videos presented were created in 2022 and 2024. All the protagonists are civilian refugees speaking of the war through the sounds of weapons they remember, then inviting the audience to repeat after them. The artists use the karaoke format. Yet here the accompaniment is not hit songs, it is shots, missiles, howling, and explosions, and the lyrics are descriptions of deadly firearms. This is the soundtrack of the war. The juxtaposition of works from 2022 and 2024 shows the drastic perseverance of memory, as well as the changes in technology. The first video was shot in a camp for ‘domestic refugees’ outside of Lviv. The second work was created outside of Ukraine, in locations that were safe for the participants. Yet even beyond the reach of the marathon of sirens, the sounds of war remain part of their trauma and symbolically widen their scope.
A few weeks before the Russian invasion, the Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy began distributing brochures titled In Case of Danger or War, explaining how best to behave in a zone of military activity. The instructions differ depending on whether the attack is coming from automatic rifles, artillery fire, multiple rocket launchers, or an air raid. The ability to tell the difference can save lives. Repeat after Me II shows war as a collective experience, regardless of age, background, professional and social status, giving witnesses the floor and calling attention to individual experiences of this catastrophe.
Viewers can repeat the firearm sounds after the witnesses, learning the language of their experiences, or withdraw into the safe space designed to resemble a karaoke bar. Yet this is no ordinary bar, like the ones we know, it is an instructional karaoke venue forecasting an even more militarised future. This spectre will remain with us for so long as nationalist imperialist policies will be accepted as part of a diplomatic compromise.
Open Group: Yuriy Biley, Pavlo Kovach, Anton Varga