I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Bloody Aliens And The Future Of Mankind: A Technocratic Education

by Gabriella Arrigoni
Oct. 31, 2012

The Red Star (1908) is a Russian science-fiction novel describing the coming into being of a perfect Communist society on Mars, where the principle of egalitarianism is pushed to the point where even blood is a common good and must be constantly re-distributed and shared in equal parts among the whole extraterrestrial population. This process of transfusion also allows the communist Martians to overcome death and set up the basis of an immortal, omnipotent empire. In the Vampires of Geona (1991), the pterodactyl-esque blood suckers that gave the title to the cartoon are the bad guys and certainly not an incarnation of socialism, but it is not unlikely that their creator Gennady Tishchenko got to know the novel and the theories of its author, Aleksandr Bogdanov. He was one of the major representatives of that weird assemblage of science, philosophy and occultism which comes under the name of Russian Cosmism.

Cosmism's ideas about the possibility of a new man and a new society based on the technological triumph of man over nature to gain the resurrection of the forefathers, immortality and the progressive colonisation of the universe seems to fit rather well with the declaration we find in Tishchenko’s website about his own view: “Overcoming diseases of the body and misfortunes [as a child, he spent four years at the hospital due to a spinal column trauma] I understood the importance of an optimistic perception of the future and the belief in ability of Man and Mankind to overcome present and future difficulties. I have been engaged in the popularization of the idea of the endless abilities of Man and the immortality of Mankind all my mature life.” As sinister and naive as they sound, these ideas informed a large part of Tishchenko’s creative activities including paintings, futuristic architectural projects, science-fiction stories, films, animation, musical clips and advertising. In particular, many of his canvases were conceived as illustrations for Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy’s writings on cosmonautics.

Another protagonist of the Cosmist movement, Tsiolkovskiy theorised the construction of space-ships, the exploration of the solar system and the possibility of moving to other planets. The images of the everyday life in those space colonies, with their bubbles, mushroom-shaped formations, and fantastic creatures and vegetation, were an instrument to promote Tishchenko’s faith that “only further space assimilation will give us an opportunity to decide the problem of ecology, demography, power engineering, and to avoid the Mankind ruin as a result of planet or space cataclysms.” The fear of environmental catastrophe, ecodisasters and depletion of resources, the idea of space assimilation and the relationship between science and nature, are also the key themes of this cartoon that so amazingly blends together aliens, vampires, contagion, mutation, pernicious experiments and a marvelous soundtrack.

This seems a convincing demonstration that the boundaries between art and propaganda can be not just blurred but nonexistent, and the choice to produce an anime offered the opportunity to address directly the youngest generations. Even though at the moment of the production of Vampires of Geona, the Soviet Union was experiencing its own dissolution after the process of liberalisation encouraged by Gorbachev, Tishchenko’s optimistic dream of a better, harmonic society built around the expansion of human life in space was still alive. His mission was to hand down this desire to children and teenagers, space was the ideal scenario to imagine micro-societies and re-invent a civilisation from scratch, and art was the best way to impress a forming personality. Education involves a dialectic juxtaposition between a certain degree of obedience (the acceptance of rules and knowledge) and the tools for empowerment and liberation. Despite its unreasonable aspirations, Cosmism wasn’t just a bunch of visionary theoreticians only good for the amusement of posterity. They had an effective influence on the development of the Russian space programme, and, with the support of political forces, a leading role in the establishment of the Proletkult.

Coming back to vampires, it is interesting to note how the idea of an absolute and complete subjugation of nature meant, above all, immortality for everyone; a utopia that goes far beyond the plan of an egalitarian social system and a diffused well-being. Bogdanov founded in Moscow the first academic institution devoted to the science of blood transfusion in 1925. If the proletarian New Man was meant to achieve the power of resurrection by means of scientific research, the terrific scenario was one where the Ubermensch coincided with the undead, a new happy civilisation of interplanetary vampires. We know very well (from the history of cinema if not from history tout court) how this kind of experiment might go wrong in the end: in this episode, the environmental inspector Cosmo seems to develop a worrisome reaction to the bite of the vampire; and after a series of transfusion that gave him the hope of eternal youth, Bogdanov died because of the infected blood of a student suffering from malaria and tuberculosis. Anathema accomplished.

Gabriella Arrigoni is an independent curator and writer; former editor
in chief of undo.net, she now contributes to a number of contemporary
art magazine. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) where she also
works as translator. She is part of the collective Nopasswd
in[ter]dependent contemporary culture.