Agil Abdullayev             Works       Info

3-channel short film, 2-channel audio, 36’

In Agil Abdullayev's three-channel video, trees are both trusted and protective protagonists. Radicals Between Trees and Dicks, the title of the installation, is the first artistic outcome of several years of research into queer cruising culture in Azerbaijan and some neighboring countries in the Caucasus region and Central Asia. The term “cruising” refers to the pursuit of sexual encounters between homosexual men in public spaces, such as parks, or discreetly designated private spaces. Over the past five years, Abdullayev has traveled and personally visited around thirty such sex spaces in the above-mentioned regions, documenting their own observations and recording the experiences of others in interviews, conversations, and visual recordings. The research dealt with the various facets of cruising in profoundly repressive societies in which homosexuality is still highly taboo and people are exposed to severe discrimination and violence due to their sexual orientation.

The interviews and conversations that Abdullayev conducted with participants in these regions, together with their own experiences of their first sexual encounters in “darkrooms”, form the narrative of the video installation. As some of the protagonists live in countries where homosexuality is still prosecuted - or where homosexuality is decriminalized but ostracized by mainstream society and sometimes the target of violence - Abdullayev decided to distort or anonymize the voices of the interviewees. The narratives, which are divided into eleven acts in the video installation, focus not only on first experiences with cruising but also on the experiences of “professional cruisers”. Less common cruising locations such as saunas and situations in which the hedonistic aspect collides with socio-political circumstances - be it the extended military mobilization in Putin's Russia in autumn 2022 or potential discrimination due to migration - are also mentioned. To make these narratives tangible, Abdullayev cast five dance performers during their stay in Büchsenhausen to choreographically develop and perform the collected stories.

The artist combined this process with research into Azerbaijan's film history. According to Abdullayev, Azerbaijani cinema during the Soviet era primarily served to promote national and moral ideals. Especially in the films made from the late 1950s onwards- for example, The Tempestuous Kura (1969) and If Not That One, Then This One (1956) by Huseyn Seyidzadeh, Dada Gorgud (1975) by Tofig Taghizadeh, or Nesimi (1973) by Hasan Seyidbeyli -, established family values and concepts such as “masculinity” came to the fore. Abdullayev is interested in films of the time in which dance or group choreography was used as a means of dialog and narration and in which unconventional characters also appeared who were considered to have negative connotations. Certain excerpts were selected from such films, which were available to the performers as a reference. The resulting performances were then filmed in the minimalist stage setting of a blue-lit dance floor and public space.

After the introductory section, in which Abdullayev describes their first experiences with cruising and darkrooms in the Bassiani nightclub in Tbilisi, the eleven episodes take us to the parks, saunas, or private party rooms of Baku, Tbilisi, and Almaty. While the stories unfold on a language level, the three projection screens alternate between shots taken at the respective original locations and the choreographies developed together with the five performers in Innsbruck; they change position, similar to a dance, and through the editing contribute to the respective atmosphere of the story. The camera switches between long shots and close-ups of facial details in a lascivious manner or to the rhythm of the music, “snuggling up” to the protagonists' bodies to lend an additional dynamic note to the playful dance expression.

In the antechamber of the video installation, visitors encounter five photographs. Four of them show "sexualized places," anonymous park corners where cruising takes place. The fifth image is a portrait of Paata Sabelashvili - a pioneer of cruising culture in Tbilisi, to whom Abdullayev pays homage with his presence in the exhibition.
(Text by Andrei Siclodi / Photo: Daniel Jarosch/Büchsenhausen)

Behind the scenes images by Andrei Siclodi / Innsbruck, 2024

Directed by

Agil Abdullayev  

Performances developed in collaboration with and by
Davide Tacchini
Emile Wendt
Hugo Le Brigand
Moritz Wendler
Sarra Nsir

Camerawork by
Agil Abdullayev
Elchin Mikailov
Igor Khvostovsky
Moritz Schachner-Nedherer
Tamara Mansuri

Head of production
Veronika Riedl

Sound by
Farhad Farzali

Tamara Mansuri
Abyah Kodwani  

Special thanks to
Firuza Baghirova
Kuanysh Baltabekov
Zuzana Belasova
Uta Bekaia
Maia Danelia
Hamida Giyasbayli
Elene Kapanadze
Haji Safarov
Piotr Sikora
Daro Sulakauri
Riza Tazhieva
Olga Vesselova
Clara Tosseti

Film consultants
Andrei Siclodi
Valerio Del Baglivo 

Research consultant
Ilaha Abasli

Research conducted with the support of
Artlink x SudKultur Fund, Switzerland  
CEC Artlinks, New York
Cittadellarte - Pistoletto Foundation, Biella
Creative and Arts Foundation, Almaty
EU4CULTURE Mobility Funding Program, Baku
Goethe Institute Georgia, Tbilisi
Meet Factory, Prague

Film funded through a fellowship program of Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen, Innsbruck, Austria