FOSSILS OF THE ROCK

The story begins in the 70s, in a country that no longer exists, the Soviet Union. Vladislav Shabalin is a lucky teenager: one day his uncle, a radio physicist, decides to increase the old radio's reception, and for this purpose he constructs - and secretly puts on the roof of the apartment building - a big antenna that allows to listen to foreign radio stations, which are strictly forbidden. Among these are Voice of America (Golos Ameriki), Radio Freedom (Radio Svoboda) and most of all "Rock Posevi", a BBC programme led by Seva Novgorodtsev through which the boy develops a passion for "forbidden" music. Lots of bands play it - it's impossible to mention them all - and Led Zeppelin are among the first ones. Vladislav Shabalin studies art, but his passion for music persists. In fact, rock becomes his inspiring muse. Together with a friend, he starts spreading rock music among schoolmates and, when the Dean is not there, they play records and stream the music through the speakers. They also organize rock 'n' roll underground parties, at school and at home, trying not to attract too much attention. Shabalin's family understands his love for music and gives him substantial help to buy vinyl records (the average wage for a doctor or an engineer normally lied between 120 and 150 rubles and a Led Zeppelin LP cost 50-60 rubles on the black market; a double album like Physical Graffiti could cost a whole paycheck), so he manages to put together a collection including all Led Zeppelin albums. Engaged as a surrealist painter, he becomes well-known for his statements about freedom of expression, which later cost him imprisonment in psychiatric hospital. Here, together with the fear that he will never regain his freedom, he experiences electroshock. In a conversation with the doctor who is "treating" him, Shabalin reveals that he has a collection of forbidden LP records. The doctor gets curious and asks him whether the collection includes Led Zeppelin, of which he has heard. Taking advantage of the situation, Shabalin asks permission to leave in order to get the records for the doctor, and asks him also to stop the treatments, which he can't stand anymore. The agreement works and after a month he is discharged from the hospital. On his passport, however, a blemish remains: "schizophrenic".

To better understand the allure of foreign music and its subversive force in a country that forbids it, one should take a step back. As it often happens, men strive to get what the authority bans. Thus, a very original way was devised to spread jazz first and then rock in the Soviet Union. It was a cheap and obviously an illicit way: Western music was recorded on discarded medical X-ray plates that were thrown away in hospitals or were resold by the staff for a few kopeki. Elvis Presley and many other artists have become available in Russia... on the bones! That's how rock music began to spread in the USSR. These original "records" cost about a ruble and were normally found on the black market or by word of mouth. The machinery that was used to make them was the same that was used to engrave some special sound greeting cards which could be found in photographic studios (these latter would also contribute to the spread of rock later on, by recording songs on the same greeting cards). The song titles and the bands' names did not appear on the "records"; only a scratched number identified them. But it did not take long to KGB to discover what these strange objects were, and those who made them were sent to jail. Nevertheless, musical X-ray plates did not disappear because of the authorities but as a result of the gradual expansion of the black market - which offered a wide range of vinyl records - and of the increasing use of audio tapes. In any case, rock was banned in the USSR until the Perestroika. In 1988, Shabalin was fully rehabilitated and even managed to achieve his dream, i.e. to open an exhibition hall, Avantgard, which was devoted to unofficial art. Here he continued to spread rock music and record it for free until 1991. These remote memories have now inspired the project FOSSILS OF THE ROCK. Shabalin, who has lived in Italy for twenty years and resides in Udine, presented it at Space Cinema in Pradamano on the occasion of Led Zeppelin's CELEBRATION DAY. The pieces composing the work were created by the artist at Geoworld's paleontological laboratory (Torreano di Cividale, Udine) with stones and fossils from the Green River Formation (Wyoming, USA) dated 40 to 60 million years (Eocene).