3OHA is a haunting new film by New York-born artist and filmmaker Clayton Vomero. Shot on location in Russia and Ukraine in 2017 and 2018, 3OHA is a kaleidoscopic depiction of outsider culture revealed through the lives of young people living in Kiev, Moscow, Vladimir and St. Petersburg.
The film is comprised of two parts, beginning with a fragmentary, dream-like account of the Soviet Union’s dissolution in the early 1990s. Using archive footage and interviews with notable cultural commentators and artists, such as Artemy Troitsky and Igor Shelinsky, as well as the rap artist Husky, Vomero documents the early adopters of Western consumerist culture. These pioneers, in the words of Artemy Troitsky, were the ‘lucky ones’ – those who could speak the language of Western culture and were young enough to embrace change. However, as described in 3OHA; ‘a violent mix of capitalism and feudalism’ soon took hold. The second part of the film seeks to examine the world of their ‘children’— the inheritors of this legacy.
Vomero’s complex, thought-provoking film offers a critique of consumer culture and the manner in which that culture repeats and insinuates itself into our collective memories of historical events. Examining the margin between reality and spectacle, the film in particular dissects the significations and symbolism of culture and media and how it constructs an understanding of shared existence.
Vomero references the sentiment of Jean Baudrillard’s 1981 text Simulacra and Simulation, in particular the idea that ‘it is dangerous to unmask images, since they dissimulate the fact that there is nothing behind them.’ This thought is deftly encapsulated by an eBay trader filmed selling fake trainers, taking drugs and writing graffiti through Moscow, who’s face and voice were disguised to protect his identity. Says Vomero: ‘Through the hierarchies of commercial production, the eBay seller can verify through a code that the exact model will match an image through Google. To the buyer, this is enough to convince them they are purchasing something real. But they aren’t. The seller puts the fake shoes in a box with a number that corresponds to an image on the internet. That image matches the shoe in real life. But the shoe is a fake’ The feeling that reality is starting to crumble begins here.
Husky, a brilliantly insightful voice of today’s Russian youth, plays a pivotal role in 3OHA. Filmed in the back of a car a year prior to his much publicized arrest in December 2018, he muses on the success of American culture, noting how it is underpinned by the easy life sold by Hollywood, and how that can only be achieved at the expense of four billion other people.
We see this expense being paid first-hand by cousins August, Nina and Dasha. When Vomero first met them they were homeless in Moscow, living life online. Returning with them to Vladimir – the small town of their birth – we see the three live-stream to Instagram while reflecting on life and freedom and escape, the eternal dream promoted by consumerism. As Dasha questions the paradox of their life online versus their life in Russia amidst censorship, August’s defense of the identity he has created shows us how a commodified society can be more destructive to culture than authoritarianism. His disengagement from political discourse is a by-product of the ‘freedom’ he has found in his persona and the eternal simulations thereof.
The film’s title 3OHA (Zona) has a complicated meaning. In the literary sense, Zona is a concept taken from Roadside Picnic, the best-selling 1971 sci-fi novel by Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky about the aftermath of an alien landing where people known as Stalkers would go into the landing zones to retrieve alien objects of great power and significance and sell them to people outside of ‘the Zone.’ Currently, for most people living within Russia, Zona means prison.