As part of the Velvet Terrorism: Pussy Riot’s Russia exhibition, the MAC and the Cinémathèque québécoise present the documentary Soviet Barbara, the Story of Ragnar Kjartansson in Moscow (in English only) on March 6 at 6 p.m.

The film follows Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson as he prepares to create an ambitious ‘living sculpture’ for an exhibition in Moscow in the winter of 2021.

“Jaw-dropping moments, Pussy Riot stars and the golden shadow of American TV electrify this shockingly candid look at modern art foreshadowing real life.”
– Myrocia Watamaniuk for Hot Docs


In December 2021, shortly before the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Icelandic visual artist Ragnar Kjartansson opened a monumental exhibition at a new arts center called GES-2 in the heart of Moscow. In a former power plant that used to power the Kremlin, now owned and renovated for one of Russia’s richest men, Ragnar’s main attraction was an unprecedented ‘living sculpture’ called Santa Barbara.

In the nave of the huge building, a group of 70 people performed and produced one episode per day of the American soap opera Santa Barbara – in Russian of course. There were intended to be a hundred episodes in total, but on the day of the invasion of Ukraine, the exhibition was abruptly stopped by Ragnar and his collaborators. The arrival and popularity of Santa Barbara into Russian life after the fall of the Soviet Union can be seen as a metaphor for hopes of cultural openness between East and West following the end of the Cold War. Through the soap opera, Russians at the time envisioned a new and brighter future for themselves.

In a setting fraught with political pressure and with the eyes of the international art press fixed on him – Ragnar’s task becomes ever more complex. While some of his works deal with his long-standing infatuation with Russian culture and art, the main event – Santa Barbara, deals directly with the cultural dialogue between rival superpowers in the last days of the Cold War. Thirty years later, dreams of cultural openness are turned to dust after the invasion of Ukraine. Big issues of freedom for nations, individuals and artists arise and become ever more pressing.

Director: Gaukur Ùlfarsson
Script: Gaukur Ùlfarsson & Gudni Tómasson
Length: 90 minutes
Language: Icelandic, English and Russian
Subtitles: English