Fusing hypnotic chords with blunt, impassive lyrics, “Sanatorium” by Russian band Olya and the Secret Plant is painfully relevant for the world’s self-isolators. “Let’s go to the sanatorium,” the vocals exclaim, “we need a new routine.”
Shot in different sanatoriums around Moscow in 2019, the music video that accompanies the track exudes the same pastel-tinted emptiness. Expressionless patients share the communal spaces of a soothing, soft-hued health spa, yet seem lost in their own worlds.
Directed by Nastya Bezrukova together with researcher and curator Olga Shirokostup and composer Kirill Smirnov, and bringing together more than 30 artists, the clip’s surreal aesthetics raise fundamental questions about the essence of personal identity, and the place of the modern self within society.
“At the very beginning, we came up with the idea that the video will create a micro-utopia, where isolation is used as a form of escapism into a contemplative space where we can get lost, and then to find ourselves,” says Bezrukova.
Deprived of social interaction, the characters in the music video inhabit a dream-like reality. They occupy the same spaces, yet seem invisible to each other, devoid of personality.
The sanatorium itself, a space created to rest and escape routine, is a remnant of the past, yet the idea remains attractive in the present. Unlike western vacations, characterised by consumption and wild behaviour, holidays in the USSR were meant to bring repose, so that citizens could return to work with renewed diligence and productivity. Today, in a society tainted by stress burnouts and mental health issues, the pursuit of wellness and escapism is equally on the rise, except now in a different form.
Accidentally timely, the video was released just before the Covid-19 pandemic brought enforced self-isolation to people across the globe. But the creators had a very different real world backdrop in mind. “‘Sanatorium’ is also a reflection of the apathetic state of mind which is very familiar to me and many others raised in late 2000’s Russia under Putin’s regime,” says Shirokostup. “Thinking about an escape from politics, and the impossibility of taking political action is a very poignant feeling for our generation. The current situation pushes us more than ever to talk about isolation — [something that is] forced upon us, but simultaneously desirable for many.”