Romanov   (2002)

  • Adam Chodzko / Romanov    (2002)
  • Adam Chodzko / Romanov    (2002)
    'Romanov' cover
  • Romanov   (2002)

    Artist’s book
    Text by Adam Chodzko
    Edited by Ian Hunt
    Illustrations by Nathan Barlex
    Published 2002, published as part of Book WorksNew Writing Series, selected by Michael Bracewell)
    Designed by Joerg Hartmannsgruber
    64 pages
    ISBN 1 870699 51 3
    Edition of 1500
    Two colour in a plastic bound case, 210x148mm
    Available from Bookworks.

    In June 1995, a young woman’s car is illegally parked in Soho, inside the police find two handguns, tear gas and flares, together with a large quantity of ammunition and a communications scanner tuned to German police frequencies. The car is towed away and when the woman returns to reclaim the car she is arrested but refuses to speak. ‘The British authorities can congratulate themselves. They have successfully captured a professional assassin. Or perhaps a terrorist. Or could it be a major international criminal?’  From the fragments of this brief but mysterious crime story outlined in a newspaper cutting from The Observer in 1996, Adam Chodzko began researching its remaining factual traces seven years later. Haunted by the press description of a woman who, when accused of possessing potentially criminal technology in her car on a London street, decided to become mute throughout her trial, Chodzko explored the trial transcripts and interviewed Romanov’s defence, Owen Davies QC.   Uncovering increasingly bizarre behaviour and impossible coincidences from all of the people drawn into the events around this case Chodzko used the form of a book, writing from the point of view of the accused, in order to try to make an empathic sense of her relationship to its extraordinary factual elements. Was Romanov an international terrorist, an assassin, a fantasist, or some form of higher being; a powerful witch or alien?  Had she evolved the capacity to disappear, eluding the institutional structures closing in on her through the use of a unique form of magick, transforming the environment around her into dream? Romanov suggests the accused possessed the power to mesmerise everything around her through adopting the behaviour, symbolism and materials, rooted in fairy tale archetypes.

    The trial at Knightsbridge Crown Court “Regina vs Michelle Ilic (also known as Michelle Romanov” (case number T950715), began on the 7th and ended on 9th November 1995. This was recorded onto seven audio tapes . If no transcriptions are subsequently required the tapes remain as the only record of the trial and are usually destroyed after 5 years. No such transcriptions had been made but fortunately, somehow, the tapes had eluded destruction and still existed. The court dialogue in Romanov is derived from speeches throughout the trial but is primarily based on the prosecution’s opening speech at the start of the trial and the judge’s summing up at its end.
    The book presents two texts that run concurrently − the first is a transcription of the court case where the woman (christened ‘Romanov’ by the judge) is tried and eventually imprisoned for two and a half years, the second text is a narrative recreation of Romanov’s actions that attempts to make sense of the woman’s motives and, in doing so, to relocate her voice and identity.
    Using the form of a book Romanov was designed to look (feel and smell!) like a generic car manual for a vehicle’s glove compartment.


    …Judge Horden: Come forward please.

    Yes’ she says, more to herself than to anyone else.

    It is the first and only time I ever hear her voice. It is on a tape of her trial that had not been transcribed before and not rewound, so perhaps I was the first person to listen to it since?  Her voice is quiet and nervous. It can only be attributed to ‘she’ because she has chosen to give no name we can be sure of.

    Judge Horden: You do not have to give evidence. You do not have to say anything. We will go on defending you . . . but it is better to sit in court.

    This is translated into German.
    Yes’, she says, again, over the translation, to which she replies immediately in German, so I hear the two voices overlapping.
    Her words are translated as:
    No I’d like to stay downstairs . . . this is my wish. I can’t continue with this whole case when the basis of this whole case is a photocopy.’

    Judge Horden: It is not in your best interests . . . I suggest you say something because shrugging your shoulders does not go down on the tape recorder!

    He asks again whether she is going to remain in the cells, then notices something.

    Judge Horden: It is quite apparent that you understand that sentence without the interpreter interpreting.

    She then leaves the court room, never to appear again.

    She has said ‘yes’, said it twice, and with a remark dismissing the poor copy of the evidence, removes herself and any certainty as to her name.

    Judge Horden: [To the jury.] Ignore that fact that she is not here. Do not judge her on that . . . She is behaving unusually but do not assume this is because she was not wanting you to make the comparison between her and the video . . . it may be for a completely different reason…

    …I inhaled and before I knew it I was already five steps into the shadowy passage way. At the far end I could see people crossing the narrow aperture, silhouetted in bright sunlight. A third of the way down on the right-hand wall was a small ventilation fan noisily exchanging outside and inside air. I stood beneath this, leaning lightly against the brickwork. Tilting my head upwards so that I could hear the fan as clearly as possible, my eyes closing, I checked that the spin of the blades purred at three different pitches simultaneously. Concentrating on each tone individually I made sure that I traversed each in sequence over increasingly long periods until I could focus absolutely on the middle, to end this centripetal journey to where a tiny pivot lay.

    Romanov incorporates many of the themes Chodzko has used throughout his practice; a desire to empathise with an ‘outsider’, the attempt to explore the dynamic space between real event and its generation of an imaginary (see Reunion; Salò (1998), Because…(2013), Great Expectations (2015), and O, you happy roots, branch and mediatrix [live] (2020), etc) as well as the role of consciousness, unconsciousness, hypnotism and the formation of ‘spells’ (see A Plan for a Spell (2001), Rising (2013), Deep Above (2016), Sleepers (2016), Thru hole I blind/O/Thru hole oui see (2020), etc).  Other works which incorporate legal systems or official rules, particularly in relation to notions of belonging, include Settlement (2004), Garden (2007), and A Hostile Environment (2019).

  • Adam Chodzko / Romanov    (2002)
  • Adam Chodzko / Romanov    (2002)
  • Adam Chodzko / Romanov    (2002)