The Art of a Failed Revolution.


Yesterday at an awards ceremony for the Alternative Prize of the “Russian Activist Art” at the Media Udar (an International Festival of Actionist Art) held in Moscow’s Artplay, Alek Epstein began his talk recalling three people whose lives were linked to art actionism in some way or another and who have recently died. The award was dedicated to Grigory Dorokhov, a musician of extraordinary talent who didn’t neglect to dedicate his experimental music to actionist themes and participated in all manners of protests (being arrested 8 times in 2012 alone). The LGBT activist Alexei Davydov who died at 36 was another victim of police repression being hospitalised after a violent beating by police. He took part in an action entitled “The Mizullina Law In Action” (one of the most vivid art activist protests against the law against so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’).

The Mizullina Law in Action

Three days ago another activist Sergei Mozzhgerov also died at the age of 25 (according to one blog report he wrote a dissertation on the practice of coming out and wasdescribed as a human specialist (Человековед).

If Allen Ginsberg saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, many contemporary Russians fail to even realize that the best minds of their generation are being carted off one by one to its prisons, locked in preventive custody for months on end, physically beaten and assaulted by police or Orthodox radicals and nationalists and even, in the case of one demonstrator, Mikhail Kosenko, sent away for forced psychiatric treatment in appalling conditions. If one looks back further one sees that others like Stas Markelov, Anna Alchuk, Nastya Baburova, Mikhail Beketov, Natalia Estemirova and a whole host of activists, truly independent journalists and anti-fascists have been murdered or suicided. And this is not taking into account the nameless migrants murdered, the gays beaten and marginalized (sometimes tortured by fascists in small towns in the Urals or murdered in Volgograd).

The current moment seems to be one of the darkest for decades with a return of pogroms against migrants and a rather unrelenting campaign of homophobia. That few journalists turned up to yesterday’s awards is pretty indicative of the demise of that moment last May when the Occupy Abay camp was set up allowing a brief moment when the art actvists could come up for air. If occasional recognition was given internationally to Russian art activism due to Pussy Riot, this year Russian art actionism has been forgotten even internationally. One of the only chroniclers of this movement, Alek D. Epstein, is finding it harder to print the valuable accounts of this movement. But this is a movement which, in any case, will surely pass into history.

That much of the art work is ending up in the headquarters of the Russian FSB is, in itself, a source of great concern. At the present moment all one can hope for is that enough documentation of these works can be kept in the public domain. Alek Epstein, himself, calls this the fourth wave of Russian Non-Conformist Art. Previous waves included the first wave of Malevich, Kandinsky, Filonov, Khlebnikov and Kharms (a wave suffocated in the 1930s), the second wave emerged in the 60s with the Oscar Rabin’s, Gennadi Aigi’s, Genrikh Sapgir’s and the Schnitzke’s and Denisov’s of the musical world whereas the Brezhnev times would reveal the names of Monastirsky, the sots art of the Komar and Melamid as well as names such as Timur Novikov. If one were to name the candidates of this fourth generation of non-conformist artists there is a small universe that exists and whose names will surely be studied by future art historians.

However, at the present moment, they are being ignored and even those few curators who were deemed to have some independent views are steadily being replaced or sacked (like, for example, Marat Gelman who was sacked from his post in Perm). In fact this squeezing out of artistic independence although having been a constant has only accelerated in the past year or so since the jailing of Pussy Riot. One of the most dramatic moments was the arrival of cossacks and radical Orthodox activists last year at Vinzavod where they finally managed to close down an exhibition on a religious theme entitled Духовная Брань (Spiritual Feud). The intention of the religious fanatics was to burn images that were by no means outrageous.

Scuffles outside Vinzavod September 2012

One of the typical paintings in an exhibition said to blaspheme against religious sensibilities.

Here are some of the art works and actions belonging to activist art:

Losine’s Dzhanian’s ‘A Cartoon riot policeman arrests a cartoon protester’ (taken from

Action of the group ZIP “Booth of the single picket”

Pyotr Pavlensky ‘Carcass’

Just today (25.10.13) it was reported that the Media Udar festival was attacked by a group of homophobes whose access was prevented by a wall of art activists. Here is a video of the event

About afoniya

I am a translator, language teacher, independent film scholar who is interested in many aspects of culture. I have my own blog on Russian and Soviet cinema at and I have also written for journals such as Film Philosophy and Bright Lights as well as Ribbed magazine. Outside of film my interest runs to language, politics, literature and my world is centred around the Meditteranean, Russia, Southern Ukraine as well as the UK.

4 responses »

  1. Pingback: The Art of a Failed Revolution. | Research Material

  2. Pingback: Media Impact: A Festival of Art Activism in Moscow. | Afoniya's Blog

  3. Pingback: Russian & British Years of Culture: A Counter Proposal | Afoniya's Blog

  4. Pingback: Hipsters and investment banksters: reflections on the limits of the Calvert experience. | Afoniya's Blog

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