In many ways, it is rather hard to categorize the second festival of art activism: one is sometimes left wavering between deciding whether it is a funeral wake for the idea of popular leftist art or one of the last free spaces in Moscow for art activists almost driven underground by the current wave of repression of political activists and whose collective creative potential could be enormous? Is it a ghetto of a marginalized and marginalizing leftist artists steadily splitting into fragmented sectorial groupuscles or a genuine attempt to build a horizontal rather than vertical structure within the art world?
The problem is that the art world in Moscow is, in itself, not a particularly large phenomenon. According to a survey undertaken by the magazine Art Khronika exhibitions in Moscow are usually attended by little more than 250 people. The number of those active art goers who may be politically-engaged is far smaller so the idea that this festival could be a mass one would have been utopian as such. In a sense, the ghetto of art activism has arisen also because of the high levels of state repression as well as the organization of small groups of Orthodox radicals as well as less identifiable provocateurs or trolls who turn up to meetings that have anything to do with themes such as LGBT politics, feminism or anti-clericalism. So the atmosphere is, at times, tense the say the least. Ghettoisation is, probably, both a reaction to external realities and a self-engendering process.
Having said that, at Media Impact themes and discussions have emerged which put paid to the idea that it is a mere exercise in self-promotion or navel gazing and although one can understand some of the polemics aimed at it one feels that the ideas and art which are exhibited will leave some trace in history that have not been noticed by some of their critics . The concerts held at the very least have a chance to unite a larger number of people
In terms of the permanent exhibits of the festival there is an exhibition talking of the Dutch protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. An attempt to tell the story of the Provos, the feminist movement Dolle Mina, the squatters movement. Including filmed footage of the Dutch happenings, the festival was also visited by one of the leaders of the Provo’s who would become a mayor of Amsterdam, Roel Van Duijn. He attempted to give a talk in Russian explaining the history (the genesis and development) of the Provo and later Kabouter movement. And also how his anarchism (inspired by the writings of Kropotkin) then became gradually reformist. When asked whether this reformist anarchism was not especially co-opted by capitalist structures, he suggested that an insistence on generic anti-capitalism didn’t necessarily lead anywhere. It seemed almost that, to a Russian audience, he was proposing unlikely things to fight for: the right to see your FSB file seemed pretty utopian, whereas others seemed hardly to make much difference to the life of the Moscovite. The dissonance and sense of disconnect between Europeans and Russian reality seemed too wide. However, Van Duijn did hand out a curious photocopy of an appeal to Russian Provotarians written back in the late 1960s – an historical document of sorts, even if there is no way of knowing whether any Russians actually read this call from western European anarchists to revolt back in those times.
Earlier in the evening, the award ceremony of which I wrote in my previous blog post had taken place. As Alek Epstein noted the alternative art world is in danger of losing (and perhaps already has lost) contact with the outside world, living through one of its most bleaker periods since the Bulldozer Exhibition of the mid 1970s.
On other days new projects and themes discussed with a variety of books being presented. In terms of the permanent exhibitions during the festival, perhaps the most interesting was the “Feminist Pencil” exhibition of works by 35 artists from all over Russia and abroad. This included everything from graffiti on the walls of the Art Play building to comics and stencil works. With a feminist theme but with a very broad canvas in terms of those stories recounted through the art: from prostitution, migration as well as violence and madness. It includes works by Victoria Lomasko, Yana Smetanina, Polina Petrushina and others. It is the second time such an exhibition and a third exhibition is already being prepared for next time. More details about this exhibition in Russian can be found here.
In terms of authors and books presented at this festival there are some projects that seem to have special significance. Ilya Falkovsky’s projects seem to have special urgency in the present moment. One book, written along with journalist Alexander Litiy and already published under the title “Strike Force against Putin” tries to trace the individual biographies of the various Islamic and nationalist terrorists that have sprung up in recent years. He finds differences in their practices, confessing that Islamic terrorists were easier to understand and somehow more personable than Russia’s band of nationalist terrorists. He read out two chapters from the book- one of which was devoted to the strange story of the murderer of Stas Markelov, Nikita Tikhonov. However, his present project deserves just as much, and probably more, public resonance. His is an attempt to retell the lives and deaths of those murdered migrants that come up in the news as “an individual of Caucasian appearance”, or a “caretaker” (a common job for migrants from Central Asia). Falkovsky wants to give them back an individuality and explain the circumstances of their death. He explains that the public aren’t always as indifferent as portrayed by many while the police when the victim is brought to them have been know to sadistically leave an immigrant to die without calling for medical help. As yet, Falkovski is yet decide on the format of his work.
Another book with some interest is the collection of pieces on sex entitled Секс Угнетенных (The Sex of the Exploited). This small book has been published by Kirill Medvedev and includes different forms: a dialogue, an exchange of letters, an interrogation and a conversation in the kitchen. As well as Medvedev, Olga Timofeeva, Seroe Fioletevoe (an ex member of Voina and one of whose pieces has been translated here in Afoniya Keti Chukhrov and Nikolai Oleinikov have written here. I hope to review it here later at some point.
Other talks have included Vlad Tupikin’s historical-based talk on samizdat (alongside a small exhibition in the building) and Nikolai Oleinikov’s talk on Ska music as well as the poet and performer Alexander Delphinov on narcophobia. Future events will include a talk by Artur Aristakisyan on the transgression of Anatoly Moskvin, workshops on social comics, as well as Matvei Krylov’s ‘Gay Welcome’ and discussions about social exclusion. Film showings are also included as well as a strong feminist component to the festival.