This interview was given by Pyotr Pavlensky on September 24th as part of an unsanctioned exhibition of political art at the Hermitage courtyard and timed to coincide with the publication of the journal “Political Propaganda”. For a little less than half an hour volunteers held up large reproductions of works by Anatlya Ulyanov, Oleg Mavromati and other artists who have serious legal problems. Until the exhibition wasn’t dispersed, Pyotr Pavlensky spoke with Ivan Chuvilaev about the language of actionism and the transgression of limits
The article in Russia is published here: http://www.colta.ru/articles/society/1088
-Could you explain first what this ‘Political Propaganda’ review and this exhibition represents?
The publication was open a little less than a year ago, notice was given in the media and we spread the word through the social networks. As far as the exhibition is concerned the need for such a project became obvious after the summer when the show trial against Pussy Riot was over and it became clear at that very moment that a situation had arisen in which political art was necessary not just as one of the many forms but as a potential resistance against cultural chauvinism. The church and the state had become intertwined as a single apparatus and were promoting a single ideology. There was a concerted attack against art itself so that it would find itself under a vigilant eye- persecution, censorship, show trials. They wanted to demonstrate what could happen to those who speak out. It’s clear that there are protests in the streets going on but a very concrete massacre is taking place in the cultural sphere. The Russian Orthodox Church is aiming for a hegemonic role, power over people’s minds, for a monopoly over spiritual life. I myself studied at a number of artistic institutions … and I saw how people are manipulated, ‘formatted’. In six years a servile employee is formed from what could potentially have been a fine artist. There are departments of monumental painting where students are taught to serve clerical and state agencies, not to reflect on problems or work with materials in a new way but simply to exist according to the needs of state and church institutions.
– In your view, what is the meaning of an artists existence in such a situation?
– There are actions – works in public spaces which, in my view, are more effective in the here and now. There is a link with the context and the public, it engages with you as an artist and comes into contact with you. An enormous quantity of people are drawn in, people who start to evaluate the action, reflect on the theme. And in this sense – yes, actionism – is an art for people and not simply for a closed art community. But one must understand that in so far as a massive and manifold attack is being unleashed against art, one single tactic is insufficient. It is necessary to reflect theoretically on what is happening. Besides a visual expression of speaking out there are also interviews, interpretations which are undoubtedly needed not as supplements but as valid things in themselves. This conceptualisation in terms of the “Propaganda” format is very important for me.
– In fact I saw some rhythm between the action at the Kazansky Cathedral when you sewed up your mouth and the exhibition at the Hermitage.
– No, I rather see as aunity the action at Kazansky Cathedral and the action at the Legislative Assembly in Saint Petersburg (in which Pavlensky lay inside a roll of barbed wire – eds note)- here the speaking out takes place through the act of self aggression in relation to the body. My body becomes then a model of the social. I, for example, show what is happening with the other. But with the exhibition something else is happening. There is simple a layer/stratum of culture which people refuse to take as culture because it refuses to act within those rules, in short, not having any real meaning. This, too, is a kind of cultural chauvinism- a distinction of culture between the ‘correct kind’ and ‘incorrect kind’. There are no standards. But, nonetheless, there are some borders, yet there shouldn’t be. Take Anatoly Moskvin (the necropolist from Nizhny Novgorod – eds note) who we included as a participant in the exhibition. One can say what one likes about him but what he worked on was very close to artistic practice. But he didn’t come through that door, he didn’t declare himself to be an artist. One can take one’s own risks, incorporate him into a group of artists, delegate him with a mandate.
– By the way by including Moskvin in the list of authors, one can see a kind of provocation…
– No, we have a definite conception- we struggle against the status of self-affirmation. When a person declares “I am an artist” and then only people regard him as an artist from this point. We insist there are no limits to art, art can be that which initially doesn’t set itself up as art. Otherwise everything is based on a kind of ‘poserdom’ or fakery. One needs to destroy this system introducing in the field of art such figures. And now the normative borders have begun to change, they have become more severe. Innocent gestures are becoming classed as extremist and an obedient society is being created whereby he who wears a paster strainer with spaghetti on his head can be included in the list of dangerous extremists. This is simply laughable. Moskvin is still being taught a lesson for his challenge to these repressive institutions.
– So it seems that the essential problem lies in how to explain how to exist outside of the frames when there are frames all around one.
– Of course one needs to force out these frames- normativity is provisional. Even for art itself this closing in oneself and limiting one’s circle is harmful. In this way art devours itself.
– More simply put by playing by the rules one needs to find room in such a childish lullaby.
– Yes one can find room only if one saws one’s head off. But these rules are ephemeral, artificial. One can and must ignore them when one is prepared that the reaction of power can happen at any moment. But this is a necessary element of risk, one must not be hung up over this fact. This fear will steadily vanish.