Photo credit: CHAIKA
"Dick" on the Red Square...
Introduction: What is Moscow actionism?
Presidential campaign in a muzzle...
Destroying Russian Orthodox icons...
Jerking off in the biggest outdoor pool in the world.
Actions that will change my life.
Moscow actionism is a radical art form created by a group of Moscow artists in the 1990s.
Actionism’s brutality and the traumatic consequences of Soviet collapse go hand in hand; one does not exist without the other. It was a reaction to entering the decade of the new Russian capitalism and commercialization. As Anatoly Osmolovsky wrote, "Is Moscow radical art an art of trash? Partly yes. To the same extent as it avoids being intellectual and [critically reflective].”
In a way, the actionists were also media artists, since they cleverly worked with mediums such as the newspapers and tabloids proliferating in post-Soviet Russia. Old-school art historians may make a move against the reproduction of performances in mass media as an attempt to commodify and institutionalize live art, but actually, actionists who are not producing anything that can be sold as a piece of art are transgressing traditional art institutions of consuming, exposing, and selling art.
"I don't complain, and I like everything despite the fact that I've never been here and know nothing about this place."
Artists would go to the countryside and make actions in the forests, rivers, and fields. Every action gives birth to a collection of texts, since participants of the action would write a piece about their own experiences. “That's why our actions could be seen as literary, poetic events, as well,” wrote Andrei Monastyrski, an artist who initiated practices of “Collective Actions.” The authoritarian reality of the USSR pushes away any conversation, contemplation, or wondering about culture, society, or power. It pushes them away literally into the woods.
April 18, 1991
E.T.I., Anatoly Osmolovsky
"E.T.I.-text"/Unofficial: "Dick at the Red Square"
The Red Square
(Near the police station where they were detained.)
Thirteen people — a group of artists, punks, anarchists, and hippies — wrote “DICK” with their bodies on the Red Square. The law that forbids using slang words in public places (up to 15 days in a detention center) was passed by Russian parliament on April 15, three days before the action. “This action had been planned as a military operation, an act of defiance against the state of affairs in economics and politics that was created by the USSR,” recalls Anatoly Osmolovsky.
After the action, a criminal case was opened against Osmolovsky: up to five years in prison for “hooliganism” — the same article as in Pussy Riot’s case. And Osmolovsky was 22 years old, the same age as me when I was given two years in prison; however, Osmolovsky's case was closed in a few months. Investigators ended up deciding that it's not a crime to write “dick.”
May 27, 1994
"Swimming Pool Moscow"
It used to be the world's largest open-air swimming pool. The pool was built in Moscow in 1958 on the foundation of the abandoned Palace of the Soviets. Construction of the Palace of Soviets had begun in 1937 and was abandoned in 1941 when steel from the foundation of the building was used for war materials during World War II. In 1994, the pool was sentenced to death: In its place was to be erected a replica of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior torn down by Stalin in the thirties.
In the beginning of May 1994, the water was drained and the pool was ready to be demolished. On May 27, Brener climbed to the pool tower and started to masturbate — onto the heads those who were making decisions about the pool and onto the heads of the police. Brener says that he sees himself as a political activist rather than an artist.
“A Human with a Political Face”/Presidential Campaign
Kulik created the Party of Animals and ran for president. He was campaigning in museums and markets, appearing in front of journalists in a muzzle and a suit. On his presidential banners, Kulik was passionately kissing a dog.
Kulik said, “It was a metaphor of time when politics does not come from the brain, it comes from an animal need to stand out, to mark a territory... But when I brought to the electoral committee papers on which flies were glued, with cockroaches and traces of cat's paws, I was literally thrown out from there."
December 4, 1998
“A Young Blasphemer”
Moscow Art Fair
For a small fee, Ter-Oganyan invited the audience to destroy cheap prints of Orthodox icons. Nobody accepted his offer, and he started destroying the prints with an axe himself. Ter-Oganyan was later charged with “promoting religious hatred” and had to emigrate to the Czech Republic. He still lives there. I tried to convince Ter-Oganyan to come back, saying that nobody would care at this point, but it did not work. Ter-Oganyan's case is the best motivation for me not to emigrate from Russia: His Russian period is fantastic and mind-blowing. Ter-Oganyan's art in emigration is not inspiring for me at all, unfortunately.
In March 2010, Ter-Oganyan's criminal case was closed by Marina Syrova (because a long time had passed since “the crime”). In 2012, Marina Syrova gave Pussy Riot two years in a penal colony.
÷ ÷ ÷
is an artist, political activist, and founding member of Pussy Riot. She is the recipient of The Lennon Ono Grant for Peace, and is a corecipient of The Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought. Following her release in 2013, she opened the Mordovia office of Zona Prava, a prisoners' rights nongovernmental organization. Later, she started MediaZona, an independent news service now partnered with The Guardian
. Read and Riot
is her first book.