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Political Art Action in Moscow

February 4, 2009

This is a re-post from:
My friend Boryana, an artist from Bulgaria, keeps me informed about the political art scene in Russia and Eastern Europe. I took a long time to re-post this (it’s from November) but I think it is still worth learning about what’s happening with political art in Russia and with this case specifically. The full essay is below:

The Last Sincere Artist in Russia
written by Boryana
Today Nov 28th , 2008 the well known Russian artist, poet and activist Dimitri Pimenov, one of the ideologists of the Moscow actionism of the 1990s shot with a water gun a light bulb that blew up over Gorbachev’s head during his visit at the book fair “Non/Fiction” at the Central House of the Artists, Moscow. Nobody was hurt.
According to the very few reports on Internet , Gorbachev presented the first volumes of his memoirs. Some sources say that a light bulb exploded, some say it was a firecracker, therefore this part is still not clear. Everybody claim though that Pimenov had a toy-gun.
He had been arrested and sent to a psychiatric clinic. While the cops were taking him away, he shouted: “I am a subject of an artistic action conducted by Gorbachev’s guards!” (Я стал объектом художественной акции, которую провели охранники Горбачева”).
Dimitri Pimenov is one of the few Russian artists that still dare to critique Russian contemporary neo-liberalist politics, which era began with Gorbachev. Some observers have already expressed their bewilderment and incapability to explain “what the artist actually wanted to say.” However the artistic message seems to be pretty clear: the current politics are nothing more than an “artistic action” or a “spectacle” or simply a “circus.”
This puzzlement of the journalists reveals that Pimenov’s action is not an artistic PR targeted to fame of commercial success, as opposed to the “artistic actions” of some newborn postmodernist cynics like the art-collective “War” (Voina). This art collective appropriates the aesthetics and the tactics of the critical discourse to perform pro-authoritarian, pro-corporate and pro-state propaganda. By that the aesthetics and the tactics of “anti” and “pro” became indistinguishable. Despite the commonness in aesthetics however, the message remains thoroughly different as well as the funding and the promotion of these opposite artistic practices.
The message of War is: “Look how free we are to do whatever we want in Russia! We can even project skull and bones on the facade of the Russian Parliament!” Oh, yeah, just try to project skull and bones over the White House and see what happens! You will be arrested, no doubt. Someone still wants to try that without special permission? I want to see this person! What an “undemocratic” country would USA be then comparing to Russia if this person is arrested! One asks why Voina haven’t been arrested or threatened with jail in a country where the oppositional journalists and activists die one after another like flies? How this can happen in a country where people are often sued for being critical in a much subtle manner like for instance the famous case of “Beware Religion!” show at the Sakharov Museum–demolished by religious fundamentalist on the 6th day after its opening in 2002. One of the curators of the show Anja Alchuk was recently found drown in Berlin.
While “War” is the new hype of the Russian art market and naively celebrated by Indymedia as “oppositional activists”, one asks why artists like Avdej Ter-Ogonian and Oleg Mavromatti are forced to live abroad for already more than a decade. And why is the Putin opposition blamed to have “no sense of humor,” or to “not understand what art is” when criticizing War’s activity? There won’t be much sense of humor left, I think if War’s members like Verziolov act like provocateurs of violence at the peaceful demonstrations of the consolidated opposition that has already been strongly miss represented by the media. This is a report about this provocation at the March of Dissent (April, 2007)
As opposed to this really puzzling artistic behavior, Pimenov has kept the honesty and straightforwardness of the radical critique characteristically for the political and art martyrs. What he did is not puzzling. It is brave. But I guess for the rotten greedy brains of the Russian art-establishment it is puzzling, because he has no commercial reasons to do that. And now he is in the madhouse. Of course doesn’t make sense to do stupid things like that and end up in the madhouse – who would want that? What makes sense though is that he showed again that “not everything” is allowed in Russia. At least not to people like him, who represent the real critique. Not the fake one.
In his somewhat autobiographical book “The Insane Spy” (“Sumashedshii razvedchik” ), Pimenov talks about the desperation of the solitude opposition, the madness of the one that walks against the float. The novel is a predecessor of actions like the spread of leaflets of the “Union of Revolutionary Writers” he did at Maneznaya Square, Moscow at the time of the explosion in 1999. After that he immigrated to Prague and lived in a refugee camp for an year. The following is an excerpt of New York Times article about the case:
“The Federal Security Service said a leaflet that attacked modern consumer society, attributed to a group called the Union of Revolutionary Writers, had been found at or near the video arcade that was the blast site.
”Consumers, we do not like your way of life and we are dangerous to you,” the pamphlet stated. ”The half-eaten hamburger left by the dead man on the streets is now a revolutionary hamburger.” An Internet address in an advertisement on the pamphlet leads to a Russian-language Web site with slogans like, ”To sell or to betray: Which is better?” and rambling comments on fascism, death and other topics.” (Below is an article on that case in “Art Margins”)
Pimenov’s brilliant metaphors and unique language richness don’t make much sense when the dominant discourse is as simple as “fuck for more Russian soldiers” promoted by the Putin Jurgent (Nahsi). How can one talk about democracy if the opposition is classified as “mad” and nothing else?
Dmitrii Pimenov, b. 1973. Writer, artist and activist, founder of the Union of Revolutionary Writers, member of the art collectives Expropriation of Territory of Art (ETI) (1991-1995) and “Absolute Love Sect” (1995-2000). Editor of the magazine Radek and author of several novels among which „Haze Revolution” (Муть революция), “The Unsane Spy” and “Velo.” Leading actor in the film “Don’t Look for this Show in The Programme”, 1995, “The Secret Aesthetic of the Martian Spyes 1 and 2”, 1995 and 1996, and others.
KGB, or, the art of performance: action art or actions against art? By sylvia sasse
Moscow Blast Tied to Anti-Materialist Group , New York Times, September 2nd, 1999
Haze Revolution in Russian (Муть революция)
Pimenov’s blog:
Union of Revolutionary Writers


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One comment on “Political Art Action in Moscow”

Dear Sir,
I would like to draw your attention to an international art prize – the 2009 Orient Global Freedom to Create Prize – This US$ 125,000 Prize is designed to honour those artists who use their talent to promote social justice, build the foundations for an open society and inspire the human spirit. There are three categories – Main, Youth and Imprisoned Artist. Entries close on August 14.
In terms of registering – either the artists themselves or others can nominate them on the website by filling in the information at Once this is done, an email will be sent out with the application form.
I wondered if I am able to download the information on to your website?
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Best wishes,

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