Igor Tsukanov

I came up with the idea for the Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism show a couple of years ago as a one part of the project that we started with the Saatchi Gallery in 2012.

The first exhibition I put together, namely Breaking the Ice: Moscow Art, 1960-80s, focused on the key artists and mains trends of the Moscow underground – the so-called “unofficial art” – that emerged during the periods of limited liberalisation of Soviet society in the 1960’s and the return to more severe communist repression in the 1970’s and 80’s. These were amazing times in the history of Russian art, when there co-existed two parallel worlds. In one world artists prospered who worked on commission from the communist government, and received money from state institutions for their work; in a parallel world existed a small group of underground artists who following in the footsteps of the Russian 20th century avant-garde by pioneering new artistic trends, such as Moscow conceptualism (established by Kabakov, Pivovarov and Prigov, among others), and Sotsart (led by Komar &  Melamid, Kosolapov, Sokov, and Orlov, among others). Breaking the Ice proved to be extremely successful – among the top 5 most-visited exhibitions that year – and its success laid the foundations for the second part of the project, Post-Pop: East Meets West, which was exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery in 2014.

Post-Pop: East Meets West brought together over 100 artists from the UK, the USA, Russia and China. It aimed to show how the artistic language of Pop Art, which emerged in the 1980’s and 1990’s in a few countries, was later adopted by artists in countries with very different socio-political systems. This manifested with Russian artists developing Sotsart and Chinese artists developing Political-Art. Post-Pop: East Meets West likewise ranked among the most-visited exhibitions that year, so we decided to proceed with the third part of the project.

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism will present those “artist-actionists” of the past 25 years who perceived the changing economic and social environments around them in the most timely and acute ways. This includes both the transition from socialism to capitalism in the 1990's (Oleg Kulik, for example, who felt so alienated from the “new people” of the new capitalist world that the animal world seemed closer, leading to his performances that sought to unite man and beast), and the corrosion of fundamental personal freedoms brought about by state and religious institutions under the Putin regime in 2000-2010 (which has led to the actions of Pussy Riot and Pyotr Pavlensky).

Most of the protest performances, though documented, have never been reproduced in a museum setting. Such performances are intended to take place outdoors – in the street, in the square, and other public spaces. Hence, we had to find the way to transfer the live performances of our protagonists into the enclosed space of a gallery; for that, I teamed up with the legendary Marat Guelman, who curates the show, and with Stepan Lukyanov, the exhibition’s designer. To push the boundaries of the exhibition, we invited the London theatre group Les Enfants Terribles to recreate, during the show, the best known performances of Pussy Riot – to enable the audience to experience the performances as they took place on the Red Square, in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and in the courtroom. Whether we succeeded or not will be for each member of the audience to decide!

It should be noted that Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism takes place during the 100th anniversary year of Russia's October Revolution. Although the exhibition does not have any direct links to this historical event, many of the issues that artists face in post-communist Russia are comparable to those faced in 1917. These include, but are by no means limited to, problems of individual freedoms in the face of political ideology and religion.

In working on the exhibition’s catalogue, I hugely enjoyed my collaboration with art historian Andrey Kovalev, who has served as the editor-in-chief, and the international team of authors who he invited to work on the book; with the outstanding creative designer Dmitry Mordvintsev; and with the wonderful translator Nina Bouis. I am sincerely grateful to all of them for their contributions to the creation of this catalogue.

The organisation of such a radical exhibition required the support of a large and highly enthusiastic team, who could grasp the idea behind the show, as well as the perfect venue to act as its host. The Saatchi Galley provided just such a milieu, and Nigel Hurst, its CEO, along with his team, have done everything possible to help us make this show a reality.

I am also extremely grateful to the sponsors: the Blavatnik Family Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic foundations in the UK, the Dukley European Art Community, and two families who have chosen to remain anonymous. Their help was instrumental in making this show happen. Many thanks go to them for their trust and support.