Arseny Sergeyev

                           You’re Not in Moscow Here.

       The Critical Discourse and Activist Artistic Strategies

             in Russian Contemporary Art Outside Moscow.

The thinness of the artistic layer in Russian cities with a population of around a million, and their distance from Russia’s two capitals, are among the greatest advantages held by those artists who chose to stay in their ‘small homelands.’

Culture in Russia is hierarchical—historians see the roots of that trait in the tradition of a super-centralized state, which began to form in the era of the Golden Horde (the ‘Mongol yoke’). Soviet cultural policy increased this quality to the extreme, creating various censorship agencies and herding writers, architects, composers, artists, designers, and journalists into professional unions run by the authorities, which inculcated a deep distrust of creative people amongst the public. Suspicion of the artist was instilled in Soviet citizens from childhood. For example, the most popular children’s magazine Veselye kartinki [Funny Pictures] had a regular item: carefully drawn illustrations called ‘What Did the Artist Mix Up?’ These drawings were filled with surrealistic details and situations, and the children were invited to laugh at the silly artist—’It’s not like that!’—and fix his mistakes, explaining how the drawing should have been done.

Distrust of culture gave rise to ‘kowtowing to the West,’ so criticized by the Communist Party—a persistent sense of the inferiority, innate and irreversible, of everything produced in the USSR, and now Russia. Therefore distance, and not being plugged in to the Moscow and especially the European and American cultural process, seem to deny the entire non-capital Russia its own cultural development. In an unspoken agreement, without any skepticism at all, it is taken as given by the Russian cultural community that art outside Moscow can only be third-rate, wild, and at best an imitation of the practice in the metropolis. Even though this profound complex about the provinciality of the Russian cultural scene is denied by one obvious thing—the Internet prevents an artist’ total isolation wherever he may be, although it does not guarantee participation in the international art market.  It cannot be broken even by the not- infrequent international successes of Russian culture (by the way, increasingly not from the capital). In tandem with pathological self-esteem and imperial ambitions, these successes merely strengthen the unstable self-assessment of both individuals involved and public opinion as a whole. The eighteenth-century poet Derzhavin described the emotional leaps of the Russian soul accurately: ‘I am tsar—I am a slave—I am a worm—I am god!’ [1]

However, these hierarchical thoughts, which cannot allow for the possibility of anything worthwhile outside the capital, impose the role of ‘transitional colony’ of some ‘Western cultural imperialism’ on Moscow. Within that model (which many Russian cultural figures believe in to various degrees) the conditional and homogenous West with its capital, New York, is the sovereign of contemporaneity, which everyone serves and obeys, and the development of culture is understood as an immigration process. It expects everyone to move toward the centre, from village to district town, from town to the capital, from the capital - abroad. Moscow in this paradigm is a provincial village for New York.

Artists working outside Moscow and St. Petersburg who refuse to join the centres of power (and move to one of Russia’s cultural capitals) are heroes in the resistance to the hierarchy of cultural space, the centripetal trends in cultural building, and Moscow’s direct cultural colonialism of the Russian provinces. Despite its 200-years history as capital, St. Petersburg, thanks to the epic and strongly mythologized trauma of ‘two capitals’[2], serves the role of ‘seedy aristocrat’ in relation to Moscow and remains an attractive place for cultural figures who prefer the spirit of liberty and underground traditions.

In terms of that fundamental mythologeme, we can determine the basic types of discourse, artistic methods, and strategies of cultural resistance. First, it is a critical discourse in the traditional forms of easel works. Second, art is going out into the street—the discourse of direct action, using the strategies of public art and street art. Third, it is the discourse of building alternative cultural infrastructures, ‘institutional independence,’ or DIY. This categorization is conditional, tied to the strategy which an artist or a group prefers—naturally, all those mentioned in this article have periodically used all the approaches. With another dose of conditionality, we can identify the artistic methods typical for each type of discourse. Thus the ‘easelists’ and ‘institutionalists’ tend to engage with post-modern mockery, contextual switches, deconstruction, transcoding, and absurdist literalism (the last is incorrectly interpreted by some scholars as an imitation of ‘high’ Western models); the ‘street’ artists prefer direct quotation and often play the challenging role of ‘voices of the communities.’  At one end of these strategies of artistic opposition to the ‘rest of Russia’ is buffoonery, ironic reflection, and a ‘gesture in the pocket,’ and at the other end is cheerful stoicism, building a life, social responsiveness, and a political aspect of the artistic gesture.

The critical discourse of non-capital city artists working in more-or-less traditional forms of the museum and gallery artistic production (painting, drawing, installation, video, performance) is directed primarily based on the analysis of the mythogenic specifics of mass culture, both locally Russian and globally international ones.

A profound analysis, desacrilization and exposure of Soviet and contemporary, newly constructed neo-Soviet myths, form the basic artistic strategy of Rinat Voligamsi. His odd surname is his real name, Ismagilov, in reverse. In Bashkortostan, where he lives, Ismagilov is as commonplace as Ivanov in Russia or Jones in England. But the reason for the pseudonym is not to have an unique name but an unwillingness to be associated with the well-known dynasty of socialist realist artists in Ufa, the region’s capital. Rinat Voligamsi manages better than others to reveal and display the ‘sovietness’ which still influences the life of the country. One such work is the series of manipulated photographs in the mockumentary aesthetic—the story of the Soviet Man in the Iron Mask, V. I. Lenin’s twin, who lived into old age somewhere in the Central Asia. The sarcastic transformation of the holy Communist story into medieval passions over an heir to the throne is a metaphor for the endurance of the Leninist ideology. The artist is also interested in militarism as a special mindset and behavior. The conceptualization of Soviet militarism and ‘sovietness’ are expressed in the materials with which he works. All his sculptures—rusty monster stats, houses with distorted proportions are no longer looking ‘human,’ made of rusted metal which colour is associated with dried blood and is a reminder of the cannibalistic policy of Stalinism toward the citizens of the USSR in the years of the Great Terror and World War II.

Rinat Voligamsi’s monochrome paintings, resembling old sepia photographs, present Stalinism as a mystical teaching, centered on the cult of war, deification of the military, and military subordination. The paintings, like his sculpture, have a rusty ‘Soviet’ tone and are executed in a now-rare painting technique—glazing grisaille. However, instead of paint the artist uses bitumen, the main component of asphalt, in which the propaganda of the official mass media figuratively ‘rolls over’ opponents of the regime and on which Dmitri Peskov, the president’s spokesman, wanted to ‘smear the liver of the protestors’ (the line, spoken in a private conversation with Deputy Gennady Gudkov, became a topic in opposition political circles in 2016).

Vasily Slonov of Novosibirsk became the unintended hero of the ‘Perm cultural revolution,’ a programme of serious investment in the cultural life and construction of cultural institutions initiated by the then-governor of Perm region Oleg Cherkunov. The authorities shut down Slonov’s one-man show, devoted to the coming Olympics in Sochi, which signified the end of the era of cultural innovation: new cultural institutions and numerous festivals and the public art programme were closed down and the only museum of contemporary art outside the capitals, PERMM, was on the verge of closing. The cause of the scandal was the Olympic Series, in which the artists used the traditions and aesthetics of Soviet propaganda posters and caricatures. The paintings in the series combine popular Russian items—stove, izba, balalaika, bear, Stalin, GULAG, Cheburashka, Kalashnikov, talismans of the Sochi Olympics, a dacha outhouse, barbed wire, and classical ballet. The resulting vicious monsters make the slogan WELCOME TO SOCHI 2014, framing the pictures: more than ambivalent.

Like his colleagues using similar strategies, Vasily Slonov’s discourse addresses the lack of critical thinking and the suggestibility of the average person. The artist literally illustrates the myths about Russia, absurdizing them and making them surrealistic—here country is more important than a citizen, nationality more than the individual, appearance more than essence. However, this irony is addressed inward, to the average Russian, only on one side. There is a reverse ironic gesture addressed to this kind of thinking in the West. Depicting Russia as a territory of Hell and its residents as aggressive, vicious monsters—’They’re all lazy, alcoholics, and sadists!’—the artist also mocks the ‘Western’ view of Russia in the manner of Charlie Hebdo. The mythological consciousness in all its manifestations is the artist’s main target. The strategy here is not refuting but making literal the crude and casual stereotypes about the country held not only by the Russia’s ‘enlightened class’ but by ordinary people outside Russia, where the country exists in two simple versions—the stone village of Moscow, and all the rest, ‘Siberia where it is cold, lots of snow, and bears wander around.’ Within that framework, Russia’s largest industrial cities—Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, Ufa, Krasnoyarsk, Perm, Voronezh, Volgograd, Krasnodar, Saratov, Tyumen, and Tolyatti—form one wild place. This is well illustrated by the Map of Russia, where the philistine (and apparently proto-fascist) places not cities constitute locations where not-quite-humans of varying disgustingness reside. This encompasses contiguous lands, where the phobias, hostility, arrogance, and imperial ambitions of that kind of mindset extend.

Vasily Slonov is inspired by the banality of the elements that rule the ‘aggressively obedient majority’ in every society, and offers viewers an opportunity to be amazed by their absurdity and simultaneous potency. The artist often uses an axe—the universal Russian response to any challenge and explanation of any ‘complications’ in Russian culture and politics (for example, the protests by the Russian oppositions is interpreted by pro-regime propaganda as ‘a call for the axe,’ that is, rebellion, which the genius of Russian literature Alexander Pushkin called ‘meaningless and ruthless’). He has a portrait of Dostoevsky engraved into the spines of the collected works of Lenin, and portraits of Russian leaders of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries engraved on axe blades and hanging on a carpet as an awarded named weapon. Statements about the ‘long-suffering people’ illustrate a series of kokoshniki made of black rubber, soldered metal, and fragments of gas masks—an S&M version of the traditional festive women’s headdress that have become popular symbols of Russian backwardness and preference for the past. The objects, executed in the characteristic fetishistic mode, provoke the wearer into personifying Russia (who is, as is well known, a woman) suffering from raw material monopolies, secret service agencies, and the occupier Moscow regime.

After the ‘events on Bolotnaia Square’ (protests of the Moscow middle class against falsified elections to the State Duma in 2011), the meme of vatnik [quilted jacket] appeared. This is the name for warm winter work clothing associated in Russia with unqualified labour, the labour of prisoners, labour in rural areas, with inadequate education, and bad taste. The theme, which represents the stupid representatives of ‘the vast majority’ that supports the policies of the president and the government, brought into being Slonov’s vatnik series—an alarm bell, a woman’s torso, a Kalashnikov, and a heart sewn like the clothing with the characteristic quilted surface.

            The Blue Noses group (Vyacheslav Mizin and Alexander Shaburov), the most prolific artists of the gallery-critical discourse, have elaborated a sophisticated strategy of ‘selling Russia and Russian things’ as something that is backward and wild with a rustle of caricature threats justifying the mistrust and caution of the West, formed by the propaganda of the Cold War. (Since the annexation of Crimea, this strategy is used successfully by the Russian state both in the international political arena and in manipulating public opinion domestically.) Their popular series of groups with ‘little Russian muzhiks’ (Inventory of the Revolution and NATO, Welcome) involves characters in hats with earflaps and vatniki solving all problems with a single method—raising them with a pitchfork or chopping them with an axe.

Their artistic strategy for the domestic market consists of campaigns ‘made of jokes’ synchronously with current Russian politics and mass culture—’In the paper in the morning, a joke in the evening.’ They have developed an inimitable signature and format, despite working primarily in media that resist individualizing—photography and video. The artists’ personal interests help. Alexander Shaburov is a tireless collector of all sorts of kitsch and is an encyclopedist who created vast collections of images structured by various absurdist methods. Vyacheslav Mizin has an acutely ironical sense for radical artistic gestures and a desperate readiness to take the gesture to extreme absurdity. Their most characteristic works of this type are the quasi TV series Two Against the Mafia and If I Was Harry Potter and the photo series At the Bottom. The Fear of Ending Up in the Trash.

Conceptually, all their gags are emphatically primitive gags, created by primitive means. One of their most famous video works is called Video on the Knee. Structurally, the group’s typical product is a rebus or a visual pun made intentionally carelessly with whatever material is at hand (kitsch objects from Shaburov’s collection, toys, kitchen dishes, panty liners, silhouettes cut out of pictures, products in recognizable packaging, and so on) and always in ‘ordinary’ living conditions. For example, the SEX ART series is shot in the kitchen of a rented apartment, the model is posed on a table that has not been cleared after dinner.

Lowbrow humor and the lumpen aesthetic are the trademark features of the Blue Noses’ style. In the series New Yurodivye [Holy Fools] the artists methodically pose in their underwear in front of Moscow churches, and in Kitchen Suprematism enthusiastically reduce the visionary passions of Kazimir Malevich to circles of sausage, rectangles of black bread, and triangles of cheese.

Mizin and Shaburov are undisputed masters of literalness and reductionism. The large-scale video installation Little People demonstrates the surrealistic banality of the opinions of the ‘enlightened Russian class’ about ‘the people and the country.’ On the bottoms of cardboard boxes Lenin continually rolls in his grave, while naked people ‘eat, crap, fuck,’ endlessly and pointlessly protesting, bury their past, have conflicts and express xenophobia.

Most of the works by Blue Noses has a clear criminal nuance echoing prison camp culture. For example the Mask Show series offers the viewer a retelling of international politics and culture in the form of amateur porn and in criminal formulations (‘understandings’) of homosexual dominance-submission typical of drunken conversations of the lumpen, semi-criminal public. The photographs of half-naked, flabby characters wearing the masks of major political figures and iconic cultural celebrities of the twentieth century quite clearly illustrate the disposition of power and success—who got a blow job and who got fucked in the ass.

The video charades and low-tech clowning are the Blue Noses’ method of artistic commentary.

Artists who do not like the hermetic aspect of working in the closed space of institutions and the narrowness of the audience for exhibitions limited to the fifty people who come to an opening in a gallery or museum (and another hundred who will come later), go out into the street. They use the strategy of public art, street art, and street actionism, which allows direct contact with the public and unmediated participation in the life of society.

It is hard to overestimate the significance of Timofei Radya’s works for Yekaterinburg, many of which, despite their temporal nature, have become landmarks of the city. Your Move, in which the artist turned bridge supports into dominoes, discusses the ephemerality of ‘security,’ the main argument for the need of the state in people’s lives. The project became an object of content between the city residents and the regional authority in charge of the bridge, and as a result the work was not destroyed and still decorates the bridge. Another work, transforming the Stalin Empire-style streetlights on one of the Yekaterinburg’s central streets into giant table lamps, was also the subject of heated discussions between residents and the municipal government but soon became a city landmark.

A philosopher by education, Timofei Radya strictly observes the code of the street artist. Anonymity and refusal to do any commercial work in public spaces have created his image of wandering romantic commenting on events as an outsider. His credo is well expressed in the work Let Everyone Hear My Silence—the text is visible on the wall as the result of the burning of a shelf of books.

However, the artist turns off his aloof philosophical stance whenever he feels responsible for what is happening in the country and takes on the job of expressing public opinion. The morning after the brazenly falsified results of the 2011 elections to the State Duma, the artist painted a huge billboard on top of a building in the middle of Yekaterinburg with ‘You Were Cheated’ sign and the logo of a square with a bird in it - the most popular election campaign sign which was meant to tell people whom to vote for. Right after the project was removed, on the other side of town on a similar billboard along one of the busiest streets the sign appeared: ‘Nothing New…’.

The monstrous expenditures on the Sochi Olympics 2014[3] inspired his performance which included several thousand fake rubles stuffed into a metal construction in the shape of the Olympic rings and then released into the wind, vanishing in seconds.

The increased punitive functions of the Federal Security Service (FSB, the direct successor of the Soviet punitive agencies, OGPU/NKVD and the KGB, whose former officials now run the country and the lion’s share of big business in Russia) and other law and order structures, resulted in not only opposition activists suffering from censorship and police brutality, or on the contrary, intentional inaction, but also ordinary people and people in creative fields (the absurd trials and detentions, searches in cultural institutions, criminal cases against artists—Pussy Riot and Pyotr Pavlensky). This injustice prompted the artist to restore the sign ‘You Crucify Freedom, But the Human Soul Does Not Know Shackles!’ which had been written on the wall of the Fortress of Peter and Paul in Leningrad in 1976 by Soviet dissident artists.[4] Radya placed the sign in St. Petersburg exactly 40 years later not far from the fortress, as a reminder of history and a warning not to repeat it.

Slava PTRK, also from Yekaterinburg, works primarily with mass media images. In a street context executed in stencil, these images lose their mass media format and change their iconic status. The artist places his Layered Portrait of the President like an altar in the niche in an old building. The work reflects the ‘constructed’ charisma of the national leader and the ephemeral nature of the new ‘cult of personality.’ Every layer of the interactive object consists of rectangular segments and depicts the Russian president in different ways. The top layer is the official portrait, the second  - a model of the head, the third - a skull. Viewers can take away the memory of every segment.

As an artist working on the street, Slava PTRK inevitably is supersensitive to public traumas. Thanks to the methodical cover up by official media, the Beslan tragedy and the role of the authorities in it have now being forgotten. As a result of the antiterrorist operation to storm the school where the terrorists held children and parents hostage, 333 people (186 children) were killed and approximately 800 wounded. Documents show that the large number of victims resulted from the cynical and inhumane tactics which were used in storming the school. Besides this, the act of terrorism served as an excuse for authorities to cut back on democratic advances in Russia. In particular, gubernatorial elections were taken away, law enforcement was made more severe, censorship pressure increased, and the opposition was pushed more and more from political competition. When there was almost no mention of the incident on its anniversary in 2013, Slava PTRK took the responsibility—the word Beslan made up of photographs of the children who were killed appeared on a building wall in the centre of Yekaterinburg.

His most controversial work is Patriarch Piggy Bank. The stencil work appeared directly opposite the main Orthodox cathedral in Yekaterinburg—the artist’s reaction to the interference of the Russian Orthodox Church in secular life, imposing Domostroi prohibitions, combined with attempts to create a militant religion similar to Wahhabism by supporting pogroms and creating a caste ‘beyond criticism’ of the faithful and clergy through lobbying for a law against insulting believers. The artist depicted the cynicism, hypocrisy, and mercantile mentality of the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, behaving more like a raider corporation demanding its share of influence in domestic policy and national budget through a de facto (and anti-constitutional) merger with the state.

The theme of confrontation between atheists and believers is also raised by the Perm street artist Alexander Zhunev. His work Gagarin: A Crucifixion is a metaphor of the absurdity of the obscurantist steps of the Church. The work, depicting the cosmonaut crucified, appeared on the streets of Perm on 12 April 2016, when the most holy day of the Church calendar, Easter, coincided with what is essentially an atheist holiday, Cosmonaut Day.

One of the most important political art works of the last decade is Monstration, created by Artyom Loskutov of Novosibirsk. His flash mob project is a wonderful example of how, thanks to precise work with cultural stereotypes, the Soviet legacy, and the Sovietizing context of current domestic policy becomes an art concept which turns into a popular movement and a new cultural tradition. The artist came up with the idea of re-coding the Soviet traditions of holiday parades—for the May 1st demonstration he invited people to come out to celebrate International Labour Day, with absurdist posters, slogans, and banners that mock and turn inside out Russia’s domestic and foreign policy, mass culture, and the ever more absurd daily life in the country. The style of the Monstration slogans had a powerful influence on the style of the 2011 protests in Moscow. In the intervals between preparations for the annual Monstration, which has taken place in various cities over the last seven years, Artyom Loskutov produced poster interventions in the advertising light boxes of Moscow bus stops. Every poster became a media event in the social networks, the voice expressing the opinion of Russian civil society. A poster that appeared on the anniversary of Stalin’s death with his death mask and the text That One Died, So Will This One hinted at the finite nature of every authoritarian regime. The poster Forbidden - an irony over the work of the so-called ‘crazed printer’ - the super intensive work of the State Duma’s last session, which passed an absurdly large number of laws, most of them anti-constitutional, forbidding various things. Since most of the laws have no force in Russia, they lead to the opposite result, confirming a biblical truth—forbidden fruit is sweet.

There are artists in non-capital cities who understand that in order to deal with the uncomfortable reality and for their own ‘cultural survival’ they must unite, form a community, and get public support. Their strategy is not so much creating works as building alternative institutions—’institutional independence.’

The Omsk artist Damir Muratov had found the pressure point of confrontation—Moscow v Regions. Since the introduction of the ‘vertical of power’[5], Moscow had dominated the other Russian cities, essentially colonising the rest of Russia, squeezing out or muffling local business initiatives, imposing policy and the direction of action of the regional authorities, and impending the cultural development of the regions. In response, the artist created his first independent region—Bednotown [Poverty town], his own world and an alternative institution, studio-dacha-boarding house concert, space for his work and relaxation for his numerous friends. The artist’s wooden house and the area around it has been painted and renovated in the spirit of his paintings—this is a personal utopia, a work constructed in accordance with the laws of art, which reject social stratification, mercantile goals, and hassles. Bednotown is a heaven on earth, a space where people have to correspond to the artist’s idealistic views.

The series It’s Good Where We Are with Russian flags appearing on flags of other countries became the prototype of the artist’s most important project, The United States of Siberia. It wittily deconstructs the concept of the ‘Russian world’ in the version of hybrid Russian statehood and anticipates Russia’s foreign policy of the last three years. The author of the ‘Russian world’ concept, the philosopher and methodologist Petr Shchedrovinsky proposed considering all Russophone people in the entire world as a resource for Russia’s development, a resource for overcoming distrust in our country, and resource for enriching Russian society with knowhow and knowledge. But the president’s administration and his close circle reinterpreted this concept and suggested to use the Russian-speaking population of other countries as a propaganda tool and excuse for military intervention in contiguous states. The flags of various countries show the Russian tricolor coming through—a metaphor for ‘the hand of Moscow.’

The ironic separatism[6] of United States of Siberia sums up the discourse of It’s Good Where We Are and Bednotown—a juxtaposed alternative to ‘Moscow colonialism’ (the opposition describes a political, economic, and cultural trend that has formed in Russia, to put it harshly, an occupation regime).[7] Moscow is perceived here as a ‘foreign land’ that is radioactive, contagious, and incurable, best abandoned to start somewhere else anew. There are clear references to the ‘parade of sovereigns’—the process of creating independent states out of the Union of Republics after the Belovezhsk Agreement (which the current president called ‘a great geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century’)—and to the concept of a federal restructuring of Russia proposed by the administration of Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin—a rejection of an ethnic division of regions and the creation of a federal structure on the model of the USA—and to the endless discussions by the opposition about the coming collapse of the Russian Federation because of the irresponsible and predatory policy of the Russian state in the Russian regions. Interestingly enough, the artistic concept of United States of Siberia has no organizational or ideological basis, is not expressed in the form of a text, and exists exclusively in the works of Damir Muratov, yet it is taken seriously by the secret service agencies of Russia. The slogans of the United States of Siberia at recent Monstrations in several Russian cities served as an excuse to set up round-the-clock surveillance of their organizer Artyom Loskutov.

The work on creating auto-institutions by Gruppirovka ZIP is impressive. They are in Krasnodar, the capital of the so-called Red Belt (the territory in the south of Russia where pro-Communist feelings are strong). Eldar Ganeyev, Yevgeny Rimkevich, and the brothers Vasily and Stepan Subbotin made the creation of institutional structures their strategy, and collectivism and volunteering - the main artistic motifs of their own art. Having decided not to immigrate from their hometown of Krasnodar, they began creating all the institutions and communities necessary for the development of art, independently, relying only on themselves. In a brief period, the artists organized several versions of mobile galleries, an art residency in the village of Piatikhatka, the Krasnodar Institute for the Study of Contemporary Art (KISI), a school for young artists, an independent festival of street art called MOZHET, a stationary gallery Redgift, and a Center of Contemporary Art. Their energy attracted local businessmen who support the group. ZIP’s para-institutional activity questions the ‘God-given’ legitimacy of state institutions and shows the power of self-organization and cultural initiative.

All their works are marked by an institutionalist approach. The artists either plan various utopian communities and institutions like Land of the Dolphins or The State of Artists. They also try to find architectural or design forms to turn social or political discourse into institutions. Thus Propagandist Crab hints at the idea that ‘Putin Is a Crab!’ which arose after Putin in a live call-in television program compared himself to a galley slave working for the good of Russia (in Russian ‘kak rab’ [like a slave] can sound like ‘kak krab’ [like a crab]).  Their work gives a ‘commensurate’ form to state propaganda forming the image of the national leader. B.O.P (budka odinochnogo piketirovaniia [the booth for a solitary picket]) institutionalizes personal protest. This is the artists’ reaction to the Parliament’s recent anti-constitutional amendments to the law on rallies, which in fact abolish the constitutional right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, even solitary picketing. The mobile construction makes the actions of law enforcement troops to arrest picketers awkward and silly.

Thus artists ‘beyond the capitals’ offer us a third point of view, an alternative look at politics and history, and another approach in cultural reflection and in cultural construction—an example of cultural self-reliance for everyone. Not being part of the capital life gives them an outsider look at habitual oppositions and stereotypes, frees them of hierarchies and the desire to dominate, allows them to regard without prejudice what is happening in the country and comment on it acutely, avoiding the political engagement and polarization typical for the cultural figures in the capitals, and makes it easy to resist the trend for vertical thinking in culture and politics. They could repeat what the Russian Futurist poet once said: ‘We know only one capital, Russia, and only two provinces—St. Petersburg and Moscow. We are a new species of human beams. We have come to illuminate the universe. We are invincible. Like waves, we cannot be caught by a net of resolutions. Wherever we are, the capital extends around us in sunbeams.’ [8]


[1] G. V. Derzhavin, “Bog [God]” (1784). Sochineniia Derzhavina, vol. 1, Moscow, 1798, pp. 1-6.

[2] The city stopped being the capital of the Russian Empire in 1918 when the Bolshevik government moved it to Moscow, which many Russian intellectuals saw as a symbol of the country’s move away from ‘the European path of development’ and an immersion into the darkness of ‘Asiatic despotism’.

[3] Given the colossal disproportion of income between the super-rich and the poorest in Russia, the cost of the Olympics including infrastructure was 1.5 trillion rubles, or 9% of the country’s budget.

[4] There is more on this action in Anna Matveyeva’s essay in this book.

[5] The domestic policy which was first introduced in the 2000s when Putin aimed at reducing democratic freedoms, the introduction of political censorship, and the rejection of an independent judiciary.

[6] See Leonid Kiselev’s Sibirskii separatism i ego rokovaia sud’ba [Siberian Separatism and Its Fateful Destiny] on the site

[7] See Olga Bakushinskaya’s Okkupatiosnnyi rezhim [Occupation Regime], on the site, 7 June 2011.

[8] A letter to Kamensky from Velimir Khlebnikov.  Citing V. V. Kamensky, Put’ entuziasta [Path of an Enthusiast], Perm: 2011, p. 114.