Andrey Kovalev

      Against All. Toward a History of Protest Art in Russia.

                                   Time of Action.

The heroic days of radical performance art in Russia date from 18 April 1991, when the revolutionary group E.T.I (Expropriation of the Territories of Art) headed by Anatoly Osmolovsky used their bodies on the cobblestones of Red Square to spell out a three-letter swear word right opposite the Lenin Mausoleum.  On 9 November 2015 a photograph appeared on the Internet with the grim face of an ascetic and holy man holding a canister in front of smoking flames. That was the artist Petr Pavlensky, who had set fire to the door of the main building of the FSB.

In 1991 the anarchists were not punished and the prosecutors dragged out the case of hooliganism until April.  When Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of the USSR, was replaced as a result of tragic and emotional events by the first president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, a new era had begun and police and prosecutors no longer had time to worry about some crazy artists. In 2015, however, the entire power of the ossified police system created by Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, came down on the performance artist and political activist. Pavlensky was arrested.  However, the court did not find anything criminal in his actions. This was probably the last political performance in modern Russia, and Petr Pavlensky seems to have been the last daredevil to decide to test the system. His direct predecessors, the young women of Pussy Riot, said that they had not been prepared for going through a trial and ending up in prison.

Between these two events there were many serious, interesting, entertaining, and just curious attempts by artists to enter the political sphere. Artists formed fictitious parties, created ephemeral barricades, called out the president to a public boxing duel, stabbed their tongues on live radio, and had sex on the roof of a car and in a museum. One mad radical poet even took responsibility for a terrorist act. Essentially, this sharp radicalization of the artistic gesture coincided with international tendencies—the witty actions of YBA, the provocations of Andres Serrano, or the harsh sociopolitical research by Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

The Russian performance artists differ from their Western colleagues and peers with a kind of tremendous naiveté and boundless ambitions founded on extremely simple-minded ideas about the essence of art. They were moved by a force that Victor Shklovsky, quoting Leo Tolstoy, called the ‘energy of delusion’.1 In a sense, the Moscow actionists used Vladimir Mayakovsky’s slogan: ‘The streets are our brushes. The squares our palettes.’ In nineties’ Russia there were no museums, and the galleries and centres of contemporary art were so impotent that there was no point at all in institutional criticism Western-style. Even the most modest attempt to rebel against them could have destroyed the institutions. Moreover, the Centre of Contemporary Art on Yakimanka and a few galleries (Regina, XL, and the Guelman Gallery) offered their space for performance and often gave informational and even legal support. The artists sent out invitations to their street actions through galleries, and if artists were arrested, Marat Guelman would bring in his own lawyer. And the actionists valued these institutions. Anton Nikolaev, activist and artist, and stepson of Oleg Kulik, says, ‘For the activists of the nineties the main issue was the boundary of art. I think that the most representative action of that decade is The Last Taboo, Guarded by the Lonely Cerberus by Alexander Brener and Oleg Kulik. Its main point is the defense of the boundaries of art.’ 2 In this action Kulik appeared as the man-dog for the first time. It took place at the entrance to the Guelman Gallery, and it looked as if a ‘mad dog’ and its master were guarding the territory of art.

As for protest art per se, Clair Bishop points out that the problem is that, while most actions by Russian radicals ‘deal with provocation and media attention, none is aligned to an identifiable political position’.3 But the problem is that in the first half of the nineties no one had a clear political position. The collapse of the former disciplinary society (société disciplinaire)4 was so fast that the politicians and economists trying to bring up modernizing reforms in Russia essentially had no clear political position of their own. They based their political platform, as did their opponents, on very vague ideas of the market, open society, and capitalism. And those who knew exactly what was going on became the new Mafiosi and oligarchs. The ideology of the berserkers of the first wave was simple and straight forward—under capitalism one must and should enrich oneself by every possible means, take away other people’s property, kill your rivals, and buy politicians. That is why this period remains a point of infinite trauma for most Russians.

Yet artists were in a rather safe fold of time, peeking out occasionally at the dromoscopic pictures5 rushing past them. In this case it is appropriate to use the term ‘accelerated development’, elaborated by Vladimir Lenin in 1916 in Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism.6 At that speed of change, the Moscow radicals also ‘blurred’ in space and time for an outside observer like the figures seen by a driver in the comfortable seat of a speeding car driving along the motorway. For example, this is what Victor Tupitsyn wrote about Oleg Kulik: ‘Bearing in mind the mores of the recently wealthy Russian public and also that crazy money in Russia is made primarily by those involved in criminal activities and for whom violence is a way of life, Kulik’s performances fully reflect the current moment. The problem is that they reflect it uncritically. Trying to be more brutish that the milieu, Kulik—at best—is showing its deconstruction. But the deconstructing connotations are not visible to “new Russians”.’7

In these conditions of endless transgression only the artist remained a conscious revolutionary amongst the socially unconscious, schizophrenic proletariat, doomed to eternal guerilla warfare against all. The main difficulty for artists was the misfit between the artistic and social reality—the subtle practices of deconstruction elaborated in the West and applicable to long-cooled and classified structures were almost unusable in the chaotic space of the victorious collective unconscious. Viktor Miziano, the editor-in-chief of Khudozhestvennyi Zhurnal, gave a precise definition of the Zeitgeist: ‘An era characterized by the experience of a man who suddenly becomes aware of his subjectness. An era that made people face the necessity of a total existential-ontological choice.’8

In 2016, Oleg Kulik told Noan Sneider, who was collecting material for an article on Petr Pavlensky: ‘All that is left is the body, which actually never belonged to you. And artists, the first actionists of the 1990s, offered the body, the naked body of a naked person, in the middle of the wild city. It is a powerful image: out of all those endless collectivist myths, endless crowds of the willing and unwilling, groups, bands, and parties a person is set apart, an individual with nothing and no one behind him. He is alone against all, but he is fighting. He simply says: ‘I am! Here I am, I am art!’’9

A small group of Moscow actionists10 turned out to be almost the only people who could demonstrate the will for analysis and criticism of the rapidly changing situation and to test in field conditions the new political and social bodies that were in the process of perpetual mutation. In that situation, the artist acquired—for a very short period—the opportunity for direct experimentation with social reality.

In his political project, Kulik studied the possibilities and limits of the functioning of a political figure. His Animal Party appeared at the very moment when neither the politicians nor their electorate(!) understood the structures of the political field, following very vague ideas of how things worked in the ideal West.

Alexander Brener, who challenged Boris Yeltsin to a duel in a boxing match in First Glove at the Kremlin Wall, modelled himself on an ideal citizen, who talks directly to the authorities, demonstrating direct power of the people.

In their first action, Cock on the Red Square, E. T. I. showed the possibility of new collective action11 in the social space even in 1991as well as their inalienable right to say FUCK YOU to the state and the authorities. People could now take the figa out of their pockets - the hidden gesture of defiance used by the Soviet opposition intelligentsia.

Figa in the Pocket

That action on Red Square visually resembled the action of the Mukhomor12  group in 1979, when they also used their bodies to spell out khui, the Russian word for cock. The photograph of this action forms part of an album where the group of artists, considered part of the new wave13, comically tried to make contact with space aliens in an old park on the outskirts of Moscow. Anatoly Osmolovsky, responding to criticism that their group was being derivative, wrote, ‘For E. T. I. the left-radical discourse was more important—the political aspect was considered an important structural part of the group’s activity. For the Conceptualists, the “formal moment” was more important.’14

Nikita Alexeyev used the expression ‘figa in the pocket’ when he recalled the ‘action-exhibition’ Victory Over the Sun that took place in his famous apartment- gallery APTART, which included the Mukhomor artists. Like most actions in that artist-run space, it was extremely apolitical and imbued with multilayered associations. For example, the married couple Anatoly Zhigalov and Natalya Abalakova, the TOTART group, chewed sunflower seeds in total darkness, making references to the famous Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun with sets by Kazimir Malevich, as well as the sunflower, and the favorite folk snack and pastime. The action was dedicated to an event that had outraged the artists—in 1983 a Korean Airlines Boeing 747 was shot down over Sakhalin by a Soviet jet fighter. Honestly apologizing for his unexpressed civic position, Alexeyev writes, ‘You could call it a figa in the pocket addressed to the vile Soviet regime. But nothing else was possible then. Don’t blame us for not coming out onto the Red Square with posters: we were making art, not politics, and it was very important to feel the boundary.’15

A very significant detail should be mentioned here. The early Russian avant-garde artists, combatants who rose up against all the conventions and canons, were surprisingly indifferent to the political problems that shocked Russian society between the two revolutions—of 1905 and 1917. A swift politization occurred right after the revolution, when the Futurists came to work for the victorious Bolsheviks. But they suffered a crushing defeat. The regime was much stronger than anarchists and outsiders, and it annexed their artistic production.17

One would struggle to find any political subjects in the innumerable tracts, manifestoes, and public speeches of the Russian avant-garde before the revolution. There were no political references in the Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun. Yet a large part of the Russian intelligentsia was highly critical of the ruling tsarist regime. Here is a telling example. The Golden Cockerel, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the classic Russian composer, was written in 1908 and based on the story by Alexander Pushkin; it was a sharp satire on the tsarist regime in general and on Emperor Nicholas II personally. Moreover, during the revolutionary events of 1905-1907, the quite elderly composer actively supported the demands of striking students and openly condemned the administration of the St. Petersburg conservatory: he quit and returned to the conservatory only after it was given partial autonomy and a change in leadership. The opera was banned from the imperial theatres and performed only in private venues. However, in her sets for the Diaghilev’s Russian Seasons in Paris, Natalya Goncharova, one of the most striking representatives of the Russian avant-garde, turned this musical fairy tale into an enchanting spectacle, completely devoid of political content.

If we try to look for direct ties between the post-Soviet radicals and the Russian avant-garde in the first third of the twentieth century, we will see that the actionists borrowed technology and formal methods from the early Futurists, such as defining hooliganism18 and clearly disorderly behavior as artistic acts and the tactic of manipulating the press and public opinion.

Optical vs Political

In the Soviet Union, what would now be considered the most innocent abstract paintings was perceived as an active political gesture against the reigning ideology. Pioneers of abstract art in the USSR, winning a victory over Soviet mimesis, had no idea that the theoretical base for Abstract Expressionism, which had a powerful influence on the development of unofficial art in the USSR, came from Marxists critics—Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg.  The Moscow nonconformists, who were terribly allergic to all Communist ideas, were unconsciously following Alfred Barr’s19 line in taking Marxism out of the avant-garde. The nonconformist artists cultivated a formalist approach that consciously avoided every possibility of tying art to anything that was outside the art itself.

One of the leaders of nonconformist movement, Vladimir Nemukhin, always said: ‘We are not dissidents, we are bohemians.’20 In suburban barracks, cold attics and damp basements, these courageous people built a true ivory tower, whose inhabitants silently rejected all ideology and just as consistently avoided political dissidents. Majority of the nonconformists of the sixties were certain that Art per se, the embodiment of Plato’s Eidoi, would always withstand Power. That is, they clearly thought of their art as a truly political activity, the construction of the invisible, absolute State.

Later, even classic Sots Art of the 1970s was considered ‘political art’. Kabakov’s line of conceptualism scrupulously protected itself from any hint of the possibility of direct political action and was the ‘reflection’ of the psychopathology of the world of the underground man, whose consciousness is filled with remnants of the products of the ideological machine. Erik Bulatov’s Brezhnev and Ivan Chuikov’s Horizon evince the nausea that pursues the autistic person infected by the poison of vengeful punitive signs. Only peripheral vision reveals the grim shadow of the ideological monsters hanging over Kabakov’s communal flats.  Even Alexander Melamid, a representative of the most radical wing of Sots Art, which he co-founded, insisted that the movement had nothing to do with confrontation with the authorities. ‘We merely looked out of the window and saw a portrait of Lenin. That was our landscape, and we depicted it in our works. It was common sense. We wanted to re-create the dream, re-create great art, but that was our childhood.’22

It is amazing that while having such extremely idealistic views, the artists sometimes set off mechanisms of a global scale. When they took part in the famous Bulldozer Exhibition in 1974, they merely had a naive dream of showing their paintings to the public and were prepared to resist the chthonic forces in the form of bulldozers. But it turned into a kind of ‘delegated performance’, as the conceptualist poet Mikhail Aizenberg put it. ‘The artist organizers only “launched” this work, turning on the mechanism of involving others, and then it began building itself, as it should, with an unpredictable final result.’23 However, the result of the ‘delegated performance’ was on an incomparably greater scale. An insignificant event on an empty loft in Moscow appeared on the front page of The New York Times and in most other newspapers. It turned out to be a key event in a global political game. Many analysts believe that the exhibition was used in a very complex way to launch détente, the easing of world tension.24

But the artists who unwittingly ‘launched’ a process they knew nothing about, rather quickly discovered (much to their surprise) that the state had stopped pressuring them so much and allowed them to fill a few quite comfortable niches. The Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev was a strange, indolent despotic state that no longer paid particular attention to those whom it considered aesthetic marginal people. Although the regime still punished real dissidents rather harshly. A work produced by the Gnezdo [Nest]25 group can be seen as a symbol of this era. A massive square piece of iron labeled ‘Iron Curtain’ hung in the apartment of Mikhail Roshal, one of the group’s members, so that anyone coming in had to move it or go around it. The joke was that this impressive object was covered with decorative rust, like the virtual iron curtain that had now become a geopolitical reality, officially announced on 5 March 1946 by Winston Churchill in his historic Fulton speech. 

In 1990, a small academic publisher in Moscow produced a severely shortened translation and abstract of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.26 It was edited by Mikhail Ryklin, a philosopher close to the Moscow Conceptualist circle. The text was first distributed in manuscript form and it immediately became an intellectual best seller; artists and critics sprinkled terms like ‘rhizome’, ‘schizoanalysis’, and ‘body without organs’ into their high-brow . We can imagine that the young artists and intellectuals Sergei Bugaev (Africa) and Sergei Anufriev used those terms in their conversation as they strolled in 1989 past Vera Mukhina’s Worker and Kolkhoz Woman monument. They discovered that this ‘symbol of the Soviet era’ was not guarded and there was a ladder that gave access to a service entrance in the bottom part of the Kolkhoz Woman. They performed a sacrilegious act, stealing the door. The performance was continued in Victor Tupitsyn’s text, which proved, with references to Deleuze and Michel Foucault, that the door was a hymen and the heroes had performed the courageous act of deflowering the Soviet cosmos.27

Apparently the rock musician Sergey Kuryokhin used a similar strategy when he appeared on Pyatoe Koleso [The Fifth Wheel] programme on the Leningrad TV channel, pretending to be a historian; with great seriousness he informed the viewers that he had found proof that ‘Vladimir Lenin consumed large quantities of psychedelic mushrooms and eventually became a mushroom himself.’28  The show was aired on 17 May 1991, when the Soviet regime still existed, but it was watched with amiable jokes on live TV.  We could call this the first performance in media space which intended to make direct contact with the audience. The radicals of the 1990s never had problems with cognitive dissonance when dealing with the legacy of the Soviet regime.

In 1993, Anatoly Osmolovsky was raised by a crane to the shoulder of the monumental statue of Vladimir Mayakovsky on Triumphal Square during his performance Osmolovsky-Mayakovsky. While trying hard not to lose the balance, he lit a fat ‘bourgeois’ cigar.29 Here we are presented with a complex of cultural associations. He had given his performance the name Journey of a Netsezudik to the Land of Brobdingnags, the legendary giants in Jonathan Swift’s novel. ‘Netsezudik’ means ‘superfluous’ in Volapük, the first constructed language. Without that explanation, the name sounds like typical Futurist zaum gibberish. Anatoly started out as a poet and considered himself a devotee of the Futurists. But Stalin called Osmolovsky’s idol, Vladimir Mayakovsky, ‘the best and most talented poet of our era’, and the huge monument in Socialist Realist style was supposed to express the vision of this revolutionary poet. The historical truth was diligently annihilated, including the fact that Mayakovsky was one of the ideologists of the productivist LEF, an avant-garde group that determinedly fought against that kind of figurative art. Paradoxically, that statue was placed in a key location in The Thaw, when in 1958 Nikita Khrushchev allowed independent poets to read their poems in front of large audience, often attracting up to 15,000 listeners. It was also there that the authorities began interrupting the readings after Khrushchev decided to persecute ‘those who speak out against us’.30

For the older generation, this ironic treatment of traumatic Soviet contexts was impossible. Boris Orlov, a sculptor and representative of Sots Art, a master of pseudo-baroque compositions, placed numerous regalia on himself in his photo-performance Self-Portraits in the Imperial Style (1995-1996), thereby showing that the body of a Soviet person is now the only bearer of the Imperial past.

Your Slogan Could Be Here!

Only one artist made a real political act, Andrei Monastyrsky, who was the leader of one of the most hermetic groups, called Collective Actions. On 22 January 1967 he took part in a demonstration along with other dissidents in Pushkin Square, but he was not prosecuted because he was only 17. He held a poster in defense of political prisoners.31 That is how he recalled this action in a conversation with Alexei Plutser-Sarno, the ideologist of Voina: ‘After the adventures of the late 1960s and early 1970 I became interested in the purely existential issues in art. The CA slogan ‘I’m Not Complaining About Anything’ (from my 1976 book Poetic World) became a watershed between the social-totalitarian and the existential.  We put a purely existential text into the form of a social-totalitarian slogan. After the ‘viewers-participants’32 left the place of action, the slogan was left hanging in the snowy woods on a high riverbank. The subsequent Slogans of Collective Action continued a consistent ‘removal of text from visualness and also its removal from discoursiveness to description, that is, a total formalization and ‘nullification’ of all ideological discourse. The third slogan, ‘For G. Kizevalter,’ is hung in a way that you can’t even make out the letters.’33

It has been noted many times that Moscow Conceptualism is first of all about text. But it is very specific—all signifiers are intentionally crumpled and blurred. Even Mince Meat Out of the Newspaper Pravda (1974), the famous performance by Komar and Melamid, was playing with text, as Melamid described it himself: ‘It was a visual “gesture pun”.’ The sneaky partisans of text blasphemously ground up and swallowed the language of Power, which assured everyone that ‘Soviet people live and eat better every year, and the production of milk and meat increases and improves continually.’34

Portraits of the most famous dissidents were also ‘linguistic’. The bust of Sakharov was made of sugar (sakhar is sugar in Russian) and Solzhenitsyn’s was made of salt (sol’ is salt) - these busts were intended for the blind, who could lick them and recognize the idols of the dissident movement by taste.35 Behind the buffoonery lies avoidance of making statements, which Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn so passionately strived for.

The first action of the 1990s to take place in a public space is usually called COCK on the Red Square, but it has another, more academic name: E. T. I. Text. Anatoly Osmolovsky insists that ‘the dramaturgy of the action on the Red Square played out exclusively in the semiotic field’ and that his negotiations with the investigator were purely philological. When asked if his goal was to tie Lenin’s name with an obscene word, the answer was negative: ‘If that had been the goal, we would have needed a hyphen’. If the investigator had believed the performance artist, the last FUCK addressed to the founder of the Soviet state would have been turned into a rather innocent hooligan act. In this case, Osmolovsky was following an old tradition of the Soviet intelligentsia, who knew that the best way to win an encounter with the punitive organs was to pile on as many friable and flickering meanings as possible.

Interestingly enough, even those who turned informant under pressure from the secret police most often tried to confuse their employers. Here is an example of a substantiated document - the surveillance files of an agent embedded in the Budapest Kassák Studio, discovered by Katalin Krasznakhorkai.36 The information in the archival documents is almost unusable for art historians since ‘the documents’ high level of misinformation, imprecision, or intentional misinterpretation complicate their use as reliable sources.’

This is a good place to recall the mythologized story of Kazimir Malevich who was allegedly arrested in 1930 for transmitting secret information through his suprematist compositions and released three months later following his diligent explanation of the main concepts which lie behind suprematism to the agents of the GPU.37 At present all the documents of the secret services without exception are still closed to researchers. We cannot read the transcripts of the interrogations of Kazimir Malevich, or the reports on exhibitions at the APTART gallery, or the descriptions of the actions of Collective Actions. But in any case, we must admit that any artist, poet, or writer who lived in a totalitarian society at some point had a conversation with the investigator. The radical actionists of the 1990s did everything possible to get out of that Kafkaesque space fast. The interrogators got sick of the murky text, too. In most cases after compiling a transcript of interrogation, they released the actionists arrested in public places. Finally, Petr Pavlensky created the absolutely accurate performance on the theme of Conversation with the Investigator. He told his investigator in such lengthy detail about the essence of actionism was that the latter quit his job.

Nevertheless, the rhetoric of the open political gesture in the 1990s was carefully blurred in the majority of cases. Even in the most vivid action of that period, Barricade on Nikitskaia,38 the radical slogans of 1968 were written in French. And the municipal police that came to the action could not understand the revolutionary nature of such appeals (even though they were made in Russian) as ‘Forbidding Is Forbidden’, ‘All Power to the Imagination!’ and ‘Be Realists—Demand the Impossible!’.39 The organizers of this well-attended action which took place not far from the Kremlin were arrested, and the burlesque interrogations followed.  In the end, they were forced to pay an insignificant fine. Boris Groys defined this event in the urban space as a kind of monumental quotation: ‘The political imaginary appears here like a warehouse of historical (proto)images suitable for appropriation.’40

Subsequently the street activists of the early 2000s preferred the strategy of melting into the urban environment. The artist appears as a test of the political context, raising the question of the boundary between art and politics. The Demonstration performance by the Radek society in 2000 is a case in point. The members selected a few pedestrian crossings in central Moscow, where lots of people are often waiting for the traffic light to change.   The artists crossed the street with everyone else while unfolding their banners, made in the style of Communist rallies but with absurd slogans: ‘Everyone Against Everyone,’ ‘Devil Revolution Onanism’,’ ‘Microbe Is the Killer of the President’, ‘Sex Marx Karl Pistols’. This action can be seen as a paradoxical example of ‘Participatory Art’,41 where the invited participants are not aware of their own participation. That was exactly the effect that the organizers strived to achieve. One of the Radek members, Petr Bystrov, said: ‘The illusion of the manifestation appeared. People walking in a column with us were not just random spectators this time instead they created the event and participated in it.’42

We see this strategy aimed for extreme absurdizing of text in the Monstrations, which have been organized since 2004 by the Novosibirsk artist Artem Loskutov. It started as a project of the small marginal group Grandmother After the Funeral, but unexpectedly it developed into a real mass movement with tens of thousands participants. In Russian provincial cities people come out for fun-filled parades with absurd slogans: ‘So What’, ‘We Are Not Vegetables’, ‘Yesterday Was Tuesday, But Today Is Tuesday As Well’. As a rule, these are peaceful events, rarely with political connotations. For example, a poster reading Ad—Nash (‘Hell Is Ours’), which corresponded with the official slogan Krym—Nash (‘Crimea Is Ours’), was seen at a Monstration.43 It is probably safe to say that most of the participants in these parades know nothing about Collective Actions or the Mukhomor group and just may have heard of Anatoly Osmolovsky and E. T. I., who are considered the founders of flash mobs. They remind one of the characters from Harold Rosenberg’s article ‘Surrealism in the Streets.’ ‘One suspects that the students of the Beaux-Arts, like students in most American art schools, haven’t been taught much about Surrealism, and that they receive their politics from the same source as other students.’44

Politician or Therapist?

The radical actionism experience of the 1990s showed that the artist, in order to remain an artist and continue analyzing the social unconscious, must declare his own ‘unconsciousness,’ parodying the very possibility of direct action in the political space. So he must become a kind of therapist-analyst, who makes scrupulous analyses, subjecting the technologies of the political reality to criticism. The artist who enters the political field is doomed to failure and realizes the consequences of his position as an outside spectator.

This strategy of conscious failure is the most important feature of the version of social sculpture that the Moscow radicals brought into the international context. Naturally the young and fit Alexander Brener, challenging Boris Yeltsin from Lobnoe Mesto (Execution Place) in the Red Square, did not expect the elderly and not very healthy man to come out and fight - instead he was addressing the state machine hidden behind the high Kremlin walls. The writer and left-wing political activist Alexei Tsvetsko, watching this action and even participating in it by waving a big black flag with a picture of an angry bristling red cat, later wrote: ‘The times of direct democracy in antiquity when any citizen could touch his elected official and exchange views are gone forever, the elected officials are now ‘transmitted’ on TV, spokesmen speak on their behalf, and the immediacy of communication is no longer achievable in public life. This was the funeral of illusions of democracy.’

Oleg Kulik in his action The Body Speaks Louder than Words (performed near the Museum of the Revolution, Moscow, April 9, 1996) offered vodka to people from nipples attached to his jacket and fed through a series of tubes. Even though the action was held in a public place, the photographs show that random passersby was indifferent to this strange proposal. But the artistic bohemian crowd responded with pleasure to the candidate’s offer to be ‘corrupted’ and drink the vodka. However, the bitterness of Kulik’s parodic gesture is amplified by the fact that during the elections in Russia in the 1990s, candidates used the very ancient method of procuring the votes of the plebs by giving them free bread and alcohol.  Kulik wanted to register as a presidential candidate from his fictitious Party of Animals which he created. He said: ‘When we brought the petitions to the Central Election Committee, we had two million pages that had to be checked, and when they started they found cockroaches, spiders, and animal paw prints instead of signatures.’45 Reducing the election campaign to pure buffoonery, he was testing the solidity of the new mechanisms of democratic elections. He later admitted, ‘Politicians were my direct rivals—they took up the space I wanted. Politicians went into show business: Yeltsin alone created performances I could only dream of.’46

A leading theoretician of productivism, Boris Arvatov maintained that the way to understand art was to jump out of it.47 The radical artist of the 1990s who jumped out of art and politics voluntarily took the unstable position of cauliflower as described by Jacques Rancière: ‘Political art is a kind of negotiation, not between politics and art, but between the two politics of aesthetics. This third way is made possible by continuously playing on the boundary and the absence of boundary between art and non-art. The Brechtian identity of allegory and of the debunking of allegory supposes that you can play on the connection and the disconnection between art and cauliflowers, politics and cauliflowers.’48

This position reveals the real political mechanisms that the participants do not notice. But this therapy extends not only and not so much to the ‘authorities’ in the abstract sense of the word which is common among the Russian intelligentsia but also to the protest movement, which can be influenced by ‘high-tech neo-capitalist methods of control’.49 In 2007 the ‘Bombily’ had an action called Auto Rally of Dissent, during which naked young people made love on a mattress attached to the roof of an old car while it was driven through the streets of Moscow at night. Anton Nikolaev – the leader of the group which started the second wave of radical actionism, referenced Mikhail Bakhtin when he announced, ‘The action was supposed to show that control of society - is control of the sexual sphere. The only possible protest that would not fit a political spectacle is a demonstration of sexual freedom. We announced that this action was dedicated to the struggle against Putin’s bloody regime.’50 Nikolaev also referred to his adherence to the ideas of ressentiment. Friedrich Nietzsche, who introduced the term as a definition of the ‘morals of slaves,’ felt that it contained a creative source. But the ‘Bombily’s’ premise was much more serious. With their actions, they indicated the excessive euphoria that reigned in the first mass anti-Putin rallies that began in 2005 and were called Marches of Dissent.

The End of the Carnival

The Voina (War) group, which had first participated in Bombily actions, brought the methods of burlesque carnival which appealed to the lower stratum to their extremes. On 29 February 2008 several couples had sex in one of the rooms of the K. A. Timiryazev State Biological Museum. However, in this case, the political message was blurred by the rather convoluted name of the action: Fuck for the Bear Cub’s Heir, which was an oblique reference to the ‘tandemocracy’ created by Vladimir Putin so that he could extend his term in the office.51

Naturally, students and graduates of the philosophy department of the Moscow State University who made up Voina had practically memorized Mikhail Bakhtin’s book about François Rabelais, which could be called the bible of Russian intellectuals. Back in 1991, after E. T. I.’s action in the Red Square, Grigory Gusarov, who called himself the group’s ‘manager’, explained that it was not a ‘political démarche but just a jester’s action’.52 In the interview that he gave to the openly yellow journalism newspaper Megapolis-Express he openly referred to the ‘culture of laughter’ described by Mikhail Bakhtin.

Within the framework of social ideas about the culture of laughter, the artist clown creates a separate space around himself and can perform fundamentally inappropriate actions. The performance artist Vladislav Mamyshev (Monro) during the mass defense of the White House in 1991 joined the excited crowd of unarmed people who were expecting the putsch leaders to send in the army to attack the crowds. He held a big balloon with the words ‘Hurrah for GKChP’ (the coup leaders), but the supporters of Boris Yeltsin did not react to that challenge, having identified Mamyshev as an artist. In 2003 the master of transformation and costume change appeared at the opening of the Berlin-Moscow 1950-2000 exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin as Adolf Hitler and tried to shake hands with Gerhard Schröder. We can assume that the German chancellor, who likes to be photographed in his office in front of a large painting by Georg Baselitz, undoubtedly recognized Mamyshev as an artist making a rather inappropriate joke.

This carnival ended when the members of Pussy Riot were sent to prison. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova once said about Petr Pavlensky: ‘What I hate about myself looks magical in Pavlensky, whole and organic. He is that desperate hero that the legal and prison systems forced the silly and funny Pussy Riot to be for a time. Our holy fool’s laughter was not understood, they put us behind bars and turned us into heroes—all by pure accident.’53 That is so. The Pussy Riot concert actions with their clownish masks, bright dresses and tights correlated with Bakhtin’s ideas of carnival culture. Petr Pavlensky carefully avoided all carnival aspects in his work, even when he turned the police who came to arrest him into participants of the event. For their most striking action, Putin Is Scared, Pussy Riot chose Lobnoe Mesto, where Alexander Brener called out to Boris Yeltsin. This is the place where Vasily the Blessed (canonized as St. Basil) practiced his yurodivy [holy fool] asceticism; he was the only one whom the Tsar Ivan the Terrible heeded and even placated. For Pavlensky, when he was performing Fixation, it seemed important to distance himself from the cultural connotations related to Lobnoe Mesto or the Lenin Mausoleum, so he chose a place off to the side, near the Historical Museum, where people pass to enter the Red Square. This way Petr avoided the connotations of the castration complex—in the Middle Ages criminals were executed on Lobnoe Mesto, but first their hands and feet were chopped off, and often their penises as well. Pavlensky says, ‘I think that the state of holy fool, strangely enough, is much closer to punk culture and hippie culture. That’s something else. I do political art, I act as an artist. I have difficulty imagining a holy fool doing something and then writing texts, analysis, and opening a publishing house.’54 Actually the carnival atmosphere was created by the artist’s lawyer in court, at the first session of the case on burning the doors of the FSB; instead of the usual references to articles of the Criminal Code, she seriously proposed reading a short course of lectures on the history of performance art, after which one of the guards whispered to another, ‘I was really interested.’55 Petr Pavlensky did not participate in this, although he later forced the court to face a difficult dialectical choice - to persecute him either for an artistic gesture or for terrorism. He had performed a political act, not hidden behind carnival masks, he had stopped being a messiah jester, to use Alexander Yaikomovich’s term.56

Boris Groys and Mikhail Ryklin do not share the great reverence for Bakhtin’s ideas and see—not without reason—in the canonic treatise Rabelais and Folk Culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (known as Rabelais and His World in English), completed in 1940,57 the desire to lift the trauma of revolution and terror by giving them ritual meaning in the context of ‘a great time’.58 To a certain degree, Groys and Ryklin, philosophers and theoreticians of Moscow Conceptualism, are talking about their personal experience—the Russian intelligentsia of the post-Stalinist period used Bakhtin’s ideas as psychological defense against the Orwellian madness around them. But Moscow Conceptualism in its strict form (Ilya Kabakov, Collective Actions) heroically avoided any hints of ‘carnivalism’, so its representatives had a very negative attitude toward the Moscow actionists of the 1990s. They preferred to stay in their well-appointed platonic cave.59

The inhabitants of the cave who observed the chaotic shadows flitting outside with a sarcastic grin were right in the global perspective. The ones who went out onto the square at some point resented the jester’s mask. In the late 1990s, Oleg Kulik stopped his performance art, explaining: ‘I realized that my project had exhausted itself when they began inviting me to ‘play the dog’ for a fee at some event. Once I agreed to do a performance in a Moscow club. […] It was an awful sight, which could only humiliate the artist who agreed to do a paid act. […] In the format of a commissioned show, the elements of partisan fighting the unexpected vanished from my statement - the very things that were most valuable could no longer be present, because they interrupted the expected rhythm of the events.’60

The Body Politic

In the Soviet period, nudity in performance was taboo because of ideological bans, but for a certain time the artists themselves avoided such gestures for various reasons. In Russia, one of the first manifestations of body art was Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin’s action in 1977.  Zoo—Homo Sapiens involved the naked artists sitting in a cage with the sign ‘Homo sapiens, mammalian, male and female.’ The artists declared that performance ‘leads to thinking about the original state of human nature, which could be defined by the expression ‘in what you were born in.’ In this context the correlation anima—animus deals with several aspects: man’s social position in society as a whole, the Dionysian element that imbues the frivolous principle of bohemian life, and most importantly the biblical motif that reminds us of the fate of Adam and Eve.’ However, Western observers saw a political aspect in this work, a ‘symbol of the engagement of Russian culture with the Soviet regime.’61

In summer 1982 for a performance-study called Our Anthill, Natalya Abalakova and her husband Anatoly Zhigalov, members of TOTART, laid a trail of sugar among three anthills, which had Orwellian slogans: ‘Our anthill is the best,’ ‘Our anthill is the biggest,’ and ‘Our anthill is the happiest.’ In the middle laid a naked male body, a living bridge and at the same time an obstacle on the ant trails. According to Anatoly, ‘The contact was pain. The collective body respond to the human individual body by trying to bite it to death.’ On another occassion, talking about the actionists of the 1990s, he said, ‘Pure physicality is necessary at the exit from a dead end, at the moment of transition from a totalitarian situation to a ‘normal’ one. The acquisition of a body lost in communal existence is naturally an important stage, although it’s passé in contemporary art. In a certain sense, it’s an attempt to return to the libido energy of art taken away by the ‘father’.’62

The term Moscow Actionism was established as an analogy to Viennese Actionism.63 It should be said that it is not a very accurate analogy. But the differences from the Viennese actionists are fundamental—the Austrian artists had lived through the horrors of war in their youth, while the Russian artists of the 1990s grew up in relatively comfortable conditions of a slowly dissolving totalitarian state and they certainly did not perceive the collapse of the USSR in 1991 as a personal or national tragedy. In Moscow, the artists were little interested in the revival of mystery or neo-shamanism, which was practiced by marginal groups, often of a neo-fascist nature. All the others were concerned by different issues: some with the languages of ideology washing away and others in a general political liberalization; the artists felt their bodies were a possible instrument for civic action and directly subversive practices.

The artists closest to the legacy of the Viennese Actionists were in the group Sect of Absolute Love—Oleg Mavromatti, Emperor VAVA, and Alena Martynova. For them the ‘shock of the present’ was expressed in harsh actions with a strong masochistic flavour. Martynova’s actions were emphatically, even aggressively, female: she worked with her body as material that can enchant and horrify. Alena turned an ordinary cosmetic procedure into a performance—she came out of the Institute for Plastic Surgery naked with her face covered in bandage to perform Dancing Deity (6 March 1996). Without referencing Orlan, she announced, ‘The Egyptian gods did not make masks but plastic surgery.’ Martynova turns everyday routines into preconditions for a radical statement. In the video Completion of a Phrase. The Technology of the Radical Gesture, Martynova shaves her pubic hair on a large screen. The text compares the procedure to laying paint onto a canvas, and asks, ‘Who can deny that shaving pubes is as much an artistic operation as painting?’

 For one of the founders of Sect, who appeared under the pseudonym Emperor VAVA (Vladimir Alexandrov) damaging his body was a medium for political expression. On 27 January 1995 at the opening of the Ice Cream—Art Festival in the course of the action Birth of a Sun Person he used a scalpel to carve MMM on his chest; that was the logo of the first financial pyramid in Russia, which for hundreds of people resulted in the loss of all their savings and led 50 people to commit suicide.

On 24 February 1996 Emperor VAVA and Oleg Mavromatti performed Minute of Silence. Live on air at the radio programme Ekho Mosvky, they first explained to their genial host what they were about to do and then pierced each other’s tongues with large needles from syringes and sat there with pierced tongues. The artists explained that this performance ‘in symbolic form told the viewer (listener) of the artist’s resistance to empty verbosity - a minute of silence is a minute of memory of the actual artistic discourse.’64 Thus the defense of freedom of speech in Russia gave way to the defense of freedom of artistic expression, for which the host on the most liberal radio station was not quite prepared.

It is important to note that in his most impressive performance, Do Not Believe Your Eyes (1 April 2000), during which Oleg Mavromatti was crucified in front of the cameras and in the presence of numerous journalists, the radical artist declared no political aims at all but said he was doing extreme research on the possibilities of the body and the boundaries of art. In the leaflet which was handed out at the action the artist explained: ‘There is only one reliable criterion (of art)—self-sacrifice and personal pain.  Which is always beyond originality / derivativeness. You still haven’t quoted pain?’65 On another occassion he declared that ‘violence and blood can’t be aims as such, they are merely the frame for the text.’ On 26 September 200, Mavromatti was crucified again, not in a public place but at the Guelman Gallery (Citizen X). Later, commenting on this action, he argued that: ‘Hermann Nitsch did his performance in a sectarian way, as therapy. My performance was the opposite of group therapy, it was an anti-catharsis, a cruel caricature of everyone who came and of myself.’66

 Almost all artists involved in extreme body practices are suspected of getting perverted pleasure from their work. Petr Pavlensky rejects those charges categorically: ‘Masochism presumes that something is done for the sake of feeling pain. I understand the body differently, as material. I wanted to show that as an artist I do to my body what the state does to society. I show these processes on my body because my body is part of the big social body, a metaphor of what is happening to the social body.’67

But in this case, the distinction made by Malcolm Green in his study of Viennese Actionism is important. He stated that the Actionists identified an array of paradoxes that exist among the dualities of the ‘physical’ body and ‘social’ body. 68 Clearly that distinction refers to Mikhail Bakhtin’s opposition of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ body made in his early article, ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity.’69 Bakhtin spoke of the Other, who creates ‘the other person in a new plane of existence.’ In a certain sense, Oleg Kulik, Alexander Brener, and other Moscow radicals built such ‘outer bodies’ in the fluid and soft social reality. Anatoly Osmolovsky, who preferred working with the bodies of social micro collectives, once said, ‘The problems of corporeality are vivid, derivative byproducts of the uncontrolled production of subjectivity.’70

It should be noted that in Russian art of the 1990s, the physical body did not necessarily become a political body. Most often, the artists used their own bodies as an instrument for studying the boundaries of art. For example, appearing as a poet, Alexander Brener often turned his own body into an instrument of poetic narrative, in one case while reading his works he shot staples into his buttocks at the end of each phrase. During one of the most striking actions of the period, In the Direction of the Object, only one art ‘object’ was placed in the gallery space on Trekhprudny Lane—the body of dead drunk artist Avdei Ter-Oganyan, who thus referenced the fact that physicality taken to its logical limit turns into total irresponsibility, and the subject of art becomes an object. In this case, the open individualization of this gesture is also important—all observers of the action knew that at the moment Avdei, the ideologist and creator of a very important artist-run space, had in fact given himself up to drunkenness, the traditional vice of Russian artists.

Oleg Kulik also rarely spilled over in aggression or made interventions in the political sphere. During Pavlov’s Dog in Rotterdam, he performed a real scientific experiment on himself, spending close to two weeks in a doghouse as a dog. As his wife and co-author Ludmila Bredikhina wrote in the accompanying text, they were studying ‘the problem of the interrelation of psychic activity and physiological processes which are taking place in the cortex of the brain, […] processes taking place in the organism of a man (artist) consciously rejecting human status in order to rehabilitate the natural element in himself.’71 The analogy is rather dangerous—Ivan Pavlov, the positivist scientist of the second half of the twentieth century, killed hundreds of dogs to find proof of his theory of conditioned reflexes. There is evidence that after 1917 he experimented on children in orphanages. The result was that there is no fundamental difference between the complex nervous system of animals and humans. Naturally, such experiments are strictly forbidden now. The scientists from the university in Rotterdam who worked with Kulik and Brekhina [1] used complex sensors affixed to the man-dog’s body to determine in Oleg’s words ‘what happens when a man finds himself in conditions more usual for animals, how quickly animal qualities—agility, dexterity, acuteness of smell—return and how quickly he loses the ability to reflect.’72

Thus, one can say that even the most dangerous and shocking actionists’ experiments on their own bodies performed in 1990s were a kind of art pour l’art, the actions of artists prepared to do anything in order to find incontrovertible proof of what art is. In principle, that was what their predecessors—Chris Burden, Marina Abramovic, and others—were seeking as well. But there was a great difference. The Western artists worked in a stable and orderly social milieu, while the Russians were throwing their bodies out into the chaos of the social space. Dmitri Prigov, poet, artist, and very subtle analyst of social reality, said that the main conflict of the coming culture would be ‘the tension between discourse and its phantom corporeality.’73

Things began to change in the early 2000s.  Elena Kovylina, who had studied with Rebecca Horn in Berlin, already knew on whose work to build. But she also knew the work of her older comrades, the Moscow Actionists. Because of lack of information, they had to start from scratch in the early 1990s. Kovylina’s performance Pick Up a Girl (Moscow, 2005)74 was a radical interpretation of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece.  For this piece, viewers were asked to remove the surgical needles used by the artist to affix magazine images of pin-up girls from a glossy magazine directly onto her body, and then receive a souvenir of the event. Kovylina acted not just as a feminist speaking out against the victimization of the female body but also showed that violence in Russia continued despite the declared ‘Putin stabilization.’

Performance in the Mass Media

The early 2000s saw a quick quieting of the issue that Victor Typitsyn called, not without irony, the ‘Thermidor of Corporeality’, describing the Moscow Actionists of the 1990s.75 His definition cannot be applied to the hero of the 2000s, Petr Pavlensky. He uses his body as text and media with extreme clarity, saying ‘I use the body when I talk about the prison of the quotidian. I spoke of the threat hanging over every representative of society. It is a direct threat against everyone manifesting free will. I never said that I work in performance of body art. I work with the tools of power and I do political art.’76 On 3-15 November 1995, members of Sect of Absolute Love [2] Emperor VAVA and Oleg Mavromatti sewed up each other’s lips, but gave a rather vague explanation of their shocking actions as the need to overcome false and treacherous postmodernism. Pavlensky, on the contrary, always expresses himself clearly and to the point. During his first action on 3 July 2012, Seam, he also sewed up his lips, but gave a very clear explanation: ‘I sewed up my mouth because the trial of Pussy Riot is a demand that we shut up.’77 It is important to note that this clarity and authenticity drew attention not only of the social media and opposition press but was also in the report of the official news agency RIA Novosti.78

The public performance season in Moscow began with E. T. I. Text on the Red Square, which was not noticed much by either passersby or the police guarding the Red Square. In fact, the actual performance began with the publication of a small article in the popular newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, which meant that the action continued in media space. The article was ‘pushed through’ by Grigory Gusarov, who according to Anatoly Osmolovsky was one of the members of the group. The structure of mass media in the late 1980s and early 1990s was an astonishing phenomenon. New publications appeared along a very broad spectrum—from the most lowbrow yellow papers to intellectual analytical ones. It is hard to imagine now that reporters from the equivalents of The Daily Mail and The Guardian would cover the same art actions. The story would appear on the same page with an article on giant rats in the metro and next to a review of a translation of Michel Foucault. This was a very brief period, for the yellow press had not yet developed its circle of heroes—the rock singers and film stars that are the subject of its rapt attention. On the other hand, there weren’t enough large-scale museum projects to cover for the journalists in ‘serious’ newspapers. This shaky situation existed only between 1991 and 1996. However, in that time artists, especially Oleg Kulik, had acquired a kind of pop stardom as well as great interest among the intellectual elite.

The 1990s actionists were intoxicated by being able to work in this new space. The connection between popularity and financial prosperity in a very weak market was not as obvious as it is today. That is, even manipulating the mass media was another form of art for art’s sake. However, the unlimited media presence had an obverse side. The aesthetics of the scandals that the Moscow actionists created naturally attracted the press. But in that case, any possible political message was nullified and all attention was focused almost entirely on ‘scandal’ and ‘épatage’. For example, during Oleg Kulik’s famous action at the Regina Gallery, Piglet Hands Out Presents (1992), a pig was slaughtered by real butchers. The press was full of aggressive attacks, people picketed the gallery. It would seem that it was exactly the effect which the great master of manipulation of the press aimed for. But he was deeply saddened that no one had noticed his basically political message. At that time, the Duma was discussing cancellation of the death penalty. The artist wanted to make a very important point: ‘In a state as corrupt as ours, there should be no death penalty. […] There should always be people in a society who vote against people killing people. Of course, we are all bandits and murderers, but there must be decent, good people who have pity. A few, but they must exist. If there aren’t any … I do not want to live in such society.’79 The action failed, no one heard that statement. A similar situation arose with First Glove by Alexander Brener. There was a lot of press but almost no one noticed that Brener was speaking out against the start of the war in Chechnya.80 However, there was a small victory in the field of symbolic politics. When I asked a police officer what he thought about it, he replied: ‘That madman told the truth. Maybe he saved someone’s life by saying that it was bad.’

But soon came times when success became dangerous. In 1998, Anatoly Osmolovsky invented the party Against All. In 1999 a group of his young supporters climbed up on top of the Mausoleum with that slogan. The election ballots had a choice: you could vote against all the candidates. If more than 51 percent voted against all, the elections were rescheduled and none of the parties that had run could run in the second election for parliament. The project was extremely idealistic. But, strangely, it worked. In 2004 there was a region of Russia where 65.5% voted ‘against all.’ But in 1999 the scale of protest voting was not that big, and the ‘Nongovernmental Control Commission’ responsible for the publicity was a typical artistic simulacrum—a small group of young intellectuals who used the situationist motto: ‘We are artists only as far as we are not artists. We are here to embody art in life.’ The main program of Against All was to crash Russia’s political system.’81 Moreover, it turned out that quite unexpectedly the project was corrupted by Kremlin spin-doctors, who for reasons of their own, began supporting it. On the other hand, the secret police felt that it was in danger and began putting pressure on the few members of the ‘Commission.’ As a result, Osmolovsky ceased all actionist activity, making the choice between artist and politician. Discovering that he was inside the ‘Society of the Spectacle’ described by Guy Debord, Anatoly declared the arrival of ‘nonspectacular art’. A typical example: an object called ‘Arise! Ye wretched ones who labour, Arise! Ye galley slaves of want’ would be a piece of fake parquetry, made by a carpenter to replace the real thing, rising threateningly above the floor. That was his call to reject ‘mass media appeals and indecent visibility.’82

In 2000, Oleg Mavromatti’s action led to events that put an end for a long time to political actionism in public spaces and the ability to work with the mass media. The crucified artist gave an interview to NTV and other journalists in a voice broken with pain. He performed an act of alienation, if one can use Yuri Tynyanov’s term in this case, making visible the invisible - ‘the apotheosis of cynicism of the media sphere and treating a person as useful material for spectacle,’83 as Petr Pavlensky put it. But the artist’s path into the media sphere did not stop there. A ‘group of Orthodox activists’ filed a complaint against Mavromatti, calling for his arrest for inciting religious hostility and insulting their faith, which promised up to four years of imprisonment. Most importantly, the evidence for their suit included newspaper articles about his action.

Oleg Mavromatti managed to flee to Bulgaria, and the journalistic community was left with a complicated ethical question. Their articles, often ironic but totally positive, could be used as a form of denunciation by some very grim semi-fascist groups. That is why the spokesperson for Voina, Alexei Plutser-Sarno, with a PhD in philology,84 gleefully created Bakhtinian carnivals in his blogs to completely confuse the issue. After the Mavromatti incident, journalists agreed not to reveal the names of the masked Pussy Riot members, even if they knew them well.  They kept their promise until the names of the three women arrested were disclosed. Other young women who participated in this action have retained their anonymity to this day. And then the determined Petr Pavlensky, who has never hidden his face and always acted with clarity, came on the scene.


  1. `Energiya zabluzhdeniya. Kniga o syuzhete` in V.B. Shklovskij, Izbrannoe v 2-h tomah. Vol. 2. (Moscow: Hudozhestvennaya literatura, 1983), pp. 308–636.
  2. Nikolaev, A. `Ob artivizme, provincii i politike`. Interview by Lia, Adashevskaya. Dialog iskusstv, no. 5, (2011) Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  3. С. Bishop & B. Groys, Bring the noise. Issue 16. (Tate etc., Summer 2009), pp. 30-43. Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  4. M. Foucault, Disciplinary Power and Subjection in “Power”. Ed. Steven Lukes (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986)
  5.  P. Virilio & E. R. O'Neil, Dromoscopy, or The Ecstasy of Enormities. Wide Angle 20, no. 3 (1998) pp. 11-22.
  6.  V. I. Lenin, Imperializm, kak vysshaya stadiya kapitalizma. Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 27, p. 387.
  7. V. Tupicyn, Tela nasiliya. Hudozhestvennyj zhurnal, no. 19-20 (1998). Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  8. Miziano, V. `Eto byla ejforicheskaya svoboda`. Interview by Katerina Belenkina., May 19, 2014. Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  9. N. Sneider, Body Politics. The Economist, 2016. Available at: (Accessed: 8th July 2017)
  10. E. Dyogot', `Moskovskij akcionizm: Samosoznanie bez soznaniya`. in Kräftmessen. Eine Ausstellung ost-östlicher Positionen innerhalb der westlichen Wel, Hrsg. von H.G. Oroshakoff. (Ostfildern: Cantz Verlag, 1995) pp. 295-300
  11. I. Aristarkhova, `Beyond Representation and Affiliation: Collective Action in Post-Soviet Russia` in Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945, eds. B. Stimson & G. Sholette (U of Minnesota Press, 2007) pp. 253–269
  12.  See: K. Zvezdočetov, M. Sumnina & A. Obuhova, `Muhomor. : s.n`.  (Vologda, 2010) p. 93
  13.  M. Tupitsyna & N. T. Dodge, Russian New Wave: Exhibition December 4, 1981-February 28, 1982. Contemporary Russian Art Center of America, (New York: Cremona Foundation, 1981).
  14. `E.T.I. – TEKST` (v narode – `HUJ`). Personal website of Anatoly Osmolovsky. Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  15. N. Alekseev, ZASLUZHENNYE N'YUVEJVERY RF. Inostranetz,  No. 42, November 10, 2003.
  16. M. Tupitsyn, V. Agamov-Tupitsyn & D. Morris, Anti-shows: APTART 1982-84. (London: Afterall Books in association with the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, 2017).
  17. See  N. Gur'yanova, Avangard i ideologiya. Russian Literature, LXVII-III/IV. Special issue: Russian Avant-Garde. April 1 – May 15, 2010. pp. 365-402
  18. J. Neuberger, Hooliganism: Crime, Culture, and Power in St. Petersburg, 1900-1914. (Berkeley: University of Calif. Press, 1993) ; YU.A. Tyutyunova, Russkij futurizm i cenzura. Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta. Vol.10 - Zhurnalistika, no. 2 (2001)
  19. See, for example, G. Mosquera, Meyer Schapiro, Marxist Aesthetics, and Abstract Art. Oxford Art Journal, no. 17, (1994) pp. 76–80 .
  20. A.H. Barr Jr., `Is Modern Art Communistic?` In Art in theory 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas, eds. C. Harrison, P. Wood & Blackwell Publishing. (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2014). Term ‘de-Marxization' used by Thomas Bender in T. Bender, Behind the scwnes of Abstract Expressionism. The New York Times (1984).
  21. V. Antonov, Neoficial'noe iskusstvo: razvitie, sostoyanie, perspektivy. Kontinent, no. 152 (2013)
  22. Interview by Andrei Kovalev, published in 1999 on the site of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art. The internet variant is not available.
  23. M. Ajzenberg, Zayavka na zhanr: CHto pridet na smenu akcionnomu iskusstvu., May 20, 2017. Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  24. See A. Kovalev, `”Bul'dozernaya vystavka” i voprosy formoobrazovaniya russkogo iskusstva` in A. Kovalyov, Kniga peremen: Materialy k istorii russkogo iskusstva. Vol. 1 (Moscow: Ridero, 2016) pp. 315-324
  25. O. Holmogorova, Gruppa “Gnezdo”. Dialog iskusstv, no. 3 (2008) pp. 105-109
  26. ZH. Deleuze & F. Gvattari, Kapitalizm i shizofreniya. Anti-Edip. Sokr. perevod-referat M.K. Ryklina. (Moscow, 1990)
  27. V. Tupitsyn, Pushmi-Pullyu: St Petersburg and Moscow. Third Text, vol. 16, no.1 (2002) pp. 32–33.
  28. A. Yurchak, A Parasite from Outer Space: How Sergei Kurekhin Proved That Lenin Was a Mushroom. Slavic Review vol. 70, no. 2. (2011) pp. 307–33.
  29. A. Obukhova, `Project: Majakovsky/Osmolovsky` in Catalogue of Russian-Dutch project "Exchange", special issue of ‘Segodnia’ newspaper. September, 1993.
  30. A.V. Šubin, Dissidenty, neformaly i svoboda v SSSR. (Moskva: Veče, 2008) p. 286
  31. A. Monastyrsky, `Esli b ne gruppa Vojna, sovremennoe iskusstvo bylo by zhalkoj provincial'noj kommercheskoj ebotnej!`. December 13, 2010. Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017) See also: S. Hensgen & A. Monastyrskij, Dialog o lozungah `Kollektivnyh dejstvij`. Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  32. O. Eșanu, Transition in Post-Soviet Art: “Collective Actions” Before and After 1989 (Duke University: Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, 2009) Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  33. A. Monastyrskij, Ibid
  34. `Futuristy, “muhomory”, Pavlenskij i drugie`. Artguide, October 16, 2014 Available at:  (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  35. Holmogorova, O. `Zhizn' byla sploshnym artefaktom`. Interview with Mihail, Roshal'. Website Moscow Conceptualism. Available at:  (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  36. K. Krasznahorkai, `Heightened Alert: The Underground Art Scene in the Sights of the Secret Police—Surveillance Files as a Resource for Research into Artists’ Activities in the Underground of the 1960s and 1970s` in Art beyond Borders: Artistic Exchange in Communist Europe (1945-1989) eds. J. Bazin, P. D. Glatigny & P. Piotrowski (Central European University Press, 2015) p. 125-139.
  37. Information unconfirmed, most likely originated in stories that existed among the nonconformist artists. The retelling is in a purely literary book. V. Medvedev, Aksiomy avangarda. Arest Malevicha. Vol.2 (2005) Available at:  (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  38. S. Sasse, KGB, or, the Art of Performance: Action Art or Actions Against Art?. ARTMargins Online (1999). Available at: . (Accessed: 21st August 2017)
  39. `Action — happening Barricade on Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street`. Personal website of Anatoly Osmolovsky. Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)
  40. B. Groys, Politika poetiki. (Moscow, Ad Marginem, 2013). p. 136.
  41. See C. Bishop, Artificial Hells : Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. (London; New York : Verso, 2014)
  42.  See A. Kovalev, Rossiskii aktsionizm. 1990–2000 (Moscow: World Art Museum, 2007), p. 403
  43.  See M. Gabowitsch. Protest in Putin’s Russia. (John Wiley & Sons, 2016). pp. 126-129
  44.  H. Rosenberg, Surrealism in the Streets. The New Yorker, December 28, 1968. p. 52
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  84. See E. Barry, Artist Playing Cat-and-Mouse Faces Russia’s Claws. The New York Times, January 21, 2011. Available at: (Accessed: 4th September 2017)