From Urbs Repressivum to Urbs Paranoicum

Regularities which determined the life of the Soviet society and culture separated a town -urban sphere and an art - aesthetic sphere. A city with its productive effectiveness, ideological control and normal communicational processes was regarded as a space of power incarnate, whereas art embodied very intimate experience. The city was more a structure, a meaning of sociality than its scene, and it represented the territory of constant fear (Ilya Kabakov used this topic of urban fear in his installations and texts). Social space was repressive: pictures taken into the streets could provoke ‘bulldozers’ (as happened in 1974 in a Moscow suburb when the pictures exhibited at an alternative exhibition were smashed by the bulldozers). The social sphere could not become a place for art; it was regarded as a diseased zone or an enormous leper colony. Only the sphere of private existence had space for art, this zone was built within the urban space (the most vivid example of this was ‘apt-art’, when exhibitions took place in private apartments), or in the nature, outside the city limits (this was the program of ‘Collective Actions’, whose performances took place only in natural surroundings).

In those days urban enviroment served the logic of the ideological project. It was (or pretended to be) in permanent linear development, its dynamics aimed at constant perfection, communicational, functional and visual. That´s why the main goal of this art was the creation of another, non-linear model of existence: the tradition of Moscow conceptualism created the poetics of non-communicative, non-functional and non-spectacular art. Art needed another spaceless dimension (in a famous installation by Kabakov a person flew into space with the help of a home-made catapult while on the table he left a model of the city; an object of horror and hatred). The horror is also based upon the discovery that it´s a impossible to run away from urban sociality. The acceptance of social expectations, its ideological marks and the understanding of self-participation in urbanism have become moral revelation and purification. As a result of the ideological exorcism of Eric Bulatov, agitprop images were frozen into timelessness and dissolved, in a lighted spaceless sphere. Yet at the same time the escapist art reproduced the urban structure: Kabakov´s installation or Andrei Monastirski´s performances were still sometimes structured with the same stiffness as seen in the Moscow metro or on the 1st of May parades. The spaces of Eric Bulatov´s pictures was constructed with the same impeccable logic as Stalin´s Moscow reconstruction plan. But if the rhythm of the urban environment was characterized by the tiresome and monotonous, the rhythm of the aesthetic sphere was very dynamic and exiting. Within the context of the feeble leper colony real events took place only within the art sphere. Art was much more interesting that life itself.

Nowadays the urban sphere is not structured by power and it in turn doesn´t structure power. Nowadays we don´t have a ‘power’ at all. Social life is not subordinated to the logic of the project, it is not attuned to linear development: it is situated in a permanent present. As a result the idea of escapism and the alternative project no longer make sense: there is no place to hide amongst the smoldering ruins. That is why nowadays the most valuable events do not happen in the museums or exhibition halls, which are degraded and dying and certainly not in the galleries, which don´t really exist. New art is going onto the streets, it doesn´t refer to the public, a category that collapsed together with the urban infrastructure, but to the crowd (groups such as ‘These’, ‘Nezeziudic’, ‘Without Title’). Even the borders of the aesthetic and social have disappeared: people view coups as performances and bohemians sit in the Parliament. Power´s collapse had the appearance of catastrophe giving birth to a precedent, returning the dimension of the event to society, giving elements of a big event to reality. All fragments of existing sociality are shaken up in the presence of the Big Event: each reproduces small catastrophes. The modularity of the event presumes an elimination of the aesthetic dimension: the essence of being becomes the representation of one´s excesses. Reality lacking in monotony is shaken by paranoic rhythm.

Art fused with sociality divides its structure in the presence of the big Catastrophe: if its place is among the ruins of the urban sphere, then the most appropriate form becomes scandalous. (The first example here was that of Oleg Kulik who in April 1992 cut a pig in Regina Gallery and initiated an age of a scandal in art.) There is noting superficial in this action, it is the only chance to discover the essence of a ‘crazy being’. The strategy of overcoming sociality or internal purification is no longer actual: if it´s impossible to run society we can only overrun it. Only by producing something more valuable than the Big Event, it is possible to overcome the desire to produce such events. That´s why the idea of the reduction of visual perception was unreal: catastrophes are always within the realm of sight. This was known even in Neron´s time (what could be more richly visual than the live leopards of Anatoli Osmolovski in the Regina gallery). The refusal of functionality also hasn´t been real. In a time of infrastructural disintegration the main criteria of functionality becomes personal aggression and the effectiveness of its demonstration. Here art is trying to catch privatizers, who privatize reality with the same enthusiasm as ‘new Russians’ privatize the tangible (‘reality’ is the main topic of the leading Moscow artists, from Dmitri Gutov to Anatoli Osmolovski). The possibility of communication is yet another achievement of the post-catastrophic epoch: the event cannot exist if it is not obvious to the ordinary conscious. The main task of Alexander Brener, for instance, is to give a voice to the crowd: his irrational and brutal performances try to appropriate the uterine language of the street´s many voice. The main idea behind the latest performance by Oleg Kulik is to capture a crowd´s voice, by organizing his own electoral campaign in the streets of Moscow. Obviously, it´s impossible to outdo the spectacle of the House of Parliament burning or to be more functional than the MMM share scandal, in which one part of the country was robbed and another part enriched. It´s also impossible to be more explicitly communicative than in the electoral speeches of Zchrinovski. So, art has no chance to outrun reality. Real events happen in reality. Nowadays life is much more interesting than art.

Victor Misiano