As was I watching the television coverage of the Nord-Ost hostage drama 1, one detail burned itself into my memory despite all of the horror of the unfolding events. This detail inscribed itself so deeply because of its stylistic oddity and its incongruity with the dramatism of the moment. Having formed a picket, a group of young people were singing a march-like song. Actually, there is nothing surprising about this per se. It isn't difficult to understand. People always like to lift their spirits with a hymn or two when that fateful hour is at hand. At the beginning of the last century, they sang that they would "renounce the world of old", that they would join their agonized brothers; then, they sang that they were "born to make their dreams come true", and later still, that they would "shake clean their feathers and join hands", that they wouldn't "be fooled by loaves of rye". In the end, they found themselves singing that they were "waiting for changes", until the changes finally came 2.
Constantin Zvezdochotov. "Revelers (Our People Abroad", tempera on canvas, 2003 (fragment)
Which bounty did these changes finally bring? What were those young people singing in front of the House of Culture [where the musical was being performed]? The text resounded as follows:
Do or die, we know we'll carry
Our piggy bank throughout the years
Never to betray, or lose it anywhere
I thought that I had misheard, that there had been some slip in speech. But the television repeated these words maniacally. This was the hymn the young people were singing. Apparantly, the contemporary puppeters felt that these words were capable of consolidating today's progressive society, as one says nowadays.
So then, everything has fallen into place. Beginning with an action of Oleg Kulik's, the pig truly has become the symbol of the past decade, which I would call the Time of the Scum-Bags.
The main hero of politics, culture, and business is the cynic who reaches his selfish goal by the most disgusting means available. More often than not at the expense of the so-called "sacrificial piggy", demonstration real and false deficiencies under the guise of natural behaviour and openess, calculated vulgarity and boorishness. In essence, this is the traditional behaviour of the bourgeois gone haywire. It is his ideal to act as he pleases, remaining completely independent from the world at large. In the final analysis, this is the ideal of a human being who has become an animal.
While the totalitarian regime was still only in the process of collapsing, this liberal-individualistic position retained some romantic degree of the freedom-loving protester's flair. But as soon the bureaucracy and the compradore bourgeoisie began to grow into one intertwined organism, as the majority of citizens grew impoverished and morally depraved, the triumph of the "abyssmal nature" described above began to seem like a dance on the volcano. The cities' streets were suddenly full of stinking bums and panhandling old ladies. People sat around in their apartments without light, heating or pay. Farmers went broke and hit the road. And the museums and libraries fell victim to disrepair and plundering. Against this backdrop the "salt of the nation" masturbated on cathedral ruins, voraciously bit the thighs of little ladies, immersed itself in psychadelic delirium and stuffed its faces at various presentations. Our spiritual wheelers and dealers jumped to any fart from the West as if it were a command. Trying to impress their instructors, they threw themselves into endless searches for the impermissible, which had next to nothing to do with the reality that surrounded them. However, they hit upon a great deal of support from the gorged "new Russians", who were always out looking for something spicy to help them to digest their fatty soups. Economic marketeers and intellectual speculators recognized their innate kinship and turned into a "road gang", as poker players like to call those who play into one another's hands. The former fed the latter with scraps from their table, while the latter PR-ed the former in exchange. Since they were selling their selfish interests as "universal human values", they did all they could to infect the country with the virus of globalization in its most odious form. With a wince, one inevitably remembers an old KGB saying: "Today he'll be playing in a Dixie-band; tomorrow, he'll betray our Fatherland" 3...
It is only natural that the younger generation of authors is disoriented. The present conditions have engendered entire ranks of young pioneers, conformists and poorly educated careerists, chasings their grants and stipends. In terms of methodology, they see art as a strategy, a way of attaining social prestige, and not as a form of spirituality or a path to liberation, which was characteristic of their predecessors. In terms of form, their activity is more like something between show-business and design.
And of course, this kind of creativity stands no chance of opposing the dictatorship of global liberalism's iron fist (read, cultural imperialism). Instead, it is a part of its structure and its dramaturgy. It obviously follows that the process of routinization and ossification of this craziness is not over yet. But once this process comes to a close, I am sure that a new generation of hooligans will arise in order to stand up against this craziness, even if we have to wait another decade for this to happen. Needless to say, it would be naive to think that – in ten years time – the appearance of a few new novels or a group of artists might be capable of transforming the social or spiritual face of the world.
Creativity has never won a battle; it has always won the war. My own experience tells me the following: aside from the ordinary methods of affecting society that any form of cerebral activity will offer, creativity also has a magical, supernatural force. Something like prophecy or witchcraft. As strange as it may seem, even the craziest, authorial phantasies come true somethings. Take, for an example, Thomas More's "Utopia" or the novels of Vasily Askenov.
In my view, the USSR fell victim to this kind of magic, as did New York on the 11th of September. This is why one of the author's main problems will always be his answerability, his self-control of his own behavior and his work, knowing full well that they possess such magical strength. Today, as never before, he needs to lie down in the Procrustean bed of a censorship imposed by none other than himself.
The artist must oppose irresponsible plutocracy with conscience. He must set his old fashioned morals against amorality and cynical pragmatism, compassion and goodness against the social machine's inhumanity, seriousness and chastisty against the shameless laughter of mass culture's mug, belief against disbelief in the end. We need to become sentimental romantics all over again.
As we sober gradually, the old maxims like "don't live by lies" and "do not congregate with the impious" take on a new meaning.
As under the Soviets, those of us who still want to preserve the artist or the human being within need to renounce any participation in the processes that society will burden us with. We aren't simply talking about our domestic issues, but about the entire world order. Ignoring this is essential to our lives. As barbaric as it sounds, there is a tactical need for self-isolation.
So don't scan the TV screen or the pages of a magazine; don't go running after grants, stipends and exhibitions space. Instead, you should look for new pastures, creating parallel structures for self-realization.
The time of fanfares and drums is over. The time has come to talk quietly with loved ones, friends and with the passerby.
1 In October 2002, a group of Chechen fighters took the Dubrovka Theater Center hostage, threatening to blow it up if their demands were not fulfilled. After 3 days of siege, the building was stormed by Russian special forces who used great quantities to avoid further bloodshed. Tragically, more than 120 people died in the process.
2 As the reader may have guessed, these are quotes from Soviet songs. Unfortunately, their specific coloring – revolutionary struggle, Bulat Okudzhava's 1960s bard-aesthetics, and the Perestroika rock of Kino – is lost in any translation.
3 Segodnja on igraet v dzhaz, no savtro rodinu prodast.
Born in Inta in 1958. One of the leading Moscow artists. Joined the group "Mukhomor" (Toadstool) in 1978, and the group "Champions of the World" in 1986. Participated in a great many exhibitions, including the "Aperto" pavillion at Venice Biennale in 1990 and "Documenta 9" in 1992. Has written a great many manifests and critical texts.
Lives in Moscow.