Выпуск: №3 2014

Рубрика: Case Studies

The Formation of the Language of Political Art of the ‘90s: Towards the Question of Discursive Responsibility

The Formation of the Language of Political Art of the ‘90s:  Towards the Question of Discursive Responsibility

Alexander Brener. What David did not finish. 1995

Olga Grabovskaya Born in 1989 in Sochi. Philosopher, art historian. Lives in St. Petersburg.

The discursive conditionalism of a phenomenon inevitably entails the responsibility for its operation in the conceptual field. Besides, this responsibility carries an immediate political tinge, regardless of in which sphere this phenomenon will function. If the discussion is about the discursive formation of such a phenomenon as political art, then the political character of discursive responsibility becomes even more obvious.

Today, we observe a paradoxical situation: the existence of political art is accepted, and we even witness its upswings. However, all this appears rather mystically—as a magical apparition from nowhere. The political and social crises do not fully explain these upsurges, nor do references to the generation that was successfully (or unsuccessfully) born in the time of the opportunity for direct political expression. An uncritical notion of the politicization of art as a “social reaction,” or a “political symptom,” excludes the possibility of actualizing a critical position of political art.

Thus, the definition by Anton Nikolaev, the leader of the group Bombili [also a nickname for an unofficial taxi driver] of the role of actionists of the ‘90s as the creators of an adequate language for the evaluation and reflection of surrounding reality, eliminates the political component in the discourse of Moscow actionism of the ‘90s, and assigns the role of cultural workers to actionists—all this, at the expense of an uncritical use of the concept of “political art.” Perhaps it is this view that allowed him to remark that contemporary art is more politicized, whilst this thesis is not only problematic, but obviously debatable. The development of the sphere of political art does not negate the parallel development of the sphere of art of cultural autonomy. If we wish to adequately evaluate the situation, the turn towards this paradigm for the majority of the representatives of Moscow actionism of the ‘90s cannot be ignored.

The lack of discourse about political art is not simply one of disregard or harmless reticence, but a counter-political, depoliticizing gesture of cultural autonomism. Cultural autonomy gives political art the function of reproducing the totality of culture as “secondary nature” existence (Theodor Adorno). The lack of a clearly articulated, critical discussion surrounding political art is explained not so much by the inability to react to one or another phenomenon as artistic, or in wider-scope, as cultural, but also by the fact that the reading of such phenomena always carries risk, it is always open to interpretations and it may undermine the socio-cultural status of the interpreter herself/himself.

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The Non-Governmental Control Commission. Against All Parties. 1999

No wonder that Ekaterina Degot’, Dmitry Golynko and Victor Tupitsyn are the main interpreters of Moscow actionism—being famous art critics, they distribute sociocultural roles between the critic and the artist equally. In their understanding, the former is the only authoritative and authorized interpreter of cultural reality; the latter—the exponent of social contradictions in the autonomous cultural sphere. Thus, what is denied for artists is their role as social agents leaving the bounds of an autonomous cultural sphere, and for art, the function of social and political critique leaving the bounds of representation of sociocultural and political contradictions.

The liberal paradigm of critique blocks the discursive operation of political art (in this case, of Moscow actionism) in its definition of politics, art, and their social roles, distinctly affixing and infinitely reproducing the reason for its own legitimacy. This creates a barrier not only for the formation of a productive discourse about political art—one which would be able to provide a critical dynamic of political discourse in general—but also de-actualizes actionist art practices at present.

The link between criticism and politics discovered by Kant had, during its time, signified a turn to a new dimension of the phenomenon of revolution and the understanding of the political. The Marxist return to the Kantian understanding of the political (and the denial of a Hegelian contemplative political model), in its peculiar radicalizing understanding, allows to understand politics as a critical strategy aimed at the struggle with dominant discourse.

This approach allows to discuss political art not simply as a supplier of utopian values for society, but also as an instrument of real political transformation, and to examine the artistic gesture as directly political.

Moreover, such a definition expands the critical toolbox (masturbation can also become an articulated critical gesture), since a political gesture is understood not as a formulation of a claim or demand, but as a violation of communication in the homogenous field of dominant discourse. In the end, the effect of a political gesture does not directly depend on the sphere in which it is performed (whether it is the professional-political or cultural sphere): the violation of the communicative function of political expression can happen as much in a political forum, as in a museum.

On the level of poetics, this paradigm allows the possibility to single out certain artistic techniques in political art (Moscow actionism of the 1990s), functioning as critical strategies.


Expropriation of Public Space

In Moscow actionism, the strategy of work with space is formed as much at the level of criticism of political expression, as at the level of criticism of existing artistic forms that use space as an element of expression.

The predecessors to the actionists of the 1990s, the group Kollektivnie Deystviya [“Collective Actions,” henceforward KD], conducts a series of actions in the snowy fields of Moscow suburbs in the second half of the 1970s. The appeal to the ontological conceptualization in KD’s poetics, evidently demonstrates the connection between discursive strategies of the autonomization of culture and the strategy of hegemony of political power. In the theory of performative utterances, John Austin revealed a direct correlation between the ontological status of power and the mechanism of meaning creation, where the criteria of force replaces the criteria of truth (an unsuccessful performative is weak), and the definition of success can only be ascertained post factum, and has resemblance to legal procedure. Much like truth in constative acts, a right, ensured through the correspondence between the social, cultural and economic position, carries regulatory and authoritative ontological traits in a performative act. The connection of an existential quantifier with a universal quantifier[1] regulates the function of its criteria for success, returning it to the field of Truth and Law.

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The Non-Governmental Control Commission.
Barricade on Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street. 1998

Prescriptions and instructions included in KD’s actions imitate speech acts modeled on performatives that Austin termed “explicit.” Participants obediently carry out a clear set of instructions that prescribe certain actions to certain individuals, implementing all the conditions for success as an ontological category. Meanwhile, the performative in political art (Moscow actionism) severs the process of communication as a transmission of a code correlated with the concepts of truth, rights and power. Instead of polysemy as contended by Austin, what transpires here is a process of dissemination (in agreement with the interpretation of the performative in Jacques Derrida’s work).

The passage from snowy suburban Moscow fields to the city streets in the actions of Moscow actionists correlates with the passage from the space of the void to the space of social contradictions.

In contrast to Moscow conceptualism, the critique of representation in Moscow actionism is not directed to the expansion of the sphere of art, but quite on the contrary, it coincides with a critique of power and possesses transformative potential. The goal of the actions is the severance of the communicative function of protest as public expression (in a situation of the totality of dominant discourse and an orientation of neoliberal society towards consensus, this function comes under control of the dominant class).

The political slogan as a form of public expression represents in itself a clear statement of social demands in a succinct and concise formula. Including poetic speech in these slogans, Parisian students of ‘68 took a step towards the aesthetization and development of a spectacular form of protest. The ironic, frequently absurd use of the slogan turned into a reduction of what usually purports to be the expression of class interest. In the action “Barricade on the Bolshaya Nikitskaya” in May 1998, the “Non-governmental Control Commission,” [“Vnepravitelstvennaya kontrol’naya komissiya” , henceforth VKK] develops this aspect of the critique of political expression in untranslated French slogans, narrowing the form of protest to the refusal of articulating demands as a condition for the success of communication. In the action “E.T.I.-tekst,” of “Dvizheniya E.T.I.” [E.T.I.-text of E.T.I. Movements; E.T.I.: “Expropriation of the Territory of Art”), the political slogan was altogether reduced to one single, minimally semantic word (the word, huy [literally, “prick,” semantically, “fuck”]).

In the framework of the project “Election campaign ‘Against All Parties’,” [Predvibornaya Kampaniya ‘Protiv Vseh Partiy’] carried out by the VKK group together with the journal Radek, traditional political propaganda and the situationist seizure of urban spaces were combined in a series of actions: pummeling the State Duma with cans of paint, hanging of the slogan Protiv vseh partiy [“Against all parties”] on the V.I. Lenin Mausoleum, etc. The programme of the project was asserted by the authors as a campaign aimed at the “critique of political representation.” The protest against pseudo-communication and homogeneity of the informational field came to fruition through a critique of elections as the main principle of representative democracy. Guy Débord’s anarachist views reworked by Foucault and Deleuze, allowed politically-, and cultuor-critically-, oriented artists, to fuse the political and the artistic gesture in the critique of the mechanism of representative government.

In Aleksandr Brener’s action “The first glove” [“Pervaya perchatka”] (a protest against military actions in Chechnya), the artist, as well as the group VKK, used public space for political expression. Sparring, as a fundamental refusal to enter into a dialogue, signified the critique of the kind of understanding of political expression in public space that presumes clarity of demands, geared to a consensus with power.



The success of the “E.T.I.-tekst” action is based on the obvious effect of collision between the sacral and the taboo. At the base of this effect lies the device of profanation, implementing the meaning of the sacral in political discourse.

Giorgio Agamben defines profanation as a return of a thing from the sacral or religious sphere, to the sphere of shared human use. Augmenting the interpretation of the concept, Agamben distinguishes it from such a repressive form as secularization. In contrast to the latter, profanation implements and casts doubt on the boundary between divine and human, sacral and profane, opening up the possibility of its specific repetitive use.

If we are to consider capitalism as a quasi-religion, profanation acquires actual political potential. The fetishization of consumer goods, the cult of the “invisible hand of the market” and the “sacred right to private property,” the transformation of the idea of faith as credit to God into the miracle of financial credit – are all explicit manifestations of the capitalist religion. As a radical form of the implementation of capitalism, fetishism represents a variation of sacralization aimed at the absolutization of the boundary between the profane and the sacred, i.e. at the obviation of the possibility of profanation as such. "means without end” as Agamben names fetishized goods, presumes consumption where it is impossible to acquire the thing, and thus, to be able to really use it. The cult of reproduction of the “sacred right to private property” has, at its core, the sacral principle of inviolability of this right, which is certainly not given to everyone. All phenomena of capitalist reality, including language, are endowed with the status of a “means without an end.” Free communication is impossible in the field of the sacral, where any possibility of “critique” acquires the function of the reification of power. From this point of view, the action “E.T.I.-tekst” is a vivid example of political profanation: the space of the Red Square, representing a sacralized symbol of political power and political order as such, is subjected to critique owing to an alternative spectacular act.

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E.T.I. Movement. E.T.I.-text. 1991

The unique use of the device of profanation by Moscow actionists is made clearer by the distinction between profanation and carnivilesque sacrilege. In the work “Sacrilegious Poetry in the System of Russian Culture,” Viktor Zhivov examines the sacrilegious “dramatization of sacred texts” as a “medium for sociocultural separation”.[2]

Mechanisms described by Zhivov in the context of Russian poetry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, largely correspond with the mechanisms of the operation of Soviet nonconformist art. Sacrilegious behaviour in the latter (this primarily concerns Sots-art [Socialist art]) contrasted the “moral power” of official art. That is, in Sots-art, this juxtaposition playing out (much like carnivalesque sacrilege) a quasi-sacral component of Soviet power, was not so much directed against power itself, but against its reflection in art – in Socialist Realism. The artist in the official Soviet system was conferred the status of an ideological mouthpiece (in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the corresponding role was that of a prophet). This status was reproduced, on the one hand, through internal sacralization (in the high genres), and through external sacralization (in carnivalesque genres) on the other. The mechanism of sacrilege worked here as a method of sacralizing the independent status of the artist.

Against this backdrop, the distinctions between the poetics of sacrilege in Sots-art and conceptualism, and the poetics of profanation and actionism become quite clear. Sacrilege in Sots-art, i.e. in parodic genres, as well as in conceptualism, i.e. in sacrilegious practices at the level of high genres (dramatization of social structures, slogan texts, etc. in the works of Ilia Kabakov, Andrei Monastirskiy, Viktor Pivovarov and others), casts doubt neither on the status of the artist, nor on the status of art. Herein is an assertion of the sacrality of status, rather than any kind of political criticism in the Marxist understanding. Thus, the opponents of Dvizheniya E.T.I., the group Muhomori [“Amanitas”] that played a key role in the Moscow underground of the ‘80s, employed taboo forms to support their own undergroundness. The reproduction of structural opposition against official discourse was implemented with the aid of rituals of insults, spells and mockery. Meanwhile, in E.T.I.-tekst’s action, the same obscene lexicon is used in a public, symbolically demarcated place, disrupting the function of reproduction of its symbolic meaning.

Moscow actionists use profanation as much for the critique of political power, as for the critique of the quasi-sacral status of art in the framework of the fetishized culture of capitalism. The object of profanation in Brener’s action in the Pushkin State Gallery—where he laid out fecal matter in front of a Vincent van Gogh painting, exclaiming, “Oh, Vincent!”—was the figure of an artist transformed into an estranged sacral object by the contemporary art system. In the same way, the public space of the museum became a storage space for fetishized objects of art. Brener’s action in the Amsterdam museum Stedelek in 1997, during which he spray-painted a green dollar sign on Kazimir Malevich’s painting “Suprematism (White Cross),” carried a similar meaning, where the work of art was subject to, among other things, profanation.

Avdey Ter-Aganian’s action “Young atheist” in 1998 in the Manezh, profaned the sacralization of cheap reproductions of icons, revealing a link between the mechanisms of sacralization in religion and in capitalism. Simultaneously, the place of the action was also being profaned—the Central Exhibition Hall “Manezh”—as well as the mode of behaviour of many contemporary artists. Moreover, within the framework of the project “School of Avant-Gardism,” with the help of the device of profanation, Ter-Aganian was able to implement serial refexivity over contemporary avant-garde art (for example, the 1998 action, “Licking ass to the right people” [Lizanie zhopi nuzhnim liudiam].

In all the above-mentioned actions, above all else, the strategy of profanation of the artist’s sacral function is fulfilled. The artist as a “cultural hero,” fulfills the concept of “affirmative culture” (Herbert Marcuse’s interpretation of the concept of Kultur), called on to neutralize and sublimate social contradictions in the aesthetic sphere. As a weapon vying for the hegemony of the middle class, the aesthetic expressed in the concept of Kultur created a field open to inscription by social, economic and political contradictions in the neutral image of a “better world”.[3] Moscow actionists, continuing the Freudian-Marxist critique of the affirmative function of art, implemented it through a critique of the distribution of social functions between the artist and the critic, culture and society.



From a historical perspective, “E.T.I.-tekst’s” action is close to the Lettrist action in the Notre-Dame Cathedral in 1950, during which, one of the participants of the action dressed in a cassock, turned to the congregation with the words, “Brothers, God is dead.” The Lettrists, on their part, owe the idea of the action to Dadaist Johannes Baader, who had already addressed the congregation of the Berlin Cathedral with the proclamation that it does not give a damn for Jesus. However, in contrast to both the Lettrists and to Johannes Baader, Moscow actionists employed the medium of expression of a minimally semanticized lexical unit, turning to obscene lexicon. The strategy of provocation in the Lettrists and Baader’s actions is aimed at the creation of scandal as the articulation of an opinion contradictory to the opinion of the wider public. E.T.I.-tekst’s action is much closer to a transformational interpretation, since the communicative content is limited by provocation, which does not reckon a response or formulate a contradictory meaning that might be evaluated as a demand or a grievance.

A crucially important mode through which it is necessary to examine the strategy of provocation is the mode of the turn to participatory forms in art, already effected by the avant-gardists. In the article “The genealogy of participatory art,”[4] Boris Groys points to the fact that the history of struggle of art for recognition and support of its own autonomy is the history of the mechanism of the sacralization of the cultural sphere. Various utopian projects, which are based on the idea of unity with the public, are mainly geared at that kind of sacralization. Their essence appears as the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk.

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Oleg Kulik. I Bite America and America Bites Me. 1997

What is fundamental for a political interpretation is that interactive forms of art, per se, do not possess a critical-political potential in the Marxist sense, frequently only reaffirming the autonomous and sacral status of art. In that case, provocation and scandal represent a form of communal work, whereas the involvement of the public in the act of creation—the fusion of art and life—reproduces an archaic model of sacralization as a mechanism for supporting the viability of the ritual. The rejection of individuality and its dissolution in collectivity do not repeal the status of a cultural hero, but they do correspond with ritual sacrifice, which maintains the life of a collective body.[5] This is exactly why Aleksandr Brener postulates that discomfort and suddenness are part of indispensable attributes of provocation, and in addition, are traits of effective critical means.

One of the Moscow actionists’ most outrageous provocations became an action at an exhibit in Stockholm, as part of the international project Interpol (1996). Here, the critique of the affirmative function of art was achieved through the implementation and critique of the utopian ambitions of culture, imposing on the artist the function of a intermediary of images of social well-being. Following Philip Ursprung and his original interpretation of Viennese actionists “Art and Revolution”[6], it is possible to assert that in the Moscow actionists’ case, the meaning of their provocative actions does not entail the widening and development of artistic forms, but the demonstration of the “futility of utopian ambitions of art”.[7]


Affective Gesture

Existing critique of Moscow actionism unanimously recognizes the role of the affective gesture as Moscow actionism’s main poetic device. Even so, for example, Degot’ evaluates Brener and Kulik’s loud, aggressive attacks against various institutions as symptomatic events.[8] Such an interpretation corresponds with the role of artists as social mediators, predicated on the paradigm of cultural autonomy. Refuting the presence of critical distance between objectivity and the artists’ gestures, Degot’ examines the Moscow actionist struggle with representation and language through a conformist, rather than a protest model. Golinko adheres to the same opinion, but notes, not without moralizing, that the “language of Moscow actionism is just as corrupt and criminal as the society it describes; in it, laws of personal responsibility and reflection of an ethical action are degraded just the same”.[9]

However, from the point of view of the paradigm that examines political critique not as the positive formation of utopian meanings and neutral images of social reality, but as a strategic disruption of homogeneity of the process of meaning creation, affective gestures of Moscow actionists, quite conversely, possess a powerful critical potential that provides distance between these gestures and institutions against which the critique is levied.

In the manifest “Johnny Cash, Boris Groys, Peter Babel and the Great Spittle” Aleksandr Brener names the affective gesture of a spit as an uncertain rebellion. Uncertainty and instantaneity (or immediacy) are aimed at the elusion from inscribing utterances into the homogeneous field of meaning creation, providing an action with the function of mobility. The affective gesture in this case appears as an analogue to a personal weapon that can be used here and now, avoiding the notions of relevancy, appropriateness or legality. This portable medium of critique corresponds well to the idea of revolution of the everyday life as a consequent development of the "political" through practice that eliminates boundaries of its own legitimacy, whether these are boundaries in the professional or discursive sense.

In an action as a critical and political statement through the reduction of the creative strategy to the strategy of using the affective gesture, the artists realize, among other things, the function of auto-critique of a cultural hero figure.

In the work, “Capitalism and Schizophrenia,” Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari see the ideal subject of political practice as exactly a subject constantly slipping away from self-identification or subjectification. Developing this thesis, Jacques Rancière also underlines the revolutionary potential of subjects that do not allow identification themselves, because they are excluded from the process of communication and consensus of contemporary Western society. Aleksandr Brener uses the image of an artist of the third world precisely as an image of a subject without self-identification.[10] From the point of view of the effectiveness of a political gesture, the exploitation of the figure of a “Russian artist” is not an attempt to address the “nationalist discourse” as a means of self-definition, as Degot’ and other liberal critics assert. This discourse has nothing in common with Brener’s discourse, who was neither accepted, nor did he aim to enter into, any kind of community. On the contrary, the vast majority of his actions were geared against artistic institutions and the main mechanisms of their operation.

In the text “Discourse and Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia,”[11] Michel Foucault turns to the figure of a parrhesiast for the implementation of political practice in the rhetorical perspective. Analyzing the concept of parrhesia in its connection to the concept of sincerity, he notes that “in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what [(s)]he says is his[/her] own opinion. And [(s)]he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what [(s)]he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiaste uses the most direct words and forms of expression [(s)]he can find”.[12] The most curious thing in this analysis is that parrhesia as sincerity is not linked with truth, but rather, namely with critique: “Thus, the function of parrhesia is not to demonstrate the truth to someone else, but [...] criticism: criticism of the interlocutor or of the speaker himself[/herself]”.[13] What is fundamental for Foucault is the ability to approach parrhesia as a political, critical practice. Aleksey Penzin, in the article “In defense of ‘coarse thought’” [V zashitu ‘gruboy misli’][14] interprets the practice of parrhesia in political critique as an effective usage of unreflexive, expressive forms of expression, emancipated from narrow aesthetic criteria.[15] From a similar perspective, the concept of parrhesia allows to interpret the prevalence of absolutizing epithets in the rhetoric of Moscow actionists precisely as a specific critical strategy in political discourse.

Furthermore, Moscow actionists use the affective gesture as a mechanism of literalness, which fulfills its claim to immediacy and rhetorical “bareness.” Indirect expression of emotions with the help of phraseologisms and utterances is transferred to the level of their literal reproduction, as in, for example, in Aleksandr Brener’s 1994 action where he masturbated on the diving board of the swimming pool “Moskva,” or in Ter-Oganian’s action, “Licking ass to the right people.”



In a certain sense, in reducing the sign to the body, Moscow actionists implemented avant-garde tendencies of the critique of representation, at the basis of which lay the ambition to deconstruct language, to reduce it to sound, material or trash, thus overcoming the divide between the signifier and the signified.

Whereas conceptualists use the body for analytical goals investigating relations between the subject and object of art, constitutive conditions of perception, mechanisms of visuality, conditions of seeing a work of art, etc., Moscow actionists act precisely in the register of political critique; that is, in the register of a disruption of homogeneity that designates discourse as hegemonic.

It is known that the Zurich Dadaists’ critique of representation and “repressive” forms of expression was combined with the same critique of society and politics. The critique of homogeneity and of the totality of imagery were strengthened by the critique of the “unity of consciousness”,[16] carried out by the Viennese psychoanalyst and Sigmund Freud’s student, anarchist and Dada sympathizer, Otto Gross.

In the action “E.T.I.-tekst,” as well as in conceptual art, the body is used as a material of outgiving. However, in addition to this, the model of a lie-in protest that uses the body of the protester as an instrument of political critique is also reproduced in the action. This protest as a form of disobedience presumes, primarily, the resistance against bodily control.

In contrast to body-art, which turned the cultural critique of Viennese actionists into a form of art reaching catharsis through bodily practices of the artist (Marina Abramovic works in that same vein, for example), exhibitionist actions of Moscow actionists use a naked body as one of the most powerful spectacular forms of the refusal of communication. Without limiting the use of the body as solely artistic material, they use it for political critique of the opposition of public and private itself, which specifies the distribution of meanings in political discourse. Thus, bodily actions in Moscow actionism are not directed to a shift of a boundary, but to its problematization.

In actions critiquing institutions of contemporary art, the anti-communicative function of a naked body was perhaps implemented in the most obvious way. Failure and insignificance demonstrated by actionists-artists, does not correspond with the claim to the role of a hero, which provides a social niche to the art critic  as a producer of cultural meanings. The literal denial of this role is implemented in bodily actions. The body of the artist as a place of collision between the public and private is brought out by the actionists from its utopian prospects into the practice of the transformation of political discourse.

Brener’s action “What David did not complete” on the place of a dismantled monument to Dzerzhinsky on the Lubianskaya Square in 1995, had, as its most obvious goal, precisely the critique of the model of neoliberal power. Brener yelled under the windows of the FSB [Federal Security Service] that he was the “new business manager,” announcing a new mechanism of administration and control; however, he did it in the most ridiculous and ineffective fashion, clearly without the intention of being heard.



Among other things, bodily actions perform the function of social transgression and the overcoming of cultural taboos. During the twentieth century, the synthesis of Marxism and Freudianism gave rise to a number of theories on the liberation of corporeality and sexuality.

George Bataille, touching on the importance of the “sacral” as a sphere maintaining contradictions between the low and the high, clean and dirty, etc., in the political sense, defines social structure built on the exclusion of the “low” as fundamentally repressive. Essential internal fragmentation and inconsistency of a person need not be overcome, but rather, exacerbated in one’s own revolutionary potential. The behaviour of an artist-actionist who uses the image of a pervert as a critical device is quite consistent with this idea.

Liberal critique accentuates this side of actionist poetics with particular force—the strategic use of the image of a pervert, pariah and outcast. Degot’, drawing a culturological parallel between two actionisms—Viennese and Moscow—through the theme of crisis[17], sees the treatment of transgression as, once again, a conformist gesture, as a desire to secure the artist’s status of being misunderstood, in the frustrating situation of a lack of self-identity. This desire, it seems, is evaluated by the author as the sole mechanism for an artist to accomplish her or his sociocultural function.

However, the displacement of the figure of an artist-hero by the artist-pervert at the expense of critique of the estrangement of a subject through the system of cultural prohibitions creates a radically critical distantiated political strategy in Moscow actionism. Developing Bataille’s ideas concerning the role of political transgression, in her article, “Unemployed negativity: the experience of political ontology of art”[18], Oksana Timofeeva proposes the figure of an unemployed artist-outcast, as opposed to the figure of the artist-hero reproducing sovereign power in the autonomy of culture. According to Timofeeva, a marginalized artist, persisting on her or his declassed existence, resists the finalization of the work of totality. This thesis does not only provide the political potential of the strategy of transgression, but asserts it as a criteria of political critique.

The action of inverting and colliding the sacral and the profane in Oleg Mavromatti’s “Do not trust eyes,” provoked authorities to initiate criminal proceedings according to Article 282 of the criminal code (“The incitement of national, racial and religious hatred”). The role of a blasphemer reserved for the artist, deprives him or her of a possibility of the positive establishment of meaning. Violence from Mavromatti’s side—addressed, according to expert conclusions, to “all the Christians”—critically reproduces the mechanism of authoritative tabooing through the rhetoric of impossibility, illegitimacy, abnormality and unequivocal inconceivability of such an action in the existing system of meaning creation. The same thing concerns Aleksandr Brener’s action of masturbating on a diving board of the swimming pool “Moskva.”

St. Petersburg, 2013


  1. ^ “Our formulation of this rule contains two words ‘exist’ and ‘accepted’ but we may reasonably ask whether there can be any sense to ‘exist’ except ‘to be accepted’, and whether ‘be in (general) use’ should not be preferred to both” (Austin J. How to Do Things With Words. Glasgow: Oxford University Press, 1962. P. 26.
  2. ^ Zhivov V. Sacrilegious poetry in the system of Russian culture [Koshunstvennaya poeziya v systeme russkoy kulturi] // Investigations in history and pre-history of Russian culture. Moscow: Yaziki Slavianskoy Kulturi, 2002. P. 643.
  3. ^ Ibid.
  4. ^ Groys B. The genealogy of participatory art [Genealogiya partitsipativnogo isskustva] // KhZ, no. 67–68, 2008.
  5. ^ See: Caillois R. The Praying Mantis: From Biology to Psychoanalysis. // The Edge of Surrealism. A Roger Caillois Reader. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. P. 72–73.
  6. ^ Ursprung P. Catholic Tastes: Hurting and Healing the Body in Viennese Actionism in the 1960s // Jones A., Stephenson A. (eds.) Performing the Body/Performing the Text. New York, London: Routledge, 1999.
  7. ^  Ibid. P. 138
  8. ^ Degot’ E. Terrorist naturalism [Terroristicheskiy naturalizm]. Moscow: Ad Marginem, 1998. P. 78.
  9. ^ Golinko D. Contemporary Russian post-avantgarde: Directions, models, strategies. [Sovremenniy russkiy postavangard: Napravleniya, modeli, strategii.] PhD Dissertation in Art History, RIII RAN, 1999. P. 163.
  10. ^ See: Brener A. The artist from the third world (one hundred thousandth manifest). [Hudozhnik iz tretiego mira (stotisiachniy manifest)] // http://tapirr.narod.ru/art/b/brener/brener.htm.
  11. ^ Foucault M. Discourse and Truth: the Problematization of parrhesia // http://foucault.info/documents/parrhesia
  12. ^ Ibid. 
  13. ^ Ibid.
  14. ^ Penzin A. In defense of “coarse thought” // KhZ, no. 67–68, 2008. 
  15. ^ Ibid. P. 18. 
  16. ^ Shuman K. (ed.) Dadaism in Zurich, Berlin, Hannover and Cologne: Texts, illustrations, documents. [Dadaizm v Tsurihe, Berline, Gannovere I Kelne: Teksti, illustratsii, dokumenti] Moscow: Respublika, 2002. P. 34.
  17. ^ Degot’ E. Op. cit. P. 72.
  18. ^ Timofeeva O. Unemployed negativity: The experience of political ontology of art. [Bezrabotnaya negativnost’. Opit politicheskoy ontologii iskusstva.] // KhZ, no. 67–68, 2008.

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