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Modern art between protest and conformism

09.05.2014 | By Bozhena Stolyarchuk

Western cultural industry is not ready to sacrifice its financial interests for the sake of expression of its disagreement with the policy of the aggressor state

Massive civil protests against corruption in Ukraine and permissiveness of authorities, willingness of hundreds of thousands of people to fight for democratic values, risking their health and even lives all this is reflected in all kinds of foreign cultural products.

The catalyst in this process were the first deaths on the Maidan in January. Within a few days after the first victims artist Alessandro Raushmann arranged a performance at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Seven people wrapped in thermal foil were laying on ice pavement for a few hours, symbolizing the victims in Kyiv. We wanted to draw public attention to the events in Ukraine, break the comfort zone, to which the EU residents are accustomed... At this moment, just a short distance away from us, people are dying for the triumph of European values. We have no right to remain indifferent, explained the author his creative vision in an interview to Deutsche Welle. Police officers, who arrived at the unsanctioned rally, did not dare to put an end to the performance out of respect for extraordinary events to which it was dedicated.

In his turn Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky and some of his colleagues decided to hold a microMaidan with burning tires and clanking iron barrels near the Church of the Savior on Blood in St. Petersburg. When the state encourages celebrations of the Day of Defender of the Fatherland [on February 23 ] , we encourage everyone to stand up to the feast of Maidan and protect their freedom! That was the ideological message of the event. Pavlensky is well known both in Russia and abroad thanks to his selfmutilating creative escapades. MicroMaidan in St. Petersburg lasted only a few minutes law enforcers quickly put the performance out.

Despite the fact that foreign artists have responded to Ukrainian events in recent months rather actively, the Western top rank cultural institutions have essentially ignored them. For example, managers of one of the worlds most important art fairs of young contemporary art Manifesta 10, which will take place in St. Petersburg this year, decided not to revise their plans because of Ukraine. Since the beginning of the year the fair has received a number of calls from members of global art community asking to make amendments in connection with the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The most radical representatives of the artistic beau monde plead for moving the Biennale from Russia to some other country. We believe that participation in cultural events in Russia at this time means legitimization and acceptance of Russian aggression against the democratic state of Ukraine. We ask all participating artists, curators, organizers and funders related to Manifesta 10 to support this petition as an act of solidarity with Ukrainian people, said artists from Dusseldorf and Amsterdam and started collection of signatures to postpone the Biennale until better times. Curators of Manifesta 10, meanwhile, responded with a short message saying it was not going to stop preparations, because it would be seen as continuation of the Cold War rhetoric. Moreover, the curator of the exhibition Kasper Knig said that he saw no need to make any amendments to the program of the event in connection with the current political events for the fears that they could conflict with the laws of Russia and prove to be petty provocations.

The special irony of the situation is that one of the main assistants to Koenig, responsible for the public program at Manifesta 10, is Joanna Warsza. She was the cocurator to Artur Żmijewski at the VII Berlin Biennale dedicated to protest, artistic form of activism actionism, which opened the doors for the activists from the acclaimed Occupy movement. Double standards in attitude to Russia did not go unnoticed: the part of European artists and curators have already announced their boycott of the event.

Managers of the main cinema and television exhibition MIPTV, which has recently taken place in Cannes, have not changed their plans because of the UkrainianRussian conflict either. Despite the protests of the participants and the public, the Cannes jury still awarded Konstantin Ernst with a Medal of Honor. The DirectorGeneral of the state First Channel, one of the mouthpieces of antiUkrainian propaganda, was awarded as a triumphant integrator of Russian television into the world industry. Both examples go to show how the unwillingness of representatives of Western cultural industry to sacrifice their financial interests in order to express disagreement with the policy of the aggressor state. Therefore, protests among people of arts, for the most part, remain a personal matter.

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