Critical art in Russia: being against Putin is not enough - culture - Tagesspiegel

Critical art in Russia: being against Putin is not enough - culture - Tagesspiegel

At the symposium "Russia vs. Russia" in the Berlin art district Bethanien, the central question was whether critical art can influence the political processes in Russia. Activists are now betting on a quiet change.

The activists of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot were released in 2013. The group has since broken up. There is silence between those who wanted to continue as before, anonymously, feministly, radically. The other two, on the other hand, want to take care of prisoners' rights beyond art. Russian art circles are hotly debating what is the better strategy to make a difference in society.

Can critical art influence social and political processes in Russia? That was the central question of the two-day symposium "Russia vs. Russia", which took place at the Bethanien art district on the weekend. The curators Alexandra Goloborodko and Alexander Formozov invited around 30 artists, activists and scientists from Russia and Germany. It is predominantly the young generation of around 30 who meets here to discuss what art can and should do in Russia.

“Art in Russia mainly takes place in professional rooms. Not so many people notice what is happening there. On the other hand, contemporary art is used by the state to demonstrate the viciousness of the European value system, ”says Moscow sociologist Alexander Bikbov, deputy director of the Center for Contemporary Philosophy and Social Sciences at Lomonosov University. But it does not stop at the discourse on values. Art is increasingly becoming a case for a court in Russia, as was the case recently in Novosibirsk, where the staging of a Wagner opera was canceled due to a representation of Jesus and bare breasts.

A year after the Pussy Riot activists were arrested, the Duma passed a law against insulting religious feelings. The paragraph has been used with pleasure since then to show what belongs on the cultural agenda and what does not. Neither the audience nor the mayor were disturbed by the allegedly blasphemous representation of Jesus in the “Tannhäuser” production in Novosibirsk. The complaints of some Orthodox clergymen are enough to create a mood. Even citizens who had never seen the play moved onto the street because they thought they had been offended. Director Timofej Kuljanin and theater director Boris Mesdritsch then had to appear in court. There was no conviction, but Mesdritsch was released and the play was deleted from the game plan.

“What is new is that the dismissal of a theater director or the termination of rooms like the government-critical Theatr.doc is now accompanied by massive media campaigns. Not only the culture-loving people, but the general public should be aware that the government determines what happens culturally, ”says Bikbov. "It was handled very similarly in the late phase of the Soviet Union." Taboos are less and less tolerated in Russia, which is ensured by the Ministry of Culture, but also by the precedent obedience of those responsible in the cultural institutions. There is talk of self-censorship this weekend in Kreuzberg. "If you want to keep your job, you don't risk a complaint campaign by right-wing or Orthodox," says Bikbov.

After the Russian parliamentary elections in 2011, 100,000 people took to the streets to protest irregularities in the election. It was the first time in 20 years that so many people spoke. The population had been very passive before, which is why artist groups like Voina or Pussy Riot worked with provocation. Even in these ranks there is now a tendency to say "Calm down", explains curator Ivor Stodolsky in advance of the conference, which shows political art from Russia, Syria, Egypt, China, Latin America and Europe in joint exhibitions and a residency- Program for persecuted artists. "The mood in the Russian population is very confrontational at the moment, everyone is ready to take a position against everyone, especially with regard to the situation in Ukraine. You don't really need more aggression. ”

Arbitrary decisions and impenetrable stagings are part of everyday life in Russia. No avant-garde could imagine such an absurd theater. This is how participants of the symposium put it. It was almost impossible to get a reasonable picture of reality. Creative strategies, actually the domain of the artists, are also used by politicians. “Most parties in Russia are fake, almost like artistic projects. You create a right-wing extremist party from which rights distance themselves and thus seem to be more at the center, ”says Stodolsky.