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A Generation in Flight

An exhibition in Berlin is an insight into the free and radical side of Russian art. The results may be both pleasing and shocking


Putin, Bush and Bin Laden - an ironic view of the aftermath of Sept. 11 by Russian artist Constantin Skotnikow

The painting depicts a young, good-looking businessman, holding a cell phone, and surrounded by various blonde-haired, naked, beauties. "Darling, I am still in the office" is the title of this large, bright and outspoken art work, on show at the exhibition "Davaj! – From the laboratory of Russia’s free artists" in Berlin.

The painting by artist Wladimir Dubossarskij is just one of a collection of bright, sometimes shocking, works of art on show at the exhibition. It is also a good example of a new, radical style of art which is starting to attract attention in Russia.

Frogs in fridges

Bloody limbs, wobbling buttocks, frogs in fridges – the works of art at the exhibition "Davaj" can both amuse and stun.

"In order to impress us Russians, except for the firing of a machine gun, we need strong agents," says Constantin Skotnikow, one of the exhibit's artists.

Free Russian art? Author Viktor Jerofejew calls the new Russian artists’ generation a "generation in flight".

The exhibition in Berlin comprises the works of 23 young Russian artists of this generation, the result of a joint effort by the Austrian Museum for Applied Arts and the art group Berliner Festspiele.

Their aim, says MAK-Director Peter Noever, was to show a freeze frame of Russian contempary art by inviting Russian art’s "raw material"- young artists from the remotest regions of contemporary Russia.

One of their "discoveries" was 35-year-old Arsenij Sergejew, from the Russian province town Jektarinenburg. Sergejew used to be a painter. But as paintings do not sell in Jektarinenburg, he turned instead to video installations. And as no one can live from art in Russia, he took on a job at the state centre for contemporary art as "art director" - for 100 dollars a month.

According to Sergejew, the difference between radical western art and radical Russian art lies in the "spirit" of the art works.

"Radical Russian art was always a scandal, a scandal that caused a strong echo in the press" he says. "Even today in Russia you can only depend on resonance via scandal," he says.

Personal Passions

Sergejew says his aim in art is to express personal passions, showing the things that affect him in art.

An aspect which can be found in the works of his contempories, such as Konstantin Skotnikow, who belongs to the Siberian performance group "blue noses".

One of the most jaw-dropping of his performances involves a naked image of himself, feces and children's toys. The video installation, which may disgust some but intrigue others is an attempt by Skotnikow to express the pain of his people.

"I show you pain, pain that my neighbour in his dismal flat in my house may have, but pain which he can not show. I take on this pain and show it in my art," he says.

Is this radical Russian art – pain, desolation, despair? The exhibition appears to express the opposite.

Flashing basketballs, garish polysterene models, funny installations containing toys and comic figures and paintings conceived with a bold, bright strike of the paintbrush. Tha art works seem to want to contradict the Russia as a sad, poor, grey world and calls for attention, matching the title of the exhibition: "Davaj!" – or "forward!".

One of the most amusing exhibits on show in Berlin is a film made of numerous sketches by the Siberian performance group "blue noses". Here, the performers make fun of modern art installations, such as the sketch "waste installation" which shows the actors throwing mud at a fellow artist. Or the sketch "teabag execution" which shows a member of the group complete with blue carboard nose "hanging" a row of teabags.

Christine Baumeister, one of those who travelled the country on the lookout for fresh faces in Russian art, compares the language of this kind of art with anarchy. And yes, when artist Mizin draws his self-portrait using blood drawn from his arm, and the film showing him doing this becomes more and more bloody, anarchy is definietely a word which comes to mind.

But as the Museum for Applied Art in Austria states as its motto, "it is society’s job to protect the undiscovered, the strange and the minorities."

WWW links

  • Date 18.01.2002
  • Author lb
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/1i9a
  • Date 18.01.2002
  • Author lb
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/1i9a