NEW RUSSIAN MILLENNIUM
The peculiarity of the "new Russian millennium" lies in that nobody (at least here in Russia) is frightening or inducing a trauma in the political unconscious (using the term introduced by Fredric Jameson). It is clear that for Russia "the real, not the calendar" third millennium is infiltrated into a much distanced future, than for the West passing the stage of post-industrial acceleration. There also other reasons. The slow-moving indifference of the Russian society in relation to the soon to come millennium is also motivated by that here the real and the virtual matters are not separated, but are stuck together so one can hardly distinguish between them, if not simply dissolved in the virtual. Even an approximate assessment of the reality or virtuosity of an event is impossible here: what is it - a banking genius or a commercial fraud (the phenomenon of banking pyramids like "MMM")? A civil war or an OMON operation (Chechen phenomenon)? Actual art or artistic hooliganism ("Moscow actionism" phenomenon)? Etc. Russian sociality exists in the regime of endless production of illusions and falsifications. Some of them abruptly obtain a status of exaggerated monstrous reality: total financial collapse, great massacre, etc.|
Although there more than enough power structures in Russia, the real power, to my opinion, belongs to the virtual matter. The modern social landscape is as if copied from an exaggerated grotesque of some cyber-punk futurologist, like William Gibson or Bruce Sterling. The spheres of pretensions of the power are shared between multinational banking corporations, whose anonymous and unconditional power is presented by some circus figures flashing in the mass-media. Nowadays the hyper-computerization paraded by cyber-punk, became a common place in the Russian political and private life and even a theme of popular jokes (one of my best-loved: an old Jew visits a new Russian computer-market to buy a mouse pad). In Russia the virtual power does not look like an intellectual scarecrow from shiny hundred bucks worth covers for the establishment, but quietly substitutes the reality. In the new Russian millennium one can decipher two general directions. Let us try to trace this two lines approximately. The first is revealed in form of post-trauma shock appearing after a catastrophe - the collapse of the Soviet empire - and in the emerging of an original post-catastrophe identity. Though it is a approximation to call it an identity, because it presumes a cartoon-like diffuse state of any identifications (social or cultural). The notorious "new Russians" are hardly an identity, rather an imitation of some national form of the business behavior, unskilled and therefore casually criminal. The post-catastrophe identity provokes strong phantom pain from collective false reminiscence in the society - mostly about the wonderful Soviet faraway realm. The mass intoxication induced by such reminiscence is revealed in retro-conservative TV projects like "The old songs about the most important", programs of the "Autumn" channel and "Golden collection", etc. These widely ranging programs are united by one issue. In all of them popular TV show people and actors are pouring their revanchist tears about the lost Eden of the Soviet unification, inviting people to participate in the phantom mourning.
The second line is revealed in the swiftness of Russians acquiring the Western post-eschatological experience. The esthetic and technological baggage, collected by the West for the past thirty-forty years of the so-called "post-modernist paradigm", was appropriated by Russia without selection or separation during the past three-four years. An example of the most zealous copying became the western history of the end of the century, perceived as a substitution for the late history of the empire. An ironical mourning of this lost monolith is the theme of the book by Alexander Goldstein called "The Parting with Narcissus" awarded by the "Small Booker" with a characteristic subtitle "experience of mourning rhetoric". Paradoxical is that the Western history has long ago turned into a poly-variant post-history, offering private survival experiences, but not a unified recipe of climbing out of a social abyss (required for Russia).
In Russia the speed of adaptation of the new rich into the imported context is unique: for the past few years it is not only that the modern multicultural slang was introduced to the lexicon of a Russian intellectual (which is evident from the hypertext "Dictionary of the 20-th century culture" by Vadim Rudnev), but also that his/her consciousness now presents a duplicate of that of a Western intellectual. But if thirty years experience can be passed in three years there appear misinterpretations and errors. One of the examples is the "francophone feathered slang" as Alexander Goldstein ironically determined the style of Russian augurs of deconstructivism.
The crossing of these approximately drawn lines gives a birth to several signal identifying signs of the "Russian millennium". The first one is the unprincipled pragmatism, which is reflected in the utilitarian adaptation to any social roles and in the familiar, non-respectful attitude to the obtained at no charge Western experience, in its behavioral and cultural aspects. A template yappy jacket worn by a "new Russian" thug looks not as a sign of similarity, but of distinction from a young Western professional, though a Russian wears it with an unhidden boasting pathos. In the same way Russian post-modernist imitators are showing of with the slang of deconstructivism and reception aesthetics as if it is their intellectual property, turning it into a quasi-scientific dialectal language.
Unprincipled pragmatism and the absence of social stratification in the present day Russia are made a travesty by Moscow actionists (mostly by O. Kulik and A. Brenner) in the ritual of public exhibitionism, an aggressive foisting of their corporeal nakedness as a sole method of financial and public success, as a method of violent representation at the Western art-scene. The frapping nakedness of an artist symbolizes a nuclear destruction of the society, where a mercantile bluff rules, where "everyone is for himself and everybody is against everyone else". His character instead of making a tragic act out his intermediate social state, is marking and savoring it, trying to get a one time profit out of it.|
Thus, deprived of a social cocoon - clothes - the artist's body becomes a tool for a precise reading of the modern realm. Such a body is an empty surface, tabula rasa, screening the flows of phantasms, produced by mass-media and the virtual Russian power. Such model of corporeality opposes the vanguard body, described by Goldstein using examples of Tina Modotti, Greta Garbo and Robert Mapplethorp as an emptied, fleshless and spiritual body. The body of a modern artist-actionist can be called post-vanguard: unlike the vanguard one it is not emptied, but is empty from the very beginning; not fleshless, but overfilled with simulations of chaotic consciousness; not spiritual, but amateur and related to mass culture. Projecting the post-vanguard corporeality is visible at the late pictures by Malevich - in pseudo-Renaissance and intentionally faceless peasants. Now the cultivation of such corporeality in art is a method of express x-ray diagnostic for the modern Russian situation.
Another sign of the "Russian millennium" is the amateur mysticism: the system of the cultural production and consumption is overfilled with primitively interpreted forms of mystics accompanied by the programs of asceticism and self-construction. In a queer configuration of the post-Soviet esoteric realm there are mixed bioenergetics, autogenic training practice, diets and vegetarianism, dianetics with the adapted Zen interpretation, inherited by the late-coming intellegenzia of the 80-s. A national occult post-modernism.
In the present actionism, as in its strong predecessor - conceptualism - there is played the dump state of post-Soviet culture, dumping of the consciousness by unnecessary mystic ideas. A tragic farce example of such game - is the immolation of a sucking pig in the "Regina" gallery. The archaic ritual of making a sacrifice was brought down to dethroning of the rituality as such, devaluated in the nineties, when the society makes no difference as to whom to worship - God, Mafia or big board (it only wants everything to seem like true and as much blood as possible). In the modern art a substitution for the celestial and occult-mysterious and in the same a subject for esthetic exalting became everything low-rolling and priceless. For instance excrement. Brener in his actions demonstrates that excrement can well become a celestial (and authentic) object of a museum. Vladimir Sorokin in his novel "Norma" depicts in pastiche tones, how it can substitute Russian cuisine (gastronomic form of the national identity). Excrement was many times described as an archaic fetish of the post-Soviet culture; for me important is to emphasize its exhausting fetishism as such.
Finally there is the third element, which I will allow myself to call an imbecile euphoria. It is pouring out of everywhere: out of noisy TV shows, columns and headlines of prestigious newspapers for high-middle class, tabloids. It can be read in the culturological ommage to what happens, engaged with the forced by high authorities "policy of indifference". In the modern Russia the more clever is a person the more submerged is it into the simulated idiocy of euphoria. The more it is infixing the cult of keeping cool, based on consciously developed illusion, that everything is as it should be or even better. The present affected lust to life can be interpreted as the means of protection from frustration by that it can seem that everything is against the rules and upside down, while in fact everything is under control, predicted and regulated. Everything is under the forced by someone unknown above new repressive (totalitarian) aesthetics. But who invisibly establishes it? A multinational corporations of cyber-punk dreams? The Kremlin seized by elusive Chechens, as in the story by Victor Pelevin "Papakha's upon towers"? The post-modernist circus of the State Duma? Some other simulation? Its unclear, which does not make it less scary.
In the carnival political totality of a modern Russian artist I see a refraction of imbicile euphoria as a panacea from the inner terror of the repression flow, ready to pour from no one knows where. The "Animals party" established by Kulik is apart from everything serves as a manifest of the new lack of social rights. It seems that in the modern Russia a person has a right of a political vote, but this is a hyper-illusion. In fact it becomes a weak-willed playing fish in the hands of the virtual and therefore elusive power. In such a situation one only has with an imbicile euphoria to accept the forced by and its implements (TV and various media) the cult of staying cool (without resistance like an animal taken to get killed).
Of course the post-Soviet sociality has more sides, is more stereoscope like and chaotic, than it is described in my uncoordinated observations over the new Russian millennium. They rather provoke new questions than give any answers. Is the Russian millennium so unique, or is it an aberration from the inside, aberration of the unique national context, from ancient times typical for Russian historians. Isn't the Russian millennium a parody double and a cartoon copy of the Western and East European one? How correct is to emphasize the difference between the Russian and the Western in the epoch of Internet deleting geopolitical borders? And what are the prospects of the Russian art scene in conditions, when what is copied by an artist develops, mutates, gets obsolete sooner than his reflection can catch it? Since "the millennium and the century are themselves moving to the end..." - stoically smiles Joseph Brodsky.
On the eve of the millennium Russian artist looks confused and comic and is puzzled as to why there still continues his existence in the traditional role of one of the characters of art mythology (according Vadim Rudnev's dictionary "The E problem (of Existence) ... is more paradoxical now, in the end of the century than it was in it middle"). Maybe, it is the doubt of the reality of himself and of everything around will help him to find correct survival tune and to take a share of responsibility for the bizarre situation in the contemporary art, in other words for the art itself, for the "beaux art".
Born in 1969 in Leningrad. Essayist and art historian. Writes on the European philosophy and new media art; author of several poetry books. Member of the editorial board of the "Moscow Art Magazine". Lives in St.-Petersburg.