|Umělec magazine 2004/4 >> Mired in Belarus - A Crow Sleeping on a Fence Defecates onto People’s Hats||List of all editions.|
Mired in Belarus - A Crow Sleeping on a Fence Defecates onto People’s HatsUmělec magazine 2004/4
Alena Boika | Belarus | en cs
During decades, a rigid ideology, which created a wide field for the artistic game, reigned over this territory. The system was there for realistic illustrations, for resistance within the permitted underground frameworks, or for manifold artistic irony. The system was habitual. When this rigid generating system disappeared, some confusion took its place: who is to fight against, who is to resist? This was a painful heritage of communism and pigpen constructors, who got used to either obey or protest however were not ready for flying free and for the possibilities, which fell upon them. The society including artist was not prepared for democracy. So, they preferred culture to art and strictly regulated order to anarchic young democracy.
Contemporary Belarusian art does not exist. Contemporary art is not possible in the country, where time not only stopped, it somehow went back. There are interesting personalities and manifestations. However there is no contemporary art as an integral phenomenon, where an equal creative dialogue is possible. It can be explained by a number of reasons. By today, civil society has failed to develop in Belarus, without which the actual art progress is not possible. In many respects, this country remains a traditional agricultural area, where the population only feels itself a community due to one of the deep-laid ethnic principles, it is no concern of mine, whatever curiously it may sound. This isolation becomes apparent on a mental level and is seen in everything including art. Everyone occupies own hillock and sits their as a frog at the time of rain signing a proud and ingenious song. The society is closed; it is suspicious and sometimes even hostile towards any outward influences. So, the first cause of contemporary Belarusian art's failure to develop is ethnic tendency to isolation often interpreted as lack of development of the nation, which is not open to the world and to each other and prefers to confusedly and proudly look out of its burrow. Actually, this national trait could not but develop in course of the last 500 years, when the territory of this country suffered constant invasions and repartitions and served as a base for military operations held by other states. Besides, development of the nation went on simultaneously with severe pressing and absorption by, first of all, Russia and Poland, when the nation's most prominent, educated, and talented representatives underwent total liquidation. For the last time, such massacre happened in 20-30s of the XX century. Then, the nation's basis and flower, language speakers, scientists, and people of culture and art, were annihilated. Only those, who could adjust themselves to the situation, hide, put on a mask, managed to survive. From here comes our permanent hide and seek game on private, national, and state levels.
The second reason, to my mind, is the absence of city culture, the culture of megapolis, and the level of urbanization, which is rather relative as the majority of city population and this chiefly concerns Minsk as a main center of art development, comes from nearby villages.
The next reason is stifling pressure of cultural heritage. Belarusian art in many respects preserved parochial and clannish structure and traditions, according to which "artistic parents", fathers, as a rule, generate and educate "artistic children." From the moment of their birth, the heirs of fathers' experience, education, and visual images develop in the artistic environment, which however stopped progressing and got covered with dust of the past. This is why they are the successors of cultural traditions and professional experience rather than of art. Besides, reviewing Belarusian specific character, one should consider the fact that those were exactly official artists, who had an access to contemporary western artistic information. They had however they could not; or in view of existing favorable circumstances, they mostly did not want to use this knowledge and visual experience of perception of contemporary art of the others. However the artists had children, who grew up industriously studying all those western magazines with foreigners' contemporary art. And when they received a possibility to do whatever they wanted, all this education in artistic environment, old images, and transformed contents of magazines, e.g. America and more, splashed out. For this territory, that was "avant-garde;" for the West, it was emotional, occasionally very bright, and occasionally very repeated a phenomenon. So, in this situation the "cook's children" (those, who were not born and educated inside the artistic environment) generated stronger and more actual art. They did not face the pressure, which the artistic children suffered, but they felt the barest necessity to fight their way through and to show themselves. They had to think faster, to act in a more daring, provocative, and talented way.
Besides, the patriarchal character of the Belarusian society, where any progress is hampered by an unquestioning prevalence of mail and the society is divided on the basis of sex, cannot be omitted. How can the artistic dialogue be possible in the environment, where most people suffer numerous gender and sexual complexes? Everyone remembers a funny statement, "We do not have sex." We do not have it as yet. Instead, we have problems of child-bearing, immoral behavior, and pornography. The society on the whole is asexual and frigid; it is not ready for excess and does not want it. The contemporary art is a luxurious excess, which can only emerge and favorably progress in the developed, opened, and liberated society. The society free from fear of others' opinions – "what people will say?"; the society, where people feel a need for exhibitions as they want to see something new and unusual and not because they must keep up and improve their social status.
And the final reason is the loss of guiding and all-generative coordinates. During decades, a rigid ideology, which created a wide field for the artistic game, reigned over this territory. The system was there for realistic illustrations, for resistance within the permitted underground frameworks, or for manifold artistic irony. The system was habitual. When this rigid generating system disappeared, some confusion took its place: who is to fight against, who is to resist? This was a painful heritage of communism and pigpen constructors, who got used to either obey or protest however were not ready for flying free and for the possibilities, which fell upon them. The society including artist was not prepared for democracy. So, they preferred culture to art and strictly regulated order to anarchic young democracy.
Still that was short and brightest and actually the only period in Belarusian art, which can be considered modern and independent; which had a good chance to come to be but unfortunately did not. It did not due to either aforementioned reasons or some other additional circumstances.
What was in the beginning
New or non-formal independent, as they called it, art undoubtedly grew from Soviet underground and exhibitions located in private flats. One of the first such exhibitions was organized in 1985 by artist Konstantin Goretsky, who 16 years of age left for Moscow to attend non-conformists' studios. The year 1985 is the beginning of rule of the most liberal USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which resulted in Soviet Union collapse and creation of newly independent states including Belarus. The time was filled with fresh wind of hope, expectations, and daring. In Belarus, then BSSR (Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic), various societies and groups began to spring up like mushrooms including in artistic environment. This situation was absolutely uncharacteristic of Belarusian art. It seemed that it would result if not in revolution in the broad sense of the word then at least in cardinal and irreversible changes in artistic environment.
In 1987, a group, FORMA, the first most interesting and most considerable artistic union was born. It was designed as an independent counterbalance to the official Union of Artists. As one of FORMA members commented, "The artists as well as at all times remained individuals, who are not eager to unite. However at that time, we had to fight and resist the artistic and party bureaucracy so that to realize ourselves. Together we were strong." The artists aimed at showing themselves through "new, unofficial projects, exhibitions, and performances." The art at that time was inseparable from the society and politics. This is why that new, young, so impetuous and sincere art was a peculiar reaction to the processes that took place and were about to happen in the society. On the other hand, that was an artistic stone at the barricades of the revolution, which almost happened.
The first exhibition of independent, non-subjected to censorship art was organized by Andrey Plesanov and took place in the House of Artists in 1987. Plesanov gave out canvas of equal size to the artists and suggested that they paint works on the subject, My Studio. He promised to exhibit all the works then. Many of the artists had been never displayed before; for them that was a possibility to show their worth. Plesanov's only term was that he would carry over all the paintings after the exhibition. In general, his role cannot be overemphasized. This was the first attempt of business in art against the background of Soviet romanticism. Pursuing his own ends, Plesanov did his utmost to help show the new Belarusian art. In the beginning, he received art works in exchange for a possibility to exhibit it someplace. Then, he came to enjoy the art process and began to produce pictures.
So, the exhibition with a great number of bright, provocative, and new for Belarus works opened. In order to avoid problems the very next day the organizers had to send a wire to Raisa Gorbacheva, Mikhail Gorbachev's wife, as the exhibition was under the threat of closure. Serious people in costumes headed by Culture Minister came and disapprovingly nodded their heads. The artists were also prone to self-censorship virus. They were not free. So, some tried to withdraw several works of that exposition saying that that was not art but a reflection of the environment, in which they grew up. Ideology seepage was so powerful that in response to a proposal to do whatever they like they created an artistic council, a restrictive and controlling organ. Thus, dissociation, selectivity, narrow-mindedness, and resistance to everything new and provocative became apparent at that time; it has reached its culmination by now.
In order to better picture that wonderful time we may recall some amusing stories.
Gennady Khatskevich, a person, who carried out a high-jacking influenced by the idea, I Want to Paris. A one of the most unbounded personalities. He was characterized as not quite sane because his idea of freedom took the form of such an explosion: the man hijacked an airliner! His son Aleksey Khatskevich, also an artist, related in an interview, "It happened in Rostov in 1987. A preparation for flight was in progress. There was no one except the crew in. I do not know how my father managed to get in. However he had a "bomb" made beforehand: he took a cake of soap and attached it to some wiring. He rushed into pilot cab and said, "We go to Paris! Or I will join the wires and we all will blow up." They tied him up and he made no resistance. While investigation went on he was in pre-detention center. Then, he was placed in Novinki (a mental hospital in Minsk)." Khatskevich finally made it to Paris but a lot later. His parting words for his son were, "Do hijack a plane. Your life will teach you a lot."
Aleksey Khatskevich, a true successor of father's ideas and is a real contemporary artistic phenomenon. Artist, merry fellow, and life-lover. He is known in Minsk and much farther as Sasha, a character of Sasha&Sirozha program, which he co-conducted with a musician Sergey Mikhalok, Lyapis Trubetskoy band, until it was banned on the territory of Belarus. The two spoke folk Russian-Belarusian language, so-called Trasianka to ironically discuss various most stirring subjects. This program continues to make people laugh at Sasha&Sirozha's jokes in Ukraine, where it is very popular. The Belarusians can only occasionally see their cartoons made with the assistance of a third person, Plato band musician Matvey Saburov.
In many respects due to a tandem with Khatskevich senior, one of few women Olga Sazykina came to contemporary Belarusian art having quitted decorative glass. Later, she made her art project having used his love-letters as material.
Igor Kashkurevich, one of attributive figures in art of 80-90s. Suffice it to remember the décor of his "manor" Efimovo, near Minsk, which was a real artistic place with sculptures in the garden, cocks made of scrap metal on the fence and the whole environment of that house. Some day he began to build what he used to call a tower. That was a huge loghouse without doors and windows. To get in one had to climb a high ladder through an attic and then, go down to a dungeon. One of the performances, which he organized there, was listening to Edith Piaf gramophone record in a cellar by the light of a candle, which certainly was impressive. There happened plenty of such things: who did not visit that place, who did not photograph it. That was in a way a cultural center, which inspired with its energy and uncommon and stirred situation. Once several artists, who felt hurt as Kashkurevich did not invite them to his performance, poured yeast into his rustic lavatory. That also was an artistic action, the aftereffects of which one can imagine. A prominent artist, who made a performance of everything. He even cut a New Year chicken with tweezers and scalpel dressed in a doctor's smock.
The only independent art gallery, The Sixth Line, which remained longer than others and had time to show many unusual projects was born due to I. Kashkurevich and his love for the first curator Alena Doroshevich. He also organized one of the most interesting actions of that gallery, ZEBAR, action of permanent creativity. There, artists could work in presence of all comers during several days.
Igor Kashkurevich was the first, who practiced the idea of bringing the art to people, "You take your painting and go to people." He just took some picture and went for a walk with it along the high streets of Minsk.
Lyudmila Rusova, a field companion of Kashkurevich, is famous as a performance-maker. Artist Lesha Zdanov was sure that Rusova was a stimulant nerve for Kashkurevich and hence, called the latter Igor Rusov. Zhdanov believed that Kashkurevich was lacking in upturn; his natural arrogance and elitism were a drag on him while hysterical character of Rusova pushed him to artistic deeds. He said that Rusova's biggest work of art was nervous stimulation of Kashkurevich. Undoubtedly, interference of these two helped both of them develop into artistic phenomena.
Aleksey Zhdanov, a poet, artist, debater, and provoker. An author of many prominent paintings and funny, biting, and honest poems. He disorganized FORMA group, when saw that searches of professionalism and profits replaced free art. FORMA group left for an exhibition in Tallinn, Estonia and back, due to Zhdanov's manifestations, returned FORMA fractions. It is most terrible that he became a subject of special attention after his passing away.
Some more words about those, who took something or someone and went for a walk. The new art had its mythology and Minsk had its mythological hero V. Lappo. He was famous for a huge puppet made to a human's full height, which he everywhere took with him. For example, he came to a café and made the puppet sit down beside him. You should know Minsk of that period, an entirely Soviet city, to imagine such a puppet in that reality!... not to mention the appearance of that couple in public places!... I never met anyone, who saw Lappo with his puppet; however all spread this story by word of mouth. Is it not a mythology?...
I was lucky after 13 years since his departure to London to read his "convulse-encephalogram" received by one artist. I cannot but cite a piece, "Shades disappear at midnight. I send an indigo ray of hope. Where are you now? For the last time we met near Minsk in Cultsport Church, (author's comment: a branch of the National Art Museum located in a catholic church in Raubichi, a small place near Minsk. The premises hosted a studio of K. Goretsky and KOMI-KON group as well as exhibitions, performances, and photo sessions of the first Belarusian body art). I found a marvelous method of convulse therapy in the Householder magazine. How is Bismarck?"
Bismarck(Vitaly Rozhkov), another mythological figure. He is famous for being one of the first, who began to work with objects. A participant and organizer of first exhibitions of avant-garde as they called it at that time.
Arthur Klinov, a modern artist famous as an editor of "pARTisan", the only Belarusian magazine about "actual art." He ably continued the object theme launched by Kashkurevich, Bismarck, and Lappo. His exhibition of catafalques was a bright event, after which he became known as an independent phenomenon.
Another able continuator was Gagarin, Vasily Pachitsky, an inventor of kinetic objects, which he calls by a strange name Yokl. These are mechanical animals, staffed animals and birds, and a cross between toy-computer, spaceship, and mixer for orange soup. I was diverted with one impromptu performance with construction foam. Everything was significant, conceptual, and enthralling until Pachitsky suddenly appeared to be glued to the floor. It seemed that it was unexpectedly for him too. As the television was to arrive to interview him, we all had to rip him off by common efforts. He did cheerful, ironical, and casual art. As any mythological hero he had his satellites who proved furiously that he was the only Belarusian artist, whose works were sold at the Sotheby's. He came from nowhere and disappeared. All my efforts to find him were to no avail.
The last outstanding phenomenon of "a strange art," according to an expression by one of "the Union of Artists painters," was Panorama exhibition in 1989. Panorama was the first national exhibition of "non-traditional art." Then, they put so funny for today's view but so lively questions such as what today's Belarusian avant-garde was, how it corresponded with the world art problems, and whether it had potential. They wanted to feel themselves included into modern artistic process, to jump out of the territory limited by politics and ideology. Great interest of the society, lines of comers, thousands of visitors and comments, heated arguments are simply not possible in today's Belarus. The exhibition united over 70 authors and numerous creative associations.
There, then already authoritative and today most prominent figures of Belarusian art Vladimir Tsesler and Sergey Voichenko exhibited their works. While the article was underway, the one of this creative union, which existed since 1979, passed away; Tsesler stayed alone. The trends, in which they work, can be called pop-art, soc-art, or op-art. Anyway these are striking and sharp works: social posters, objects, and design works. The artists' sharp object thinking, in which a game "on the basis of an object" takes place, gave a bright example of talented work at the turn of art and design.
Among the associations represented at the Panorama there were FORMA, Square, KOMI-KON, Pluraliz, Bismarck, Blo, etc. Looking at FORMA group many wanted to organize something of the kind; most of those associations lasted not long. When the very idea of creative collaboration began to degenerate and FORMA started to turn into a closed commercial structure KOMI-KON (Comical Constancy) group appeared. It was a farcical association and an absolute simulation initiated by K. Goretsky. Two young girls, high school recent graduates, were standing against the bright and strong art works. This group showed the first show of body art, which some of artists refused to look at because of embarrassment. They learned that body art was the name for that show from an article in the magazine. Here is one of amusing examples of how it all started. A person famous in Minsk, a personified social provocation ready to support any provocative artistic action Gulya Lyusikova was photographed by K. Goretsky against the Victory Monument near the pioneers saluting the Eternal Fire. The pioneers were shocked when Gulya jumped on a pedestal, embraced one of them, and suddenly threw off a raincoat, under which she wore nothing. The pale and speechless pioneer kept saluting in confusion. Such insult of the sacred place could only result in running away from the police. Later, they invented a funny greeting, "Ot nashego lobka vashemu lubku" In his saloon, In an Attic, which Goretsky organized in 1996, he covered a wall with Gulya's photos. Her parents learned about it from Abibok TV program and began to demand for satisfaction.
Body art example proved contagious: Taranovich, head of Galina group, which did not exist for long, became Erotich. The First Body Art Festival was announced in Minsk though the organizers soon felt embarrassed about it and reduced it to a show at some small theater backstage.
That was the time, when a quiet isolationism politics set in. The same way as now artists came to look at each other's exhibits during each other's absence. Those were not scandals or scuffles but quiet petty cares, in which ambitions swept over life. Overlooking is a form of Belarusian cultural relations. Internal conflicts resulted in a total division within the very artistic environment. There was no really interested person, who could become leader and not only create the phenomenon but also be ready to conduct a long creative dialogue. All group creators – Kashkurevich, Chernobrisov, Martynchik, etc. pretended to this role to a greater or lesser extent. However the situation changed rapidly. And Martynchik, FORMA official chairperson, who formerly used to impress poor and uncombed beginners as a master with his exuberant hair, Zhiguli car, white pants, and studio in Minsk downtown, began to look at young artists, who just joined the group, with a haughty astonishment, "Just look at them. Where did so many of them crawl from? And all keep writing, and all keep painting something." So, in the beginning people were in demand because mass character was important. Later, not contemporary but high-quality canvas sullying was needed.
After ideological FORMA degeneration and KOMI-KON birth, even Lesha Zdanov created a group, Crow the White (Rara Avis), in order to show the funny side of a situation, "A crow sleeping on a fence defecate on people's hats." Zhdanov was the only one, who laughed until he cried. He was a clown and he made others laugh.
Each group adopted its regulations and declarations; Lesha issued a demand to create petty intrigues, boozes, and orgies, i.e. this was an anti-regulation, a parody of artistic excessive paperwork. All tried to issue a manifesto. However in the country, which used to be a casern for so many years, only regulations were possible. All tried to create something. However they were lacking in confidence, strength, and social demand except possibly in Minsk and, to a lesser extent, in Vitebsk. Meanwhile, the situation aggravated, anarchy set in, quantity of food became progressively less and less… Artists began to worry, "there is nothing to guzzle;" earning became the barest necessity; there was not time for contemporary art. That was the beginning of the end. But it was still merry time, when a game or artistic provocation was possible. Thus, a group of artists went to Poland and worked there for a long time due to one joke. At one exhibition, they put stickers with a magic word "sold" under each painting. A beginner businessman, who happened to drop in, thought about it and brought the whole group to Kudovo-Zdruevo in Poland, where fed them and bought their painting in the hope of making a successful art dealer. The artists recall the time with a smile, "Exhibition in Poland – paintings, art. And right there, side by side, artist Malishevsky sells painted T-shirts and underpants.”
However all began more and more stifled and decorous. Under the banner of Belarusian Renaissance many felt themselves national culture saviors and defenders. The lively ideas of cosmopolitism were replaced with narrow concentration on the historical past, which needed revival. They began to speak about moral decay and the necessity of spiritual rebirth. They began to accuse the artists, who used to evoke delights at the Panorama not long ago, of black pessimism and to demand "more obvious creation of affirmative ideals." A sarcastic saying began to sound, "What is your idea of living, dear creators of a new movement?" It is uncommonly though that people could seriously demand such vital answers from the artists. The art was not separated from life yet. The art was life's revolutionary, powerful, and energetic component and people did believe that the art could change the world. One only had to decide where to begin.
Again, all began to reveal enemy agents and spies everywhere. Thus, artist V. Chernobrisov took on trust that the joking interview, which he gave other artist, would be broadcast by Voice of America radio. The artists ceased to believe in buffoonery and balloons, in independent development, in deus ex machina, a miracle of fortune. Grave heritage of the Union of Artists and casernes made search for conspiracy or secret control device and resulted in inner reserve and isolation. Belief in miracle and waiting for happy day passed away along with the heat of hope. Restraint and fear of being too remarkable came into force. They returned to the principle "too much is not all right." Everyone occupied a burrow and began to do something on the sly.
What we have now
I am going to dwell on several rather chaotically selected examples of contemporary Belarusian art, which, as I have said in the very beginning, is not possible as an integral phenomenon. Fortunately, there are gifted people and groups, who allow to doubt the propriety of this categorical statement. Many of them departed, someone is no more, some try to combine creation and commerce or to meet the requirements of western foundations. I just selected several absolutely diverse examples in order to illustrate the situation.
The one of "beautiful" possibilities for Belarusian artists to realize themselves "right here and right now" is the Internet. Not all of them use it; not all of those, who do, manage to receive outstanding and convincing results. Many disparage it and are prejudiced against it.
Alexander Korablev, the brightest example of a virtual autistic artist as he calls himself. http://www.geocities.com/idiotcol A talented person with non-traditional sarcastic thinking, he regards the Internet as the only possibility to show his works and to learn viewers' reaction. In response to a question why nothing happens in real life, whether it is unwillingness or circumstances, which prevent from realization offline, he says that in his opinion it is absolutely impossible to organize anything more than a view in private flat. "From the very beginning, those were intimate, intuitive pictures, which I made for myself. It was sort of artistic diary. Sometimes, friends come to look at them and then go away. The Internet provides absolutely different perception of pictures. Author is virtual and concealed. As for real exhibitions they do not agitate anyone." Alexander does not believe anymore that alive and non-trivial exhibitions and actions are possible in Belarus. There is no demand from the society, no support from the state, no artistic company. He is dreaming of a sponsor, who would pay for 12-year hosting, "I will not stand longer." He believes that the best variant for the closed Minsk environment development could be an independent art magazine, in which "any techniques and subjects with a lot of pictures will be possible." A quotation from Live Journal (http://www.livejournal.com/users/idiotcol), "…by night I have glaring, long dreams with many characters and events, full of sex, flights, murders, and aggression. By day, with my tongue hanging out I earn my living. It is not life, it is post-Soviet Gothic…<…> poor, sick, and hungry from the morning, I spread my wings in clouds over the fucking emptiness. A little lower, silly muse, my workmate, hovers. And only wailing of the wind is in my cold bruised ears. We will triumph."
The second example is rather opposite. Here, the authors went to the wide expense from the closed chamber space resulting from their profession. Bastalia group was long known as a restorers' group. Their artistic jokes, actions, and "home" exhibitions, which they conducted in their studio, were "widely known within the narrow circle of admirers, mostly professionals." By the way, their studio is located in the building, which the artists called Bastille because all dreamed of having a studio in Bastille and struggle for it never stopped. Group member Igor Knysh commented, "Bastalia is not a building. This is a country; these are people, who are dispersed everywhere." Today, this group, which works on art projects beside its main restoration activities, includes five members. Bastalia artists do not regard themselves as conceptualists however everything they do has its deep underlying theme, idea, correlation, and conception. This is a sort of Masonic lodge in Belarusian artistic environment. They even have own language, Yiddish, which they do not constantly practice but learn it during many years. They believe that Yiddish is "a guarantor of Belarusian way of living." The group began to learn this language under the direction of Oleg Khadyko (head), when it was not possible to find at least Yiddish alphabet in Belarus. (In XVIII-XIX centuries, the Jewish pale passed through the territory of Belarus. This is why by the end of XIX century, 60 per cent of the population of Belarus (90 per cent in some places) were Jews).
An exhibition, Round Number, which struck the Minsk public with its multi-layer and polysemantic images and utmost richness of showroom's every centimeter, took place in November 2003. It was dedicated to "ancestors in art" (In November, Belarusians traditionally commemorate Dzyady or Remembrance Day). In 2003, they celebrated 96 years since a turning-point in XX century art, an appearance of famous The Maids of Avignon by Pablo Picasso at the Paris Salon Exhibition in 1907. Others celebrating their jubilee were Velasquez, Vermeer, Giorgione, Durer… The number 96 was not a random selection. According to the artists, it is much rounder than 100 or 50. Anna Fabristova, who was 96 year old, opened the exhibition. She was presented with 96 chrysanthemums. Among the works there were several family portraits though not usual but playing ones, in which not a single detail was casual and everything was symbolic. The authors always look for something to build the whole work on. In one case it was a surname Trofimovich. God Trofim is a breadwinner, an educator. This is why he has a basket full of fruit. Among the fruit a cabbage is visible. The mistress of the house grows a wide variety of cabbage. Besides, the cabbage is a symbol of money and wealth. According to Belarusian tradition, children are found in cabbage beds, and a girl was recently born in this family. The work was painted on fabric, which repeats the wallpaper pattern. It is deliberately shown in some places, e.g. woman's hair. The family is very much satisfied with their portrait, with which they can amuse and surprise their guests.
At presence, the group is preparing their next exhibition, Square Number. Igor Knysh works on his project, Stakhanov's Idyll, a series of drawings on bricks. Stakhanov is a quiet Minsk street located in Tractor Plant area. There are small romantic houses built by captive Germans and big old trees, which are being cruelly cut down today. Feeling the epoch leaving the artist began to draw the street, where he grew up. Later, he found the form – bricks. The project title is a symbolic usage of Biedermeier's Idyll with his Christmas pictures made on glazed tiles, which he drew on holidays every year for his dead children.
Thus, Bastalia group practices archeology and restoration in the broad sense of the word, i.e. digging out half-forgotten and half-deleted fragments of history, either these are words, facts, plans, projects, or pictures… Modern interpretation of these finds brings the artists from a narrow restoration space to a new and higher standard and turns them into a unique socio-cultural phenomenon.
Belarusian Climate (BK), a group, which is interested for its diversity and the fact that it did not break apart as most artistic associations but transformed into several projects. Its story began in 1985, when the artists covered the area in front of the Minsk Art Palace with ornamental patterns, flowers, and Virgin Mary drawn with wax pencils. Their real work began in the Basement, a cult place in the end of 80s in photographic studio Minsk located under the public lavatory in front of the Art Palace. There, due to Irina and Ivan Sukhy, Belarusian Climate was established. Initially, they meant to create a rock band under this name; later, they united it with photography and the group was called a rock-and-photo association. In 1987, they began their first exhibitions with concerts, where a special composition-presentation was written for every work. One of their first performances was The Discreet Charm of the Proletariat. They organized an exhibition, Under the Bridge, with photos hung on trees in the Minsk Gorky Park. Later, a concert of the same name was conducted. Some photos remained on trees for half a year; their traces were visible after five year.
Naturally, they wrote a manifesto (author: Evgeny Yunov) about leaving the basement for a green lawn, which ended with a line, "…in order to smashed the cameras on your heads." The manifesto was treated very seriously during two months and then, it was forgotten. Performances were difficult to conduct due to constant bans and limitations of places allowed for shows. So, they began to make photo performances, i.e. performances for the camera. Slides are the most abrupt technologies; they are very cheap, made of material at hand. For example, they put postage stamps on an adhesive tape, then, pulled them away and projected a thick and hairy layer remained on the tape via a projector apparatus. Sometimes, they wetted the tape, warmed it and received absolutely different picture of a different color and texture. Phillip Chmyr, one of BK members and now a musician of Drum Ecstasy band, which grew from BK, recalled how they used an exhibition space of 17x25 meters. In the center, they threw up sand square and encircled it with shields. The shields' sides covered with photos were turned inside this square. When a visitor came inside he was alone with all the images, which were looking at him from everywhere. They projected slides without a break; slides projected on walls from ceiling to floor; all in all 320 slides. As Philip said, "two buckets of slides."
One more exhibition project, which, as well as the previous one, was impossible to implement in Belarus due to technical and other material limitations, involved aforementioned Khatson (Aleksey Khatskevich), A. Savitsky, and BK. Due to some reason, an initially planned construction with swaying flags did not work. So, they simply covered the floor with those flags. The floor frightened visitors by its constant stir – several ventilators were hidden under flags. People cautiously walked along the edges looking at the photos on the walls. Occasionally the light went off and the swaying floor shined with ornaments made with phosphorescent pens. Simultaneous, Drum Ecstasy played its drum symphony and hanging on strings cellophane packets filled with water swung back and forth.
Just as the previous group they also cannot stand the word "conceptualism" and say that they did all that because it was funny, interesting, and very unusual. They just wanted to do it. It was a need, which they had to satisfy. Now, Drum Ecstasy, plays its music in Minsk and other clubs sometimes far from Belarus (I met Philip on a way to the World Forum of Cultures in Barcelona). Others are not that successful. They say that in Belarus there is no place for photos and pictures – no interest, no financing, and no space. Nevertheless, some events occasionally take place. On December 10, members of former BK Dmitry Plaks and Igor Korzun (Mitek) opened a project at the Contemporary Fine Arts Museum due to support of the Swedish Embassy and cheap fax paper. It remains only to hope that Belarusian climate will at least occasionally please with its anomalous warming in such exotic and rare Belarusian art.
When asked about Belarusian performance I always feel some doubts – what I can say about it. There are two opposite opinions. First, this trend is very well developed in Belarus and especially progressed during last five years. This is the opinions of people, who either work in this field or know about Belarusian performance due to http://navinki.smufsa.nu website. The opposite opinion belongs to those, who are convinced that there is no performance in today's Belarus and if it ever existed than it passed long ago. No wonder. For example, I learned about Navinki Performance Festival, which took place in September 2004, by chance. There were no ads, no information, and the very action, at least its biggest part, was moved out of the city. Among famous Belarusian performance-makers are Rusova, Petrov, and many others. I would like to dwell on the two, who differ from others.
Ales Pushkin, to my mind a really Belarusian in his essence, manifestations, and images performance-maker. Sometimes he is regarded as too much "nationalistic" provoker with a political implication or a person lacking in esthetics. His main virtue is that his works are not imitation of western models. They are the product of his own experience of reality perception and interpretation. One of the most famous and scandalous performances, which earned him public recognition, took place on July 21, 1999, the day, when first Belarusian president's legal authority expired. At noon, Pushkin came to presidential residence wearing national embroidered shirt and white gloves with a wheelbarrow full of manure. Above he put a portrait of president Lukashenko, new banknotes issued during his being in office, reestablished symbols of Soviet Byelorussia, and chains. He dumped this all out in front of the president's palace and pierced the portrait with a pitchfork. The action is remembered and discussed until now. Nikolai Pogranovsky, a person well-known in the Minsk artistic environment, ex-curator of the National Art Museum (with his help many young artists could bring their works to the west), now, a curator of ONIK art gallery, related an amusing story. When a radio program Culture, which Pogranovsky leads, was on the air, he received a phone call from someone, who had called him many times before under different phony names. The person asked two questions, "Do you think that it was a political action? Was it contempt of president?" Pogranovsky answered that it undoubtedly was an artistic action and Pushkin in no circumstances wanted to insult president. On the contrary, being a villager, he wanted to give president the most precious and useful thing, manure, as a present. The provoker did not find the right answer to say; the question was settled.
On September 28, 2004, Ales Pushkin's exhibition opened in Prague. The exhibition hosted his new works created during his being in the Czech capital and two films about his native village Bobr and a performance, Belarusian Presence. Belarusian Embassy representatives did not please the organizers with their visit in spite of the invitation, which they "took into consideration."
Plastic Theater InZhest is regarded here first of all as a school, which gave birth to Belarusian performance (theater performance and young enough form of contemporary art). First of all, this is Vyacheslav Inozemtsev. Theater's participants change but the most important remains. What is this important? Expressiveness, buffoonery, and game expressed in plastic and motion and emphasized by Plato band compositions organically connected with the action. Plato, Matvey Saburov and company, has long been collaborating with the theater. Among InZhest most famous production are Fir-Tree U, a theater and somewhat political action, and DK-Dance, a story of carnival, which fell down and try to get up again. As Inozetsev ironically commented, "A vivid sample of decadent art of the present."
In spite of exclusive originality of this phenomenon not so many are acquainted with Inozemtsev's theater in Belarus. No spectators, no space, no support. To show a performance they have to rent a hall and to pay taxes, which are subtracted from cost of all the seats in the hall but not from money gained from booking. So, it is no wonder that the theater is much more famous abroad. Beside aforementioned reasons one should only imagine Minsk streets, official, strict and regular, with groups of policemen at every turn. There is no place for street theaters and shows beside official open-air merrymaking. However the artistic environment does not welcomes something outstanding either. Inozemtsev recalled his return from Germany after some performances, when he came to Navinki Performance Festival organizers full of enthusiasm and offered his project. They agreed to accept it though without much delight. Later, during their show, in which beside Inozemtsev Galina Eremina took part, Festival Director Viktor Petrov tried to stop or at least cut it down saying that the Festival is under the threat of closure because of their performance. As Inozemtsev said, "He followed on my heels almost tugging at my trouser-leg saying, "Slava, stop it." It is strange though very much like Belarus that the Festival website contains no record of Inozemtsev or Galina Eremina's participation. Why?... I think because they are afraid of looking pale and boring in comparison with the really brilliant, expressive, and original manifestations.
And finally, a person, who I would like to complete this patchwork review with. In this review the events of past and present Belarusian art mixed in an attempt if not to understand how much contemporary and actual it is then at least to describe the gist of this phenomenon.
Lesha Ivanov, a young artist, who suggested author interpretation of his own work, "Streets without dwelling houses, houses without life, advertisements sending signals to the emptiness, half-decayed sheds, pathos of administrative buildings, almost ultramodern houses, forgotten and dying fragments, mold of old town, newly-erected buildings of bedroom communities, architecture behind barbed wire, Stalin epoch facades, which have turned into today's monsters… City objects are material and cause. Forbidden town – a place in Peking, where only elite was allowed in. The ban means cutting off the excess, concentrating space to the size of autonomy. It is interesting to watch what is going to get inside this space."
Successful continuator of paternal traditions, happy young man, he cleared up who would be present in the magazine beside him; he would prefer choosing a company arguing what is greater and what is lesser art. The subject of Forbidden Town, the place for elite, which he mentions interpreting his works, found its absolute reflection in his social position of "artist as a human being." It is astonishing, it is sad that in the works by this young person with a fresh view and in a seemingly new situation considering all political and social changes of the last 15-20 years you can still find a style, techniques, conceptions, and images of the past and the same models of behavior in a horde. We have come back to what we started with, what ruined FORMA and other revolutionary artistic initiatives. And now a new generation has grown up with the same principles of selectivity and readiness to say, "Keep out! This is not art!" The circuit is closed. The black hole remained, through which the black square, an eternal misfortune and grievous heritage of this land, leaked and melted.