The First Moscow Biennial of street art — ‘Plastic world has won’

A few years ago a biennial of young art took place at Art Play design factory, which, unexpectedly for me, some French street artists attended. There was one of my favorite artists among them, Zeus, notorious for his sharp image of a maniac and for his radical performance tricks. The exposition was questionable, and the Zeus’ performance was absolutely devoid of any meaning or utterance (see image to the left). It all was so inert that it even upset me. At the time, as much as nowadays, I was particularly interested in the adequate methods of street art representation. After all, when moved into a gallery or to another country not only does it lose one of its meanings, but also it becomes senseless in general. It seems to me, it all ended up with my writing a review at Ekosystem.org. But that moment became crucial for me not only in understanding of how to exhibit street art, but also in reflection on its contextual content.

Compared to previous years, the situation has changed radically in terms of interest to the street art. These days, the Department of Culture officially supports the big festivals of monumental art that decorates the facades of the buildings. There is a "museum" of street art in St. Petersburg.  Moscow runs a forum of street art that subsequently awards participants. The first Biennial of street art has opened just recently.

It all seems like a dream.

Perhaps, we are supposed to jump for joy, but actually we don’t. It also applies to public areas with pedestrian and biking paths, which have covered Moscow nowadays. It equally refers to street art previously unattractive to no one. Whereas the former fits rather well within the official framework, the latter, being a part of protest movement, should be significantly reformatted and cut off.

Moscow with its hectic tempo was set a goal in almost a Soviet manner: to have the city transformed in the five-year timeframe so that a resident or a visitor would feel themselves as if they were in ‘Europe’ and without unnecessary unrest. So a bicycle path as well as street art aren’t sequential, but serve as a political tool aimed at addressing the needs of the creative class that took an active part in protests only a couple of years ago.

The phenomenon of street art in our country reached the peak of its popularity in the recent years, largely thanks to business leaders and partly governmental organizations.

While, for example, in Egypt in 2011-2012 the rise of street art was caused by revolutionary events and outrage initiated by the state, like in France in 1960s, in our country, if one doesn’t try to make money with it, he at least creates his image and makes his career by expropriating any of these uncontrolled movements and initiatives. We have repeatedly observed it in the actions of pro-Kremlin activist groups that often repeat, scale, and discredit the informal actions and initiatives, ours included, by assigning them to themselves and by creating an image of a "democratic" state with an imitation of grass-roots communities’ activity. It can be seen in today’s "street art" dictated from above and represented by sterile abstracted from reality images.

For example, last year's festival LGZ (on Russian “Luchshiy Gorod Zemli” — "The Best City in the World"), during which around 100 facades were painted, dazzled with various abstract and comics paintings. Absolutely soulless and non-contextual objects literally weighed upon free and informal street expression which seemed even more helpless.

Street art forum that united those who mastered Moscow facades nourishes the illusion of a modern megalopolis vibrant with creativity. Although the themes were different, basically, it all reduced to granting the writers tired of waiting and previously writing on the boiler-houses and railway fences the possibility to “express” themselves officially in decorating city’s public areas.

 

And now "Biennial", a triumph of nonsense and interior design with fitting rugs, kitchenware, and paintings that would be more appropriate in a bedroom, a cupboard or above a sofa.

 

Abstract art parade or Biennial without balls

 

Recently opened street art biennial "ARTMOSSPHERE" causes a lot of raised eyebrows because of its declared status of mega-exhibition, whereas there is no nexus uniting all the artists, no concept and no curators. The Central Hall of Art Play is jam-packed with abstract and entirely safe artifacts having indirect relation to the street.

During the Biennial, we had the opportunity to show an alternative vision of street art representations. Inside the exhibit, we started working on the setting-up a joint workshop of urban interventionists, to which 6 foreign and 6 Russian artists were invited. The basic concept of the site was not to show paintings or objects that were created in the street art style, but to show the process of working on spontaneous urban interventions.

 

Intervention in our case, in the literal sense of the word means invasion. It certainly cannot happen without taking into account the local context, be it political or social. Our workshop was to give the opportunity to explore the context through shaping up a micro-community and a dialogue between artists and visitors.

"Without politics and porn" — that was the only concept and restriction from the organizers of the Biennial of street art, the art that, among other things, had arisen in the context of various revolutions and changes, mental and sexual emancipation of the late 60s. So it was only natural that our platform, with an emphasis on spontaneity, self-organization and inconsistency, threatened this short and concise "concept".

In an attempt to sand off the rough edges of our project and make it compatible with the main celebration of abstractionism, the organizers showed in every possible way their authority as if they were newly minted potentates of the Russian street art. Later we learned that many of the artists dear to us were humiliated by the organizers, while others were hardly treated. It makes no sense to go into the details of organization and conflicts, but we were not going to tolerate such authoritarianism, thus we came out of the slender parade column of joyful and restful to the eyes "art".

Despite the fact that we think much of the development of street art in Russia, we do not regret the missed opportunity. After all, street art has nothing to do with this show, and the prefix "street art" here serves only as a way to promote themselves, and nothing more.

There was an only work appearing there, as if by chance, that reported the true state of affairs. Thanks, Pasha.

 

Pasha 183. Plastic world has won

 

Afterword

It’s true that nowadays no one wants to deal with Russia, and the Russians are perceived differently in the West, while in our country there is a host of absurd laws and social problems as much as, in fact, in any other country.

It’s true that we exist only thanks to oil that is about to be exhausted and that is not at the bottom of the list of the negative environment factors. It’s true that we have wasted unbelievable billions on the Olympics, but we have not improved, and the life in Sochi hasn’t improved either. It’s true that the Crimea now belongs to us and we’ve got bad relations with Ukraine, and not only. It’s true, but ignoring all of it does not make us stronger. Quite on the contrary, by turning a blind eye to all of it, we look as silly as those buffoons described by Marquis de Custine who visited Russia during the reign of Nicholas I: "The Russians are buffoons. In their attempt to imitate Paris they seem to be more Parisian than Parisians themselves.” So why to be afraid, to imitate or to hide? It’s much more important to argue, to discuss and to raise questions, and the art is the best tool for it. Especially if we're talking about street art, the art free of any qualifications and bias.

In conclusion, I would like to add a couple of lines of correspondence with Harmen de Hoop, a Dutch pioneer of urban interventions, who was supposed to come to our joint workshop of the Biennial and who supported us with the following warm words:

I do not agree with Sabina Chagina when she writes 'because the times are very troubled now we do not want to talk about politics at all'. In troubled times you need (political) art that asks questions. That is what art is for!

 

As an illustration, I attach one the sketches of Kiev artist Sasha Kurmaz, which would perfectly fit into this entire orgy and well correlates with the Pasha 183’s quote.

Sasha Kurmaz. Enough Lies

 

The joint collective studio of urban interventions should have been situated inside the general exposition in the Central Hall of Art Play from the 6th to the 20th of September and should have worked autonomously on various projects in Moscow. Among the invited foreign artists were: Harmen de Hoop, Brad Downey, Spy, Fra.Biancoshock, Sasha Kurmaz and Igor Rezola. The project of the workshop was cancelled by us 2 weeks prior to the exhibition opening due to the Biennial organizers’ attempts to impose a limit on the planned activities at our platform.
 
 
Original post: www.partizaning.org/?p=9587
Translation by Fania Balabanova