A first book about Russian Urban Art: Author’s personal story

Last month I've published a first book about Russian Urban Art in English. The book takes the format of an opinion-based essay. I tried to examine the power of street art in Russia by exploring its historical background, extending from the avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century, to the non-conformists and the actionists of the twenty-first century. It is an attempt to analyze as well as expand the potential of Russian street art by sharing examples of significant and relevant art phenomena and processes. Below you can find an introduction from the book through my personal story as researcher and writer.

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Igor Ponosov. Photo by Sergey Sapozhnikov. Moscow, 2012.

 

I became interested in graffiti in 1999; the hip-hop craze spreading across Russia played a special part in my life. At the time, I was living in Kiev, Ukraine, and was completely taken with anything related to street culture, from extreme skateboarding to breakdancing. Yet, the part of this culture which remained dearest to me was its visual component, graffiti.
In 2003, when I moved to the Russian capital of Moscow, the centre of this informal culture, I found that traditional graffiti fonts ceased to excite me, because tagging is above all a form of self-promotion, and I wanted a more figurative and conceptual art. Public space, however, remained interesting as a means of self-expression and a form of interacting with audiences. Gradually, I began to turn to more alternative forms of street art such as pixelated, minimalistic and conceptual street paintings, and even performance. It pushed me to collect and analyze this kind of street art from throughout the post-Soviet countries and, above all, in Russia.

The idea to give structure to and to describe the diverse manifestations of street art in Russia first occurred to me in 2005, when I self-published Objects, a series of books dedicated to contemporary street art practices in the former Soviet Union. After producing several editions of this publication, I became interested in setting new standards and creating new themes for artists. This would the next step towards the development of informal street practices in Russia. Some of the new street art techniques I described in Objects-3 (such as spatial compositions and installations) were later adopted by many Russian, and other post-Soviet, street artists as their principal mode of interaction with the city. Though my requirements for the publication kept increasing, in 2008, I discovered that the range of artists I found interesting had narrowed to just a few people. Their works were not enough to fill a new edition of the book, so, I decided to give up the idea.

In 2010, in an effort to trace the processes underpinning Russian street art culture, I began a series of public lectures and discussions at Winzavod alongside the street artists, Kirill KTO (b. 1984) and Andrey Tseluyko (Zeaner, b. 1985). A year later, I launched an online platform with Anton Make (b. 1982, Anton Polsky) and Sonia Polskaya (b. 1989). Partizaning.org was a logical extension of my interest in analyzing the trajectory of street art as informal urban culture.

Despite the long history of street art and an increased interest in it, it remains poorly studied, particularly in Russia and other post-Soviet countries. There is almost no research project or publication which fully covers or analyzes this phenomenon. These themes of artistic interpretation and expression in urban space have become relevant again today. Amid progressive censorship and the rise of authoritarianism, the city seems to be the only possible space for free expression.

In contemporary Russia, there is an interest in street art evident not only in activist and artistic environments, but also in urban, commercial, and political organizations that use grassroots and non-institutional (that is, based on informal social relations without any financial support or official permission) artistic practices for their purposes. A powerful wave of political and propagandistic muralism is now visible, flooding Russian cities with ‘patriotic’ paintings, claiming to be a new, monumental form of socialist realism, a movement which had been popular in the Soviet Union between 1932 and 1988, based on realistic, monumental art glorifying communism. This course today not only illustrates the force and potential of contemporary street art, but also the crucial need to analyze it, now, more than ever.

My new book Russian Urban Art: History and Conflicts takes the format of an opinion-based essay. I would like to examine the power of street art in Russia by exploring its historical background, extending from the avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century, to the non-conformists and the actionists of the twenty-first century. It is an attempt to analyze as well as expand the potential of Russian street art by sharing examples of significant and relevant art phenomena and processes.

 

 

I consider street art to be the voice of the lower classes, those whose opinions are usually ignored. Initially, street art was associated with the fight for their rights against totalitarianism, boredom, commercialization, and the domination of some people over others. However, as with any new art, it has attracted the attention of the general public, the art market, and in this case, of city authorities. Due to this renewed interest in street art as a form, it has also been rapidly institutionalized; new street art biennials, museums, and festivals have appeared. Hierarchies have been created within the art community and, while some authors have become stars, others have been undeservedly forgotten. Street art in itself has ceased to be a way to fight for rights and emancipation. It has simply become another effective tool for profit-making, propaganda, and the gentrification of cities/regions.

This is why I have tried to document not only a range of Russian artistic practices, but to provide a broad, interdisciplinary analysis of the phenomenon of street art; moving away from the widespread perception of the form as a stream of beautiful, bright pictures on city walls and in social media news feeds, by demonstrating its ties to something greater, associated with issues of freedom, power, and hierarchies, high and low art, the centre and the periphery, alongside the development of the urban environment and of politics.

The book includes 63 colorfull pictures with street works of Soviet/Russian artists and groups: Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Collective Actions group, Oleg Kulik, Kirill KTO, Pasha 183, Zachem crew, Misha Most, Timofey Radya, Partizaning group, 0331C, Alexey Luka, Dmitri Aske and many others.

 

Contents

  • Entering the Public space
    The Avant-garde, Soviet Muralism, Non-conformism
    Urban Performance and Moscow Actionism
  • The Expansion of Western Culture
    Hip Hop in the USSR
    Finding New Graffiti Forms. Russian Street Art
  • The Rebirth of Urban Art in Russia
    Protest Movements and Socially-Engaged Art
  • Institutional Street Art projects
    Festivals, Exhibitions and Political Murals

 

Buy Russian Urban Art: History and Conflicts online with worldwide shipping in the Le Grand Jeu book store or in NuArt Gallery.

The book available now in stock of book stores: Moscow, St Petersburg, Paris, Prague, Krakow, Besancon and Stavanger. Check more details about the book and where to buy it on web page: eng.partizaning.org/book