Facing the Monument: Facing the Future

11 March 2015 | By Bazarov

'Bolt' and the problem of Soviet ballet, 1931

16 February 2015 | By Ivan Sollertinsky

Some Thoughts on the Ballets Russes Abroad

16 December 2014 | By Isabel Stockholm

Last Orders for the Grand Duchy

11 December 2014 | By Bazarov

Rozanova and Malevich – Racing Towards Abstraction?

15 October 2014 | By Mollie Arbuthnot

Walter Spies, Moscow 1895 – Indonesia 1942

13 August 2014 | By Bazarov

The Genius of Erte

28 April 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

Solidarity, people!

24 March 2014 | By Renée-Claude Landry

Guest Blog | Pulsating Crystals

17 February 2014 | By Robert Chandler Chandler

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

Shostakovich: A Russian Composer?

05 December 2013 | By Bazarov

Travelling with intourist

31 July 2013 | By Richard Barling

Conversations with Andrei Monastyrski - by Sabine Hänsgen

17 November 2016 | By

Andrei Monastyrski. Circa 1975

Below is an extract from Sabine Hänsgen’s interview with Andrei Monastyrski, featured in the catalogue for the Thinking Pictures exhibition.

Sabine Hänsgen (SH): After the fith volume of Trips Out of Town, you announced the end of Collective Actions’ work together. I would like to ask a couple of questions of a retrospective nature having to do with the history of KD’s development in the cultural context of the 1970s and 1980s. First question: the action as genre. What motivated the circle of so-called unofficial Soviet artists of the mid-1970s to move from material-based artistic production to the genre of actions, that is to organizing aesthetic events in everyday life (not traditionally considered aesthetic)?

Andrei Monastyrski (AM): The genre of "questions" is, in my opinion, fairly flexible. It has its own temporal modality and historicity. In a sense, the most important thing about this genre is the intonation of interrogative deliberation—like any intonation, closed in upon itself. In Elementary Poetry No. 3 (1975), for example, I consciously used interrogative deliberation as a text-generating element, completely on par with the work’s other elements. I first wrote down 198 questions and then provided 198 answers to them. It is interesting that in answering the initial questions and knowing in advance the full discursive arc anticipated by the questions posed, I often just wrote in the answers that the initial questions are immaterial, keeping in mind the movement of the “question” genre in the process of its careful “self-examination,” even within the span of a single questionnaire. It was important for me to find the correct signifier for the interrogative deliberation as such, with the contents emerging later, after this discovery.

At present, the actions have very little significance for me, and they carried different meanings at different points in time. Nevertheless, the moment when the intonation of “questioning” as indeterminately filled with content, “dirty,” i.e, not autonomous, is relieved in the viewer’s consciousness was probably the significant and pivotal moment for practically all of the actions. (It was that very interrogative deliberation, text-generation as signifier, of the 1975 work that had set the tone from the very beginning.) In essence, what we are talking about here is a completely different ematics that began to penetrate the local aesthetic consciousness in the 1970s, including through the activities of KD. If this “relief” did not take place in the course of the event, then it was realized in the interpretations, especially through the psychopathology of the decoding of meanings. We could even say that the point of this whole business consisted in a desacralization, an inhabiting, and a banalization of the craving for exposition, both in “popular” (official) and in elite (“unofficial”) consciousness.

SH The second question deals with a theme that could be called “neither East, nor West.” Judging by the reactions, work in the action genre used to be perceived as a kind of cosmopolitan position, or more precisely as a borrowing of certain artistic devices from the West. And in fact, actions were a very contemporary genre in international artistic practice in the 1960s–70s.  This was tied to a critique of the market system. But on the other hand, it was an orientation toward the East and the Zen Buddhist tradition that, as I understand it, linked the interests of a number of different people and was the stimulus for the genesis of the Collective Actions group. What can we say about the appearance of the group’s activities in the space between “East and West”?

AM In the context of your question, I understand “contemporaneity” as the shifting fashions that reflect ethno-semiotic processes. This is precisely that horizon of problematic “dirt” about which I spoke above. For me, “East” and “West” are abstract concepts. I envision the theory of “East-West” in aesthetic discourse as something like a “bad tradition.” In a sense, it was the critique of these kinds of “bad traditions” based on chance affectations and fixations that had engaged KD. Personally, I have always had a rather depressing opinion of fashion, most likely on account of my conservative character, seeing fashion as a kind of sinister “barbarism” and archaic aggression. A good tradition, in my view, is always stable, strictly material, and limits itself to the quality manufacture of the product on offer. For instance, some old company that manufactures coffee, gin, etc, is a good tradition of one and the same. It has found and maintains optimal taste. And the same with the creative spheres, which appeal to the different sensory organs. The contents of the catalogue have long been known and do not change. One’s mentality is just as material as the products of a vegetable stand. The challenge is in maintaining freshness, which is always primary and always the same.

The Thinking Pictures exhibition runs from 6 September - 31 December, 2016, in the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. The accompanying catalogue, from which this extract has been taken, is available for purchase from 21 November, 2016.