A System of Absence

Late Soviet-era co-op apartment buildings on the Smolenka River in northwest Petersburg, near the Primorskaya subway station. Photo: Roman Bezjak/Hatje Cantz Verlag. Courtesy of Business Insider

* * *

Along with the heating, in every building
there is a system of absence. Concealed in the walls,
its noiseless radiators
flood the apartment with unadulterated emptiness
the year round, whatever the weather.
Connected to the main, it apparently runs
on fuel supplied by death, arrest or
simple jealousy. This temperature
rises towards evening. One turn of the key
and you find yourself in a place where there is
no one: like a thousand years ago,
or somewhat earlier—in the Ice Age,
before evolution. Usurped space
never relinquishes its
uninhabitedness, thus reminding
the upstart monkey
of emptiness’s primordial, pre-glacial right
to housing. Absence is merely
the home address of nonexistence.
Being bourgeois,
in the long run, at curtain call,
it prefers wallpaper to boulders or brown moss.
The more elaborate the wallpaper’s jungles, the unhappier the monkey.

1993

Original text. Translated by the Russian Reader

TASS [21.07.21]

ТАСС, [21.07.21 11:06]
Возможность физического отключения Рунета от глобальной сети была протестирована на учениях по обеспечению устойчивого, безопасного и целостного функционирования интернета, сообщает РБК.

Source: Telegram

TASS, [21.07.21 11:06]
The possibility of physically disconnecting the Runet from the global network was tested during exercises to ensure the stable, safe and cohesive functioning of the Internet, RBC reports.

Photo by Vadim F. Lurie, who kindly gave me permission to reprint it here. Translated by the Russian Reader

“And the old hag will sob in her hut on chicken-leg timber”

◊ ◊ ◊

I don’t hear what you’re saying to me, but a voice’s echo.
I don’t see what you’re wearing, but the snow’s even expanse.
And this isn’t a room where we sit, but the polestar’s shadow.
Plus our footsteps leading away from it, not hence.

Once I knew by heart all the spectrum’s colors.
Now I can make out only white, to my doctor’s disbelief.
But even if the little ditty is truly over,
One might still recall its leitmotif.

I would gladly lie down with you, but that’s mere idle splendor.
If I lie down, it will be with the turf, warm and snug.
And the old hag will sob in her hut on chicken-leg timber
And cook herself up a soft-boiled egg.

Once I used soda instead of other stain removers.
It always worked, like talcum powder on a mole.
Around you nowadays the riffraff crash like breakers.
You wear brightly colored dresses. And I mourn.

Source: Odnoklassniki. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

A Wave of Summer Bargains

“On a wave of summer bargains. Up to 80%”

August

Provincial towns, where you’ll never get a straight answer.
What’s it to you? It was yesterday however you cut it.
Outside the elms murmur, nodding to a landscape
Only the train ever sees. Somewhere a bee buzzes.

The knight made a career of crossroads, but these days
Is himself a stoplight. Plus there’s a river in the distance.
And between the mirror into which you gaze
And those who can’t recall you there’s also little difference.

Closed fast in the heat, the shutters are entwined in gossip,
Or merely ivy, to avoid making a blunder.
Bounding through the front door, a sunburnt stripling
Clad in only his swim trunks has come to collect your future.

So twilight’s a long time in descending. Evening’s usually cast
In the shape of a train station square, with a statue, etc.,
Where the glance in which you read “You bastard!”
Is in direct proportion to the crowd that’s not present.

1996

Source: Culture.ru. Image courtesy of Ozon. Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg real estate developer and Brodsky museum founder Maxim Levchenko

43-year-old Maxim Levchenko is a managing partner at Fort Group, the developer of a large number of shopping centers in Petersburg and Moscow. His company is one of the largest proprietors of commercial real estate in the country. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, he opened A Room and a Half — a Joseph Brodsky museum located in the communal apartment where the poet lived with his parents. A Brodsky museum has long been the talk of the town in Petersburg. Friends and fans of Brodsky have been trying to open [a museum in the apartment] since the late 90s. A neighbor in the communal apartment [where the Brodskys lived], Nina Vasilyevna prevented it from happening, responding to all requests [to sell her room in the flat to make room for the museum] laconically: “Over my dead body.” That is, until a shopping center proprietor seemingly remote from literature, businessman Maxim Levchenko, showed up at the flat. Brodsky’s fans naturally wondered who he was. Anna Mongayt asked Levchenko to give her a tour of the museum for the program “Patrons” and recount how he managed to persuade Nina Vasilyevna [to make a deal], how architect Alexander Brodsky was involved in designing the museum, and why the businessman wanted to invest in such an unprofitable project.

Watch the thirty-nine-minute program (in Russian, with no subtitles) on TV Rain. Image courtesy of TV Rain. Program synopsis translated by the Russian Reader

It’s the Apocalypse, and We’ve Got Our iPhones

A still image from the DDT video “Shadow on the Wall.” Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

It’s the Apocalypse, and We’ve Got Our iPhones
The Summer’s Best Music Videos: Aquarium, DDT, Oxxxymiron, Vasya Oblomov, and Amen
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
July 14, 2021

There are almost no concerts, albums are released rarely, because they require significant outlays of cash, and everyone is running out of money. And peace of mind ran out long ago. But the ancient art of the music video has suddenly blossomed amidst the apocalyptic coronavirus climate. Dozens of worthy clips have come out one after another this summer. We have chosen five. They are very different, but their subject, if you think about it, is one and the same: saying goodbye to the past and fear of what may be about to come.

Aquarium, “Masala Dosa”

This is almost the only item in Boris Grebenshchikov’s gigantic chest of songs with obvious gangster music motifs, something like “Fried Chicken.” The lyrics, which Loza has already dubbed a meaningless jumble of words, find BG up to to his usual absurdist playfulness: there are mentions of Indian tea, a People’s Commissariat of Education office, and Kali Yuga. It’s a bizarre canvas that seemingly has nothing to do with what is happening here and now, but it does. The line “And if they ask why we are sitting here, say, ‘I don’t know, but the people are invincible!'” is about the present moment. We are firmly sitting our hearts out, “invincible.”

The video’s director, Sergei Debizhev, is no stranger to Aquarium. He shot Grebenshchikov back in the 80s at the Leningrad Documentary Film Studio. Debizhev’s most famous feature film is Two Captains 2, starring Sergei Kuryokhin and BG. The film is an enchanting parody of everything at once: the early Soviet aesthetic, silent cinema, the heroics of dangerous journeys, and adventure bombast in general.

There is something of Two Captains 2 in “Masala.” Grebenshchikov was filmed in a Petersburg garage with a vintage car in the background, and then documentary footage was added to the mix: machines operating, a woman taking bath, the bolt of a weapon clicking, a blast furnace blazing, X-ray skeletons dancing. Some will see irony in all this, while others will see references to the broken wheel of history.

DDT, “Shadow on the Wall”

DDT is not the most cheerful group, especially recently. Their videos are always frankly gloomy, albeit with glimmers of a hope that fades and fades. But even against this background, “Shadow on the Wall” is something beyond hopeless. For seven minutes, a man walks along a country road among hills to meditative trip hop, eventually arriving nowhere. The key line is “I couldn’t do it, but I tried.” And yet, this is one of the most powerful and majestic works by DDT in recent years. Because the “tried” turns out to be more important than “couldn’t do it.” Life is, in fact, about trying.

The images in the black-and-white video, directed by Timofei Zhalnin, match the lyrics: we see a food delivery courier going nowhere, a young blindfolded man weaving from side to side, men pointlessly hammering posts into the ground, and a riot policeman pointlessly performing somersaults. You get the sense that, camouflaged and wielding a baton, he is attacking himself.

Fans have identified the location where the video was shot as the Koltushy Heights, ancient sand hills in the Leningrad Region, a Unesco-protected natural monument. Today, their existence is under threat. Greedy developers want to build residential complexes on the heights, basically destroying them. Activists have been fighting back, of course, but the fight is clearly one-sided: “I couldn’t do it, but I tried.”

Oxxxymiron, “Verses on the Unknown Soldier”

Oxxxymiron has not released anything new since 2015, since the legendary album Gorgorod, that is, for six years. This track is an exception: it was recorded specifically for the January tribute album Preserve My Words Forever, in honor of the 130th anniversary of Osip Mandelstam’s birth, featuring Shortparis, Noize MC, Ilya Lagutenko, Tequilajazz, Pornofilms and other first-class artists.

The video was shot by Dmitry Maseykin, a music video director who has worked with Monetochka and Husky, and received Cannes Lions and other awards in his time. As interpreted by Maseykin (and writer-producer Roma Liberov), “Verses” is about the clash of world religions and civilizations, followed by the apocalypse. It’s a dicey interpretation: it is hardly what Mandelstam meant when he wrote about “millions killed cheaply.” And the Jewish theme, accentuated in the video, is definitely not in the poem. But what Mandelstam and Oxxxymiron/Maseykin share is a premonition of slaughter and apocalypse. The poem, one of the most poignant anti-war texts, was written in 1937. Mandelstam would die a year later, and a year after that the Second World War would break out.

It’s the apocalypse, and we have our iPhones. When you read “Unknown Soldier,” the horror of Mandelstam’s prophecies  overwhelms you: “There will be cold frail people / Who will kill, starve and become colder”; “Am I the one who drinks this broth with no choice, / And under fire do I eat my own head?” Even more terrifying are the famous lines “—I was born in ninety–four, / —I was born in ninety–two…” People born in [nineteen] ninety-two, ninety-four and ninety-one, like Mandelstam [born in 1891], walk the same streets as we do. I don’t even want to think about what awaits them.

But when you watch the video, you feel no terror. It is grounded in something else — in the grandeur, solemnity, and significance of events. So, after watching it, I felt like saying, “The apocalypse is cool.” Maybe, but not for those who will live to see it.

Vasya Oblomov, “Youth”

This is a rare instance for Vasya Oblomov: Russia’s principal musical satirist and feuilletonist has recorded an unusually kind, touching and lyrical song. It’s not like he doesn’t have any such things in his repertoire. They exist, of course, but they are far and few between.

The video and the song are about the time “when you are seventeen years old / And the answer to any question / Comes,” about a time of endless and inevitable happiness: “I close my eyes / And I see twenty-five years ago, / How happiness simply, without obstacles / Finds us.” Here’s what Oblomov told Novaya Gazeta about making the video:

“In the video, my friends and I are recording the first songs by our group, Cheboza, in the studio in Rostov-on-Don in 2000. These are people who are dear to my heart, with whom I started my musical journey, people without whom I would not have become what I became. It was captured on film because Ilya Filippov (one of us, he is sometimes present on screen and shot the footage) got a video camera somewhere. The tape lay in the closet for twenty-one years and was put to good use in ‘Youth,’ which I dedicated to my friends. After the video was made, I sent the link to it to the people in it asking them to film themselves watching it for the first time. I think it turned out great.”

The magic of the shoot is incredible. The band members are all young, happy, and silly, and there is light and love in their eyes. When you again feel the urge to write on social networks that Vasya Oblomov is a spiteful person, says nasty things about everyone, doesn’t like people, and mocks the Motherland and its underpinning, just watch “Youth” and take those words back.

Amen, “Sailor Girl”

Although the Moscow band with the strange name Amen has been playing for several years, it is virtually an underground band and not involved in big-time show business. That’s a pity, because their strange and not very typically Russian mix of post-punk, electronica and garage rock, sporting clever, non-linear lyrics, would wow listeners. Amen are crooked, melodic, and brazen and sing about people like us. Amidst all the current clean-cut artists, fawning, servicing and entertaining their audiences, Amen are a big lungful of pure oxygen.

Not only is this song, “Sailor Girl,” good. The entire album Amen put out this year, Let It Be So, is good. You can listen to the whole thing on YouTube

I also recommend the video for “Don’t Get Hung Up,” a kind of locker room exercise in Schopenhauer, an amazing mix of street corner braggadocio and a profound understanding of the foundations of being.

Amen, “Don’t Get Hung Up”

“Sailor Girl” is urban art song in a form that is comprehensible and interesting to current twenty-somethings. The story is simple: the singer’s pal has gone missing and sends a letter: “A sailor girl has carried me away.” You’re living in the urban jungle when suddenly you fall into another world.

The video, featuring crazy dancing in sweatpants, was shot at the Event Theater by director Yurate Shunyavichute. And it is really an event. It is not so often that artists with their own aesthetic and their own voice emerge in our country.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Amen, Let It Be So (LP 2021)

Adaptatsiya, “Life in a Police State”

Adaptatsiya performing “Life in a Police State” at Hanger 49 in Berlin on April 13, 2013

The same old faces in newspapers and on screens
We have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide
Some leave the country, having in reserve
Another homeland, but
Not everyone is so lucky, someone has to stay
And resist all the nastiness
Not let them destroy themselves and others
To prevent another 1937

Life in a police state

A friend of mine lost his job
Now he’s sinking to the bottom
His family has gone begging in the streets
And he’s started boozing, cursing fate
Seeing no ray of light in the pitch-black stupor
More and more innocent people
Commit suicide or worse
They give birth to abnormal children

Life in a police state

And my mother protected me from my father’s beatings
You were one of the few who pushed on till the end
And when everyone was tired, you rushed forward
But blocking your way were
Mobs of dirty soldiers and hateful cops
They serve the regime of assholes like them
The ones who build palaces and move capitals
And you’re so eager to go off and tune out

Life in a police state

And if you ask me what will happen next
I will keep my counsel because it’s a slippery slope
There is no cause for optimism and faith
There are prisons, fences, bars and walls
I still have friends and a beloved broad
But I’m one of those who doesn’t find that enough
I am afraid for all my loved ones
I see and I know where we are headed

Life in a police state

Source: Megalyrics. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Boris Koshelokhov, 1942-2021

Boris Koshelokhov in his studio at Pushkinskaya 10 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

A Titan Among Artists: Boris Koshelokhov Has Died
Kira Dolinina
Kommersant
July 12, 2021

The artist Boris (Bob) Koshelokhov has died at Petersburg’s Mariinsky Hospital aged eighty. Despite the thousands of canvases he has produced since 1975, Koshelokhov will be mourned first of all as a charismatic leader of the Leningrad underground. His mere presence in the artistic landscape enabled others to feel that they were situated within a great tradition whose principal value was the freedom to live as you wished.

The news that Bob Koshelokhov had passed away was expected (relatives and friends had discussed and written about his serious illness on social networks), but it was no less stunning, simply because Bob could not pass away: his personal relationship with time and space had long ago settled into an unlimited flow of being. Neither the numbers of birthdays, nor figures of work produced, nor the status of a Petersburg art old-timer stuck to him. Bob could not be called a “veteran” or a “mighty old man”: nothing about him ever changed.

The man in the photos from the 1970s looked like the same man whom you would encounter until quite recently at exhibition openings and in the courtyards of the Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center: long hair, beard, leather vest, black clothes, booming voice, darting gaze. Koshelokhov had become a guru less than a year after he started doing art himself, yet no one ever tried to push him off this pedestal.

His biography seems to have been specially written to fit the canon. He was orphan who ran away from orphanages with enviable regularity until the seventh grade. He was half-educated man who worked as a heating plant stoker, then as a carpenter, then as a trucker. He married an Italian woman and briefly emigrated, but then returned from this “golden cage” to an “iron cage” (his own iron cage). He lived in communal apartments and squats, and achieved cult status. In the early 1970s, he came to Leningrad from his Southern Urals hometown of Zlatoust to study medicine. He lasted two years: his programmatic study of the history of philosophy (Kierkegaard, Jaspers, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Camus) resulted in his being expelled for his fascination with “bourgeois” ideas. Devoutly believing in existentialism, spending all day long in second-hand bookstores and the legendary “Saigon” cafe, where he received the nickname the Philosopher, he arranged his life exactly in keeping with the precepts in the books he read: “Your freedom was born before you.”

His freedom was born on November 2, 1975, the day when his friend the artist Valery (Clover) Kleverov told Bob that he too was an artist. Koshelokhov himself later kidded that it was just a joke, a way to somehow repay Bob for the fact that he had turned his 27-meter-square room in a communal flat into a gallery selling paintings for a whole year. Joke or no joke, Bob took the idea to heart: an artist is someone who sees. Given a strong desire, anyone can become an artist. (Similar ideas espoused by Joseph Beuys were unknown in Russia at the time.)

Even paint was not needed: Koshelokhov’s first works were concocted from objects found in garbage dumps.

But when Koshelokhov got his hands on paint, it was clear that he really was an artist — an artist who was powerful, considerable and critically important to entire Petersburg culture.

Boris Koshelokhov, Happy New Year!, 2007. Oil on canvas, 120×190 cm. Image courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

Koshelokhov’s first exhibited work was “made of shit and sticks” in the true sense of the phrase. For an exhibition in memory of the deceased Leningrad abstract artist Yevgeny Rukhin, a show that had not been sanctioned by the authorities, Bob produced a “collage” consisting of a tabletop to which he had attached a hospital bedpan, a child’s potty, a coin and a brass exclamation mark. While all the other participants of the show were nabbed by the valiant police as they approached the venue, the Peter and Paul Fortress, Koshelokhov calmly made his way to the site, thus signifying that the exhibition had taken place.

Koshelokhov’s painting was made of the same stuff — he composed everything on the go. His expressionism was homegrown and self-made, unlike international expressionism and even dissimilar to what the baroquely passionate artists of the Arefiev Circle had done a little earlier on the other side of town. A spontaneous artist, Koshelokhov mixed everything with everything else, painting on carpets, plywood, upholstery from old sofas, and abandoned propaganda banners. He employed impossible combinations of colors (since they were all his personal discoveries, because even the fact that you get green when you mix blue and yellow was something he discovered for himself). And he painted, painted, and painted.

Although, in fact, he himself preferred to say that “the work should be like a boil: it pops up, comes to a head, then suddenly opens up, as if it bumped against a corner, so that the blood flows with might and main.”

Actually, only Koshelokhov himself could live up to this prescription. But he tried to teach others: the group Chronicle (Letopis), which he founded in 1977, is now famous primarily for the fact that Timur Novikov made his start there. And yet in terms of their painterly method, their devilishly rich rhythm of work (critiques were held every week; if you didn’t bring a new picture to them, you were told to take a walk), and rabid omnivorousness, Koshelokhov’s team fostered its own version of neo-expressionism at exactly the same time as the Europeans were developing theirs.

Koshelokhov’s painted oeuvre is all about philosophical categories, to the point of cosmism. And what matters is not its “complexity”  (on the contrary, the images are simple and executed backhandedly), but its quantity. Koshelokhov did not do dozens of anything: his series number hundreds, and sometimes thousands of works. His latest project, Two Highways, was produced over thirty years and consisted of three or four thousand canvases [sic] and tens of thousands of sketches, pastels and drawings. That was how he thought — in terms of numbers with many zeros after them.

One of his last solo shows was entitled 70,000 Years of Boris Koshelokhov. It was occasioned by [his seventieth birthday], but no one was interested in the numbers in his passport.

Boris Koshelokhov at an exhibition of his works. Photo courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

Vadim Ovchinnikov, one of the so-called New Artists who listened to him attentively, explained Koshelokhov’s place in art best of all: “We advise critics who doubt Koshelokhov’s significance to pay attention to the neon ‘Titan’ sign on the corner of the house on Nevsky and Liteiny where the artist lives.” Only a pandemic was capable of overpowering such a titan. There will be a hole in the stratosphere without him. But everyone who knew Koshelokhov is certain that he has just flown through that hole to the place where his thoughts have always dwelled.

Translated by Thomas Campbell

____________________

Two Highways (Nick Teplov & Alexander Markov, 2008). Courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

2097 (Vadim Ovchinnikov, Boris Kazakov, Georgy Baranov, Tatiana Ledneva, 1996). Courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

The Creative Path of Boris Koshelokhov (Yevgeny Kondratiev, 1988). Courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

____________________

Boris Koshelokhov’s Two Highways

It seems to me that every person is an artist. It’s just that some people know this, and others don’t.

— Boris Koshelokhov

Alain Badiou argues that social progress is propelled by “events”—great insights, discoveries, and revolutions in art, science, politics, and love. Although he often uses language that is evangelical to evoke the lived relationship to these events (it is no accident that one of his prototypical heroes is Saint Paul), Badiou is rather more prosaic, even purposely “mathematical,” when he describes how events come about. In a situation whose elements remain as many and self-identical as they were before the event, the poet, scientist, revolutionary or lover sees something other (more) than what the canon, scientific dogma, public opinion, and common sense tell him that he should see. After this event, the world remains the same and is changed forever. The exact proportion of sameness and difference is determined by how those who live in the wake of the event construe its afterlife. For Badiou, what matters are whether we remain faithful to the event or not, and what forms our faith (or faithlessness) takes. In fact, this is what the event is: the sense or nonsense we make of it; the way it changes how we act even when its whole significance escapes us; the social reaction and personal deadening that set in when we deny or forget the truth the event revealed to us. The event has no other meaning.

For Petersburg artist Boris “Bob” Koshelokhov (born 1942), the event was this: in 1975, his friend the painter Valery “Clover” Kleverov told Bob that he, too, was an artist. Nowadays, Koshelokhov suspects that a sense of guilt made Clover pronounce these fateful words. Koshelokhov had been helping Clover and his family improve their cramped living conditions and (later) emigrate by selling Clover’s works—on zero commission—from a makeshift gallery that doubled as Koshelokhov’s room in a communal flat. Besides not making any money off these transactions, Koshelokhov also drew the ire of his neighbors, who sent denunciations to the authorities. Wanting, apparently, to compensate his friend’s risky, selfless efforts on his behalf, Clover pronounced Koshelokhov an artist. Koshelokhov believed him.

What followed is art history—in more ways than one. Within a year of declaring himself for the truth accidentally revealed by Clover and after the latter man’s departure for America, Koshelokhov had gathered around him his own haphazard group of disciples, Chronicle. The group’s name is linked to Koshelokhov’s understanding of the artist’s task: “The artist is a chronicler; he has to record everything.” The dozen-some young artists in Chronicle—which included latter-day Petersburg art superstars Timur Novikov and Elena Figurina—gathered weekly in each other’s homes to discuss their new paintings. If they showed up for the weekly session without a freshly painted work, “Master” Koshelokhov showed them the door (even when it was the door of their own apartment).

The group provided a way for Koshelokhov to spread the gospel of art he’d been vouchsafed by Clover. It also created a refuge for Koshelokhov and his pupils from a late-Soviet art world where neither the right wing (the state-sponsored Union of Artists) nor the left wing (the so-called unofficial artists and their alternative quasi-unions) had much time for the purely artistic and personal truths Koshelokhov & Co. wanted to pursue with paint on canvas.

More important, Chronicle gave Koshelokhov the means to realize his notion of art as philosophical/existentialist practice. State Russian Museum curator Ekaterina Andreeva argues that Koshelokhov finds in painting an external outlet for the endless work of inquiry going on in his head and heart. Koshelokhov sees the artwork as the (potential) site of a dialogue between maker and looker, an intermediary in their otherwise lonely search for the meaning of self, world, and being. The result, according to Andreeva, is an “altered space” that forever changes how Koshelokhov’s interlocutors think and behave after they have entered it.

Koshelokhov’s dialogical view of art echoes within his biography. By his own account, he has spent his whole life in dialogue with others—whether the medical school classmates with whom he studied existentialist philosophy in the sixties (they were all expelled for this seditious act), the artists of Chronicle, the habitus of the famous “Saigon” cafe (where Koshelokhov earned the moniker “Philosopher”), or the inmates in the smoking room of the nearby Russian National Library (the equally famous “Publichka”). Through the books of philosophy that Koshelokhov found in this last haunt and elsewhere he has extended his dialogue with others into remoter times and kingdoms. This dialogue is re-enacted in his artistic practice, which can be imagined as an active interrogation of the artists and schools with whom Koshelokhov shares aesthetic ground: the Fauves, The Blue Rider, Dadaism and surrealism, Paul Klee, CoBrA, the Transavantguardia, the Neue Wilde, Figuration Libre.

Koshelokhov’s work likewise evokes international and Slavic traditions of outsider and naive art. In keeping with these traditions and Mikhail Larionov’s notion of everythingism (vsechestvo), and joyously bowing to straitened material circumstances, Koshelokhov has often turned the least promising debris of daily life into the stuff of art: discarded sofa frames, Styrofoam packing, bedpans, and other treasures rescued from garbage dumps. In this connection, his disciple Timur Novikov once remarked that if you come across a Koshelokhov painting from the seventies on a good canvas and high-quality frame, it’s almost surely a forgery.

Koshelokhov’s work also makes an especially clear appeal to the immediacy of children’s art. By his own admission, his five-year-old son Ilya has become his severest critic and “teacher.”

The context most germane for an understanding of Koshelokhov’s work, however, is the post-war Leningrad/Petersburg neo-fauvist/neo-expressionist school, in which Koshelokhov can be seen as the lynch pin between the immediate post-WWII generation (the circle of Alexander Arefiev) and the young bucks who created a grassroots artistic perestroika during the eighties and early nineties (Novikov, Oleg Kotelnikov, Ivan Sotnikov, Vadim Ovchinnikov, Vladislav Gutsevich and their fellow New Artists). For these younger Petersburg neo-expressionists and other local contemporaries, Koshelokhov has served as a peculiar model of steadfastness in the midst of faction and fashion. It is a testament to his significance in Petersburg’s “second” culture that his life has become the stuff of legends.

Finally and most vitally, Koshelokhov’s artistic practice is a dialogue with biological evolution and universal history. He rehearses the evolving variety and perennial sameness of animal and human life, and re-maps the migration of these life forms through geography and history. In his own words, his work and life is a cognitive and pictorial ontogenesis that repeats the phylogenesis of art history and human culture.

Paradoxically and appropriately for an artist so interested in dialogue, Koshelokhov’s path has been a remarkably lonely one. In a Russian artistic culture that favors collective identities, he has taken pains to emphasize his independence and distaste for “crowds” and “scenes” (the tusovki that prominent Russian curator Viktor Misiano identifies as the dominant form of post-Soviet artistic and cultural life). This sense of independence was his birthright: an orphan, he spent his childhood passing through and running away from a series of orphanages in the Urals. The wanderings of his youth and middle life took him to places as far-flung as Odessa and Leningrad, and jobs as unromantic as ship’s electrician and armed security guard. Most remarkably, just as his influence within Leningrad’s underground art scene was solidifying, he gave it all up and left for Italy with a young Italian aristocrat-communist. Just as surprisingly, he returned to the Soviet Union several months later, having found life in his new “golden cage” no more conducive to his pursuit of the truth revealed by the event of 1975 than life behind the bad-old Iron Curtain.

Whatever the peripeteias of Koshelokhov’s life, then, they all answer to another of the dictums he often repeats (following Sartre): “First my freedom was born, then I was born.” Koshelokhov teaches us that human life is a work of art that takes shape as its makers—we ourselves—haltingly grope backwards and forwards toward this originary insight.

Since the dawn of another great and little-understood political event, perestroika, Koshelokhov has become bolder and more single-minded in his faithfulness to the event that changed his life in the mid-seventies. This boldness has manifested itself in an increasing turn to scale and number. Ekaterina Andreeva points out that many of the great artists of the modern and postmodern periods (she cites Picasso, Warhol, and Ilya Kabakov) have also employed rapid, serialized mass production as a means of unburdening themselves of their genius. Koshelokhov had always been productive and profligate, even in the midst of harrowingly inhospitable working conditions. (His “studios” have included the machine room of an elevator and waterlogged cellars lit by a single bulb.) Many of the hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and assemblages (the so-called concepts) of his early period disappeared into the mists of oblivion and the landfills of suburban Leningrad almost as quickly as they appeared.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Koshelokhov carried out two projects that even more clearly signaled his desire to “world the world” by turning it into art: Puppets of Peace March Around the World (1989, oil on canvas, 23 meters x 6 meters) and Heilige Sunder (1992, oil on canvas, 120 meters x 3 meters). Fortunately, these gigantic pieces weren’t consigned to the rubbish bin of history. They are now in private collections in France and Moscow.

In 1992, Koshelokhov began work on his magnum opus, Two Highways, which Andreeva cites as one of the most significant art works of contemporary art. The first two stages of the project—1,200 black-and-white sketches and 6,000 (40 cm x 30 cm) pastels (five variations on each of the original sketches)—were completed in 2002. The third and final stage—a 5,000 square meter mural incorporating the findings of the previous two stages—so far exists only in the imaginations of Koshelokhov and the friends he has infected with his sober, tender, and naive re-visioning of life. He says that he is ready to produce the work anywhere in the world, given a wall that is big enough, a team of helpers, and a minimal amount of funding.

As Koshelokhov explains it, the two highways in his project’s title (in English in the original) are the earthly path and the heavenly path. “I travel in a vehicle over the earth’s surface. My peripheral vision picks out quintessential human images and artifacts from the Stone Age to modern times. My journey takes me from Europe to Africa, across the Atlantic and America to Alaska. From there I go to Japan, Asia, the islands of Oceania, and around Australia. Finally, I cross Antarctica and complete my journey in South America.” Andreeva suggests that the prototype of this imaginary trek is a solo road trip from Trieste to Palermo that Koshelokhov made in his Italian wife’s Citroen in 1978. It also has to be mentioned that for some time in the late eighties and early nineties he worked as a gypsy cab driver in Petersburg. He ferried people and things around the city at all hours of the day and night in a used Mercedes-Benz until the mafia forced him into an early retirement.

Mikhail Trofimenkov has written of Two Highways that it gives us a glimpse of how God sees the earth as He flies above it. For his part, Koshelokhov claims that, like the opposite side of a Moebius strip, the earthly path repeats (in extension) the forms and ideas that lie hidden in the empyrean. His mission is to re-awaken the viewer to the possibility of participating in the world’s co-creation by uniting thought and feeling, theory and practice, sensus et ratio (to borrow the artist’s beloved coinage). Everywhere—even in the less prepossessing quarters of Leningrad/Petersburg (Koshelokhov’s real muse)—we are reminded (by colors, shapes, faces, bodies, buildings) of the miracle of being’s unfolding. Ekaterina Andreeva argues that it was this impulse—to see the whole world and to see it all at once—that launched the postmodernist/transavantgarde project. In this sense, she speculates, it was no accident that Koshelokhov found himself in Italy just as the movement was jelling. (There, he exhibited in a special program at the Venice Biennale, “New Soviet Art: An Unofficial View.”)

Preached by Mikhail Larionov and Joseph Beuys, and then taken up by Koshelokhov and Novikov’s New Artists, the now-unfashionable avant-garde notion that everyone is an artist and everything can be turned into art (which we must distinguish from the directive to turn everything and everyone into commodity and consumer) is nothing other than the ethical imperative to remain faithful to the insight that visited Koshelokhov in the mid-seventies: that the mission of art is to reunite vision and thought, self and world. In Koshelokhov’s case, “insight” has to be understood literally. Two Highways is a journey that the artist has been making without leaving his current studio at Pushkinskaya-10. Like all genuine avant-garde projects, though, this journey won’t be complete until the human world (or, at least, one 5000 square meter corner of it) is physically and spiritually transformed. // Thomas Campbell 

Sources
· Ekaterina Andreeva. “Khudozhnik,” Novyi mir iskusstva 6 (1999): 3–5.
· Ekaterina Andreeva. Postmodernizm. Iskusstvo vtoroi poloviny XX—nachala XXI veka [Postmodernism. Art of the Late 20th and Early 21st Centuries]. Saint Petersburg: Azbuka-Klassika, 2007.
· Ekaterina Andreeva. Videotaped interview, January 2007, Saint Petersburg.
· Alain Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Trans. Peter Hallward. London and New York: Verso, 2001.
· Thomas Campbell and Nick Teplov. Unpublished tape-recorded interview with Boris Koshelokhov, October 2006, Saint Petersburg.
· Boris Koshelokhov. Zhivopis. Exhibition catalogue. Text by Ekaterina Andreeva. Saint Petersburg: Na Obvodnom Gallery, 2002.
· Nick Teplov, editor. Bob Koshelokhov. Two Highways. Saint Petersburg, 2003.
· Mikhail Trofimenkov. “Bob pravdu vidit,” Kommersant 14 August 2002.

Source: boriskoshelokhov.com

Queer Culture (Podcast)

Press release, July 7, 2021

In the Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival’s podcast Queer Culture, festival organizers and invited guests chat with the people creating Russian queer culture. These are cozy gatherings featuring conversations about queer and LGBT topics in literature, cinema, fine art, and art actionism.

The debut issue of the podcast is dedicated to a significant event in Russian literature — the release of the debut novel Wound by Oksana Vasyakina, the first novel published by a major Russian publisher in which lesbian topics are openly discussed.

Oksana Vasyakina. Courtesy of Side by Side Film Festival
We met with the writer and poet Oksana Vasyakina and discussed her book, how it has been received by different communities, the writer’s creative path, and her successes and difficulties on the road to recognition.

Episode #1 features:
Oksana Vasyakina, writer and poet
Ekaterina Kudryavtseva, moderator of the Telegram channel Like a Cultured Person, co-moderator of the Telegram channel Lesbian Lobby and the queer podcast Wide Open
Gulya Sultanova is an organizer of the Side by Side Film Festival

Listen to the podcast Queer Culture wherever is handy for you, subscribe to us on the following apps, and give us your likes!
Buy Oksana Vasyakina’s novel Wound [in Russian]
[Read an excerpt from Oksana Vasyakina’s poetry collection Wind of Fury]

All events and projects of the Side by Side Film Festival, including those online, are for adults only. 18+

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Naked Truth

I Am/We Are Yulia ||| Telegram ||| July 6, 2021

😡The ArtPlay Design Center in Moscow has reneged on its agreement to provide a venue for a performance in support of Yulia Tsvetkova.

Over the last month, negotiations had been underway with an ArtPlay staffer about staging a performance as part of the Naked Truth project. The performance’s organizers provided a press release, all the information requested by the venue, and layouts and diagrams of the upcoming performance. The venue agreed to host the event, and the performance was to be held in ArtPlay’s small auditorium on [July] 14. Performances about female physicality had previously been staged at this site, and ArtPlay is known in art circles as one of the most creatively liberal spaces.

The Naked Truth. Performance view. Courtesy of I Am/We Are Yulia Telegram channel

However, today, an organizer of the performance was [told that ArtPlay would not host the performance], since, according to the ArtPlay staffer, they “do not hold events with a political bent.”

This is not the first time that a major contemporary art center, well known for its liberal views, has turned down requests by artists to host events in support of Tsvetkova, most often by citing “political” motives and the “dangerousness” of her case.

The Naked Truth project has been in existence for a year. As part of the project, performances in support of Yulia Tsvetkova have been staged by respected and significant male and female artists from Moscow and Petersburg.

Translated by the Russian Reader