Zinaida Pozdnyakova, Leningrad: Ice Drift, 1967. Watercolor on paper, 40 cm x 57 cm. Reproduced here by kind permission of the artist. All rights reserved. You can view more of Zinaida Pozdnyakova’s amazing work on her Facebook page.
LIDYA BLINOVA (1948–1996)
The Learned Pussycat
The wind whipped the atmosphere.
Clouds coursed without fear.
The moon in its seething frills
Ascended over the hills.
The earth poured towards it:
Villages, fields, and hamlets.
A dark forest nodded from vast plains
To heaven’s chatelaine.
And everything sublunar under the moon
Rose higher and aloft:
The waves and the land,
A cat on a roof and its thoughts,
And, deep below the waves, the sand.
After buzzing out the day like combs,
The ancient city slumbered: the moon’s
Mead trickled towards the mountain’s foot.
Parades, promenades, and fêtes
Raged here a century ago,
But now the ruins slept in rows.
The overgrown gardens were bothered
Only by the water’s patter.
The stream’s angelic tone
Resounded where the water’s flow
Was dammed by fallen leaves.
What emptiness and peace!
But what did we see?
In a window a candle was burning,
And the candle revealed
A pussycat purring.
A tizzy swept over the old garden.
Doors were slammed, footsteps cascaded.
And, quite as black as a roach,
Into the light’s triangle crept a coach.
The learned pussycat, dismayed and aggrieved,
Leapt into the carriage, shouting “To the sea!”
A dog dolefully howled in the park.
A sinister coachman emerged from the dark,
An amulet glinting and melting under his cape.
The moon went pale, giving chase.
Raving, the steeds thundered, frothing at the mouth.
The uneven pursuit made the moon catch its breath.
Over rooftops, twixt chimneys, through poplar fleece,
It rushed to the place beyond the fields
Where the sea stood like a living wall.
And the pussycat in the coach?
She was crazed, she was ill.
What thought could she give to the coachman?
What matter to her was the moon’s will?
For every piece of iron in the womblike contraption
The patter of hooves smashed into fractions.
The pussycat imagined that, through flint and dirt,
Alongside her, Achilles roared, and the turtle crept.
Oh, the running in place, the maundering
Of things moving motionlessly toward their mark!
Oh, the trellised mirrors of old aporias!
And the sea came ever closer, the cherished sea!
Every jolt and pothole on the highway
Sent the pussycat higher into the sky,
As if yeast were stirred into things at creation
By someone quite batty about expansion.
Madness’s abyss beckoned to the pussycat.
Panting, the moon whispered, “Drat!
All we needed was for the pussycat to flip!”
It was so angry it slipped,
And, suddenly, it dropped into the coach
Out of the empyrean like ice hurtling off a roof.
The straps and traces were lost in a blink,
The horses speeding off down the stony brink.
The driver melted into thin air,
And his passengers missed dying by a hair,
As his chariot fell to pieces.
The pussycat and the moon sat on the beach.
It is a pity their important chat
Has come down to us in bits and scraps.
“There is a gazillion . . .
Issues of logic.”
“But there is a gamut.”
“Then what is it?
Philosophizing like Hamlet?
No, Buridan . . .”
“I’ve been harping on that for ages.
We’re again walking on bodies . . .”
“The unthinkable . . .” “ . . . cat sausage
turned into the coveted puss in booties.”
“Uniqueness seduces you.”
“And what is your métier?”
“Everyone needs a milieu:
Water is my cup of tea.”
Then the breeze blew in our direction,
Making audible their conversation.
“Listen, I’ve seen your face before.
I remember: it was on the roof next door.
You often peered through the dusty lunette
Into chambers I no longer rent.
“With a gaze now joyful, now sad, you kept watch
Over all the ups and downs in the masterwork
That consumed me then from paws to ears.
But it seems as if years,
No, as if centuries have passed since that time,
And suddenly I peer so closely into your eyes.
Oh, what happened? Where we were rushing?
We are mixed up in a terrible muddle!”
“Take courage, take courage, you have friends,
And I dare to rank myself among them.
Let it be known that for a long time
A gilded palace to you has been assigned.
The best pencils have been carefully whetted,
Shelves stacked with books, and lantern lighted.
And out the window what expanses you shall see.”
The pussycat cried, “Where is it? Who did this for me?”
Then the moon, which burned like copper,
Ebbed and faded with a mutter.
It waned so fast, in a thrice,
Its shape resembled a melon slice.
Masts and rigging went up in a jig.
What was left of the thing—
A barely visible ashy oblong—
Burrowed into storm clouds and was gone.
Everyone was forced to feign
It was the face of the moon.
The moon summoned a wave to its side.
The wave lifted the moon up high.
And so between heaven and earth
The little ship hung in mid-air,
As on a tinted postal card.
Grabbing her things from the strand,
The pussycat boarded the bark,
Whispering “Adieu” to the sixth part.
Wisps of phosphoric foam sputtered.
Selene’s new horns glittered,
And with his burning saucers Argus scowled
At the enraptured striped pussycat’s tail.
The first opera’s chimera was born in the pussycat.
There was applause in the stalls, noises in the pit.
The storm clouds rose, opening an entrance
In which the sea sighed like an audience.
Her body filled with an invisible force,
The universe subsided, and the pussycat held forth.
Song’s primordial magical vigor
Reawakened in the fish their ardor.
The starry sky got goosebumps,
And the bowels of the earth rumbled.
By morning, the sea tour was over.
The elements were entrusted with new roles.
The one who came for the cat in the darkness
Had to go looking for the overheated horses.
The tide rolled out, and towards the sea
The grass bent sadly in the estuary.
In the fog, the sandbanks and islands
Altered their outlines.
And then a prickly eyelid opened a bit
Over a gloomy ridge of distant foothills.
Here man and stone conspired ever harder,
Establishing their power over the water.
Battlements and bends were sharper than the shore,
And the sand gave way to the granite.
Farther down, the fog hardened into boulders.
Like crystals, the light they beamed cut.
The golden bark hastened to take
Сover in a tangle of dark channels.
And the passenger? She dreamt of taking
A bath and setting foot on dry land.
The incident was settled with sanity
By the guard, who saluted the cat,
And the porter, who grabbed her tote,
sac de voyage, and the case with her vanity.
The heavy door cut off, like a tail,
The mutters and shouts of the crowd,
The stone bridge, ready to fail,
And the sinister hugger-mugger of the town.
She climbed a steep cascade,
Then walked down the hall to her rooms.
If you such a voyage had made
You’d be glad of an old cozy home.
Courtesy of the estate of Lidya Blinova and Focus Kazakhstan, National Museum of Kazakhstan. Translated by the Russian Reader
“The Learned Pussycat” and other works by Lidya Blinova will be featured in Focus Kazakhstan: Bread and Roses, an exhibition of four generations of Kazakh women artists organized by MOMENTUM in partnership with the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan that will run from September 25 to October 20, 2018, at Studio 1 in the Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin.
The show comprises work in a wide-range of media by twenty artists created from 1945 to the present. Emerging Kazakh women artists are prefaced in the show by a group of eminent forerunners who have remained more or less invisible within the history of Soviet, Kazakh, and world art. Against the tumult of Stalinist repression and its aftermath, the work of these women has forged a bridge between traditional Kazakh arts, crafts and ways of living, the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s, socialist realism, and a completely new approach to art making that emerged in the early the 1980s. The works that these great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters of contemporary Kazakh art have produced reflect the melting pot of ideas and influences between east and west arising from Kazakhstan’s history of tumultuous political and social change. Bread and Rosestakes place in parallel with the Focus Kazakhstan Artist Residency Exhibition at the MOMENTUM Gallery, also in the Kunstquartier Bethanien.
Lidya Blinova’s parents both worked as architects, her grandfather was a priest and mystic. She graduated from the Architecture and Construction Institute in Alma-Ata, and her subsequent work encompassed architecture, art, poetry, sculpture, jewelry, book design, acting, and cinema. By inclination she was a radical. She jointly developed ideas with her husband, Rustam Khalfin, who described her as his “alter ego,” and whom she first met in 1962, at the age of fourteen, in the graphic art studio at Alma-Ata’s Palace of Pioneers. Khalfin’s idea of the pulota, a keyhole into a fragmented world of space, time, and image, originated with Blinova. Formed by the simple gesture of folding a fist and looking through the hole in its middle, it created what she described as the “ultimate plastic object,” replete, at the same time, with fullness and emptiness.
Blinova first began to make wooden sculpture in the studio of Isaak Itkind, a primitivist and friend of Marc Chagall who had been imprisoned in Kazakhstan. and also worked for film director Sergei Bodrov on The Stunned Apostle, for which Pavel Zaltsman, a close associate of Pavel Filonov who had also been interned in Kazakhstan, was production designer. For Bodrov’s second film The Unprofessionals (1985), Blinova worked as costume designer. A polymath, she also made puppet shows for children and experimented on small sculptural forms for jewelry.
During the 1970s, she both organized and was a participant in the private apartment art exhibitions in Alma-Ata that showed autonomous works by pupils of Vladimir Sterligov. Almost the whole group, including Khalfin, had been previously educated as architects. In 1995, she designed a series of catalogues on contemporary Kazakh artists for the Soros Foundation in Almaty and presented her installation Poem for a Cat at the Kokserek Gallery, which also published the eponymous book. In 2011, her work was posthumously represented in the exhibition Between the Past and the Future: Minus 20. The Archeology of Relevance, at the Kasteyev Art Museum in Almaty.
Yuri Leiderman, A Horse’s Story, 2018. Oil, watercolor and charcoal on paper, 42 cm x 30 cm. Courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved
The Russian Reader is a website that covers grassroots politics, social movements, the economy, and independent culture in Russia and the Russian-speaking world. It is not financed by anyone nor has it ever solicited donations. All work on the website is done for free, and no fees are paid for the articles translated into English and posted on the site. Unless otherwise noted, everything published on the Russian Reader can be reproduced elsewhere so long as the Russian Reader is indicated clearly as the source and a link back to the original post is included in the republication.
September 18, 2018
A powerful anti-anti-abortion protest took place today in Petersburg, but you will not hear about it in any of the mass media.
Until we fail to put a halt to abortions, which, fortunately, annually do away with enough people to populate the city the size of Petersburg, there is no point in discussing or contemplating anything serious.
Russia is not only the land of the dead, which has been said more than once, but it is also the land of the unborn.
The Russian Federation not only has a past that never was. It also has a future that will never be.
Russia is a failed state. Russia is a fake state.
All Russians, men and women, are in some respect dead men and dead women, but they are also embryos.
No wonder the stage of (para)political theater has recently been occupied by such figures: aborted embryos telling us they could have been soldiers, for example, and dead women and men, who worked to the grave, but did not live to see a single kopeck of their pensions.
Bringing together the dead and the unborn was long overdue. This is just what we have done in our protest. We are MONSTERS, a new group of militants in the field of political art in Petersburg.
We staged our protest in response to the latest move by the pro-lifers, who played heavy on people’s heart strings.
We profess and practice monstrous political art. We thus decided to do something even more sentimental.
You thus see before you dead embryos. They might not have lived until retirement, but in any case they did not survive until retirement.
A view of the silent protest on Pioneer Square in Petersburg’s Central District
Translated by the Russian Reader
Exhibition view of Vasya Lozhkin, Russia, Great and Beautiful (2010). Photo courtesy of Ekho Moskvy
The Case of the Repost Following a Picket: The Story of an Activist Who Has Sought Asylum in the US
August 28, 2018
Vladimir resident Victoria Lobova was involved in two events in the Don’t Call Him Dimon campaign, and now she has been forced to ask for political asylum in the US. The placard the activist took to the events caught the eye of law enforcement. Lobova faces criminal charges for posting images of it on the social media website VK. OVD Info asked Lobova to tell her own story.
I was involved in an anti-corruption rally on March 26, 2017. I was not punished in any way at the time. Then, on June 12, 2017, the country was swept by a wave of anti-corruption rallies, and I held a solo picket. I was approached by two policemen who asked me to identify myself. I told them my name, and they said I had to go with them. I refused, since I had not violated any laws. They telephoned somebody, asked him what to do, and read him the text of my placard over the phone.
I stood with the placard in downtown Vladimir. The slogan on the placard read, “I’m a young woman. I don’t want to decide anything. I want lace panties, and I want [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev to respond to the country about yachts, vineyards, nonsense, malarkey, and hodgepodge.”
In the evening, I had a visit from the security services, who said I had to report to the police. When I arrived there I was written up for committing an administrative offense: violating the rules for public rallies. I won the court case. Later, in July, a policeman came to my home and said “extremist” matter had been spotted on my VK page.
I had told the police my address and my name during my solo picket. Subsequently, they staked out my social media page. That was how it all kicked off. If I had not carried out a solo picket and mixed with the crowd at the protest rally instead, othing would have come of it. Before I was involved in protest rally, I had a page on VK where I covered political news, but the authorities paid me no mind.
I was cited for a picture that drew a parallel between Putin’s politics and Hitler’s politics. There were Nazi symbols in the photo. Two weeks later, four police officers came and drove me to a temporary detention facility.
I didn’t know till the last minute I would be spending the night there. They took my fingerprints, catalogued the entire contents of my bag, and photographed me. I was told that an ethnic Russian would never publicly display Nazi symbols and that children could have seen them. I replied that the picture had a completely different message. If you read the text, you would easily conclude Nazism was condemned by the authors. I also said that children hardly became Nazis the second they saw a swastika somewhere. Then I was taken to a cell and locked up till morning.
Detail of Vasya Lozhkin’s Russia, Great and Beautiful. Russia is shown as surrounded by countries inhabited by “slant-eyed monkeys,” “wogs,” and other peoples identified by equally offensive terms for non-Russian peoples and ethnic groups. Image courtesy of New Chronicle of Current Events
There was a court hearing in the morning. I was sentenced to three days in jail. Then, in January 2018, the FSB filed criminal charges against me under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (“incitement of hatred or enmity”) for Vasya Lozhkin’s picture Russia, Great and Beautiful, which they had also found reposted on my VK page. (In August 2018, a court ruled the picture could not be considered “extremist.”)
The FSB investigator was unable to get me to confess, and the case seemingly died down. But then the police again paid visits to my house. I would not open the door, which they photographed, probably by way of reporting to their superiors. When they left they would first make the rounds of the neighbors. That was when I realized they would not leave me alone and would send me to prison come what may.
I left Russia in May. I just bought tickets and flew away. There are opportunities for obtaining political asylum. In this sense, I think everything will be fine. I have lots of evidence that I was persecuted.
VK handed over all the information needed to the FSB, so my case was no exception to established practice. I continue to use VK, but now I am somewhere safe. I advise people in Russia to be more careful.
Translated by the Russian Reader
“I don’t know now whether I’ll fall or fly. / I don’t have the strength to fly away nor do I want to lie.”
Отдыхай, я молчу. Я внизу, в стороне.
Я в краю, где молчат. Я на самом краю.
Где-то край, где-то рай, где-то ад, где-то нет
Там, где край, там и ад. Там, где рай, там и нет ничего
Головою в порог — дверь закрой, не смотри
С башни вниз полетишь, если ветер внутри
Если нет, будешь камнем лежать под горой
Там, где празднуют пир при Луне упыри .
Я не знаю теперь — упаду, полечу:
Улететь нету сил, а лежать не хочу
Будет ночь — закричу, отвернусь, укачусь
Разобьюсь всё равно до утра
Постучу во все двери. Пройду по местам, где вас нет
Просто так — может встречу кого по пути
Поклонюсь до земли — головою в порог в третий раз —
Раза два мне ещё до пяти. До шести ещё три —
Будет срок и в острог
Тяжело здесь лежать, были б силы уйти
Или вниз, или с краю чуть-чуть отойти
Хоть на метр — присесть-посидеть-покурить
Может дух испустить, может, перевести…
Отдыхай, не всегда ведь со мною легко
Я не та, кто я есть. Я пока далеко
Я внизу в стороне. Я на самом краю.
Июнь 1987, Омск
Relax, I’m silent. I’m down below, off to the side.
I’m in the land of the silent. I’m on the very brink.
Heaven, hell, the brink are somewhere and somewhere not.
Find the brink and you’ll find hell. Find heaven and you’ll find nothing.
Run headfirst into the threshold. Close the door, don’t look.
You’ll hurtle from the tower if there’s a wind inside.
If there’s none, you’ll like like a rock under the mountain
Where the vampires feast when the moon is out.
I don’t know now whether I’ll fall or fly.
I don’t have the strength to fly away nor do I want to lie.
When night comes, I’ll scream, I’ll turn away, I’ll leave in a hurry.
Anyway I’ll be smashed to smithereens before morning.
I’ll knock on all the doors. I’ll go everywhere you aren’t
Just for the heck of it. Maybe I’ll meet someone along the way.
I’ll bow down to the ground and go headfirst into the threshold a third time.
Two more times makes five. Three more times makes six.
There will be time in jail.
It’s hard to lie here. Would that I had the strength to leave
Or go down or back away from the brink a bit,
If only a meter, to sit down and have a sit and a smoke,
Maybe to give up the ghost, maybe to catch my breath.
Relax, it’s not always easy with me.
I’m not who I am. I’m still far away.
I’m down below, off to the side. I’m on the very brink.
June 1987, Omsk
Photo and translation by the Russian Reader
*This text is not an objective reflection of the “hearing.” Rather, I see its value as therapeutic in the light of what happened today.
This was my second time at a remand extension hearing for Viktor Filinkov.
There were more people, and their voices were louder. But I still left feeling as if I had been hit with a shovel, which was no surprise.
This time round, the court bailiffs immediately herded everyone down to the first floor, but they were unable to drive anyone completely out of the courthouse.
People stood near the stairway.
Our way down the long corridor was blocked by three beefy bailiffs, who were the centerpiece of a genuine commedia dell’arte.
At first, they used a bench to block the way into the corridor. Folks sat down on the bench. Then they decided to remove the bench. One young woman, however, refused to get up, and the three muscleheads threatened to drag her forcibly from the bench. They left the bench where it was, but turned it around. I managed to squeeze through and sit down on it.
Folks were pushing from one side, as during rush hour in the subway, while on the other side an amphitheater opened up. Knights in bulletproof vests outfitted with tons of pockets stood in this amphitheater. They were nearly motionless, like the best sitters during life drawing classes at the Academy of Arts.
I tried to make a stupid joke that snuggling up against young women like that, not letting them walk down the corridor, was the only joy in their dull jobs. A tall, thin bailiff (I had sketched him at the previous hearing) kept running back and forth, trying to cuddle up to T., pushing his more broad-shouldered colleague away from her.
The broad-shouldered bailiff, who bore a resemblance to Ramzan Kadyrov, smiled reservedly when I joked, while the other bailiff (I memorized his name: Anton) went so far as to say it was not their choice to wear the bulletproof vests, but they were under orders to wear them. He kept pulling at the neck of his t-shirt, as if he wanted to tear off his entie sweaty get-up.
But my jokes and attempts to see something human about them collapsed when all of them went after reporter David Frenkel, elbowing their way through the crowd. We tried to squeeze past them, but they had the right to employ violence. I sensed the tension in their elbows. But if someone like me had tensed their elbows like that, they would have been charged with “disobeying” officers of the law. It was scary.
Amid the stuffiness of the corridor, a ball consisting of the swearing gorillas and skinny David rolled down the stairway. (It transpired later the brave young men broke David’s glasses.)
The crowd seethed with despair and resentment.
“Look at yourselves! How you behave! You are violating the right of citizens to exercise their right to . . . ,” a female court clerk in a blue dress kept repeating at us.
“I have every grounds!”
The bits of bureaucratese clawed at each other. Words stumbled and snapped, turning into feckless curses.
“What grounds do you have for kicking us out?”
“I have every grounds!”
“Who the heck are you?”
“I’m the locum!”
“Whose locum? What’s your name?”
“I’ve already told you everything!”
This had all happened somewhere before, either in a story by Kafka or during my schooldays.
Ultimately, I really resent the fact I cannot draw Viktor or Yuli Boyarshinov or the lively crowd, constantly in motion, but am forced to draw the faces of the bailiffs, frozen in the stupid frenzy of their work. Violence is such a habitual part of their work they have ceased noticing it.
I would rather not have the opportunity to draw them. I would rather this hearing had not taken place. I would like to have magical powers and make it all go away. I would snap my fingers and, instead of a court bailiff, a marvelous violinist would be standing there or a waste recycling engineer who was a feminist and vegan to boot.
But, alas, the bailiffs pushed us back by another ten centimeters, and Ninja Turtles in balaclavas escorted Viktor into the courtroom. Our only magical powers were yelling and clapping as loudly as we could.
Like last time, I could not take it anymore. I left before the hearing was over. Where can I find the strength to endure this?
Drawings by Anna Tereshkina. I thank Ms. Tereshkina for her kind permission to reproduce them here as well as publish a translation of the accompanying text. All images © Anna Tereshkina, 2018. Translated by the Russian Reader.
What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?
If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and repost the recent articles the Russian Reader has translated and published on these subjects.