The Singuniversal Wages of Glocalism

“The Slavic peoples are like one family. I can’t bear the idea of fighting with Ukraine.”
— Man skating on Moscow’s “packed” outdoor ice rink, quoted on “PM,” BBC Radio 4, 20 December 2021

A still from the film Transit (Christian Petzold, 2018)

Beyond freedom and justice, peace on earth is the ultimate purpose of political action. Violence and aggressivity are among the instincts that our nature has equipped us with to achieve the purpose of peace via devious and costly ways. This is Kant’s thesis in Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View. I find it realistic, politically. Art is ridiculously powerless on the political level. Its domain is the purposiveness without the purpose. It places its bets on sensus communis, the faculty of agreeing by dint of feeling, as if it were an instinct, knowing well that the chances are great that it is merely an idea. My talk, I realise, is a plea for empirical pessimism combined with transcendental optimism, which is why I embraced neither the optimistic nor the pessimistic view of today’s glocal art world. I am the observer who reflects on the situation. But I am a militant when I claim that there is a difference between the expanding glocal communities involved by the various art biennials and the singuniversal community demanded by the aesthetic judgement when it is uttered as ‘this is art.’ The latter community is humanity itself, all of us.
— Thierry de Duve, “The Glocal and the Singuniversal: Reflections on Art and Culture in the Global World,” Third Text, vol. 21, no. 6 (2007), pp. 687–88

_________

On August 2, 2013, Russian Paratroopers Day, Kirill Kalugin, a Petersburg university student, took to the city’s Palace Square alone to protest the country’s new anti-gay laws. He was immediately set upon by reveling paratroopers (or as he himself suggested, by national activists masquerading as paratroopers), an incident captured on video by Petersburg news website Bumaga.

Kalugin returned to Palace Square this year on August 2 to protest Russia’s increasing militarism and imperialist misadventures in Ukraine. He was roughly detained by police some fifteen seconds after attempting to unfurl a rainbow flag emblazoned with the slogan, “My freedom defends yours.” Despite the fact that Kalugin held his anniversary protest right next to Manifesta 10’s provocative metallic Xmas tree, his protest has so far gone unremarked by progressive humanity (i.e., the international contemporary arts community) and the foreign press.

The interview below was published in August 2013 on the local Petersburg news web site Rosbalt three weeks after Kalugin’s first protest on Palace Square. Unfortunately, it hasn’t lost any of its timeliness, especially given the total absence of an anti-war movement in Russia and the singularity of Kalugin’s bravery and insight.
— “Kirill Kalugin: ‘My Freedom Defends Yours,'” The Russian Reader, 5 August 2014

_________

Alexander Hotz
Facebook
December 17, 2021

A Treaty on the “End of History”

Over time, it has become clearer why the Putin regime started rattling military hardware near the borders with Ukraine. It’s not only about the fear of “NATO expansion” and the struggle for a sphere of imperial influence, as it had seemed at first.

Putin’s “draft treaty” with the collective west is a more profound, existential document, reflecting the regime’s fear of the logic of history, which naturally pushes Russia along the path of European progress and demolition of the dictatorship.

A desperate Putin has offered the west something in the spirit of Fukuyama that would secure the “end of history” and guarantee that the “political system” of Putin’s Russia would remain unchanged. The belief in the power of a document that would stop historical progress is somehow touching in its naivety.

Fully in keeping with Saltykov-Shchedrin’s imaginary town of Glupov, where “history has stopped flowing,” the Putin regime does not propose ruling out “NATO expansion” as such. Rather, it dreams of consolidating the rejection of support for “color revolutions” in Russia, as if revolutions were fueled not by the system’s rottenness, but by the insidious west.

That is the funniest thing about the draft “treaty.” It transpires that it has nothing at all to do with NATO and imperial ambitions in the spirit of a “Yalta 2.” It has everything to do with humdrum fear for the internal stability of Putin’s political system. The deal proposed to the west is not fueled by imperial ambitions (although lip service is paid to them in the treaty, it is unlikely that its authors themselves believe that Ukraine can be returned to Russia’s imperial orbit), but by fear of impending revolutionary change.

It is especially comical that a whole paragraph of the preamble is dedicated personally to Alexei Navalny, his regional organizations, and the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).

Navalny’s surname is not mentioned, but it sticks out of the draft treaty like a sore thumb. Putin demands “strict compliance with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs, including refraining from supporting organizations, groups or individuals calling for an unconstitutional change of power, as well as from undertaking any actions aimed at changing the political or social system of one of the Contracting Parties[.]”

The Putin system’s fear of “individuals,” which has even seeped into the text of an international document, is impressive in its scale.

All is in order with the demagoguery here too. It is a con man’s clever trick to tear up the Russian Constitution through a “plebiscite,” change the political system, and then demand respect from the west for it. (Redraw the borders, grab Crimea, and then yell about the “principle of non-interference.”)

We are going back to the bad old Soviet Union in terms of international agreements. What kind of language is this? “Changing the political system”: as if we were not talking about democracy (something shared by Russia and the west), but about the struggle between two political economic formations — between capitalism and socialism.

It is no accident that the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” has wormed its way into the “treaty” in homage to the glorious Soviet past, for which the Russian kleptocracy yearns. In the 1970s, however, the Kremlin demanded that the west keep its hands off its socialist ideology. Today, the demand is different: “Keep your hands off our kleptocracy!”

The Kremlin stubbornly reproduces the worldview which collapsed along with the USSR a long time ago. Putin has not learned any lessons from history, however.

In fact, the whole draft “treaty” with the west is a desperate call to stop history, freezing Putinism’s collapse due to its internal depravity. It is an attempt to pretend that the reason for the failures of the “social system” is the west’s influence and support of Navalny. It was the same way in the USSR, which sought the cause of its own decrepitude in dissidents, “anti-Soviet agitation,” and “western propaganda.” But the cause was much simpler. Everyone was fed up with the Soviet regime: that was why it collapsed.

The “elites” of the “Pu dynasty” have learned nothing. They want everything to be as it was under “granddad” (Leonid Brezhnev), offering the west an immoral and anti-historical picture of the world in which there is no place for living history with its logic of progress, only for the “insidious influence” of secret services and foreign agents.

They have “Chekism on the brain,” as has been said. A fatal case of it.

But there is an upside to this ridiculous document and its proposal to put the “end of history” down on paper à la Ugryum-Burcheev. It gives us a glimpse of the finale awaiting a “political system” which has lost touch with reality and lives in a dream world.

If you don’t understand where history is headed, have a mystical dread of progress, and are nostalgic for the bad old Soviet Union, then ultimately you’ll get another “geopolitical catastrophe,” one for which you will be to blame, not Navalny or the United States.

Strange as it may sound, Putin wants the United States to subscribe to his version of history. This is not a dispute over spheres of influence, but over what kind of world we live in. The madman wants the doctors to recognize his hallucinations as the norm. (The doctors don’t know what to do with the patient yet: he is not alone in the ward and has a knife in his pocket.)

But regardless of how things turn out for the “crazy old man,” kudos to Alexei Navalny. It is not given to just anyone to be identified in Russian Foreign Ministry documents as the principal threat to Russia and its “political system.”

Thanks to Alexander Skobov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Vitamin Pharmacy

Olga Vasilieva, The Vitamin Pharmacy: Temporary Structures, 2021. Ink on paper, 52 х 32 cm. Courtesy of the Facebook public groups Petersburg in the Year Twenty-One: Line Art and St. Petersburger Ansichten in allen Variationen der Kunst
* * * * *

The E.E. Brömme Mansion is a historic mansion in St. Petersburg. It is located in the Vasilyevsky Island District, at 41 12th Line, Building 1-Zh. An official regional cultural landmark, it is one of the few surviving wooden mansions in the city’s historic center. It is also known as one of the “Siege addresses”: the so-called Vitamin Pharmacy operated in the mansion during the Siege of Leningrad.

[…]

In 1893, the lot was purchased by the brothers Eduard, Robert and Wilhelm Brömme. They were the sons of the German architect Eduard Georg Christian Brömme, who had settled in St. Petersburg in the early nineteenth century. The Brömme brothers were related to the famous Poehle family of Petersburg pharmacists Pele: their father was married to Wilhelm Poehle’s sister Wilhelmina Maria, and one of the brothers, Eduard, to his daughter Emilia.

In the mid-1890s, the trading company Brömme Brothers founded a factory for the production of essential oils and chemicals. In 1897-1898, additional factory buildings, designed by the architect A.P. Soskov, were constructed in brick on the lot where the mansion was located. The Brömme factory produced essential oils for perfumes and pharmaceuticals, fruit essences used in the manufacture of soda pop and confectionery, and aniline dyes.

The wooden one-story mansion with a mezzanine floor, which at that time belonged to Eduard Brömme and also served as the factory’s office building, was redesigned in 1906 by the architect V.S. Karpovich. The building was adorned with carved neoclassical decor, as well as two majolica panels and a majolica figured medallion featuring floral motifs, in a wooden frame containing the figures of griffins. All three ornaments were made at the Geldwein-Vaulin ceramic workshop by Pyotr Vaulin. The mansion and its fence faced the building setback line on the 12th Line, while the garden surrounding it served as a buffer zone between the house and the factory.

After the Revolution, the factory was nationalized. In the 1920s, it was known as the Fruit Aroma factory. In 1931-1935, the chemical plant of Politkatorzhanin, an industrial firm run by the Leningrad regional branch of the Society of Former Political Prisoners and Exiled Settlers, operated in the same facilities. The plant produced essences and oils for the food industry. After the society was liquidated, the plant was transferred to the People’s Commissariat of the Food Industry and converted into a vitamin-manufacturing plant (Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1). The wooden mansion was repurposed as cafeteria for workers and a kitchen, and was also used as an administrative building.

“The Vitamin Pharmacy”
At the outset of the Siege, Leningrad’s chemists and doctors said that, in addition to hunger, the inhabitants of the besieged city were threatened by diseases caused by a lack of vitamins in the diet — in particular, by scurvy. A research group was organized that included chemists, biochemists and engineers. Alexei Bezzubov, the director of the chemical engineering department at the Vitamin Industry Research Institute and a consultant for the Leningrad Front board of health, was appointed head of the research group. On October 15, 1941, it released draft regulations for the production of conifer infusions — a remedy for vitamin C deficiency. On November 18, 1941, the Leningrad Executive Committee issued a decree entitled “On measures to prevent vitamin deficiency.” Pine and spruce needles for the production of infusions were harvested on the outskirts of the city by teams of women. Carotene was also obtained from the needles. Later, the production of yeast from wood rich in B vitamins and the processing of saltbush, hogweed, cow parsley, sorrel, nettle, and dandelions were established. Infusions from these plants saved the servicemen defending the city from night blindness caused by a lack of vitamin A. Tobacco dust, found in Leningrad’s tobacco factories, was used to produce nicotinic acid for treating pellagra.

All these drugs were produced at specialized enterprises in the city, including the Mikoyan confectionery factory and Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1. The plant’s administrative building — the Brömme mansion — also functioned as the outlet where city dweller received their vitamin rations and was popularly known as the “vitamin pharmacy.” Vitamin plant employees warmed up and partially lived in the mansion, since it was easier to heat than the factory workshops.

Leningrad Vitamin Plant No. 1 on the 12th Line continued to operate after the war. From 1977 to 1987, it was one of the production facilities of the Farmakon chemical pharmaceutical company.

[…]

People’s Memorial
Despite the fact that there has never been a memorial plaque on the building, Petersburgers remember the Brömme mansion as the “vitamin pharmacy,” a “Siege address.” There is a tradition of laying flowers outside the building on the commemorative dates of September 8 (the day the Siege of Leningrad began) and January 27 (the day the Siege was lifted). In 2021, residents of Vasilyevsky Island who are members of the Facebook group From the Spit to the Harbor organized a commemorative action that lasted from January 18 (the day the Siege was broken) to January 27.

“On January 18, we will bring photos of our relatives who went through the Siege on Vasilyevsky. We are not planning any big meetings or gatherings, but we hope that between the two Siege anniversaries, everyone who wants to join the action will bring photos of their relatives: those who stayed on the Island during the Siege; those who left the Island to defend Leningrad; and Siege survivors and veterans who themselves had nothing to do with the Island, but whose descendants now live on Vasilievsky Island. You can bring your photos on any day of the action and at any time. On January 27, we will collect all the photos (the memorial is intended as a temporary one) and keep them until next January.”

Consequently, flowers and wreaths were laid outside the Brömme mansion, and photographs of Leningraders who survived the Siege were posted on the mansion’s fence. A homemade plaque memorializing the Siege chemists and the “vitamin pharmacy” was also mounted on the mansion’s wall.

Source: “E.E. Brömme Mansion,” ru.wikipedia.org. Translated by the Russian Reader

Freud and Obama at the Parade

Sergey Fedulov, Freud and Obama at the Parade, 2021. Gouache on paper. Courtesy of Studio 6 at St. Petersburg Municipal Psychiatric Hospital No. 6. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Ryzhov. The painting is currently on view at the exhibition Beyond the Establishment, at the Marble Palace of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

Beyond the Establishment is an inclusive project of the Russian Museum and the first large-scale attempt to present the work of non-professional modern artists with mental disorders and/or psychiatric experience from an artistic point of view. Without diminishing the social significance of the exhibition, the aesthetic value of the artworks is in the foreground. The authors presented here express their personal attitude to the world through creativity, which fits well into the strategies of contemporary art, where the factor of professional artistic education has long ceased to prevail. First of all, these artists are distinguished by [their] lack of involvement in the art community, the art establishment and its marketing strategies, the current discourse on art, etc.

The process of including such art into common artistic practice was launched at the beginning of the twentieth century, but the terms that arose decades ago have acquired new shades of meaning over time and now no longer seem to be either correct or accurate enough to describe the phenomenon in its entirety. This also applies to the two most common terms: art brut and outsider art. The title of this exhibition, Beyond the Establishment, does not solve terminological problems, but indicates the intersection point for the six artists represented here.

Source: Beyond the Establishment

A rendering of the text below, about the artist Sergey Fedulov, in Russian Sign Language

Sergey Fedulov (born in 1981) started drawing at an early age. His grandfather was an artist and supported his grandson’s hobby, allowing him to make art any way he wanted and anywhere he wanted—even on the walls. After finishing school, Sergey studied to be a restorer at college. At first, he drew from life, as many artists do, but he always dreamed of finding his own special technique and original manner, and he was helped to do this at the Alternative Studio at Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic No. 7. After the Alternative Studio closed in 2018, the artist began working at Studio 6 at Psychiatric Hospital No. 6 and found support from the Outsiderville project.

Fedulov is fond of science fiction and is prone to supernatural interpretations of social and political conflicts. The artist’s style can be defined as a fantastic realism that is not averse to irony and sarcasm. In his world, communism has triumphed on a universal scale, but it is not aggressive or threatening: it is the ideal model of intergalactic order. The frightening potential of political myths is rendered harmless: they turn into anecdote, fairy tale, awkwardness. In the curators’ opinion, the inclusion of Masyanya as a recurring character helps Sergey openly fantasize and feel free on the paper. In every work there is a dialogue—not only between earthly authorities, but also with the inhabitants of other planets, who can also be heard. The frightening potential of political myths is neutralized—they are turned into anecdotes, fairy tales, embarrassments. Dream and reality are intertwined: Comrade Stalin meets Napoleon, the psychiatrist Pyotr Kashchenko treats aliens, Sigmund Freud and Barack Obama review a military parade, and these events are calmly observed by the cat Masyanya, the artist’s pet. According to the curators, the inclusion of Masyanya as a recurring character has enanbled Sergey to fantasize freely on the paper.

Fedulov’s works have been shown at the Russian Museum (St. Petersburg, 2019, 2020), the Museum of Russian Lubok and Naive Art (Moscow, 2019), the Ariadne’s Thread Festival (Moscow, 2018), the 2nd Triennial of Self-Taught Artists (Yagodina, Serbia, 2019) and Art Brut Global. Phase II (a virtual project of the Outsider Art Fair, 2020). His work was also in competition at the Paralym Art World Cup in Tokyo in 2020.

Source: Beyond the Establishment. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Mikhail Ryzhov and Victoria Andreyeva for bringing this marvelous artist and this show to my attention.

Yuri Leiderman: The Black General

Yuri Leiderman
Facebook
September 29, 2021

“The Black General”
I arrived in the city of Heraklion and checked into the hotel. I turned on the TV while I got settled in. On TV5Monde, a group of intellectuals in well-chosen nonchalant jackets was discussing Rimbaud, Kafka and Gallimard’s new releases.

I should have been like them, I thought enviously.

I could have become like them, I thought, horrified.

There is no Pinochet to reign them in,
No Black Colonel,
No Black General,
I thought with a grin.

So I am the very last Black General, overgrown and useless and grassy, I thought without much emotion, after appending hands, palms, and wrists, like claws, like threads, to the seams.

Translated and reproduced here with the artist’s kind permission by the Russian Reader

The Post-Soviet Imaginary

“Tashkent 1930,” reads the caption in the original posting of this photo on Facebook. The girls are wearing shirts bearing the (Latin) abbreviation “UzSSR” (Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic). The cotton boll emblem on their shirts suggests they might be headed for the cotton fields as “voluntary” pickers, an abusive practice that is still common there. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up.
Anatoly Belkin, “Persimmon Vendor,” Imperial Porcelain Factory. Posted on Facebook by Andrei Yerokhin. Thanks to Sergei Damberg for the heads-up. Despite this figurine’s “old timey” (Soviet) appearance, underscored by the “Ovoshchprodtorg No. 17” (“Vegetable Retail Organization No. 17”) logo  on the stand, a commenter claims the work is by a modern artist.

The Cardiff Album

These are two of my favorite snapshots. I’m pictured here with the phenomenally brilliant Babi Badalov at the opening of his show The Cardiff Album at the Freud Museum of Dreams in Petersburg on November 3, 2008. The pictures were taken by the equally phenomenal Sergey Chernov. Below the second photo is the intro I wrote for the show. ||| TRR

Born in Lerik, Azerbaijan, in 1959, Babi (Babakhan) Badalov is a living embodiment of cosmopolitanism’s dark and spontaneously convivial underbelly. In his world, people do not travel from one country to another with polished ease, flashing their passports to the guards as they pass effortlessly through frontiers and effecting the shift from one language to another with fluency and grace. On the contrary, when you are a refugee, exile, migrant worker or itinerant artist, you manage these transitions as best you can, mangling the new idioms you learn and fusing them with half-remembered tongues you picked up along the way, mingling them with memories of a mother tongue that never matured into adulthood because at a tender age you left your mountain village for the capitals, where encounters with countrymen were few and furtive and somewhat beside the point. In the provincial capital, you learned the official language of artificial nationhood along with the (un)official language of the anti-imperial empire, neither of them your own, both of them suspicious (of you and of themselves). This was violence to be sure, but you turned this violence back upon itself, never fully learning any of these codes well enough to pass for a native. Nativity, after all, is naïveté, an identification both outwardly enforced and grimly self-willed. For an artist, whether of life or the brush, submitting to too many of these identity checks means submitting to kitsch and cliché.

Of course you submit to these as well—you cannot help but submit: you are an artist, not a fighter—but when you succumb you always go too far, giving the lie to the endlessly tautological chains of self-identity that pass for human speech, which, as Lacan and others tell us, is the inhuman machinery that undergirds and overdetermines our visibly silly search for selfhood. You do not need Lacan to tell you this, though, because you are confronted daily with its external effects, masked as real people in real lifeworlds, who are kind or cruel or indifferent but rarely anything other than language machines. In your poems, you disassemble these machines, heap their parts into great, disorderly piles, and then begin putting them back together in defiance of common sense and good taste and the rules of art. It is worse than that. You get the words all wrong: you pronounce them with the wrong accent; you confuse tenses, case endings, conjugations, and registers. You use, illicitly, the Latin alphabet when you write in Russian, and most of your Russian texts are chockablock with English. When you declaim your poems, whether aloud, in a smoke-filled room crowded with alcoholic crypto-nationalists, or with paste and scissors, as in your collages, it is hard not to escape the impression that a faulty robot has arrived from the island of misfit toys to tell us something we would rather not hear—that all our projects of empire- and nation-building have failed.

Your art is political, personal and politically (in)correct. This is what Adorno meant by the autonomy of art, but if he had met you he probably would have turned away in horror, as he did when his well-meaning German students enjoined him to join them on the barricades.

You ask us to join you on the barricades, but what does solidarity look like from there? It looks like this. For years, you live in wretched conditions in a magnificent squat in the middle of Petersburg. Outside, in the square, stands a monument to the greatest African-American poet of them all, Alexander Pushkin. Your comrades-in-arms are artistic scapegrace outlaws, and their ambitiously unambitious version of conviviality will finally lead to their tiny island’s recuperation by the new powers that be, for whom art is just window dressing for real estate and financial speculation. So when this experiment in direct democracy goes awry, you are induced by your family to return to your “homeland” of Azerbaijan and live the straight life. This is almost too much for me to imagine: for me you are the gayest man on the planet, in all senses of the word. When this becomes unbearable, you use the second half of a double-entry visa to make your way to England, that green and pleasant land that would have been a much duller place throughout its history without adventurers like you.

But you plan this particular adventure all wrong, just as you write poetry the wrong way. You declare asylum as soon as you arrive, but in the New Labour UK—in the midst of a war on terror that has also opened a front running straight down the middle of the country—you are treated both as a potential combatant and an obscure object of bureaucratic desire. At the first asylum center (prison) to which they send you, a riot—complete with helicopters, media coverage, and armored police—breaks out. When you tell the story later, it is quite funny, though of course there is nothing funny about it. After a grand tour of Britain with brief sojourns in another few such oases, your case is officially accepted for review and you are dispatched to Cardiff, where you are given a tiny stipend and a council flat. It is all very civil, except for the weekly check-ins with the UK Border Agency, the more or less constant threat of deportation, and the grinding poverty. That does not faze you, however; or rather it does, but you turn that fazing into art. What kind of art? Dolls made from scraps of fabric; dogs fashioned from Wellington boots; and “visual poems” patched together from clippings and other printed detritus, embroidered with whorls of off-kilter, ham-fisted linguistic ravings, and asylumed on the pages of an old photo album you pick out of a rubbish bin.

This is the Cardiff Album, the diary of your journey through the underside of UK immigration policy. You are the Persian Ambassador (a role you played at an evening in solidarity with Salman Rushdie held in the former Persian embassy in Petersburg in 1995), but the marvels you record on your visits to strange lands look like nothing so much as the end of history having its revenge on the last romantics. Your ambassadorial credentials are recognized only by a ragtag band of Welsh anarchists who make your case their cause célèbre, even though you are a celebrity only in the minds of the people you have stitched together in your wanderings and in “alternative” Azeri news outlets starved for news. When it looks certain that you will be deported, the first half of this inoperative community begins bombarding bureaucrats, parliamentarians, and airline officials with faxes, letters, and e-mails. I have not seen you in years, but I would rather not see you again in such circumstances, so I spend half an hour on the phone telling a Pakistani (or was he Bangladeshi?) call center operator that he should not be party to this horrible crime against human freedom that his airline is about to commit. I tell him to get up from his desk and leave work. What right did I have to tell him that? Rights are not given, they are taken. (Did Bakunin say that? Or was it Kropotkin? Or perhaps it was Gorky? Or maybe no one said it?)

Much as I would rather not seen you again, see you I do a couple days after my stupid conversation with your cleverer immigrant non-brother. You and I have nothing in common, just as no one really has anything in common with anyone else. It is too bad that more people do not realize this sad, happy fact. If more people did, they might actually be able to begin making something in common.

NB. The full Russian version of this text was published in Viktor Mazin, ed., Kabinet Iu: Kartiny mira III (Saint Petersburg: Skifiya, 2010). An abridged English version was published in Babi Badalov, Menilmontant Book (Murcia, Spain: Manifesta 8 & transit.cz, 2010). The Cardiff Album was exhibited in full at the Freud Museum of Dreams (Saint Petersburg) in November–December 2008. Parts of the album have also been exhibited in the group shows Monument to Transformation (City Gallery Prague, 2009); On Geekdom (Benaki Museum, Athens, 2007); Progressive Nostalgia (Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, 2007); and The Return of Memory (Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, 2007).

Source: Chtodelat.org

Darya Apahonich: and (or)

THIS MESSAGE (CONTENT) HAS BEEN CREATED AND (OR) DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET FUNCTIONING AS A FOREIGN AGENT AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY FUNCTIONING AS A FOREIGN AGENT.

and (or)
a booklet by Darya Apahonchich
Foreignlandia, 2021

I add THIS thirty-one-word message, given to me by the Russian Justice Ministry, to all my social media posts, because now I am not a person, but a “media foreign agent,” which is something like a biased foreign newspaper, radio station or TV channel.

“Foreign Agent”

Over the last six months, I have been able to decipher this MESSAGE and the status of “foreign agent,” with which dozens of human rights organizations, media outlets and just plain people (journalists and activists) have to live. Translated from Justice Ministry-speak, it means: “Shut up.”

“Go on, eat these letters”

What is it like? It’s like being force-fed porridge. Only it’s not porridge, but words. And it’s not Mom feeding you, but the Justice Ministry. And you are not you, but (CONTENT) for experiments in state violence.

“Beware of the female agent!”

It’s not just literal garbage. It’s a toxic label that makes it difficult to work, paralyzing you. It’s enough to push everything that HAS BEEN CREATED behind a long verbal fence and distance me and my work from my audience.

I became a foreign agent on the afternoon of December 28, as I was sitting at home with two children after having covid, dazed from the isolation. My son was “hatching” dinosaur larvae. The larvae were beans, and they were hatched mainly in my sock. So, with a sock full of beans, I gave dozens of interviews. In the last six months, there have been more interviews, more beans, AND more agents. I don’t even know what the moral of this story is.

“Newspaper ≠ woman”

At some point I even wrote a fairy tale for the Justice Ministry. It was quite boring, so I abandoned it. But one of the jokes in it was funny. I asked the Justice Ministry, “How do you know, Justice Ministry, whether you’re dealing with a woman (OR) a newspaper?”

Then I went into a long comparison of women and newspapers. I explained where you could find the imprints and headlines in newspapers and women, where you could find their darkest recesses and traces of proofreading. Newspapers were most often regarded as things to be consumed, I wrote, and alas, so were women. Although it did happen that women were considered individuals, this view was not yet widely DISSEMINATED.

“Every part of me is my face. Front-page story. Free Yulia Tsvetkova!”

Look, Justice Ministry, this is a front-page story about Yulia Tsvetkova. You can call her BY A FOREIGN word, or you can use a Russian word, but you know, Justice Ministry, it doesn’t make a woman a newspaper.

I counted how many words I still have to illustrate — I don’t think I can come up with that many jokes. But I can’t afford to give up: it would be a shame not to take the piss out of the Russian Federation. Consider this booklet of mine a form of therapy, a remedy for the Russian authorities. I have often been asked why there are so few foreign agents. And why did they pick me? I think this is due to the fact that the state is still lazy. It takes a lot of effort to engage in large-scale crackdowns, but in this case you take five people and have a little fun with them. You expend the energy you would in a local warlet, but the effect is the same as in a MASSive war. Basically, I’m a figure of a little fun. (While I was writing this text, more foreign MEDIA agents were added to the list.)

“Foreign media reports about the Russian language! Give us more stories about grammatical cases! Everybody’s crazy about grammatical cases!”

I have to say that I haven’t conceived a passion for journalism over the last six months. I wonder how it’s possible to be a mass media OUTLET without an education in journalism and journalistic ambitions. The only things I’ve ever talked about on a massive scale are grammatical cases and feminitives.

The idea of “foreign agents” smacks of crass objectification. The authorities see everything — people, non-governmental organizations, media, activists — as rebellious things, as broken robotic slaves. And what do you do with a machine that is malFUNCTIONING? Reduced to a function, but opposed to it, a thing like this is tagged AS A fuck-up and failure that can now be scrapped.

“Not a foreign land for anyone.”

Once every three months I fill out a report for the Justice Ministry. They ask me in the interests of which FOREIGN state did I do what I did? You know, Justice Ministry, everything I do, I do in the hope that one day there will be no states and borders, that there will be only free people and free lands.

It’s a pity that I can’t be labeled a pan-national no-government AGENT. It would suit me better.

“In hell, Justice Ministry employees endlessly write, ‘THIS MESSAGE…'”

I’ve been swimming in the sea of the Russian language my whole life. AND even though I sometimes thought about leaving, I could never imagine that I’d be able to leave Russia in a matter of two days. But the cops who came with guys from the Emergency Situations Ministry to cut out my door open with an angle grinder and search my flat taught me to be decisive. By the way, hello, you guys! Burn in hell!

“What’s this? And this? I don’t recognize this either. It’s something incomprehensible.”

I walked around the house, which had been turned into a big lump of things by the search, wondering whether to take this (OR) that. I took almost nothing.

“Me and the kids on the road.”

I left the country, taking the children, several books, Russian grammar and fear with me. With this kind of baggage, I’m considered A RUSSIAN national in Foreignlandia, which makes  complete sense.

Living in a world where you have only your flesh and bones, but the state claims to see you as a LEGAL entity, is like being on a virtual reality ride. Only everyone has the special glasses, and you don’t.

“Foreign mass (beauty) outlet.”

Hey, newspaper woman, what’s wrong with your face? Are you an ENTITY?

“Russia . . . functioning as a foreign agent.”

When meeting new people, I take the most time explaining this whole absurd story. It’s a big chunk of time, but I still append these thirty-one words to every post and send reports to the Justice Ministry. Why do I do this? I think it’s my umbilical cord. My country won’t say goodbye to an agent fulfilling the demands of the authorities, and Agent Apahonchich still has a FUNCTIONING hope of returning home.

“Words, words, words, words, words, words.”

What matters now is not to ASsume the functions of the state by engaging in self-censorship and thus fueling state paranoia, to remember that waves of rhetoric are the loudest and fastest. They will subside, and we will go on living.

So I’m sitting on the shore of A FOREIGN language, learning it as if I were combing a field of grass, but I remember that my soul also looks uncombed to the foreign eye. I’m growing my garden and taking care of the dinosaur larvae—my harvest is good!

 

Thanks for walking this way with me. Take care of your own gardens and seas. Warm greetings from your female agentka, whom the sexist Justice Ministry takes for a male AGENT.

________________

Originally published by Darya Apahonchich on her Facebook page on 30 July 2021. Translated, from the Russian, and with the author’s permission, by Thomas H. Campbell

Bad Habits

I’m fortunate to be friends, acquaintances and colleagues with many, many Russians from the worlds of contemporary art, academia, literature and social activism (and, sometimes, all of them at once). That’s why I’ve been able to see, time and again over the last dreadful year and a half, the plain truth of the bad habits mentioned by New York Times reporter Anton Troianovski, in his dispatch from Moscow yesterday:

Russia’s most recent high-profile outbreaks involve the inner circle of President Vladimir V. Putin, who has been in isolation himself after several members of his staff tested positive. Many Russians, however, have developed a laissez-faire attitude toward the virus, questioning the need to be vaccinated and often wearing masks around their chins, if at all.

Just yesterday, in fact, I was looking at photos of an art exhibition opening in Siberia, posted on Facebook by a real-life acquaintance (and featuring a wonderful cultural historian and curator I’ve know since 1995). The opening looks like a super-spreader event to me, and it looks exactly like most other such events chronicled by many of my Russian friends during the pandemic.

Thanks to VN for these photos. I’m sure my reading of them is not the takeaway he intended, but having lost two Russian friends and several acquaintances to covid, I feel genuinely distressed about Russian society’s “laissez-faire attitude” to public health and the well-being of their fellow citizens. But since I lived in Russia for half of my adult life, its wanton cruelty and suicidal tendencies are all too familiar to me. ||| TRR