Muruzi House

brodThe young woman (left) and the late Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky (right) have nothing to do with the story, told below, of a Central Asian female migrant, working as a residential building caretaker in Petersburg, and her temporarily misplaced daughter. In recent days, however, this “graffiti” portrait of the Nobel laureate, which was quickly painted over, has been the talk of Brodsky’s hometown. The brutal conditions in which Central Asian migrant workers live in Petersburg and other Russian cities are virtually never the talk of the town, although it is their poorly paid drudgery that makes it possible for the “natives” to lead such rich spiritual and intellectual lives, chockablock with fine poetry and heated debates about “street art” and aesthetics. Photograph courtesy of the Instagram page Dom Muruzi

George Losev
Facebook
May 28, 2020

While I was at work, I found a little girl outside the entrance of a residential building. She was calling for her mother, her mommy. She was lost. Although the girl could speak Russian, she was unable, of course, to say where she lived and when she had last seen her mommy. But she was enjoying playing with a broken plastic motorcycle.

I couldn’t go to the police. Who knew what problems with papers the little girl’s family had? In any case, the police would shake down the girl’s mother and father and rob them.

An old lady in the neighborhood with whom I organized an ACSC (ad-hoc committee for saving the child) agreed with my assessment. During the ten minutes of our existence as a committee, we couldn’t come up with anything. Fortunately, the mother—a local building caretaker—showed up and fetched her daughter.

How disgusting it is to live in a society where you can’t go to the police, because the police are robbers and looters with blank stares.

George Losev is a housing authority electrician and revolutionary leftist activist in Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

Riders!

vo-shark-1989Vadim Ovchinnikov, Shark, 1989

Swift-footed riders!
Don’t burn with envy beneath the gaze
Of those who died untimely deaths:
Be untimelier . . . and younger.
Don’t fear those minutes when there are tears in your eyes.
They are your succor.
Take special note of the accent and the gaze.
Don’t turn your back and don’t cower,
Otherwise they’ll finish you off.
Take the high note and sing! It’s better that way.
Don’t burn in acetylene. It’s immoral.

vo-the life of plants-1994Vadim Ovchinnikov, from The Life of Plants, 1994

PEARLY RIDERS!

Ye who write on the cheek of tenderness and delight
with red-hot tongs!
And the world is mad and war . . .
Look at the sky and you will understand
who you are . . .
Crutches are not conducive to movement—
the other self.
Will the unlocking of locks be employed
In gluttony?
We repent.

vo-hutsVadim Ovchinnikov, Huts (year unknown)

RIDERS!

Be careful when choosing medals,
But don’t save yourselves . . .
Thse hell with them, the whiners . . .
Surely there must be JUSTICE!
And there is LENINGRADCONSTRUCT,
Their name is legion—you cannot enumerate the tide,
Although its roar is clear and beloved . . .
A mouse lies there, poisoned by marmalade.
Nasty rotgut! The mouse has almost rotted away,
Its love will no longer touch . . .
The poor thing lies any old where
Like a karakurt.
But there is no evil in the water, is there?
Nor is there in the pit.
The bureau’s slippery railing scurries amid the winds.
And he was merry and tender,
And condemned immoral acts,
He did not outlive his veins, though, kicking the bucket.
And did the veins long pride themselves on the blood?
They were proud of torso and sperm,
Which had their own original guise . . .
He gave himself nothing but happiness.
SCOUNDREL!

watercolor-90sVadim Ovchinnikov, Watercolor, 1990s

RIDERS! AMIGOS!

them ones or those who don’t scratch the backbone . . . backb.
take care

of the backbone!
he is now presented as an asset.
he lies with a kerf along the backbone
and gazes into the distance . . .
stuffed with eyes.
lovely pupils perspiring
he trrrmbles all over like nobody I know.
he’s probably a lover of kisses!

did you go to the plein air painting session? well, how was it?
ah yes, I forgot . . . you shoveled hay
that smelled of roses, bast, fog . . .
then you looked, only . . .
cautiously so as not to break the glove
of the fallen moon.
did you eat horse meat?

Hur-raa-aaa-aah to the riders!!!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Twenty-four years ago today (May 24), the author of these poems and pictures, the artist Vadim Ovchinnikov (1951–1996), was buried by family and friends at Volkovskoye Cemetery in Petersburg. Ovchinnikov worked in a number of media, including painting, watercolor, collage, animation, mail art, conceptual literature, and music. His works can be found in the collections of the State Russian Museum (Petersburg), the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the Art Museum of Pavlodar (Kazakhstan), and Kai Forsblom Gallery (Helsinki). For more information on Ovchinnikov’s art and life, see the website ov-ov.com. All images courtesy of ov-ov.com. All poems translated by Thomas Campbell

Darya Apahonchich: #outdoorwallpaper

darya-wallpaper-2b

[darya apahonchich]

our private life has been invaded by the public, by the state. our borders are not where they used to be.

but you cannot order people not to be poor, you cannot order them to keep their distance if they have nowhere to hide or stand apart.

i have turned my house inside out with wallpaper.

#outdoorwallpaper
a tiny city apartment poem

darya-wallpaper-1a

1.
we
urge you
not to drink
from the common
cup
of poverty

darya-wallpaper-1b

darya-wallpaper-2a

2.
we have wallpaper and you have wallpaper
and the virus flies freely
in dwellings
only you come to us
with fines and billy clubs,
but you don’t invite us to your house

darya-wallpaper-2aa

darya-wallpaper-3a

3.
what if
what if
my body has become
home to the virus
I think
I am caring
for my loved ones,
but in fact
I am destroying them.
what if
what if
my heart has become
home to
the virus of violence?

darya-wallpaper-3b

Darya Apahonchich has been posting the texts and photographs of her outdoor wallpaper poems on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks to her for her permission and her assistance in republishing them here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Housekeeping

Dmitri Prigov
I’ve Spent My Whole Life Washing Dishes*

I’ve spent my whole life washing dishes
And composing elevated verse
It’s the source of my worldly wisdom
And the fact my nature is mild and firm

Here’s water flowing: I comprehend it
Down on the street: simple folk and the powers that be
What I do not like, I simply invalidate
While what I like is all around me

*From the cycle “Housekeeping (1975–1986)”

___________________________________________________

 

Alexander Dolgin, Dmitri Prigov, and Iraida Yusupova, Media Opera “Russia” (2005)

The cat who stars in Prigov’s Media Opera “Russia,” refusing to utter the motherland’s name after the poet says it, is just as laconic as the cat in Samuil Marshak’s poem “Whiskered and Striped,” familiar to many generations of Russians from childhood.*

*Stanislav Savitsky, “The Origins of Moscow Conceptualism in Everyday Soviet Life,” unpublished essay, 2020

marshak-stripedSamuil Marshak, Whiskered and Striped, illustrated by Vladimir Lebedev (Detizdat, 1938)

The girl began teaching the kitten to talk.

“Kitty, say ball.”
But it said, “Meow”!

“Say horse.”
But it said, “Meow”!

“Say tea-cher.”
But it said, “Meow”!

“Say e-lec-tri-ci-ty.”
But it said, “Meow”!

Just meow, meow, meow! Now there’s a stupid kitten!

marshak-coverSamuil Marshak, Whiskered and Striped, illustrated by Vladimir Lebedev (Detizdat, 1938)

___________________________________________________

Dmitri Prigov
So Life Below Would Flow*

I acquired a kilogram
Of fish salad at the delicatessen
Nothing wrong with that
I acquired it, and that was that
I ate a little myself
I fed the stuff
To my own native son
We settled down by the window
Next to the transparent glass
Like two male pussycats
So life below would flow

*From the cycle “Housekeeping (1975–1986)”

Thanks to Stanislav Savitsky for permission to quote his essay and inspiring this entire entry. Translated by the Russian Reader

Police Detain, Rob, and Charge Petersburg Artist and Activist Yelena Osipova

osipova

Yesterday marked the thirty-fourth anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Petersburg artist and political activist Yelena Osipova took to the streets of her hometown to remind people of the anniversary and say no to nuclear energy via her unique protest paintings. Police detained the seventy-five-year-old artist, held her at police precinct for three hours, confiscated her paintings, and charged her with an administrative offense.

Varya Mikhailova
Facebook
April 26, 2020

Here is how St. Petersburg is protecting the elderly from the coronavirus infection. Police detain a 75-year-old artist [Yelena Osipova] on the street as she stands alone with her paintings, at a distance from everyone and wearing a protective mask. They drag her to the 78th police precinct, which is not just a pigsty, but also a place where people are constantly coming and going. They keep here there for three hours, putting her health at real risk while they drag “attesting witnesses” [ponyatye] at random off the street so they can legally confiscate her paintings.

Yelena Andreyevna is finally home, but she faces a court hearing on administrative charges and a battle to get back her paintings.

Photo courtesy of Varya Mikhailova. Translated by the Russian Reader

Solo Picket: At Home Edition (Darya Apahonchich)

I’m in self-isolation, but if I could . . .

. . . I would go out on a solo picket and make these demands.

Urgently take measures to stop domestic violence.

Release political prisoners immediately.

Give financial assistance to everyone who has lost their source of livelihood due to the virus.

Announce an amnesty for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Stop fighting wars and supporting dictatorial regimes.

Or buzz off.

Translated by the Russian Reader. See more by and about Darya Apahonchich here. And check out my coronavirus coverage while you’re at it.

darya

Riding the Moscow Subway with the Ceausescus

ceausescus“Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. Nicolae Ceausescu looked after his health. The family of the Romanian Communist Party’s general secretary was especially proud of their bathrooms, equipped with gold faucets, shower, and sinks, their swimming pool and day spa, their home movie theater, and their greenhouse with exotic plants. Peacocks roamed the premises…” Photo courtesy of Tatiana Tanja Yarikova

Tatiana Tanja Yarikova
Facebook
January 16, 2020

Many trains in the Moscow subway are decked out thematically. There is, for example, an Oleg Tabakov train with pictures of him in every car, photos of him in various roles in the theater and cinema, and so on. And there are many other oddly themed trains. No one pays them any mind anymore. Yesterday, however, I found myself on the “Health” train on the Ring Line for the first time. There were pictures on the walls of pumped-up athletes and champions, and of Brezhnev and Khrushchev for some reason. And, believe it or not, of CEAUSESCU! Who comes up with this stuff? Who gets paid money for this nonsense?! Maybe they can stop prettifying Moscow?

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader